The Queen Victoria Bed & Breakfast
Cape May is all about linking past to present, with appreciation for both. The 1881 Queen Victoria Inn embodies that connection.
The award-winning bed-and-breakfast, at the corner of Ocean Street and Columbia Avenue, blends old-style comfort with latter-day convenience in an authentic 19th-century setting. No wonder so many guests become regulars, and some reserve their favorite rooms two to three years in advance.
General manager Jamie Harvey, a fixture here for more than two decades, says people return not just for the atmosphere, amenities, and central location, but for the “wonderful staff.” She is so right. From the receptionist to the kitchen crew to the maintenance team, everyone is friendly, solicitous, and clearly proud of their workplace, which technically is three separate properties.
First there is the Queen Victoria, with its sage-green clapboard siding, red mansard roof, genteel English gardens, and Edwardian porch, which is known to fly both the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. To the rear is the mustard-colored Prince Albert Hall, with gingerbread typical of the period. The House of Royals, located on the opposite corner, boasts the most colorful history: it once housed a ground-floor pharmacy, a second-floor gambling hall, and a third-floor brothel.
All told, there are 30 suites and rooms, named for celebrities of the gilded age (Dickens, Disraeli, Gilbert & Sullivan), English landmarks (Charing Cross, Mayfair, Balmoral), and the children of Victoria and Albert (Alice, Arthur, Beatrice, and so on).
As you might expect, the décor includes overstuffed velvet sofas and chaise lounges, Persian-style rugs, giant carved armoires, needlepoint pillows, sepia-toned photos, and clawfoot everything, plus lots of fresh flowers in cut-crystal vases and bowls. The patterned dining room wallpaper, in pale green and gold, depicts a crown, a Scottish thistle, a Tudor rose, and the royal imprint VRI, for Victoria Regina Imperatrix. And someone sure loves porcelain teapots; they’re displayed by the dozens throughout these rooms. Everything is low-lit by hurricane lamps, wall sconces, and chandeliers.
I arrived just in time for the proper English tea, served daily starting at 3pm. The generous spread included sweets (heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth walnut butter balls), savories (Havarti cheese with almonds and crackers), and every type of Harney & Sons tea imaginable, plus fresh fruit. Care for a pre-dinner nip? Help yourself to the decanter of sherry in the parlor.
Next, I was shown to the Queen Victoria suite: as big as any two hotel rooms, with two separate seating nooks, a super-sized bed (firm and comfy, with 400-thread count cotton sheets), a rolltop desk with banker’s lamp, and fringed velvet drapes over foamy sheers.
Bathrooms include the inn’s branded bayberry shampoo, soap, and lip balm, and—my girlhood favorite—body wash in Yardley’s English Lavender. I could have made a wedding dress from the white lace shower curtain. For all the vintage accoutrements, each room is up to date with a TV/DVD player, and mini fridge. Some accommodations have extra luxuries, like gas fireplaces and, in the Queen’s Cottage, whirlpool tubs for two.
Located in the heart of the city, the Queen Victoria is an easy walk to the beach and the Washington Street Mall. After tea, I curled up on a porch rocker to read, then strolled downtown for dinner. On my return at about 9pm, a lovely sight: the inn awash in lamplight. My room, though at street level, was quiet and dark. I enjoyed a good night’s sleep. It’s possible I dreamed of sugarplums—the Queen Victoria is known for its fabulous breakfast. And it lived up to its reputation.
Everything on the menu is made from scratch, in-house, except for the English muffins and bagels (the latter are big, chewy, and wonderfully New Yorky). Even the granola (“the queen’s oats”) is made on the premises. There’s so much more to choose from: fresh-cut fruit salad with yogurt, fresh orange and cranberry juice, excellent coffee, lemon cream scones with scoops of honey butter, and, on the day I was there, the main dish: spinach portobello cheddar frittata, served with country ham. Divine.
Depending on the weather, you can enjoy your meal in Prince Albert’s formal dining room, an adjoining salon, or in the garden. Want to replicate this fabulous spread at home? The Queen Victoria cookbook is on sale in the inn’s gift shop, along with Queen Vic-branded coffee, wildflower-scented body lotion, and other souvenirs, including, of course, teapots.
In season, guests can take advantage of complimentary beach towels, beach chairs, and outside showers. A fleet of bikes is available any time of year— big, sapphire-blue or black beach cruisers with foot brakes and fat wheels, such a pleasure to ride. There was a chill in the air that morning, but I knew I’d regret if I didn’t take a two-wheeled turn around town. It was so glorious and invigorating to ride along the beachfront in the early hours, just as the city was blinking to life.
For almost 20 years, innkeepers Doug McMain and Anna Marie McMain presided over the hospitality here. In 2021, when they sold the property to out-of-state investors, apparently some long-time visitors were concerned the ambience or energy, or something would change. Not so. According to Jamie, the new owners, two Pennsylvania physicians, have kept the staff intact—and the standards too. Everything that was before still is and will continue to be.
So, stop in for a fingerful of sherry, one of those delicious butter balls (or two or three), and a warm, welcoming guest experience.