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A VACTION FERRYLAND Separated by a bay,Cape May and Lewes offer laid-back beach vacation

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The two seaside towns of Lewes, Del., and Cape May, N.J., are miles apart by highway and divided by their state borders. But because of the Cape May/Lewes Ferry, they are also close neighbors on opposite shores of the Delaware Bay and a natural combination for a two-stop vacation by the sea.

Lewes and Cape May are linked by more than a ferry ride. Both are quaint little towns flavored with history, where visitors can enjoy a quiet beach vacation. There's plenty to do, from boating, fishing and swimming to shopping, hiking and sightseeing. But the atmosphere is laid-back and an exciting evening might be a stroll into town for an ice-cream cone or a horse and buggy ride under the setting sun.

It's about a 110 mile drive from Baltimore to the southern terminal of the ferry, which is located in the town of Lewes -- site of the World Championship Punkin' Chunkin' contest which tests the mettle of pumpkin hurlers every November. Settled by the Dutch in 1631, Lewes was originally a whaling colony that remains a seafaring town to this day.

Fishing and tour boats depart regularly from its city pier, which is located on the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal in the heart of town. Full-day fishing trips from Fisherman's Wharf are $31; half-day trips are $18. The marina also offers dolphin watching cruises on Saturdays during the summer as well as a harbor cruise and an evening fishing trip.

A topsail schooner named the Jolly Rover carries passengers on two- and three-hour sailing voyages daily. The cost for the afternoon sail is $15 for adults and $13 for children; the sunset cruise is $18 for adults and $15 for children.

Back on land, visitors can enjoy a view of the countryside near Lewes while riding in vintage passenger cars pulled by a steam train. The Queen Anne's Railroad operates along a restored section of a railway that linked Kent Island, Md., and Lewes at the turn of the century. During the summer months, departures begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The cost for the one-hour trip is $7 for adults and $5 for children. Friday and Saturday dinner train rides are expected to begin later in the summer. Call (302) 644-1720 for information.

There are lots of intriguing shops in town as well as interesting old buildings to visit at the historic complex. Most of the buildings were moved here from other locations because of their significant architecture or history. There's an early 18th century one-room farmhouse, a country store built in about 1800, an early settler's cabin, a doctor's office and a house that was struck by a cannonball during the bombardment of Lewes in the War of 1812.The Zwaanendael Museum was built in 1931 as a careful adaptation of a city hall building in the Netherlands and reflects the Dutch cultural influence on the town.

Other historic buildings were moved to town from the country and now are private homes of Lewes residents.

There are bed and breakfast inns, cottages, town houses, condominiums and small motels for overnight guests. And for camping enthusiasts, there's Cape Henlopen State Park, which is located one mile east of Lewes. The campground is open April 1 through Oct. 31 and the cost is $13 per night. Reservations are not accepted, but travelers may call (302) 645-2103 for a daily update on campsite availability. Day visitors to the park pay $5 per car.

State park nearby

Cape Henlopen State Park is a 3,200 acre, triangle-shaped park with 2 1/2 miles of Delaware Bay shoreline and 3 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline. The treacherous waters off of the point of Cape Henlopen are the resting place for several hundred shipwrecks.

There are many diverse areas to explore in the park, from maritime pine forest to salt marsh and sand dune. A slide show is presented at 6 p.m. Fridays to provide visitors with an overview of what there is to see and do in the park.

There's a guarded ocean swimming beach and a bay fishing pier, which is open 24 hours daily. Seven miles of hiking trails stretch through the park, leading to a pine forest and a bay sand dune area. Four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed on the beach for surf fishing only. Annual permits are $100.

During World War II, the park was the site of Fort Miles, which was built to protect the bay from enemy ships and submarines. Visitors to the park today can climb to the top of a restored military observation tower for a beautiful view of the area.

The park's Seaside Nature Center is open daily during the summer months and offers lots of programs for the public. Visitors can go bird-watching or seining in the shallow waters of the bay to collect and study marine animals. A historical tour begins at the observation tower and there are hayrides on the beach on Friday evenings.

Ferry to Cape May

From Lewes, it's a 70-minute, fun boat ride across the mouth of the Delaware Bay to Cape May. The ferry departs frequently during the summer months and its schedule may be obtained by calling (800) 64 FERRY. The cost is $18 per car, including the driver, plus $4.50 for all other passengers over the age of 6. For $8, a passenger can bring a bike on board. Or if you're traveling minus transportation, the cost is $4.50 for foot passengers over age 6.

Cape May has been a seaside resort since the early 1800s, when visitors came by stagecoach, sailing vessel and steamboat to escape the summer heat. Today, this quiet, family-oriented vacation destination is noted for its beaches, its deep sea fishing and its Victorian architecture.

Sightseeing tour boats depart daily from marinas at the foot of the Cape May Bridge. There's also hopping at the Washington Street Mall, as well as a golf course, miniature golf, a theater company and tennis courts. Stop by the Welcome Center at Bank and Lafayette streets for information.

The town is a National Historic Landmark with 600 Victorian-era bed and breakfast inns, turn of the century hotels and private homes elaborately decorated with "gingerbread" trim. An 1879 Victorian mansion known as the Emlen Physick Estate has been restored and is open for tours.

Visitors can explore Cape May on foot or rent a bike in the quiet town. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts offers trolley and guided walking tours through the historic district as well as an ocean walk, which examines the beaches, history and marine life of Cape May.

There's also a Cape May By Boat tour, which circles the island during a two-hour cruise. The cost for the on-land tours is $4 for adults and $1 for children; the boat tour is $8 for adults and $4 for children. Most tours begin at the Washington Street Mall Information Booth, Washington and Ocean streets.

Horse-drawn carriage rides through the city streets are highlighted by historical tidbits, folklore and ghostly tales. The 11 drivers for the Cape May Carriage Co. share stories about President Lincoln's visit to Cape May, about pirate treasure and about Henry Ford's speedy driving on the beach. Passengers also learn about Victorian architecture and the development of the town. The 30-minute rides are offered daily from June through mid-October between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. The cost is $7 for adults and $3 for children ages 2 to 11.

A town for the birds

Cape May Point is a popular stop for migratory birds and so has earned a reputation as one of the finest birding locations in the country. Hawks as well as shorebirds can be observed. The migratory peaks are in April and May and from August to November.

Bird enthusiasts can stop by the Cape May Bird Observatory for information about finding birds in the area. The observatory is the home of the New Jersey Audubon Society, which sponsors beginning bird walks, shore bird workshops, hummingbird trips and wildflower walks. The cost is $7 for non-members. The center is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Climb the 199 stairs to the top of the restored Cape May Point Lighthouse for a spectacular view of Cape May and the Delaware Bay. Then walk along Sunset Beach in search of the smooth nuggets of quartz that have come to be known as "Cape May diamonds." The wreckage of the U.S.S. Atlantus, a World War I experimental concrete ship, is visible from the shore.

The nation's only Coast Guard Training Center is located in Cape May and opens its gates to the public almost every Friday year-round for graduation ceremonies for recruits. Weather permitting, the ceremony is held on the parade field at 11 a.m. and the recruits can be observed marching in full-dress uniform. There are also drill team demonstrations. The base opens at 9 a.m. Call (609) 884-6914 for information.

If you go . . .

For more information, call: Lewes (Del.) Chamber of Commerce, (302) 645-8073; Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, N.J., (609) 884-5508.

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