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Cape Cod officials are gearing up for a banner season and have this message for the millions of visitors expected to flood the region: pack a mask and plenty of patience.
“Cape Cod and the islands will be one of the safest, if not the safest, destinations in the United States,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr, who represents Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, during a Cape Cod COVID-19 Task Force press conference on Thursday.
Cyr attributed the area’s safety to its strong vaccination program. The region aims to vaccinate 75 percent of residents by the start of the peak summer season.
“We’re in the business of welcoming people, and these high vaccination rates are really going to do a lot to keep Cape Codders and islanders safe and to keep our visitors safe,” he said.
A workforce shortage due to the pandemic means visitors may encounter longer wait times at businesses, Cyr said.
“It’s going to take a little bit longer to get that lobster roll or ice cream cone,” Cyr said.
As for masks, visitors should still carry them, even though Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration is lifting virtually all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and gatherings on May 29.
“People need to remember that business owners, at their own discretion, may ask people to wear masks on their premises,” Cyr said. “We particularly think this is going to be true in small retail stores. These can be tight spaces and, certainly, it’s within reason.”
Ahead, Cape experts offer tips for renting homes, dining out, shopping, planning activities, and visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore this season.
Travelers in need of a rental on the Cape this season should get cracking, said Jennie Sparrow, marketing manager for WeNeedaVacation.com, which offers more than 4,000 listings on the Cape and islands that range from modest to luxurious.
“We’ve seen a 100 percent increase over last year,” Sparrow said. “It’s a record-breaking year for us.”
Sparrow said her company is “off the charts … busy” this year due to pent-up demand.
“There isn’t a whole lot of availability left, but there is some,” she said. “The key to a vacationer right now is to be flexible.”
Travelers can scoop up cancellations, she said, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the company’s new weekly listings. Vacationers can also increase their chances of rental success by broadening their searches when it comes to locations and date, she said.
“September and early October, we really get some summer days, weather wise,” she said.
Homes with pools are typically rented quickly, Sparrow said. But there are other ways to be near water.
“Don’t discount being on lakes and ponds,” she said. “We have some really clear kettle ponds. All of them, at the end of the day, will be a refreshing respite.”
Cancellation policies vary by homeowner, so Sparrow said her company recommends that travelers look into travel insurance.
Cape Cod businesses are “elated” that capacity restrictions will be rolled back on May 29, said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. Now, businesses are sorting through what that will look like.
“People are still asking, ‘What’s the rule, what’s the requirement?'” Northcross said. “And the answer is, there’s going to be very little requirement by the government.”
Businesses are free to create their own operating procedures, she said.
“So if you’re a small B&B and you prefer that your guests wear a mask inside, that’s totally up to you to be able to issue that or to suggest that or to require it,” Northcross said.
Since mask requirements may vary from businesses to business, it’s a good idea to carry a mask when you’re out and about, she said.
“I think what you’ll see most immediately, though, is requests for masks, even if you are vaccinated,” she said. “We just have to sort this out and we’ll probably spend the rest of the summer or year sorting out these protocols.”
When asked if businesses will require proof of vaccination from customers, Northcross said, “The business owners that I’ve spoken with are taking the point of view that the are not the police. They are not going to be requiring people to indicate whether they are vaccinated or not, even if they work for them.”
This is the year to try that restaurant you noticed on the outskirts of town, said Tom Murphy, president of the Yarmouth Restaurant Association.
“Try the restaurants that are off the beaten path, the ones you are not so familiar with, that may not be as popular in the advertising world,” Murphy said. “There are many Ma and Pa type operations that have excellent food. They are small so you don’t have as many people going to them, they aren’t on the main thorough fields.”
Also, vacationers who are flexible with their plans may be impacted less by the workforce shortage, he said.
“If I’m going out to dine, I try to pick times that are a little on the off times, meaning go to dinner either at 4 o’clock or go late at 8 o’clock,” he said. “If you’re thinking of going out to popular restaurants at 6-6:30, you should be expecting to have a long line.”
More restaurants have added outdoor dining, so it’s a good idea to call ahead or check the establishment’s website if that’s what you’re looking for, he said. And, again, patience is key, he said.
“You might be down on vacation but these poor folks are trying to make a living, so be kind to them,” Murphy said. “They’re working very long hours and many days in a row. So it’s hard on them, it’s hard on the managers, the servers, and, of course, the owners.”
The Cape Cod National Seashore
This is going to be a “summer to recover,” said Brian Carlstrom, superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which sees about 4 million visitors annually and was named one of the top 10 most visited National Park Service sites in 2020.
The Seashore includes six public beaches, 40 miles of coastline, and 36 miles of hiking and biking trails.
“If you’re fully vaccinated, masks are no longer required,” Carlstrom said. “But in areas where it’s hard to maintain social distancing, if you have not been vaccinated, per the CDC, please wear masks. We’re going to trust people’s judgment in that regard. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic and emerging from this very consciously.”
Groups of beachgoers should still remain 12 feet from other groups, just like last summer, he said.
“The trams will continue to require wearing masks,” Carlstrom said. “Because that’s a public transportation system.”
All six of the Seashore’s beaches — Coast Guard Beach, Head of the Meadow Beach, Herring Cove Beach, Marconi Beach, Nauset Light Beach, and Race Point Beach — will have lifeguards this summer, Carlstrom said. Last summer, Herring Cove Beach and Head of the Meadow Beach did not have lifeguards due to the pandemic.
Those looking for parking should head to Marconi Beach, which has the largest parking capacity of the beaches, Carlstrom said.
“If the other beaches are getting crowded, come to Marconi,” Carlstrom said. “It’s an awesome beach. It’s got lots and lots of space.”
Beachgoers should note that parking fees at the Seashore beaches have changed. Pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists will see a $5 increase, Carlstrom said — from $15 to $20 for motorcycles and from $10 to $15 for pedestrians and bicyclists. The daily fee for cars remains $25 and a seasonal pass for parking at all six beaches costs $60.
What to do while visiting
Visitors planning excursions have many options, said Bill DeSousa, publicist for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on a venue’s website during these changing times, he said, because they may be opening as pandemic restrictions ease.
DeSousa provided the following ideas for summer fun on the Cape: hit the beach, tour a lighthouse, go hiking, biking, fishing, whale watching, kayaking, golfing, explore a museum, dine out, watch a Cape Cod Baseball League game, and much more.
“Many places that currently are closed, I think, within a month may be open, especially places that are outdoor-oriented,” DeSousa said.
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