Bed Check: Going Victorian at the beach in Delaware


The 84-room Boardwalk Plaza Hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Del., is a tribute to the Victorian era. (Zofia Smardz/The Washington Post)
September 28, 2012

A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.

You don’t like tchotchkes? Or doilies? No fusty fringy boudoir-style lampshades for you? Hmm. Then you probably won’t like the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel.

But then again — trust me here — you may. You really, really may. In fact, I’m sure you will.

I base my faith in this on a simple observation. On a recent evening, my husband and I are nursing some drinks at the bar of the hotel on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Del. As dusk slowly descends over the swaying sea grasses and the ocean waves, we observe the number of people who walk past the graceful pink and white lady and screech to a halt before the old-timey photo board that stands out front: you know, a board painted with lifesize figures in old-fashioned Victorian dress, with holes where the heads should be. If I’d had a dollar for every person who poked their noggin through one of those head holes, like a penitent in a pillory, to pose for a snapshot as a Victorian matron or patriarch at the shore. . . . Well, I’d have had enough for several more rounds of drinks. At least.

There’s just something about the idea of Victorians at the beach, you know? Tromping over the sand dunes in their high-button regalia — it’s so funny. And yet, credit where it’s due: They were the ones who popularized the beach as a leisure destination. In fact, as marketing director Jennifer Zerby reminds us in a video clip on the hotel Web site, Rehoboth itself has Victorian roots: It was founded in 1873 as a Methodist meeting camp. So think of the 84-room Boardwalk Plaza as a sort of tribute to the era. And one that capitalizes on its legacy simply, uh, capitally.

Just come on into the lobby with me. The lights are soothingly low, as in a Victorian drawing room — fringy lamps, don’t you know, and those big double-barreled glass ones — the woodwork dark and the walls papered. The sofas are the real thing, all high, curvy backs and thick arms and dark, shiny fabrics. Or velvet, of course. A gorgeous floral centerpiece crowns the scarf-covered table in the center. And what’s this lying beside it? Why, a genuine stereopticon! Let’s have a peek. Oh, such old-fashioned amusement.

But wait, here’s something even better. Birds! Nothing more Victorian than a parrot or two, squawking a noisy welcome. Well, one of them squawks. The big gray one sits quietly, but the brilliant, rainbow-colored bird in the cage by the lobby’s marble fireplace is a truly noisy fellow. I ask the front desk clerk what type he is. “A sun conyer,” she says. (At least that’s what I think she says. I look it up later — ah, a sun conure, a variety of South American parakeet. Live and learn.) I’m tempted to coax it onto my finger, but then I read the sign that says the birds could bite, so do it at your own risk. Never mind.

Let’s move on, and you’ll see that for all the period atmosphere and decor, there’s nothing fusty or musty about the Boardwalk Plaza. Even into its third decade (it opened in 1991), the hotel looks pretty and feels fresh, which is astounding for a beach property, if you ask me. The carpeting looks as if it had been laid yesterday; I spy not a speck of sand en route to our room. Amazing.

Our two-room ocean-view suite is large and comfortable, and — oh, I didn’t expect this — it sports a spiffy kitchenette! There’s a microwave and a range and a toaster and, of course, a one-cup Keurig coffeemaker. Wish we were staying for a week. As it is, the coffeemaker will get a workout, between the two of us.

The decor here is more faux than in the lobby, but I have to tell you — after all the monochromatic hotel rooms with their blinding white bedding, the sight of the floral comforters on the queen beds fills me with a pleasant nostalgia.

As does the three-level dining room, with its flowered carpeting and white tablecloths and the ornamental fretwork around the large windows that look out upon the ocean, like in a ship’s dining room. As we wait for our meals to arrive, I finger the little bell on the table, wondering what would happen if I rang it. Of course I don’t, but later, as I’m tucking into my filet (exquisite), the woman one table over inadvertently does. Next thing I know, the hostess is at my side saying, “How may I help you, madam?”

“Oh, it wasn’t me,” I laugh, but I’m impressed.

After dinner, we take a stroll out onto the boardwalk, where the post-season crowds are much thinner, the air cooler, the concession lights somewhat fewer. But outside the Boardwalk Plaza, one thing hasn’t changed. Over at the photo board, someone’s just poked his head through a hole for a snapshot.

Boardwalk Plaza Hotel

2 Olive Ave. and the Boardwalk

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

800-332-3224

www.boardwalkplaza.com

Open year-round. Off-season rates for 2012: Aug. 31 to Oct. 7 from $184; Oct. 8-20 from $154; Oct. 21 to Nov. 24 from $94; Nov. 25-Dec. 31 from $79.

Zofia Smardz is deputy editor of The Post's Travel section. She joined Travel after eight years editing provocative opinion articles in the Sunday Outlook section.
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