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The Deal: Cape Cod on the Cheap. Yes, Cape Cod.

By Judith L. Teich
The Washington Post
Sunday, May 10, 1998; Page E02

If you have to ask how much it costs to spend a week in Cape Cod, you can't afford to go, right? That's what we thought, too. But we were pleasantly surprised last summer to find that the Cape can be a very economical destination. Here's how four of us -- two single mothers (on limited budgets) and two active 6-year-old boys -- managed a week there for just over $1,600.

THE DRIVE: Round-trip air fare to the Cape runs about $300 per person, so we economized by driving, setting out on a Thursday. Since the drive from Washington to Chatham, Mass., is quite long -- around 530 miles -- we spent the first two nights in Greenport, N.Y., on Long Island's North Fork, taking an extra day to explore Montauk, Shelter Island and the Hamptons. The next morning we continued north, taking the ferry from Orient Point, N.Y., to New London, Conn., driving through Providence, R.I., and finally arriving at the Cape around 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Cost: $615 round trip (gas, $52; tolls, $14; car ferry, $84; three nights in motels, $325; meals along the way, $140).

THE COTTAGE: After compiling an extensive library of brochures and accommodations guides, we found a perfect two-bedroom cottage named "Oriole," set among tall pine trees in Chatham. Furnished in early Garage Sale, it was nevertheless spacious and well-equipped. While it didn't have a microwave or dishwasher, it boasted a fireplace and screened porch -- much more important amenities from our point of view. Bonus: There is no room tax in Massachusetts if you provide your own linens, which we did.

Cost: $485.

THE FOOD: Since our cottage had a kitchen, we were able to economize on meals by shopping at local markets and cooking at "home" -- and what could be nicer than breakfast on a sun-dappled screened porch, listening to the birds? For lunches, we picnicked wherever we happened to be. And while we enjoyed a couple of restaurant dinners, on many nights we made dinner at the cottage while the boys practiced falling off the hammock we'd hung in the front yard. Dessert was S'mores toasted in our fireplace.

Cost: $150 (groceries, $55; restaurants, $95).

WHAT TO DO: Inexpensive entertainment for kids abounds on Cape Cod, particularly if one prefers nature to theme parks (as we do). Every beach we frequented had a different feel: Nauset was filled with crashing waves and huge flocks of sea gulls to chase; Skaket offered calm, warm water and broad expanses of tidal flats with unsuspecting hermit crabs and snails to catch; and Paine's Creek in Brewster -- our favorite -- featured a freshwater creek, perfect for wading. It kept the boys engrossed for hours as they scooped up various creatures with nets and pails. At all the beaches, parking was convenient and entrance fees minimal.

Aside from beaches, our days included biking on a tranquil seashore trail in Truro; a seal-watching cruise to Monomoy Island from Outermost Harbor in Chatham; and exploring Brewster's Old Grist Mill Museum and beautiful Herring Run. On our last day, we checked out the small but terrific hands-on aquarium (free) at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole.

Evening activities on the Cape were also plentiful and -- there's that magic word again -- free! One evening after dinner, we stopped at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Sauntering along the Boardwalk Trail while a boy from New York showed Roni and Joshua where to find toads and fiddler crabs, we suddenly found ourselves at the water's edge, at the perfect moment to watch a breathtaking sunset. On other evenings, we took advantage of numerous free events sponsored by nearby towns: a rock concert in the dark at Nauset Beach, where lightstick-wielding toddlers pranced on the sand; a crowded, silly square dance on the Town Pier at Wellfleet, where 3-year-olds and 80-year-olds laughingly tripped over each other; and an honest-to-goodness "oom-pah" band at the Brewster Windmill gazebo.

Cost: $405 (beach parking, $20; gas, $30; seal-watching cruise for four, $55; snacks and souvenirs, $300).

We spent our last evening on the Cape repainting the lettering and adding a drawing of a black-and-orange bird to the cottage's "Oriole doorstop" (i.e., the rock that held the bathroom door open) as a surprise for our hosts. I hope they enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed our stay.

Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 790, Hyannis, Mass. 02601, 1-888-332-2732 or 508-362-3225, http://www.; Chatham Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 793, Chatham, Mass. 02633, 508-945-5199, http://www. .html.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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