I have a confession. I’m hopelessly hooked on Fall Lovers’ Weekend at the Caribbean Motel.
It all started innocently enough. For the longest time, I had been receiving emails from the Caribbean. I must have found the motel online at some point, thought it looked interesting, and signed up to receive updates. Once or twice, at the last minute, I even called to see whether rooms were available during one of their specials. Invariably, though, I was disappointed – sorry, all sold out. I wasn’t surprised; after all, the descriptions had interested me; no doubt others had been intrigued as well and had simply beaten me to the punch.
Little did I know…..
Now, I need you to know that I am a beach lover by nature. I’m fairly certain that salt water runs through my veins. One of my parents’ favorite pictures of me as a kid shows me smiling in front of the old King Kong ride on Morey’s Pier. As a teen, I counted the days until I could sport my 3/4 sleeve concert shirts on the boardwalk at night and nonchalantly turn myself upside-down on the Gravitron (I would not try this now without an ambulance on standby). When my kids came along, I couldn’t wait to introduce them to the ocean. I have a terrific photo of them standing by the Wildwood dunes in the late afternoon sun, grinning from ear to ear, wearing the last of the clean clothes after a long weekend stay….soaked to the waist because when I took them for a walk on the beach before heading home, they couldn’t resist one last jump into the water. Mission accomplished. They loved it, too.
With the kids more or less grown and a little more time on our hands, we decided we deserved a weekend for ourselves. Although at the time I believed one Wildwood motel to be very much like another, I decided to take another shot at snagging a room at this “new” place with the festive emails. As luck would have it, someone had canceled at the last minute….there was one room available. Whoever you are that canceled, I’m sorry you missed it, but at the same time, please understand, I’m not as sorry as I could be, because you gave me a chance to see what this place was all about.
Luckily, we were experiencing one of those magical Octobers where the weather hasn’t quite gotten all the summer out of its system. We sang along with the radio all the way down and were ready for fun when we finally pulled up to the Caribbean for the first time.
The party was already well under way. Every window was decorated with towels folded into swans in the shape of a heart, framing a bottle of champagne. Lovers’ weekend indeed! It was clear that many of those assembled already knew and were very comfortable with each other. We checked in, then wandered outside to observe. I don’t think two minutes went by before we were approached by a smiling lady bedecked in bangles and tropical prints, who had clearly picked out the newbies and made it her mission to introduce us around. Every single person we met greeted us with an enthusiastic smile, a handshake, and even a few hugs! It was like arriving in a new land and being greeted by long lost family. We felt at home immediately.
One thing we learned upon checking in, which we didn’t know ahead of time but which I need to share with you – the pool is heated and is open even in the fall. We hadn’t packed swimsuits, thinking for certain that the pool would be closed in October. Not so! Absolutely do not come to this place unprepared for pool time. The pool is crystal clear and pristine at all times, surrounded by iconic artificial palms, without which, to my mind, no Wildwood motel would be complete, as well as a beautiful hedge of roses that is obviously cared for with great affection.
We were ushered toward a patio area featuring a large, canopied bar-like enclosure on which a dinner buffet fit for a king had been set up. Tables for four dotted the area, as well as a long family-style table for twenty or so. We chose the larger table, and over the course of that meal, got to know many of the regular guests. The more we talked, the more we found out what we had in common – who was from where, who did what for a living, who did and didn’t have kids, and how long many of our fellow weekenders had been coming to the Caribbean. All the while, a tall, slender, bespectacled dynamo moved from table to table, in and out of the kitchen, back and forth from the buffet to every corner of the motel. I remember thinking, whoever runs this place must simply love her. Shows what a newbie I was! That whirling dervish was none other than co-owner Carolyn herself, taking care of business, as I have come to learn, as only she can.
Shortly after dinner, the party moved upstairs to the Cabana Lounge. My husband and I followed the crowd, and were introduced to the one and only Gregg Sansone. Gregg is a musician/performer who truly rocks the Caribbean – and its neighbors – during several of the special weekends hosted there. He played a little bit of everything and engaged the group all night long. People sang. They laughed. They got down and boogied. Pedestrians walking by stopped to listen and began to dance on the sidewalks. Requests were shouted out, and without missing a beat, Gregg complied. Everyone we hadn’t yet met made a point of introducing themselves. Conversation was easy and comfortable. By the end of that first night, I knew I’d found a new home in Wildwood.
Saturday night was an equally impressive encore. We returned from a day trip to Cape May to find Carolyn waiting to ask how we liked our steaks, since dinner was in the works. Our newfound friends shared craft cocktails as Gregg sang us through dinner. Once again, the crowd migrated up to the Cabana Lounge, where we again sang, danced, and laughed the night away. In a show of appreciation for the shared beverages earlier in the evening, I reintroduced a few people to Cheetos. We all try to be more conscious of what we eat as we grow older, but presented with the chance to turn their fingers a shade of orange not found in nature, a few did choose to indulge, and seemed to enjoy the trip down memory lane. The music and laughter continued into the wee hours. Although contracted to play only until a certain hour, Gregg went above and beyond to continue to entertain the crowd, retaining for himself just enough energy to make his way back to his room at the end of the night. I remember floating back to our room in the early, sudden quiet, feeling positively giddy, wishing the weekend never had to end.
Alas, Sunday morning rolled around, and our maiden trip to the Caribbean had come to an end. We were invited to stay and watch the Eagles game up in the lounge, but unfortunately had to head home. As sad as we were to have to leave, we were thrilled to have finally experienced the Caribbean, and were already looking forward to coming back again and again.
This year we will spend our third consecutive Lovers’ Weekend at the Caribbean. We just wrapped our second Memorial Day, too. George and Carolyn have promised more surprises this year, and we can’t wait to find out what those might be. They are always, always striving for perfection, and although I can’t seem to convince them of this, I think they’ve gotten as close to it as is humanly possible in an imperfect world. Their dedication to the Caribbean, and that of their staff, is evident in every last detail, from the lovingly restored building itself, to the period furniture and quality appointments, to the countless little amenities that belie their deep desire to make guests feel at home. What’s more, it’s clear that their guests return that affection.
If you’re like I was, wondering what sets the Caribbean apart from all the rest, I implore you to take that leap and make a reservation. You won’t be disappointed! If I’m there, although I’m still a baby-regular compared to many of the guests, I will be among those ready to share a smile, learn all about you, introduce you to the rest of the “family” and invite you to sing along with the tunes that are almost always playing at the Caribbean. I can’t wait to meet you!
-Annette and Jeff