By Christine Potter
Atlantic City is known by many names – Las Vegas East, America’s Playground, and AC to name a few – but a name that says it all is “party place.” If your clients are looking for non-stop fun beside the sea, Atlantic City delivers, from family fare to clubbing, pubbing, headline shows and fine dining.
Of course AC is best known for its casinos, with oceanfront properties like Ceasar’s Atlantic City, Flagship Resort, and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, an attraction in itself with Hindu elephant gods, multicoloured onion domes, minarets, and US $14 million in chandeliers. Casino hoppers can choose from establishments that range from elegant and sophisticated to down home Wild West.
There’s plenty more than gambling to occupy visitors, if they wish.
“The emphasis has shifted from keeping visitors ‘captive’ at slot machines and gaming tables to touting all kinds of activities and attractions,” writes Diana Stoneback in New Jersey’s Morning Call. “Operators of family style attractions say they sense a growing spirit of cooperation from the big guys lining the Boardwalk’s Casino Row and at the Marina.”
Atlantic City CVADown On The Boardwalk
Everything seems to begin on the Boardwalk. The 18-metre-wide beachside promenade of wood and steel stretches almost eight kilometres, and is the resort’s premier attraction. It was built in 1870 to keep sand off the hotel concourse, and today’s version is four times the original size.
Rolling chairs (pushed from behind by an operator) are a common site. They were imported in 1876 from Philadelphia’s centennial celebrations and remain the most popular way to get around, with new ones replicating the originals. (Tell clients about Boardwalk Walking Tours – it’s a fun way to get to know the city.)
Piers, rebuilt over the years, reach out from Boardwalk over the ocean and offer a variety of entertainment. Central Pier is known for its observation tower.
Steeplechase Pier features children’s amusements. Steel Pier, named for its 1898 steel underpinnings, was always noted for its entertainment, and reopened in 1990 as a family park under the management of Trump Taj Mahal, with roller coasters, go karts, carousels, and other favourite rides. (Several European rides had their North American debut here, like Slingshot, which propels riders 68.5 metres in one second at 160 kph.)
Garden Pier attracts culture lovers to the Arts Center, host of year-round exhibits and shows, and to the Historical Museum, focusing on the city’s 150-year-plus history illustrated with entertaining vintage photography.
Gardner’s Basin, at North New Hampshire Avenue, has also become a budding arts district, with some of the best dining to be found. Here, too, is the Ocean Life Center with eight enormous tanks of live aquarium exhibits, one of them featuring the fish of northern New Jersey, and another a 1,207-litre touch tank. Gardner’s Basin can also be reached by boat, making a fun excursion.
Stores and restaurants are housed on Ocean One, and another amusement park – this one echoing Atlantic City’s carnival days – occupies Tivoli Pier, part of the Trop World resort.
Entertainment ranges from free street performances along The Boardwalk, to summer concerts in Brighton Park’s new amphitheatre, jazz at Gardner’s Basin, and top Broadway and Hollywood stars in casino “big rooms”, many seating more than a thousand.
The Miss America Pageant, that quintessential icon of Americana, was born in Atlantic City, and held here each year from 1921 until 2003. Where? The Boardwalk of course, in the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall (now known as Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall).
Not many towns can claim a National Historic Landmark as a meeting and convention space, and AC’s is unique with its arched, 42-metre clear span barrel ceiling. Upgrades and renovations have created a total of 13,800 seats, easily reconfigured for a variety of events.
Slightly Out Of Town
Several attractions dot the surrounding area, making for an interesting day of exploration. Examples include the Absecon Lighthouse, built in 1854 and recently reopened after a US $3 million facelift. The 228-step historic structure is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey offering a splendid view of the skyline.
Atlantic City CVAAnd then there’s Lucy the Margate Elephant. Why would people traipse the few miles south to see a six-storey wooden pachyderm? Well, Lucy is a Must See. She’s the oldest roadside attraction in the U.S. (and listed among things to do in Atlantic City), and was decreed a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
The wood-and-metal structure was used as a bazaar site (some might say bizarre sight) in 1881 and Lucy has a following of memorabilia collectors.
“Tours are fun,” reports one young mother with two kids in tow. “We entered through Lucy’s rear left leg, and climbed a tight staircase into her belly. We watched a short film about her history, then looked out of her right eye at a beautiful view of the beach. More narrow steps took us up to her howdah (saddle), with some terrific views of Atlantic City. We left down a winding staircase, and through her rear right leg.”
For the technically and ecologically curious, a limited number of tours are offered at The Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, where five 121-metre-high turbine windmills provide energy to homes and businesses throughout the region. The near five-year-old project produces about 19 million kilowatt-hours of emission-free electricity per year, enough to power more than 2,000 homes.
Atlantic City CVAGolf
More than 20 courses attract golf enthusiasts from novice to pro. Several are championship calibre, designed by some of the top consultants in the country. Diverse layouts include ocean courses, bayside links, pine-bordered fairways, challenging bunkers, and wind-blown sand dunes. Several also offer instruction, dining, and accommodations.
Examples include Twisted Dune Golf Club, a links-style course with twisting landscapes, dramatic elevations, and contoured fairways. It’s a challenging, yet supremely playable, 7,200-yard, 18-hole design by Archie Struthers, who recreated a taste of the Scottish Coast with deep ravines, grass-covered hills, and more than 100 deep traps and bunkers.
An older course (built in 1927), and another that echoes Scotland, is The Links at Brigantine Beach. Local legend has it that the “old pros” from the 1920s practiced here before sailing for the British Open. The 18-hole, par 72 layout offers gorgeous bay views, native marsh, and gently rolling (almost treeless) terrain and is enjoyed by all skill levels.
Another oldie-but goodie is Atlantic City Country Club with more than a century of history. In the Harrah’s family of companies, it’s named New Jersey’s Number One Public/Daily Fee Course. The 110-year-old Tap Room Grille is a favourite.
For something quite different, clients might check out Renault Winery Resort & Golf. The owners, by all accounts, have succeeded in creating a unique course to compliment their restaurant, winery, and Tuscany Hotel with a 7,200-yard championship layout meandering through pine groves and yielding majestic vineyard views. In its fifth year, it’s a popular public and membership course.
Where there are casinos, shops will follow. You have to have somewhere to spend all those winnings, right? Atlantic City is no exception. Casino shops are many and varied, and outlets such as The Walk, located in the heart of town at the base of Atlantic City Expressway (the major shopping area is along Atlantic Avenue and its intersections) draw the crowds.
The most unusual shopping destination is Shops on Ocean One at Arkansas Avenue and the Boardwalk. Built in the shape of a luxury ocean liner, Ocean One features 150 stores, restaurants, and an amusement park, all spread over three levels and extending over the ocean. And bargain hunters enjoy the flea market each Tuesday and Saturday at Cowtown Rodeo in Woodstown.
Atlantic City is a year-round destination, but it is on the Atlantic, so winters call for indoor itineraries. But warmer months offer all the variety a vacationer could wish for with a plethora of outdoor activities like hiking, boating, fishing, the aforementioned golf, and water sports.
Local beaches are free, and offer all the usual choices including parasailing, water skiing, charter fishing, and even tall-ship cruises. Kayaks take renters close-up to the dolphins that regularly inhabit these shores, and to explore the Pinelands. A number of sightseeing cruises leave from Gardner’s Basin.
An interesting bit of history: Atlantic City claims the first beach in the U.S. to have trained lifeguards. (They made their debut in 1881.)
Atlantic City CVAMonopoly & Taffy
If city place names sound familiar (even to first time visitors) it’s probably an echo of childhood Monopoly games – the board was modelled on Atlantic City. But it doesn’t have a square marked Salt Water Taffy Store. The candy is a local treasure, and is said to have been born by accident in the late 1800s. A rogue night tide sprayed foam over a young candy maker’s stock, and voila! Salt Water Taffy was born. There’s still debate over who has the oldest – and the best – recipe, Fralinger or James, but it’s not disputed that Joseph Fralinger was the first to pack it as “Atlantic City’s Souvenir”.
More Atlantic City
For more information on Atlantic City visit www.atlanticcitynj.com.