Luxury or Hoax; Family trips to the Boardwalk Empire, Atlantic City

Not the SHORE! Atlantic City…

I’m not much of a beach person, but I can look at the ocean all day, like right now, from my room at Ocean Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ. People from NYC always seemed to go to the shore, LBI, and Seaside Heights mostly, or the Poconos; we went to the Poconos. However, Philadelphia and the surrounding areas are packed with “Shore People.” Some rent, some own shore houses, and some own trailers/campers at campsites. So where do they go? Well, Wildwood (North Wildwood), Sea Isle, and Cape May seem to be the popular ones most of our friends frequent, but one comment I heard a lot was, “AC is not the shore!” What do you think? I don’t come here for the beach part anyway, but we do take the kids to the beach, but is it worth it? Does it cost more in the long run because of gambling? If you don’t gamble, is it worth the trip? I can’t give you the answer, but I can give you what we do and how it works for our family; then you can decide if it’s “not the shore” or if it’s just not the part of the shore for you.

Four Tickets to AC…by car…

Most travelers who go to Atlantic City, or any part of the shore, are not flying. However, there is an airport, and there is a shuttle service. Another popular option is to take a bus, but like most of the people we know, we drive. It’s an easy ride from NYC or Philadelphia; tolls are less from Philly than they are leaving NYC. I like taking 95 and the Atlantic City expressway instead of the ride down the NJ Garden State Parkway, but the time you hit the road is always the most significant factor. While we no longer live in Philadelphia, I will have to drive through the city in about an hour from typing this sentence; about 2 pm on a Monday, I should beat the rush hour traffic just in time.

Hotel Choices

Sorry Boardwalk Empire fans, but the Ritz is not a hotel anymore. However, it still stands as a piece of history from the roaring 20’s. In Atlantic City, it’s the boardwalk side and the marina side. We prefer the boardwalk side, there is more going on outside, and we do not have a boat in the marina. Indoor pools are a significant factor for us when we travel based on location. If we stay in places like AC, OCMD, and Newport, we like the indoor pool for rainy days. If you are looking for a good time without kids, Harrah’s Indoor Pool and Ocean Resort HQ Beach Club, but there are adult-only pools at other hotels. If you are looking for kid-friendly indoor pools, Ocean, Tropicana, Resorts, Hard Rock, Bally’s, and Borgata have you covered. Harrah’s has a family fun center with an indoor pool, but the hours are spotty, and it is seasonal. We love Ocean’s indoor pool; it is ample indoor space and open at the latest, so there is no need to worry about heading down after school or work and losing the night. 

Where do we stay? All over! Our breakdown is based on a few things, how long we are staying, what we want to do when we are there, and what season it is… Caesar’s Rewards is a great way to earn comps and have diversity in location. On the boardwalk, Tropicana has an indoor pool, an arcade (small and expensive), an IMAX theater, and every space there is now occupied. Caesar’s is close to Steel Pier and what used to be a seemingly empty mall now. Although there isn’t much shopping or entertainment, Caesar’s has a more central location, right by the outlets. Harrah’s does have the family fun center, the renovated rooms are excellent, and the Bayview Tower has walk-in showers and soaker tubs, but it is on the marina side. Tropicana has the most to offer us from Caesar’s group, but we will bounce around if we can’t get the rooms we like at Tropicana.

Ocean is a different category of hotel. I like rooms with an ocean view; I always have one at Ocean Resorts. The pool hours are the best, the outdoor spaces with fire pits and viewing areas top the competition, and there is a nice balance of quick eat places open late and gourmet dining. The downside is that Ocean is more expensive, and you will not build comps as fast as Caesars. Also, it is on the end of the boardwalk, and it takes longer than you think to get to the Atlantic City Expressway (not such a big deal). 

Bottom’s Up!

Although AC is not for everyone, and it most certainly may not be the version of the shore people want, what overindulgent atmosphere wouldn’t be complete without booze? After all, the boardwalk empire was built on bootlegging. The good news is no prohibition, so you don’t need to hide in a speakeasy (like during COVID), and you will get free booze if you are playing in the casino, but how much? Well, Caesar’s lets you order right from the slot machine; you can even set favorites on your account; I like this the best among the places we frequent. Harrah’s and Tropicana have a 10 min window between drinks; Caesar’s makes you wait for 20! At Ocean, you will still be looking for the cocktail server to come around. If you’re looking to pound beers, A’Dam Good Sports Bar still serves 40’s, and they have specials on food often. A helpful heads up for you, not all electronic games at the bar build comps, and you will get free drinks while you play. My favorite for this is Harrah’s main casino bar because I can play electronic blackjack, build comps, and drink for “free”. Ocean also has this option, but not with my choice of game. No matter what, check for the sticker that says it will not build comps or rewards. 

Let’s step out of the casinos and off the boardwalk for a drink at a historic bar that will transport you back in time. If you land on St. James Place while playing Monopoly, you can own the street of Irish Pub, a former speakeasy and the inspiration for the hotels in Monopoly. The owners do a fantastic job, and it’s a museum too! The low ceilings, dim lights, bartenders in white dress shirts and ties, and cash-only atmosphere make being there feel like time travel. You can meet the owners, too; they are very active there and usually around. However, if you prefer the late-night/early-morning visit, it doesn’t close! It is the industry bar in the area, so if you’re heading over there around 3 am, you will meet those who finished slinging drinks and are having fun. 

The Big Decision

So, is it Luxury or a hoax? We like the luxury of it, the pools, the spas, the ocean view rooms, the comps, and the distance from home. The neighborhood is a confusing arrangement of gentrification and potholes. Bottom line, I guess it all depends on how you roll the dice and if you pass go. I look at in a simple way; if the house didn’t win, there wouldn’t be a house, that why they say the house always wins. So, if you get the luxury you want from it then it isn’t a hoax, but don’t expect to win big, that is a hoax. The only real way to win big is to bet big, and most end up losing big. Here is a great read on monopoly if you want some of a history lesson. If you like playing the game, helpful hint, don’t build hotels all the time, sure the payout is greater, but if you own all the houses, no one else can build; building hotels frees up houses for other players…but it depends how many properties you own too. 

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