For decades, Atlantic City has been the gambling destination of choice for many people in the Northeast. However, with the recent surge of smaller, regional casinos, people no longer have to make the sometimes day-long trek to Atlantic City for a chance to play. Instead, they need only to make the trip to their local neighborhood casino. As a result, Atlantic City's visitor numbers are down.
However, much to the chagrin of regional promoters, many people still associate Atlantic City solely as a gambling destination. While the newer local casinos thrive on slots, and in some instances table games, they still lack the resort-like, seaside beauty that has made Atlantic City a choice vacation destination even before gambling was legalized in 1976.
So what's great about a vacation to Atlantic City besides gambling? Here are a few ideas to make the most of your vacation without having to step foot inside a casino...unless you want to.
Stroll along the Boardwalk
Atlantic City is famous for having the world's first oceanside Boardwalk. Today, visitors will encounter a wide range of food vendors, carnival-type games, gift shops, and unique attractions. Whether it's Ripley's Believe It or Not museum, the Korean War Memorial, or one of many saltwater taffy shops, there's something for every interest. And if you get tired, take a ride in one of Atlantic City's institutions: a rolling chair.
Relax on the Beach
As regular Jersey Shore visitors know, most beaches along the New Jersey coast require an admission fee that can be upwards of ten dollars per person, per day. A big exception is Atlantic City's beach, which is always free to access, even during the peak summer months. Although the beach itself isn't as well maintained as some of the other Jersey Shore beaches, it sure is difficult to beat that price.
Bargain-Hunt at Atlantic City's Outlet Mall
The Walk is Atlantic City's outlet mall. With more than 80 stores and eateries spread among several city blocks at the eastern end of the Atlantic City Expressway, and easily accessible from the Boardwalk, it's a great place to spend the afternoon. If visiting in cold weather, be prepared—the mall is outdoors, so dress appropriately.
Shop, Dine, and Dance in Old Havana
Tropicana's groundbreaking "The Quarter" complex is a trip back in time to Old Havana—a themed shopping, dining, and entertainment venue. By day, it offers unique shopping and top-rated restaurants including The Palm Restaurant, P.F. Chang's, and Cuba Libre. By night, the atmosphere takes on the air of a nightclub with both locals and visitors enjoying its indoor streets. It is also home to an IMAX theater, which features both current and past IMAX films.
Stuff Yourself at Buffets
While certainly not inexpensive, Atlantic City offers many buffet-style restaurants—at least one per resort. These pay-one-price-and-eat-yourself-silly places are staples of casino resorts. While you won't get the food spread or discounts you may expect in Las Vegas, the food is still abundant, and the ambience is generally fun. Favorite buffets include The Virginia City Buffet at Bally's Wild Wild West Casino and The French Quarter Buffet at Showboat.
Pamper Yourself with a Swim and Spa Day
Most resorts have a comprehensive spa, fitness center, and swimming pool. Check with your resort beforehand to see exactly what they offer, as resorts do vary in terms of spa availability and services. Harrah's Resort features one of the best swimming pools in Atlantic City: a glass-enclosed, year-round oasis with trees, bar service, and even rentable cabanas. On many nights, the pool area is transformed into a nightclub.
Catch a Show
Many of the resorts have at least one show venue. Most resorts feature local and recurring acts, usually musical or comedy, but a few of the larger venues host touring celebrities. Boardwalk Hall, which is not part of any resort, is the biggest and best, and it hosts many arena-sized events, including tours by national acts. This venue was the home of the Miss America pageant for many years. The House of Blues at Showboat is another major venue, with many celebrity acts headlining its stage.
Indulge in Fine Dining
In recent years, Atlantic City has really upped the ante—so to speak—when it comes to fine dining. The Borgata set a new standard for fine food when it opened in 2003 with celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck, and the other resorts have been clamoring to catch up. Fine dining is available at resorts throughout Atlantic City, catering to virtually every taste. The best spots are at Caesars and The Borgata, but each resort has its own claim to culinary fame.
Enjoy the Attractions on an Amusement Pier
Just like in Atlantic City's illustrious past, one defining characteristic of the Queen of Resorts is its amusement piers. While piers have come and gone over the years, today there are four fully operatational amusement piers, each of which offers its own brand of amusements. From south to north: The Pier Shops at Caesars is an upscale shopping and dining complex attached to Caesars Atlantic City; Central Pier is home to a video arcade and go-kart track; Steel Pier is Atlantic City's own midway-style amusement park; Garden Pier features the Atlantic City Historical Museum and Art Gallery.
Visit Gardner's Basin and the Atlantic City Aquarium
Families traveling with younger children will be pleasantly surprised with the Atlantic City Aquarium, a small but informative indoor aquarium located at Historic Gardner's Basin, just off the north end of the Boardwalk. During the summertime, Gardner's Basin is home to unique shops, restaurants, and even boat tours.
Published by Channel Lake, Inc., Tourist Town Guides was created by Dirk Vanderwilt as an alternative to the barrage of promotional information found in America's favorite tourist towns. Inspired by family trips to Wisconsin Dells as a child, Vanderwilt teamed up with writers across the country to share the ins and outs of these vacation hotspots. A graduate of New York University, Vanderwilt resides in New York City and frequently visits his favorite regional tourist town, Niagara Falls.
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