Look out Las Vegas – this ain’t your daddy’s Atlantic City. Recent years have seen a wave of development crash ashore at this long-standing Jersey Shore resort town, with a plethora of initiatives soundly underway despite the economic downturn – in fact, more than 15 new restaurants have cropped up in the last year alone, while the much-anticipated $2.4-billion Revel mega-casino resort is due to open its lavish doors in May 2012 (www.revelresorts.com).
Big-money investors are holding steadfast to their wager that ousting the gaming town’s gritty reputation in favor of a classier perception of a little Las Vegas-by-the-sea is a winning bet, thanks to AC’s oceanfront address and driving distance proximity to more than a third of the U.S. population. Their game plan? Reel gamblers in with the gaming at its 11 casinos, then have ’em stick around to be wined, dined, pampered, and entertained at an influx of luxurious new hotel towers, sprawling spas, big-name boutiques, headliner shows, celebrity chef restaurants, and sizzling nightspots.
Luckily, there’s no need to roll the roulette wheel on what to do once you get there: We’ve put together the perfect 1-2-3 Weekend – 1 hotel, 2 restaurants, and 3 things to do – that promises a winning hand weekend getaway to AC, complete with a mix of the new and tried-and-true.
1 – Hotel
Three years after its opening, the most buzz-worthy property in town (though the Revel’s long-awaited opening come spring is slated to soon steal some of its thunder) remains the sleek, Asian-inspired The Water Club, offering guests a feeling of exclusivity that its glitzy, action-packed sister property Borgata (situated just next door) lacks. While still within arm’s reach of all of the crowd-drawing amenities of Borgata, the casino-, restaurant-, and nightclub-less Water Club allows guests a comfortable retreat from the drove of guests and visitors who pile in to partake in the town’s sceniest casino and hot-spots just next door, without sacrificing a feeling of elegance and “it”-spot worthiness. Tucked away on the northeastern fringes of town, away from the boardwalk-area masses, the 43-story tower’s 800 guestrooms provide a well-appointed respite, offering floor-to-ceiling windows (most boast views of the bay or ocean), Egyptian-cotton sheets, and marble bathrooms (showers come equipped with both a standard and rain shower head).
Do splurge on a treatment at the stunning two-story spa on the 32nd and 33rd floors and tack on an extra hour or two to take in the infinity-edge lap pool, whirlpools, and sweeping ocean and skyline panoramas. Tip: While The Water Club’s heralded outdoor/indoor swimming pools are among the hippest in town, busy summer weekends demand that guests rise and shine for a chance at securing a spot – or risk being wait-listed for a seat to open up. A summer alternative for cooling down? Hop on the free beach shuttle to Brigantine Beach that the hotel offers in season. 1 Renaissance Way; 609-317-8888; www.thewaterclubhotel.com
2 – Restaurants
Forego the humdrum buffets and prolific celebrity chef outposts in favor of being served up a refreshingly authentic slice of AC history alongside respectable steak and seafood fare. The 99-year-old Knife and Fork Inn offers a sophisticated dining experience on the western edge of town, where it’s housed in an iconic Flemish-inspired structure dating to 1912: It once served as a private gentlemen’s club and Prohibition-era speakeasy. Indulge in a seafood-rich menu touting specialties like spicy-seared tuna, cooked to perfection with a blend of cayenne, colander, chili, and ginger spices. A “40 on 40 List” offers a reasonably priced selection of 40 wines for $40 or less. Renovated in 2005, rooms and floors turn over to reveal dining nooks defined by vaulted ceilings, dangling lanterns, black-and-white photos of Atlantic City of yore, speakeasy-scene murals, a glass-enclosed wine room, and an open kitchen, ensuring a welcoming dining ambiance to suit all tastes. Reservations on weekends are recommended; dinner is served nightly, lunch on Fridays only. 3600 Atlantic Ave.; 609-344-1133; www.knifeandforkinn.com
For no-frills dining that’s big on taste, seek out the legendary White House Sub Shop, billed as the birthplace of the submarine sandwich. Doling out generously sized subs for some 65 years, the family-owned White House Sub Shop is a bustling, smooth-running operation that’s drummed up sandwiches savory enough to attract the likes of Sinatra, Monroe, and DiMaggio, plus an assortment of more modern-day celebs (mugs of notables who have dined here now cram the walls). Sandwiches come by the whole- or half-size with Italian-style, meatball, and steak options ranking among the most popular. Note that the famed sub shop opened its first outpost at the Trump Taj Mahal in May, though be warned: While the menu may mock the original, the quirky charm of the real-deal restaurant on Arctic Avenue is hardly replicated. 2301 Arctic Ave; 609-345-1564
3 – Things to Do
Sure, Atlantic City may be booming with a bevy of new attractions and diversions, but its beloved oceanfront boardwalk – dating back to 1870 and touted as the world’s first – remains its trump card to this day. A proper stroll here makes for an easy full-day affair, with a four-mile-plus-long route leading to the doorways of the lot of the city’s casinos (Trump Taj Mahal is our favorite for over-the-top casino kitsch; www.trumptaj.com) and beckoning with benches primed for top-notch people-watching – in fact, benches turn inward towards the boardwalk and not the ocean for this very sport (we don’t imagine the scene any less engaging today than when it was a runway for promenading peacocking socialites at the turn of the century). Set aside some time for chomping down on salt water taffy (the stuff was invented here in the 1880s – head to James Salt Water Taffy at 1519 Boardwalk for the real deal; www.seashoretaffy.com); cruising along the wooden planks in an old-fashioned wicker rolling chair (a pedicab-like, guide-pushed contraption for two); getting in your shopping fix (our favorite outlet for retail therapy is the spiffy, pier-topped shopping mall at the Pier Shops at Caesars; www.thepiershopsatcaesars.com); catering to the kids – or the kid inside of you – at one of the amusement piers (we love the panoramas from the Ferris wheel at the Steel Pier; www.steelpier.com); or detouring to the sandy beaches to dip your toes in the Atlantic.
If the boardwalk’s ocean views leave you craving some time at sea, a welcomed break from the hustle-and-bustle of smoky casinos can be had aboard Atlantic City Cruises’ dolphin-watching sailings (daily from June through mid-September; more-limited scheduling in fall and spring), which depart from Historic Gardner’s Basin (on the northeast side of town). Touted as the northernmost dolphin-watching operator on the Eastern seaboard, sightings on the two-hour excursions aboard the 150-passenger Cruisn’ 1 are guaranteed or a free ticket for another outing will be granted (the operator, in business for 27 years, claims successful viewings on more than 90 percent of its tours). Seeing the dolphin pods in action is downright spell-binding. 800 N. New Hampshire Ave.; 609-347-7600; www.atlanticcitycruises.com
As HBO’s hit series Boardwalk Empire revs up for its second season, the newly launched Nucky’s Way Trolley Tour plays up the town’s retro appeal on a guided ‘20s-style trolley tour offering hop-on, hop-off service to six popular spots about town. Embracing AC’s Prohibition-era past, the lively tours uncover remnants of the city’s checkered history (including tales of mobster shenanigans, rum-running, speakeasies, and illegal gambling dens, all while calling out historical structures of note – at least those that haven’t yet been bulldozed during the course of the AC’s rampant development), as recounted by lively character actors led by a portrayal of Enoch “Nucky” Johnson (the corrupt Prohibition-era politician and racketeer). Tickets can be purchased at the stand adjacent to the Starbucks at The Walk outlets, or at any of the shuttle route’s other stops. 800-992-1339; www.academybus.com
Situated on the southern Jersey Shore, Atlantic City is set within easy driving distance of several major U.S. metros: 188 miles from D.C., 150 miles from Baltimore, 62 miles from Philadelphia, and 126 miles from NYC. Or, fly into the Atlantic City International Airport, serviced by budget carriers Spirit Airlines and AirTran; alternatively, the larger Philadelphia International Airport is just about an hour’s drive. Rail connections are available via Philadelphia (on NJ Transit Rail) or via the late 2008-launched Atlantic City Express Services (ACES) from New York City (weekends only). Additionally, frequent motor coach service is available from most neighboring cities.
For general trip-planning information, see our Atlantic City Travel Guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals.