On a cool November morning, the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk is eerily quiet. Empty food stalls touting funnel cakes, corn dogs and ice cream line the boardwalk. The neon lights radiating from the nearby casinos pale in comparison to the glistening morning sunlight reflecting off the Atlantic Ocean. This early, the only crowds are the wetsuit-clad surfers who are eager to catch the last waves before winter sets in.
New Jersey's seaside city is an anomaly. Atlantic City is a mini-Las Vegas, full of gambling and entertainment, but it can also be a type of peaceful oasis -- at least in the off hours of the early morning. A mere two hour drive from New York City (without traffic), A.C. has become a full blown tourist destination, boasting world-class hotels, restaurants, casinos and shows.
Atlantic City is home to many premium hotels -- most of which tout their own casinos, restaurants, bars, and even theaters. The Trump Taj Mahal (tel. 609/449-1000; www.trumptaj.com), an A.C. institution around since 1990, is transforming itself with the times. All of the guestrooms were recently renovated. I stayed here as a child, and remember being hypnotized by the glitz of the casino. Returning as an adult, I was still hypnotized by the opulence of the hotel and casino -- only this time I am old enough to enjoy it.
Like many A.C. hotels, the Trump Taj Mahal can hold its own in the culinary realm. It is home to several restaurants, including Mark Anthony's and Safari Steakhouse. The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa (tel. 866/MY-BORGATA; www.theborgata.com) hosts so many fine dining options, it's dizzying. A few of its restaurants are Wolfgang Puck American Grille, Bobby Flay Steak, and Speechio. But, if you appreciate a good old-fashioned hot dog, head down to the boardwalk, where you can find a smorgasbord of street food, like hot dogs, pizza, gyros, ice cream, and Atlantic City's signature candy: Salt Water Taffy.
Besides the hotels, casinos, fine restaurants, and -- lest we forget -- salt water taffy, one of the biggest lures A.C. has is its entertainment industry. This relatively small city manages to attract big-name established acts; in recent months including Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Tom Jones, Celine Dion, John Mellencamp, the Police, and newcomer Miley Cyrus (AKA Disney Channel star Hannah Montana). B.B. King will play at the House of Blues (www.hob.com) on March 1, 2008. While some performances take place in casinos, the best venue in town is Boardwalk Hall, a National Historic Landmark that is reminiscent of a grand old concert hall.
That evening, some friends and I strolled along the boardwalk, which was still bustling with vendors hawking kitschy wares and throngs of tourists eager to buy them. The boardwalk was also brimming with rolling chairs, which are essentially rickshaws on wheels. A ride in a rolling chair usually costs $1 per block (tel. 609/347-7500), and they can be found anywhere on the boardwalk. Alas, the pedestrian traffic on the boardwalk was overwhelming, so we veered off toward the beach. At this time of night, like the early morning, the beach was barren and hushed, making it a welcome reprieve from the crowds on the boardwalk.
Atlantic City is known for its nightlife. Nearly every large hotel is home to a casino and nightclub. The Trump Taj Mahal is home to Casbah, the Borgata hosts MIXX, and Club Worship is located in the House of Blues. If nightclubs aren't your thing, the casinos are bouncing 24-hours-a-day. It may be cheesy, but most casinos have a theme: Caesars (www.caesarsatlanticcity.com) has an ancient-Roman vibe, House of Blues has a carnival-esque theme, and Bally's (www.ballysatlanticcity.com) has a Wild West Casino that is complete with fake saloons, faux-foliage and mechanical gold-diggers.
After a night of festivities, I woke up the next morning, packed my bag, checked out of the hotel, took a stroll along the quiet boardwalk, and hopped on a bus back to New York City. Two hours later, I was home. Not a bad vacation for only 24 hours.
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