I can’t stop talking about it – the ocean, the spa, the oysters, the lobster, the views, the restaurants, the boardwalk, the lighthouse, the cooking school, the paparazzi. It is Atlantic City. Disclosure http://cmp.ly/3 - and thanks - to Spirit Airlines and Caesar’s Entertainment for the #ACGetaway girlfriends weekend away with Duong Sheahan and MJ Tam of Chicagonista.com. Check out my Atlantic City travel pics and MJ's video at the end of this post and please share your Atlantic City travel tips or questions in the comment box.
It’s been years since I visited Altantic City, New Jersey.
My first and only trip was as a sales trainer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. George, the rep assigned to show me around, insisted we stop in at the casinos. My dim memories were of a bright place at night that wasn’t too compelling.
I mean, if you didn’t gamble what was there to do?
Walk the beach? I could do that back home in Chicago.
So when the offer came in to fly away for a girlfriends weekend, I erased my former memory files and eagerly said yes. After all, most of my friends would be away at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin. I wanted to get away, too.
Duong and I met up at BlogWorld last fall and MJ is a regular on the Chicago social media scene. We're all moms who blog and love social media. MJ was our video producer and Duong is a fellow photographer whose talent inspires me. Both MJ and Duong are hosts on Chicagonista Live! We missed being with the other two Chicagonista Live! hosts, Beth Rosen and Nancy Loo.
Besides, absolutely everyone I told about this trip was envious. It seemed like everybody wanted to go to Atlantic City. So, naturally, I had to go for all of us.
All of a sudden, “visit Atlantic City” was a priority on my friends must visit vacation spots - even though most of them had never been there.
And so I boarded one of Spirit Airlines’ first round-trip flights from Chicago to Atlantic City.
Known as an ultra low cost carrier, Spirit is the only airline that flies directly from O’Hare into Atlantic City. Airfare is very competitive, especially when you factor in rental car savings. But, you will have to pay to take your bags.
We landed in Atlantic City on a springy rainy night.
When our limo dropped us off and we walked into Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City New Jersey , I’ll admit that I had mixed emotions. After spending a week in Las Vegas in January at the Consumer Electronics Show and Affiliate Marketing Summit, I wanted my next destination to be more than a strip with a walk.
Since the purpose of our trip was to discover Atlantic City and bring back our experiences to Chicago, I quickly checked that reaction and switched over to an open and adventurous mindset. I don’t gamble; casinos are not an attraction for me.
Before joining our group for dinner, we checked into our gracious rooms. A tempting fruit and cheese plate greeted me. With only 10 minutes to spare, I hastily sampled every cheese on it and ran downstairs to meet up with our hosts at Mc Cormick and Schmick’s at Harrah's in Atlantic City.
Reading the wine list, I realized I’d already tasted my way through it in other restaurants and settled in on a familiar Australian Shiraz. We started with the chill platter, an artistic display of fresh, chilled seafood capped off by a jaunty lobster head that reminded me that I am a lobster lover. Thanks to Jerry of Caesars Entertainment for menu recommendations for orienting us to the area.
If you continually crave oysters, Atlantic City will be your nirvana.
Try the mignon sauce with these freshly shucked beauties. For my main course, I selected a trio of Hawaiian fish and wish I would've taken notes about the recipes. But, since these was a dish of the day, something else equally as delicious will be on the menu when you go there. We split three different desserts, including crème brulee, for dessert.
On Friday we met up with Jenn and Lauren of DKC and rode over to shops at the pier where we met up with Katie of Caesars Entertainment at Budakkan. We sampled a feast of favorites, including a stacked tempura appetizer, duck breast with salad, wasabi coated filet mignon, edamame ravioli and lobster fried rice.
After lunch, Duong and I wandered through The Pier Shops at Caesars while MJ waited in a short line for a new iPad at the Apple Store. Kind of a mix between a luxury mall and a casual resort shopping galleria, Burberry, Michael Kors and MAC stood out as must-stops on an afternoon shopping spree.
Atlantic City: A PR Perspective
Jenn and Laurn from DKC in New York organized the trip up and stayed with us the entire weekend to answer questions and enjoy the experience along with us. They also set up interviews and introductions to people like Jerry and Katie from Ceasar’s Entertainment who filled us in on behind the scenes information, including where many of the Boardwalk Empire parties took place. From a PR perspective, I was impressed by the way Atlantic City works together to promote events. Each property's PR rep contributes to a team effort, which makes for a stronger and unified community.
Climbing Back Up into History
Wanting to step back into time after hearing so many stories about the history of Atlantic City, after lunch we took a cab to Absecon Lighthouse. Climbing the 228 spiral stairs to get to the top may be a challenge, but the lighting on the stairwell is well worth a short climb. If you’re looking for a lighthouse on a point, you’ll be disappointed. At the corner of Pacific and Rhode Island Avenues, this one is in town. It’s worth seeing and is a five minute cab ride from Caesar’s. The Lighthouse keeper will call a cab to take you back.
We regrouped at the Viking Cooking School at Harrah's Resort for a class in Food and Wine Pairing: Napa Valley Style.
Take a look at this menu: Artisanal California Chèvre with Fresh Herbs on Olive Oil Crostini with Sauvignon Blanc, Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon Brown Butter with Chardonnay, Wild Mushrooms a la Bourguignon with Pinot Noir, Roasted Rack of Lamb with Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon and Phyllo Chess Tartlets with Napa Valley Sparkling Wine. Yummy right?
Since this was only a “tasting,” we went on to a follow up tasting at The Steakhouse at Harrah's Restaurant where we sampled raw oysters [this could become a habit] crab and asparagus soup, heirloom tomato salad and a sushi roll that came garnished with an orchid.
On the way back, we passed one of the many live bands performing. As full as I was, I wanted to dance, but we had an early wake up call to get to Qua Spa the next morning.
Thermal Baths and Aromatherapy
To get to Qua Spa at Caesar’s you walk down long neutral corridors that cleanse all the casino sound and clutter from your mind. By the time you arrive at the spa entrance, you’re ready to relax. Janet, my masseuse greeted me and told me about the St. Patrick’s Day parade on the boardwalk, which put me in a blissful mood.
The massage rooms are gracious and warm. Settling onto the heated bed released the tension in my back. My classic massage included aromatherapy in the form of a hand and foot scrub. Janet smoothed the scrub on. A warm heated towel refreshed my skin.
When the massage was over, I wanted to melt into the table, but from the looks of the dressing room someone else was waiting right behind me to enjoy this sublime experience. I hopped up and changed into my swimming suit before sinking into the Roman bath’s tepid pool. After soaking for a few minutes, I dipped into the hot pool and then popped into the cold pool for a few seconds as a final refresher. Feeling rejuvenated and revitalized, we were ready for a sushi lunch at Souzai Sushi where we indulged in a lavender Lychee Nut martini.
The Scientist and the Chef
With all afternoon to relax, we had plenty of time to get ready for dinner at The Foundation Room in the House of Blues prepared by Chef Ramsey. We started with white truffle pop rocks. In an interview with AC Restaurant Week, House of Blues Foundation Room Chef Ramsey said he's into, " . . . molecular Gastronomy: spherification (turning any liquid to a caviar shade sphere) foams and air. We make a passion fruit foam that is served over our oysters and crab cakes. I make ice cream and sorbet table side with liquid nitrogen. Powders! We make Nutella powder and herb oil powder to name a few. We make our own pop rocks! I feature white truffle pop rocks and bacon pop rocks."
Grilled shrimp and pesto scallops arrived in front of me, halibut landed in front of everyone else and we shared a plate of elk with black truffle risotto. Chef Ramsey made ice cream table side with liquid nitrogen in a bowl that costs $3,000. Watching the ice cream solidify through the fog was a mesmerizing experience.
90 Seconds of Fame
After lounging in the Foundation Room and venturing out onto the upper-level seaside veranda, we rode back to the hotel where we waited to meet Giuliana Rancic, host of E! News. Standing alongside Giuliana on the step and turn Hollywood carpet was an experience I’ll never forget. Not only was I standing next to a real star who seemed genuinely interested in our trio, there were hundreds of flashbulbs capturing our every move. That’s why I look so dazed/dazzled? in the pictures.
At the Pool After Dark
After our photo opp, we headed into Pool After Dark, one of the top nightclubs in the country. Voted Megaclub of the Year by Bar and Nightclub Magazine, this is one spectacular place to see and be seen. Set under an atrium, a loft looks down at private cabanas rimming an indoor pool. Guests gather poolside and some even go in for a toe dip. Music pumps out of a wall of speakers and keeps the crowd rockin' while a light show on Harrah’s façade beams in through the night. All in all, a stellar experience, especially if you like to dance the night away.
On Sunday morning, we rode our limo one last time past local landmark White House Sub Shop back to Caesar’s for brunch at Nero’s Grill at Caesars where you can indulge in whatever suits your tastes at the moment. With a view of the waterfront from an upper level, we watched the waves beckon us to go in. Taking the circular elevator downstairs – I just had to do that! – we ended up right by the doors to the pier.
Although it was a cool and breezy March day, MJ and I wandered down to the ocean. I put my fingers, not my toes, in the water and made a wish that someday soon I’d be back in Atlantic City – on the real Jersey Shore.
Atlantic City Travel Guide
With the theme “Always Turned On,” Atlantic City is less than a day’s drive from 1/3 of the U.S. population.
One message I took away to bring back is: Atlantic City wants Chicagoans to come out for a visit like Jimmy did on Boardwalk Empire.
Atlantic City Beach and Boardwalk
There’s something about the sea. Whenever we travel on vacation and we’re near the ocean, I have to walk on the sand and touch the water. I last touched the Atlantic in 2007. On Saturday, the wind was so forceful that we couldn’t come up with the courage to get to the waterfront. Besides, we were wearing spa clothes, not spring jackets. On Sunday, the winds were calmer and the sun was out. MJ and I ran down to the seashore to take a video. “I kind of want to go in,” is the last line. Yep, that was me. And if we didn’t have to get on a plane in a few hours, I probably would have. You can walk the boardwalk, ride in a rolling chair, stroll the beach or catch the waves.
Atlantic City Dining
You can visit over and over and over again and be continually impressed by the caliber of the Atlantic City chefs. Properties attract top talent and city-wide competitions keep the chefs creative and build community admiration. This is a town committed to cuisine. And, I love that.
Remember, New Jersey is the Garden State. With fresh vegetables and fresh seafood what’s not to like? We visited these restaurants.
Atlantic City Shopping
We browsed through The Pier Shops at Caesars, an over-the-ocean $175 million facility featuring 575,000 square feet of entertainment, premium restaurants and exclusive retail shops.
Bargain shoppers would enjoy Atlantic City Outlets - The Walk, a $76 million, 320,000-square-foot, multi-block retail outlet, dining and entertainment venue with upscale retailers and downsized prices. Because we were pressed for time, we didn’t visit the outlets, but I know my husband’s first stop would be the Nike Outlet.
Atlantic City Lodging
Caesars Entertainment offers several hotel options, each at a different price point and theme.
Caesars Atlantic City is the higher-end option and is right on the boardwalk.
Located a short ride away from the boardwalk, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City was our home. Inside Harrah’s you’ll find shops, The Pool After Dark, the Viking Cooking School and several fine restaurants.
Each property offers special rates online, some as low as $55 per night.
Read MJ Tam's Atlantic City Getaway coverage on Chicagonista.com. Special thanks to Beth Rosen for inviting me to go on this trip.
Image Credit: Thanks to MJ Tam for taking this picture and to Phoebe Svoboda for insisting that I wear this "Tiger Blood" coat in Atlantic City. I have to say this is one of favorite fashion finds. Label: Ralph Lauren.
Have you been to Atlantic City? Please share your travel tips with us!