Over the days of September 11, 2009 thru September 14, 2009,
Terry, Ellen, Richard and I took off for a bit of a long weekend.
had purchased tickets to see Tommy Emmanuel perform at the Surflight
Theatre in Beach Haven on Sunday night. And… as is our way… we
decided to blow it up a bit and turn tickets to a single show
into a long weekend away. Plans were made and Atlantic City was
whole trip was well-planned and yet chaotically crazy. We left
late at night for the drive down… the concert brought us from
Atlantic City over to Beach Haven and then back to Atlantic City…
and there was never going to be a ton of exploring. Instead of
the normal attempt at a tour diary that chronicles the weekend…
and instead of a simple best of column with all of us thinking
about the events that took place and people we met… I thought
a different approach might be a bit more fun for this one.
divided this piece up into four sections… the great, the good,
the bad, and the ugly. (Yeah… I know… really basic. We’ll try
to make up for it with some good stories. Here we go…)
The Surflight Theatre –
One of the most pleasant surprises you will ever experience when
it comes to entertainment is located in Beach Haven, New Jersey.
seats about 450 and puts together a pretty impressive listing
of shows. And it’s a theater in the sense of the small-theaters
with intimate seating and decent names appearing on the schedule
that I grew up with but rarely find these days. Sure, there are
the Broadway-stage-style presentations… 2010 marks the theater’s
60th season, and the schedule shows some great productions. There
are also some great shows for children. And, perhaps most importantly,
catch this listing for such a small theater… John Davidson returns
after his 2009 holiday performance for a 2010 summer concert…Tommy
Emmanuel is scheduled for four shows in three days… and this place
fits it all in a room where the seats furthest from the stage
are no more than 13 rows away. I guarantee you… with the combination
of theater size, ticket prices, and calendar of events… you will
find something to interest you taking place here.
if you visit once… they’ll have you. The experience is simply
extraordinary. Imagine a main road full of options for a meal
before the show, from casual to fine dining, with virtually all
offered in a relaxed, summer atmosphere. There’s plenty of parking
right next to the theater. And… this was the part that just sealed
it all and put a ribbon on it for me on my first visit… the beach
is literally right there. In 2008, before a show, Justin, Jason,
Gabe and I spent about a half-hour staring at the ocean while
perhaps two hundred yards away from the Surflight’s front doors.
On this 2009 trip, Terry, Ellen, Richard and I ate dinner and
drove a mile or two down the road to spend time near the water,
check out Atlantic City in the distance, and then watch a nice
sunset before heading in to the theater.
the setting is amazing. Just another world.
Emmanuel and Rick Price at the Surflight – I would recommend
either of these wonderful performers to you without hesitation.
To see them both together was fantastic.
comes to the Surflight pretty every year for multiple shows. This
year he will be performing there in September, with four concerts
scheduled. No word on the opening act yet. (In July I will be
seeing him perform at Showcase Live… the same location where I
saw him last September when I interviewed Rick
Price. On that date his opening act is Troy
Cassar-Daly. It is almost always someone with an Australian background
that will deliver a great set.)
penny slots at Harrah’s – Or… more specifically… the
1-cent Double Diamond Progressive slots at Harrah’s.
and Ellen spent way too much time here. And I say that only because
it reached a point where Richard and I knew exactly where to look
to find one of them, and, Harrah’s was really the only property
that we felt a need to visit multiple times. (Ellen sort of begged…
often wondering if we’d even have time to visit again on the day
floor show, multiple performances, Harrah’s – Kind of
a personal touch. You won’t be able to find a listing of her shows
at Harrah’s if you look for it. It’s one of those perks that comes
from traveling with her. And it goes something like this…
gambled with Ellen at dozens of casinos in at least four different
states. And if you had asked me about five years ago what her
gambling style was, I would have told you something along the
lines of someone that liked to gamble while saying she doesn’t
like to gamble.
that’s not quite right. In fact, it’s probably not quite fair.
more accurate description would involve two concepts… first, gambling
is supposed to be fun… second, winning is nice but value is more
don’t think this is an unusual combination. And, the union of
those two concepts is actually easy enough to understand. She
doesn’t want gambling to be like work and she doesn’t want to
watch her money fly out of her hands. Losing is ok… as long as
it isn’t happening way too fast.
speaking, Ellen usually watches us play roulette or blackjack,
and if we appear to have settled in at a table, she might wander
away to a video poker machine or… well… anything that catches
Harrah’s, it was a specific penny Double Diamond slot machine.
she couldn’t stop thinking about it. We had to go to the machine
a few times to wait for her to finish playing before we moved
on to something else. Multiple times. (She even stalked a couple
of people that were playing it when she moved for one reason or
another. And one time, she even sat and waited for Terry to finish
playing it so she could jump on.)
in Beach Haven, NJ – There are plenty of places in Beach
Haven to just pull over and take it all in. I’ve never been there
for a sunrise, but imagine it would be sensational. The only problem…
and it isn’t a major problem… is that sunset isn’t Oceanside.
House of Blues – Located in Showboat, we decided
to eat dinner here on Saturday night. And, of course, there’s
a bit of a story involved…
couldn’t think of a single place we wanted to eat.
way our weekend was set up, dinner on Saturday was really the
only meal we needed to think about. On Friday we didn’t arrive
until the vicinity of midnight… on Sunday we were in Beach Haven…
and on Monday we were home. Any other meal would more or less
be based on whether or not we were hungry.
we started kicking around ideas and quickly dismissing them. We
weren’t looking for fancy or expensive… we weren’t looking for
all you could eat… we didn’t want crowded… blah-blah-blah. Everything
kind of came together when we arrived at Showboat during our drive
around to a few properties, checked out a couple of menus, and
were able to get seated right away at the House of Blues.
beauty of it wasn’t that anything was great… it was that everything
was good. The service was really outstanding (and of course I
can’t for the life of me find our server’s name now). The food
was delicious… nothing knock-you-off-your-seat beyond belief,
but everything was in the have-you-tried-this-yet-because-you’re-going-to-like-it
range or better. And… best of all… we were just looking and pointing
at things… lots of appetizers… an entrée apiece, even though
as I said, lots of appetizers… and yet the final bill
was pretty reasonable considering everything we had arriving at
go here expecting to leave talking about the food. Go hear expecting
to have a great time while being able to eat good food. If you
do, you won’t be disappointed.
Haven, NJ – I list the town itself here with the good
for one very simple reason… I’ve never spent the night. In fact,
in two trips, I’ve never been there to eat more than a meal, spend
some time on the beach, and see a show. I just can’t recommend
it as something superb when I’ve never made reservations to stay
that said… I wouldn’t have any hesitations of staying there should
the opportunity suddenly arise.
staff of the Atlantic City casino properties – Overall,
the majority of employees we dealt with were far friendlier than
we ever expected them to be. Most of them smiled… tried to get
conversations going… and seemed generally attentive to our questions
and needs. A few seemed burned out and cranky… but that was the
exception in our experiences. It was the physical buildings that
disappointed and never matched the enthusiasm of the staff.
an example, in a minute I’m going to list the Virginia City Buffet
as a “yawn” for our trip. But… in line to check in, the staff
was good. The people that made my eggs and got my orange juice
were friendly enough. The food was just nothing more than plain
(at best) and the atmosphere so-so.
were several examples of problems we had… often with specific
individuals… but overall we were not impressed by Atlantic City.
It was a dump. And for the majority of staff to be polite, friendly,
and smiling while trying to get your mind off the dirty and aging
structures is worth noting.
plays roulette – Many of my theories about gambling fly
right in the face of the numbers. I know that having a good time
honestly and truly has no impact upon the way you play… instead,
it is far more likely that the reason it seems like you win more
when you’re happy is exactly that, you’re winning and therefore
said, our dear Mumbles is an amazing gambler when he is having
fun. And when he isn’t… stand back. Canasta has exemplified this.
Here in New Jersey, Richard was having a ball.
weren’t really playing as much as you might think, and Richard
rarely sits down at a blackjack table alone. That led him to roulette,
and over the course of our weekend, he was winning a bit more
often than he wasn’t.
– Bobby and BJ at Harrah’s, Barbara at The Ridge
– Just three people I’d like to mention because we had alot of
fun at the tables with them.
and BJ were the dealer and the floor supervisor at a blackjack
table. They kept things light and friendly, and we had a good
time being around them.
was at a roulette table… geez, must have been around midnight…
one night when we were heading up to our room. (I believe it was
after Sunday’s show in Beach Haven.) Richard had the itch to play,
sat down, and managed to hit a couple of numbers right out of
– Just a couple of blocks from the Surflight, this is where we
had dinner before the show. The food was good… but our time there
had a strange side event take place.
food was ok. Not spectacular. I need to stress that… because I
don’t think any of us were overly impressed by our meals, and
we each reached in a different direction. But when we arrived
and said we were there for dinner, they seated us in the dining
that matter? Yeah… I think so.
the food was ok, but we had good service and enjoyed our visit.
Nothing was wrong… just nothing on the plate to encourage a return.
the corner though was the bar. (Excuse me… their tavern.) And
they were playing football games on the television… and they had
a different menu of things that probably would have encouraged
us to share appetizers and order a bit differently and… yeah,
that looked like fun.
I had a room within walking distance of the Surflight… and had
tickets to a show… I could easily see myself at Buckalew’s again,
enjoying a drink or two, and maybe some wings or nachos, and finishing
it off with a sandwich or burger or some bar food item.
if a restaurant has me thinking of coming back, I’m willing to
think about it in a good way.
This is a bonus category. I never thought I’d need it when I started
this effort, and now I think I do. I’m inserting it to allow me
to include some of the places that we visited that weren’t bad…
but I can’t say they were really good either. To me, including
something with the good (or better) indicates that there’s a chance
we would actually look for it in the future. Almost seems like
a recommendation. And if something is in the category of bad,
then there would really need to be something extra taking place
to get us back again. Ugly… well… I don’t expect to ever return
and would purposely do my best not to.
the places here though, they just weren’t that impressive. It
wasn’t that something was wrong… it wasn’t that any aspect of
it was even right… it was just pretty boring and average.
Café – In the back corner of Harrah’s is a nice
little restaurant that should offer a fabulous experience. Since
it’s off the beaten path, it isn’t noisy. Since it’s off the beaten
path, my experience with other casino resort properties would
suggest that while it might be busy, it likely won’t be as busy
as other locations. And the menu looked very appetizing.
yet, here’s a test. I can guarantee you that if I walked up to
Ellen, Richard or Terry right now and asked them… “What do you
remember about Reflections Café?”… none of them would remember
where it was, when they had been there, or anything about the
place without being given some additional information. If I told
them only that it was in Atlantic City, they likely still wouldn’t
know the property. Heck, if I gave them everything from the property
to when we ate there, they wouldn’t have a clue what they ordered.
like a yawn to you? (Me too.)
City Buffet – A second ago I told you that the staff
leading us in to this buffet, and serving us at it, were good.
And that is pretty much the only redeeming element of the place.
have this running theory about bakeries. It’s simple really… generically
speaking, try the brownies. If a bakery can’t make a decent brownie,
then they don’t make anything at all that you really want to eat.
deal with this restaurant. I get it… at a buffet alot of food
will be stored in hot boxes, and it’s been mass produced. Pasta
at a buffet? Time your serving perfectly or risk the results.
understanding those limits from a buffet… the pancakes shouldn’t
taste like they were made, then frozen, then developed some type
of freezer burn, then were reheated in a toaster, and ultimately
they managed to be served to you cold. Is it too much to ask for
pancakes and waffles warm enough to at least soften butter? It
is too much to ask for the outer half-inch of the pancake to not
be crispy, especially when the middle is still frozen? The answers
are no… not when many hotels are now offering you the ability
to make fresh waffles as part of their complimentary breakfasts.
it really that bad? No. My omelet was pretty good. And the cook
making it was great.
it’s the people that make it a yawn. Because I don’t think we
will be going back here… and I wouldn’t tell you to pay it a visit
Bally’s (Claridge… The Ridge… whatever) – Wow…
where to begin?
you want to know about the leftovers in the room? (I’ll actually
get to them in the Ugly section.)
stench of urine in the public parking? The charges for parking
even when staying in that hotel? (Ok… more on these in a moment.)
miles upon miles of walking that seemed to put everything out
of the way of everything else might be the funniest note… and
best worth sharing.
Virginia City Buffet was off the floor, down the hall, and in
of the restaurants were across the casino floor and then upstairs.
rooms… and the elevators to them… required a map, a compass, and
two subway tokens to get to from the hotel lobby.
was a challenge… everything an inconvenience.
funny thing. Part of this is because Bally’s isn’t really just
Bally’s. They took over the Claridge, have expanded over the years…
including what I recall being a wild wet theme of a casino expansion
more than a decade ago. And that adds up to this stunning realization…
of course everything is going to be inconvenient… it’s all stretched
out over multiple properties.
it shouldn’t be this bad. Here we go…
Saturday we went around town. When we had left, the door between
our rooms was closed. I remember this vividly because Ellen asked
Richard about something (I think it was his camera). But with
the door between our connecting rooms closed, Richard couldn’t
get into his room. He grabbed it by entering from the hallway
when we left.
night, when we got back to our hotel rooms, our room key didn’t
work. I was starting to think about the long walk down to the
desk when Ellen called out that the door between the rooms was
let’s see… I didn’t go get my room keys fixed that night because
I just didn’t feel like walking a marathon to the darn hotel desk.
And… doors between adjoining rooms were left open by the housekeeping
staff, but the rooms were booked in different names and they had
no real way of knowing we were together.
stuff. Good times. (Stay away from Bally’s.)
vote for Terry’s luck – From… of course… Terry. She was
not happy about her gambling efforts on this trip. Nope… not at
parking – Ok, for this one we’re complaining about the
theory of the parking. Or, more simply put, the charges for parking.
hotel guests… we had to pay for valet parking. We would have had
to pay for any parking.
sure… they’ll tell you get free parking with a hotel stay. What
they won’t tell you is that you need to find Waldo to get your
had to drive around to a different section of the parking entrance,
go inside to a desk to find a specific cashier, and produce a
form from our hotel stay that I just happened to luck out and
have in my backpack. (Not intended to be a funny reference to
the web site.) Then they told us we were welcome at all the wonderful
Bally’s family of properties.
the next property I produced the receipt I was told to produce,
and they told me that was wrong. So they printed up a different
getting tired of typing about this and your patience has to be
wearing thin. Look…
had an argument with a guy in the booth because after turning
down all the paperwork and receipts I had that were supposed to
cover my parking, he told me to just swipe my players card next
time because I probably qualified for free parking. Naturally,
at the parking payment gate, he had no way of swiping any of our
cards to retrieve that. Had to be done inside, miles away from
frustrating and annoying. Pain… in… the… ass.
Boardwalk – This got votes for bad and ugly, so I split
it into two categories… the Boardwalk for bad and Atlantic City
overall for ugly. Why bad? Because the Boardwalk wasn’t as hideous
as the city and so many of the properties. It was… as silly as
this sounds… what it always was. To directly quote Ellen: “I didn’t
see much of a difference.”
there was nothing right about it this time.
previous trips to AC I recall the Boardwalk having a kind of excitement.
Sure… it could take forever to get to some of the properties.
Sure… there’s a tackiness to it that defies description. The thing
is, I recall always feeling like I couldn’t wait for what I was
going to see next. Maybe it was a stupid slogan slapped on a t-shirt,
and perhaps it was just a view of the Atlantic Ocean. Could have
been something about the piers or the beach, and might have been
the resort casino and hotel towers off in the distance. Whatever
it was at any given moment, there was always something to make
fun of, something to enjoy, and something that just felt special.
this time though.
time it seemed quiet and depressing. And as Ellen so rightly observed…
physically there wasn’t much of a difference than any previous
visit. The atmosphere though… that was gone.
Café – I happen to be a fan of the Rainforest
Café. I’ve visited multiple locations in Orlando... found
the place in Cancun and Las Vegas… Massachusetts and Maryland…
and given some thought I might find that this is a restaurant
chain with tableside service that I have visited more locations
of than any other place.
that’s one of the reasons this was so amazingly disappointing.
I don’t like it for the food. I like the Rainforest Café
because of the fun and the surroundings. I like it because in
most places the staff have been great.
waitress was playing a game of ignoring us. We sat down around
11:30… food started arriving about an hour later. We didn’t leave
simply because we had checked out a couple of places on our way
over… just to see what was nearby… and nothing appealed to us.
kicker was when the food started arriving, it was warm… as if
it had been sitting for a while.
– Richard and I don’t remember a single waitress. Not one. We
don’t remember seeing any boobs… we don’t recall any of the outfits
they wore… we just don’t remember anything about the beverage
service on the floor. Now… normally that would kind of qualify
this for yawn status, except that we also don’t remember getting
served at any of the properties. And as I read Ellen’s response
to some of my questions, and tried to incorporate Richard’s thoughts
with mine, it occurred to me that the only memory I had of getting
a drink was when I ordered one at Bally’s… waited fifteen to twenty
minutes for her to show up with a tray to show me how it had spilled…
waited again when she disappeared after a promise to bring one
right out, only to see her ten minutes later making a sweep to
take fresh orders… and eventually leaving after three-quarters
of an hour or more without getting my drink. So they weren’t just
failing at being memorable… they were failing at service too.
Atlantic City – Over the course of our trip we
actually did explore a bit more than we expected, and visited
several properties… Bally’s, Caesars, Bogota, Harrah’s, Showboat,
and Taj Mahal. Even ate at the Rainforest Café on the last
day, so toss in Trump Plaza if you wish. And out of all of those
properties, only two were… well… I suppose clean is the word I’m
enjoyed Harrah’s. And the Bogota is nice as well. Other than that…
there were some moments (as noted above), but some disappointments
as well. And overall… Atlantic City you really need a facelift.
parking – And here, we’re complaining about the actual
parking. At one point we decided the hell with it, and self-parked
at the Bally’s-Claridge-all-in-one-but-specifically-the-Ridge-combo-property.
To say it smelled doesn’t do justice to the overwhelming stench
put… you will know where Atlantic City’s homeless hang out.
how about those parking fees? Doesn’t matter where you park… in
a garage… valet… heck, even as a hotel guest… you pay extra for
parking. Now I’m mentioning that again because I want to try and
explain this one more time…
your player’s card, most properties have swipe stations for you
to use. You can check your points, perhaps print some comps, and
generally work on your account. One of the things is earning free
parking. And… near as I can tell… you earn free parking by finding
one of these swipe stations and being physically able to slide
your card through the reader. (Ok… that’s an exaggeration. You
also have to be able to enter your pin number and select the free
parking option on the touch screen.)
all had free parking at, I believe, every property. Even when
one of us barely played… we still laughed when we swiped that
card and saw free parking. But almost every time it never occurred
to us to try and get the card until we were on our way to the
car and had long since passed the last swipe station. Why? Well,
mainly because we were told we didn’t need to pay once we had
already paid because we were hotel guests that had paid and… oh,
places smelled like urine and at almost every one the majority
of cars parked nearby look as though people were living in them.
at the Bally’s-Claridge-all-in-one-but-specifically-the-Ridge-combo-property
– Oh yeah… I have a story for this one.
checked in to our rooms late on Friday night. On Saturday morning
we had opened the doors on our adjoining rooms, and began to get
the last things together before heading off for breakfast and
starting the day. Ellen asked if we had put our drinks into the
hadn’t looked for one the night before, so it didn’t hit me to
find it and put stuff like water and soda away. Figured I’d just
run for some ice when I needed it. Once Ellen came up with her
brilliant suggestion, I found the fridge, grabbed a couple bottles
of water and went to put them away… only to find leftovers in
you following the general flow here? They weren’t our leftovers.
Someone else had put them in the fridge and housekeeping never
emptied the fridge out.
wait… it gets better.
we left that morning, we spotted someone from housekeeping in
the hall. She asked how we were doing… quite a friendly and pleasant
person overall… and if we needed anything. Terry mentioned we
had checked in late and really only needed fresh towels.
on… around midnight… we arrive back at the rooms.
as I mentioned before, our key doesn’t work.
door between the rooms was still open though, so we were able
to get in… and as I described, if you know anything about the
layout of the The Ridge compared to the front desk, you can appreciate
why we didn’t feel like going all the way back down to the desk
to change our keys. However… yeah…
towels were on the bed. Just like Terry asked for.
beds weren’t made. And the trash wasn’t changed. So… we still
had the leftovers.
in a word… that sums up Atlantic City in many ways. It feels like
a collection of leftovers.