As above, so below? Not so. The dark stuffiness of the casino experience — where there are no windows or clocks — makes it easy for planners to forget two of Atlantic City’s most persistent realities: its abundance of waterways, and its myriad venues for offering spectacular views thereof.
Let’s begin with the obvious viewpoint for meetings in Atlantic City: the 500,000-sf, 30+-acre Atlantic City Convention Center. Opened in 1997, it was for many years the destination for convention business in the area. It’s also only 1.2 miles from the beach, and reminds attendees of what awaits them with its 90-ft atrium lobby and view from the upper-level meeting spaces, such as breakout room The Tree House with its floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Waterfront Conference Center, which makes up a large chunk of Harrah’s Atlantic City’s 125,000 sf of meeting space and accounts for half of the $250 million investment Caesars has made in its local properties since 2014. The conference center peers over both the ocean and the harbor, and can easily welcome some 5,000 attendees at once. The 2,590-room Waterfront Tower at Harrah’s already surges 45 floors up; the current $56 million renovation of its 507-room Coastal Tower is expected to be complete by summer.
“Resorts Casino Hotel has higher quality, and once we got used to them and them to us, the service they’ve given us over the years has been top-notch.”
Terry Fielden, past president/trade show chair of the Garden State Chapter of the American Fence Association, is one planner who has been lured to the new property. In February, his association held its biannual trade show, with educational seminars and certification testing that drew more than 1,000 attendees and a networking cocktail party for 700 attendees and families.
“We moved to Harrah’s in 2017 after the Waterfront Conference Center opened,” he says. “We had previously held our event at three other Atlantic City locations, including the Atlantic City Convention Center.”
Harrah’s catered the group’s two private parties hosted by exhibitors, as well as the Garden State AFA Chapter’s cocktail party, held at the newly renovated The Pool at Harrah’s. Attendees are excited about the space.
“Obviously the [Atlantic City] casino experience is a big attraction, but [The Pool at Harrah’s] also has become a draw now that our returning attendees know what Harrah’s has to offer. The cocktail party is actually growing in participation with each show because of the setting and the food,” Fielden says. “Because we can compare this venue to others in town, those who have been longtime attendees love it! The Pool is a fantastic venue for a cocktail party and the Waterfront Conference Center is fresh and new. As opposed to being at the ACCC, we are now housed under the same roof as our lodging and meals. Our meal options are greater.”
He says what attendees seemed to appreciate most was “the quality of the food at the cocktail party. One of the comments I hear since we’ve come here is how much better the food is from our past venues.”
On Wednesday and weekend nights, the recently renovated space becomes a full-on LA-style nightclub around a giant pool: The Pool After Dark.
Attendees also like being in the Marina District. “If my attendance continues to increase with each event, there is no reason to change. As long as we are treated well and don’t have any issues, we don’t tamper with success. From my perspective as the organizer, working with my catering manager was effortless. Her attention to detail and our needs was more than I could ask for.”
He advises other planners to “pay attention to location and the environment you might need to pass through to get there. Find people to work with that make you feel comfortable and confident that your event will go off as planned. That is why I am singing the praises of the team I’m working with at Harrah’s.”
Nearby in the Marina District, the 43-floor Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa turned 15 in 2018. Its newish two-level conference center offers planners 18,000 extra sf of space, for a total of 106,000 sf that can welcome up to 3,500 attendees depending on the layout. The hotel’s longevity may have something to do with how spectacularly Vegas-esque it is. Or it could be the views, especially at The Water Club at Borgata, with 43 floors, and multiple pools, including the adults-only Borgata Indoor Pool & Gardens, with actual live plants being verdant and outdoorsy around a pool that, for those who have the financial might, can be glassed over as a dance floor for events. The “boutique” hotel has 800 rooms, so it’s a fairly large crown, the jewel in which may be Immersion, a two-story spa on the 32nd floor. With 360 degrees of floor-to-ceiling water views, attendees can maneuver around chaises facing the setting sun as a system of changing colored lights around the pool provides a friendly, otherworldly glow.
The Borgata and The Water Club share Tom Biglan, executive chef, who in February put out a sumptuous spread for the American Academy of Chefs during the American Culinary Federation’s ChefConnect convention. The attendees were heavy hitters from the academy who are hard to impress, but concoctions like roasted beef bone marrow with veal cheek confiture and terrine of foie gras with kumquat compote and pickled onion petal seemed to do the trick.
For evening activities, attendees can head to The Bar at Bobby Flay for bourbon or tequila flights of three 1-oz samples or, in warmer weather, the Borgata Beer Garden.
Premier nightclub not only books top-flight entertainment such as DJ Tiësto and Lil Jon, but offers group meeting possibilities with its individual-table TVs and a giant, brandable LED screen. It can also be configured by day for intimate breakout sessions or board meetings. The hotel group is planning to capitalize on the new wave of esports flooding the city with a new bar dedicated to sports betting, scheduled to open in summer.
Along the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Resorts Casino Hotel, which turned 40 last May, boasts ocean vistas from 14 of its 24 meeting rooms. At the Tower Conference Level, four conference rooms feature views of the Atlantics, both ocean and city. Some 300 attendees can be accommodated within.
Madeline Cook, executive director, and Sandi Niemiec, comptroller of Iselin-based New Jersey Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authorities (NJAHRA) have held the association’s annual convention at Resorts Casino Hotel for the past six years. But it wasn’t the intrigue of the new that drew them in.
“The Atlantic Club was closing their doors in 2013, so we had to find another location,” Cook says. “We chose Resorts because it was centrally located on the Boardwalk. The first year, it wasn’t as good as it is now; they’ve improved.”
For two days in September 2018, 145 attendees — executive directors of NJ’s 80 housing authorities and a board of commissioners — convened to discuss industry business, network, attend workshops from HUD representatives and visit vendor exhibits. The planners made ample use of the resort’s classrooms.
“When they redid some of the conference areas, they were very tech-savvy; classrooms have projectors hooked up to Wi-Fi and all the amenities to have several classes at the same time, with individual screens. There are 10 classrooms you can use for different sessions, all in one place. They recently redid the Ocean Tower, and those rooms are closer to the conference center and shopping and restaurants,” Niemiec says. Resorts also set up a special room registration line for attendees: in short, it was easy for attendees to get where they needed to be with minimal displacement.
The first night, attendees ate at the onsite Italian restaurant Capriccio, which as so much of Atlantic City does, offers ocean views. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, plus a sit-down banquet dinner, all within a few steps from the meeting area.
“With the waitstaff, you don’t even know they’re there,” Cook says. “We find that very homey. I’ve had commissioners say how comfortable they are because they get such nice service.”
For the most recent event, the entertainment was a stage set up for female impersonators The Divas; in past years, it’s been a 10-piece orchestra or a DJ. “Resorts has lighting people who are familiar with stage settings and sound systems,” Cook says.
“We’re always very determined to have what we want when we want it. Resorts has higher quality, and once we got used to them and them to us, the service they’ve given us over the years has been top-notch. We’ve been so satisfied, and they get better and better as time goes on,” Cook says.
The hotel is also “excellent” at working with budgets.
“We didn’t spend an extra penny that we didn’t have to; they can back into things to help with the finances,” Cook says.
The planners sum up their experience with venue staff as “accommodating, friendly and experienced.”
Resorts offers an all-inclusive meeting package that includes three daily meals, morning and afternoon breaks, meeting space with AV in the Resorts Conference Center, Wi-Fi, parking, tips and taxes for a flat fee that starts at $239 per attendee per night.
The LandShark Bar & Grill, part of the Resorts property, is right on the beach. Planners can buy out the space, which holds about 250 and serves up bites and brews such as blue margaritas, sliders, fish tacos and such.
A walkway at Resorts leads directly to the 2,000-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. Opened in June 2018, the 41-floor space is an explosion of activity, design, color and energy. It is the antithesis of the typical, heads-down casino hotel in its spaciousness and the breadth of items at which to gawk. It’s not just the signature music memorabilia to be expected of the chain, but a giant lighted staircase, a ceiling guitar and the strains of live music emanating from Sound Waves, the performance space.
For attendees who want to get to the other side of the looking glass, the resort offers as one of its Sound of Your Stay options the chance to have a Fender guitar and amp delivered to the room or even take a guitar lesson.
Mariah Carey is just one of the performers scheduled to play at Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena, part of the resort’s overall 150,000 sf of meeting and event space. Planners can use the arena to accommodate 7,000 attendees in a general session or 300 booths at a trade show. For more sectioning off, the 29,000-sf Seminole Ballroom can be divided into six spaces. Sugar Factory, home of the candy wall and the 12-person sundae, and YOUYU Noodle Bar are just two of the plethora of dining possibilities.
At 57 stories, Ocean Resort Casino, which opened in June 2018, sparkles over the city. Along with “La Mesa de Jose,” a chef’s table of tapas offered by Chef Jose Garces, Spanish restaurant Amada, one of several fine-dining options, also has sweeping views of the ocean. America’s largest Topgolf Swing Suite is ready to welcome attendees, even those who won’t take a swing, with a host of virtual games, blackjack tables and dizzying views of the boardwalk below.
Attendees of the Association of Student Assistance Professionals (ASAP) of New Jersey’s annual Professional Development Conference experienced the resort firsthand. Some 230 counselors and administrators, plus exhibitors and speakers, arrived at the end of February.
“Having sunlight and fresh air” was one of major wow factors for Lori Todd, president of ASAP-NJ. “The Ocean Resort allows a full view of the oceanfront from every hotel room and conference area.”
It was the association’s first experience at the resort, and it got high marks from attendees. “Feedback was overwhelmingly positive on the resort and the amenities; they appreciated the cleanliness, non-smoke smell, ocean view and friendliness of the staff; they thought the food was delicious, as well as the snack breaks.”
Todd appreciated the “exceptional conference facilities,” the conference area layout and the professionalism of the team. “The staff was friendly and accommodating from the first encounter. We chose on-site catered meals for breakfast and lunch both days which were excellent; the meal experience was flawless.”
To other planners, she suggests “coming down and doing walkthroughs during the planning and decision-making process; it was very helpful to see the rooms in person.”
The resort has 1,399 rooms, with another 500 projected to open in summer 2020, plus 160,000 sf of meeting and event space and complimentary Wi-Fi. For 2019, Ocean Resort Casino is also the official host hotel to the city’s brand-new Arena Football League team the Atlantic City Blackjacks.
While other local hotels were celebrating milestone birthdays in 2018, Tropicana Atlantic City was finishing up some $200 million in renovations and creations that over the past few years have resulted in a Multimedia Light & Sound Show & Fireworks; the AtlantiCare LifeCenter Fitness — where attendees can attend yoga and Zumba classes targeted for team building; and a new look for more than 900 of its nearly 2,400 guest rooms.
Planners who book attendees into the Havana Tower have access to 500 rooms, 37,000 sf of meeting space and, on the tower’s 68th floor, four boardrooms and four hospitality rooms with 68 stories’ worth of views of the ocean below. The tower is also connected by elevator to the 200,000-sf entertainment and shopping mecca, The Quarter. For trade shows or banquet seating for 1,000, Tropicana proposes its 20,000-sf Grand Exhibition Center with its 20-ft ceilings. Attendees can also enjoy one of the four pools, as well as Escape AC — escape rooms with one of four themes: The Poker Room, The Boardwalk, The Casino Cage or Backstage.
While the touted PolerCoaster project with its promise of unforgettable open-air views from 350 ft up seems to be on hold for the moment, the Boardwalk still offers the 227-ft The Wheel at Steel Pier, with 40 temperature-controlled gondolas that hold six people each. The Wheel, which lights up at night, reopened March 30 for the season.
Another obvious spot for magnificent views is the 171-ft, 228-step, 162-year-old Absecon Lighthouse. Monthly “By the Light of the Moon” tours are available in warmer months, and attendees arriving near Halloween even have the option of a Haunted Lighthouse tour.