Planning Your First Trip to Atlantic City

Planning a Trip to Atlantic City

If you're planning to visit Atlantic City then you might be feeling a little nervous. You're probably spending a lot of money on this trip, and you want to do it right. There's no need to worry though, as this guide can help make sure you do.

On this page we provide tips for travelling to Atlantic City, finding suitable lodging at the best prices, and having the most fun for your money while you're there. We also cover getting from place to place within the city, where and what to eat, and what to do for fun. There is, of course, plenty of information on all the gambling activities available too.

Atlantic City is a wonderful destination, and not just for gamblers. To get the most out of your visit it really is worth taking the time to plan things properly.

Travelling to Atlantic City

Most people flying into Atlantic City from within the US use Spirit Air or Southwest (formerly Air Tran). Both carriers are well-known for providing affordable airfare in general, so flying in doesn't have to be a huge financial burden.

Tip:

You can save money on flights if you are flexible with the dates you travel.

If you're travelling on a budget—and these days, who isn't?—be flexible with your dates. Fares vary in price depending on supply and demand. An airline will charge more for a particular flight if they have sold a lot of tickets, and less if they haven't. You want to shop around to find the cheapest dates possible, and using websites like Kayak and Travelocity is great for checking multiple dates for your trip. Booking your flights two or three weeks in advance also helps you get a better price.

Tip:

It's almost always cheaper to fly Sunday through Thursday if you can.

Everyone travels on Friday and Saturday, so demand is great and supply is low. Other days of the week therefore tend to be much cheaper. The only exception to this is when special events like conventions are happening.

Accommodation in Atlantic City

Tip:

If you're looking for the best prices, the best time to visit is mid-week.

Hotel prices in Atlantic City are set using supply and demand. Most travelers like to stay over the weekend, so the hotels raise their rates accordingly. Friday and Saturday are the most expensive nights of the week to stay, while Sunday through Thursday nights are the most affordable.

Avoiding special events can also save you a lot of money. If you're traveling to Atlantic City during the Miss America Pageant, Restaurant Week, The Airshow, or Oktoberfest, you can expect to pay top dollar for your room and board. You can also look forward to fighting huge crowds.

When it comes to weather, the best times to visit are from March through August. The average temperature during those months is in the low 80s. Of course, if you're spending most of your time in the casino gambling, the weather outside probably doesn't matter so much. In that case, the best time of year to visit Atlantic City is whenever you can get the time off work.

Choosing Where to Stay

A lot of visitors to Atlantic City like to take advantage of travel packages. These include your hotel stay as well as the other perks specific to that package. Golf packages and spa packages are especially popular. These kinds of packages usually include airfare and dining, too. But if you're on a budget, booking your stay separately from everything else is the way to go, even if you want to stay at one of the luxury hotel/casinos on the Boardwalk.

The casino resorts on the Boardwalk include Bally's, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Caesars, Golden Nugget, Harrah's Resort, Resorts Casino, Tropicana Casino and Resort, and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. If you're looking for luxury, go with the Borgata. If you're looking for the best price, book two or three weeks in advance and use one of the hotel comparison engines on the Internet to find the best price.

If you're truly budget-conscious, you can find Comfort Inns and other budget hotels elsewhere in the city, but factor in the cost of transportation to the sights and sounds. Depending on what kind of rate you can find at the casinos on the Boardwalk, it might save money to pay more for your hotel since you won't have to pay for transportation.

If you want to get a free room upgrade, you might want to try the following little trick. When you're giving the desk clerk your credit card, include a $20 tip. Ask if there are any free room upgrades available. If something is available, she'll often accommodate you. If not, she'll usually return your $20. This isn't a trick exclusive to Atlantic City, but it works here as often as anywhere else, especially during low-occupancy periods at the hotels.

Gambling in Atlantic City

Casino games and poker are both popular gambling activities in Atlantic City, but unlike Las Vegas, there is no legal sports betting here—yet.

Casino Games

You can play at one of eight (or nine, depending on whether or not you include Wild Wild West as part of Bally's) different casinos in the city, and you'll find gambling machines, table games, and poker at almost all of them.

You must be at least 21 years old to gamble in an Atlantic City casino, but under-age people can go in the casinos as long as they aren't gambling or drinking alcohol. They aren't allowed to loiter in the gambling areas, though—they're just allowed to walk through those areas.

Slot machines in Atlantic City are much the same as they are at any other casino gambling destination. The house has the edge, it's usually large, and players have no decisions to make. Players who like machine gambling but want better odds or a game where their decisions matter should look into video poker.

Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild are the two most popular video poker variations. At any given time, the video poker manufacturers are experimenting with additional video poker titles. These have different odds. The safest bet is to look for a video poker game you have some understanding of. Compared to slot machines, video poker games are a much better deal for the player. Even the worst video poker game in Atlantic City probably has a better payout percentage than the best slot machine.

New Jersey has specific rules about counting cards that have spurred the casinos in Atlantic City to change their blackjack games. Most casinos in most parts of the world retain the right to ban players who are using advantage techniques while playing blackjack, but in New Jersey, it's illegal to do this. As a result, the blackjack games in Atlantic City are almost always played using eight decks and are often dealt from a machine that continually shuffles the cards. The casinos have made it almost impossible to get an edge by counting.

It's not all bad for blackjack players in Atlantic City though. The casinos tend to have generous rules options. It's not unusual for a basic strategy player to face a relatively low house edge of 0.36%. Since the casinos have made it impossible to get an edge by counting, they've made up for it by making the rules options more favorable to the player.

Atlantic City roulette is usually a better deal for the player than roulette in other U.S. destinations. In Las Vegas, almost all roulette wheels have a 0 and 00. In Atlantic City, most roulette wheels only have a single 0, which effectively cuts the house edge over the player in half. Of course, a 2.70% edge compares poorly with a 0.36% edge at blackjack, but some gamblers aren't interested in doing the work necessary to master basic strategy.

Craps is also available and popular in Atlantic City. If you've never played before, you deserve to experience this game. It's one of the most exciting and fun experiences you can have in a casino. And the house edge is low, too, as long as you stay away from the more exotic bets. The most basic bets—pass, don't pass, come, don't come, and the odds bet—all offer a house edge on par with blackjack or video poker.

You can't use skill to get an edge at craps, but getting on a hot streak can be one of the most exciting experiences you'll ever have in a casino anywhere. Like Las Vegas casinos, the resorts in Atlantic City often offer free lessons for games like craps during their non-peak periods. You should take advantage of them.

If you're going to gamble on the casino games in Atlantic City, you should practice a little bit online at the free online casino games first while you're still at home. You'll have a better sense of how the action works, and you'll be less likely to embarrass yourself by committing a faux pas. You might also invest in one of the better books about casino gambling for beginners. I'm a big fan of Andrew Brisman's book, The Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways. It's a little dated, but it contains some of the clearest explanations of how casino games work in print.

Poker

The poker rooms in Atlantic City vary dramatically in size. The Golden Nugget, for example, has a tiny room with only 10 tables. Borgata, on the other hand, has a large poker room with 85 tables. All of the casinos with poker rooms offer regular tournament opportunities, but the only casino cardroom to offer large-scale events is Borgata.

You can find small stakes action at most of the cardrooms in the city, starting at $1/$2 no limit holdem with a buy-in ranging from $60 to $300. If you're interested in big games, you can play for high stakes at the Borgata. The $25/$50 no limit game there has no maximum buy-in. Limit holdem players are looking at a $2/$4 game in most cardrooms with a minimum $40 buy-in.

Online Gambling

You've probably read some ballyhoo about legalized gambling in New Jersey. If you're not a resident of the state you can't gamble online there, even if you're visiting a casino resort. If you are a resident of New Jersey, and you're interested in gambling online, you've probably already taken advantage of the new gambling laws there.

What Else to Do & See in Atlantic City

Some people go to Atlantic City just for the gambling. If that describes you, great! More power to you. But if you're looking for other stuff to see and do, you won't have to look far. Atlantic City has something for everyone. Here are a few details on a small selection of the attractions.

The Boardwalk

This was the first boardwalk in the USA. It opened in 1870—at the time, the population of Atlantic City was barely over 1000. Like the Las Vegas Strip, the Atlantic City Boardwalk is about four miles long. You'll find multiple attractions along the boardwalk, including the casino resorts, restaurants, shopping, and museums.

The shopping on the boardwalk is especially notable. The Quarter at Tropicana is an indoor shopping mall at the Tropicana with a unique Havana theme and over 40 stores. The Pier Shops at Caesars is one high end shopping center that's always a big hit with first time visitors. Tangier Outlets The Walk is an outdoor outlet mall, offering lower prices for more budget-conscious shops.

Most of the casino resorts offer shopping of some kind. The Borgata Shops, The Shoppes at Water Club, and Spice Road are all shopping centers located inside of the casino resorts there. Multiple other shopping malls dot the landscape in the surrounding Atlantic City. They cater as much to the locals as to tourists, but if shopping's your bag, you might want to check them out, too.

The Beach

Atlantic City is probably the most popular beach destination on the East Coast, so beach activities are perennially popular there. Different areas of the beach are designated for different activities.

If you want to surf, you have three choices.

  • Downtown Beach at Raleigh Avenue
  • Crystal Beach at New Hampshire Avenue
  • Delaware Avenue Beach

If you're into kayaking and/or windsurfing, you'll want to stick with Jackson Avenue Beach. And if you hope to go fishing, you can fish from the jetties on Maine Avenue. You can also fish from the inlet off the Boardwalk. You can even try surf fishing on any of the other beaches, but only during non-bathing hours.

Beach activities aren't limited to fishing, kayaking, and surfing, though. You can hunt for treasure with your metal detector, build castles in the sand, play volleyball, or just lie in the sun and drink.

The Miss America Pageant

The 2013 Miss America Pageant was held in January in Las Vegas, but the event returned to Atlantic City, New Jersey in September of that year. It's now traditionally held every September there. The beauty pageant has a fascinating history, and it's probably the most famous event of its kind in the world.

Contestants must be between the ages of 17 and 24 and be United States citizens. They're judged on multiple criteria, including the swimsuit competition, the evening wear competition, the talent show, their private interview, and their on-stage question. The talent competition has the most weighting in the competition, counting for 35% of the contestant's score.

The Atlantic City Art Center

This is located on Garden Pier on the Boardwalk. They're open 7 days a week from 10am to 4pm. You'll find various exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, and photographs on display here depending on what's happening on those calendar dates.

Other Attractions

The Garden Pier is, by itself, quite lovely, even if you don't visit the Art Center. It has a huge concert stand and a beautiful garden and fountain in the center.

The Atlantic City Historical Museum is also located on Garden Pier. It's free and relatively quiet, so it makes a nice break from the casinos. It was recently renovated, too. They have multiple exhibits which change, but they also have one permanent exhibit: "Atlantic City: Playground of the Nation". It's open daily from 10am to 5pm.

Ripleys Believe It or Not boasts of over 400 exhibits in their A.C. location. The "Odditorium" is over 12,000 square feet and has 14 themed galleries on a single floor. You can see the world's smallest car there as well as authentic shrunken heads. Tickets cost $16.99 for adults but only $10.99 for children under 13. Infants are free, and senior citizens (65+) get a discounted rate of $13.99.

Where to Eat in Atlantic City

If you're not on a budget, visiting Atlantic City during Restaurant Week might be the best activity for you. You can expect to pay more for your flights and your hotel stay, but you can experience special menus at a wide variety of restaurants.

Restaurant Week is held in mid-March every year. Examples of restaurants which have participated in the event in the past include Back Bay Ale House, Capriccio, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, Guy Fieri's Chophouse, Kwi Noodle House, and Nero's Italian Steakhouse. Many (if not most) of these restaurants are located inside the resorts on the Boardwalk.

Unlike Las Vegas, the United States' other premier gambling destination, Atlantic City is not known for its dirt-cheap buffets or midnight meal specials. If you want to eat on a budget, though, you can find the usual quick service restaurants with the usual quick service restaurant prices throughout the city.

Tipping Guide

Tipping in Atlantic City is typical of anywhere else, but here's a quick guide to help you out.

If you have someone help you with your bags at the hotel, it's customary to tip $1 or $2 per bag. It's also customary to tip a valet $2 to $5 when they're parking your car.
Cocktail waitresses in the casino should get AT LEAST $1 every time they bring you a drink. $2 is better. If you prefer being ignored by the waitresses, don't tip. That'll do the trick every time. In fact, you'll probably be amazed at how fast word gets around.
You tip bartenders, waiters, and waitresses the same way you do everywhere else, 15% to 20%. If you're paying for your drinks at the bar on a per round basis, you should tip a dollar or two every round.
You're also expected to tip the dealers in the casino. $5 or so per hour is plenty. Don't get carried away with tipping the dealers when you're winning; they don't have any real control over your outcomes. Trying to look like a big shot isn't going to help you get luckier.

Getting Around In Atlantic City

If you're staying on the Boardwalk, you can see a lot of the sights just by walking around. That's what the Boardwalk was designed for, in fact. Even when it's raining, you can walk from between casinos using covered walkways from most places on the Boardwalk.

Like most major metropolitan areas in the United States, Atlantic City has plenty of taxi cabs available. These are great if you want to check out some of the sights in the city other than the Boardwalk. Cabs are also affordable—as long as you stay INSIDE Atlantic City, your cab fare is a maximum of $13. You should tip your cab driver at least $2.

More frugal visitors might want to take advantage of the public transportation system. The city has four jitney routes, and the fare for using the jitneys is only $2.25 per trip.

You can rent personal scooters to get around inside the casinos. Some people even use these on the Boardwalk. It's a bad idea to try to use these anywhere else, though, because of safety and traffic concerns.

You could rent a car, but it's probably the frugal choice not to given that Atlantic City is so small and there are so many other options for getting around.

Summary

Atlantic City is one of the most popular resort destinations on the East Coast, and with good reason. First timers can have just as much fun in the city as seasoned visitors. With a little bit of diligence, you can travel to Atlantic City and stay there without blowing your entire bankroll. You can have all kinds of fun, see all kinds of people, eat all kinds of food, and have all kinds of experiences—the memories of which will last a lifetime.

We've got some more information on Atlantic City, which you can find on the following pages.

Recommended Hotels in Atlantic City

Here we provide more information on a number of the best places to stay in Atlantic City. We've made recommendations in different categories to help you find somewhere suitable.

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Atlantic City Casino Directory

This directory contains detailed information on all of the top casinos in Atlantic City. You can find out exactly what each venue has to offer in terms of gaming and other facilities.

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Non-Gambling Activities in Atlantic City

On this page we provide additional information on a comprehensive range of non-gambling activities in Atlantic City. You might be surprised at just how much there is to do outside the casinos.

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