ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY
  Geared Toward Adults... But Families Can Enjoy It Too
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Atlantic City was a one-day stop between my family’s visit to two of America’s largest cities... New York and Philadelphia. While it’s true that most Atlantic City attractions are geared toward adults (i.e. gambling casinos), families can also enjoy the area. In fact, we didn’t set foot in a casino the whole day. I definitely wouldn’t recommend Atlantic City for a week-long family excursion, but you can have plenty of fun for a day or two. Families can enjoy the three mile boardwalk, abundant food and shops, amusement rides and games, Ripley’s Museum, and the beach. This review is certainly not comprehensive. It’s simply a snapshot of our one-day visit to this city.

Lucy the Elephant

We arrived in the Atlantic City are at about 11:00 AM. Our first stop was Lucy the Elephant, in Margate City about 5 miles south of Atlantic City. Built in 1881 to draw attention to the surrounding real estate, Lucy is actually a building shaped like a giant elephant. It’s located on the main drag (Atlantic Avenue) just off the beach and is easy to spot upon approach. The structure is 122 feet tall and weighs 60 tons. Her right rear leg serves as a spiral staircase leading to her cavernous belly which resembles a small church sanctuary. Visitors may look out the windows. Lucy’s eyes are actually windows overlooking the beach and the ocean. From the belly, visitors climb to the outdoor "carriage" on top of Lucy. This vantage point affords great views of the surrounding area, the beach and the Atlantic City skyline to the north. The tour is $4 for adults and $2 for kids under 12. Parking is free and is ample for the modest crowds. Our tour included a guide and about 15 visitors. The whole tour takes about 20 minutes. If you wish to skip the tour, you may still park there for free, snap a few photos and be on your way.

Parking

My next task was to find an affordable parking, so we could spend a few hours in Atlantic City. We saw several lots, most in dubious areas, offering all-day parking ranging from $5 - $10. The casinos along the beach offered parking, self and valet, but no prices were posted. I turned off of Pacific Avenue to New York Avenue to stop and consider my options. To my amazement, I found available on-street parking for just 50¢ an hour (no limit)... just ½ block from the Boardwalk and beach. So I pumped a few quarters in the meter, and off we went.

The Boardwalk

The Atlantic City Boardwalk has probably achieved its greatest fame as the most highly coveted Monopoly property. Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is very active and is an impressive three miles-plus in length, even longer if you include its connection to the much more laid-back Ventnor Boardwalk to the south. We explored only about a half-mile stretch of the Boardwalk... between the Ripley’s Museum and the Rainforest Café. The A.C. Boardwalk is not too different from other large boardwalks. It’s kitschy and touristy. There’s lots of taffy shops, clothing shops, snack shops, games, souvenir shops, etc... remarkable collectively, but for the most part, individually ordinary. As I’ve written so many times, I am not a shopper. Shopping is not important to my travel enjoyment. However, my daughters are now 12 and 14... and they thoroughly enjoyed all of the shopping options on the Boardwalk... tacky as they are. We had a n ice cream cone from Baskin-Robbins and a delicious fruit "slushee" (a pina colada and a strawberry) from a vendor. Just about everything in Atlantic City is accessible from the Boardwalk... the beach (of course), hotels, restaurants, casinos, rides and other attractions.

Amusement Rides

There are several amusement opportunities scattered along the Boardwalk, but perhaps the best and most popular is the Steel Pier. Steel Pier is open until midnight during the week and 1 AM on the weekends. I would characterize their rides as "State Fair" level... better than your typical county fair, but nowhere near Six Flags level. For example, they have a Ferris Wheel, a log flume ride, bumper cars, a giant slide and plenty of other rides that appeal to little kids through teenagers. You can buy ticket books for individual rides or all-day wristbands.

Rainforest Café

Beyond the Boardwalk, the casinos offer many more upscale dining opportunities. Among the most family-friendly is the Rainforest Café. This chain restaurant has a location in the bottom floor of the Trump Taj Mahal. Simulating a rainforest environment, you can dine in the depths of a tropical rainforest. It’s dark and it’s noisy. You’ll be surrounded by thick faux-foliage and an abundance of wildlife including an elephant, a gorilla and giant butterflies.. Above you will see a sky that shifts from dawn to day to dusk. At "night", you’ll see a starry sky, complete with shooting stars. Every 15 minutes, visitors experience a lightning storm. My older daughter said that it was the "coolest" place she had ever eaten. The environment was certainly unique and very entertaining. The food and service are really secondary to the unusual dining environment... it’s more entertainment than dining. Whether you have little kids or teenagers, I’d recommend the Rainforest Café for a one-time family experience.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum

Shy, yet eccentric, Robert Ripley was an amazing fellow. The diminutive buck-toothed globetrotter amassed an amazing collection bizarre artifacts from the world’s most primitive and exotic locations. His huge collection remains intact, owned by Ripley Entertainment, which operates 25-plus Believe-It-Or-Not Museums and other attractions in some of America’s most popular tourist destinations as well as a few other locations on other continents The Atlantic City location was the second BION Museum we visited (Here is my review of the Believe-It-Or-Not Museum in Gatlinburg). Located at the intersection of New York Avenue and the Boardwalk, the unique building appears to be in mid-destruction by a giant wrecking ball fashioned after Planet Earth. In the true Ripley tradition, the museum is filled with a spirit of shock and peculiar whimsy... occasionally (but rarely) crossing into the frightening and disgusting. You’ll see a model of 8' 11" Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man. You’ll see freak mounted animals like a two-headed calf. There is a mounted headless chicken that lived for 17 days after its head was lopped off. There is a huge bridge made entirely of matchsticks, optical illusions and two or three good-natured tricks played upon visitors. This particular museum’s centerpiece is George Tomasco’s "Chateau in Miniature"... a 27-room carved miniature French castle. Built over the course of 30 years, the detail is incredible. Each of the rooms is displayed behind glass in its own separate diorama. Although small children may be frightened by some of the images in this museum, it’s a nice 45-60 minute family diversion. Admission is $12.95 for ages 13 and up and $7.95 for ages 5-12. There was no line to get in, nor was it exceptionally crowded.

The Beach

We spent a couple of hours at the beach off the Boardwalk. The view from the beach is very nice... the water... then the sand, beach grass, and Boardwalk with the high rise casino/hotels in the background makes for a scenic view. Although it was a hot, sunny day, the beach wasn’t overly crowded. The beach and water appeared clean. The gradient was very gradual. The water remained shallow for a great distance. The gentle surf was ideal for small kids, but not active enough for boogie-boarding or body surfing. The lifeguards appeared to pay close attention to visitors’ safety. Bathhouses and freshwater showers are available, but the bathhouse near New York Avenue was very dirty and the floors were all wet. I elected to wear my wet, salty bathing suit to our hotel rather than allow my clothes to touch the floor.

Summary

We enjoyed our day in Atlantic City. Without a doubt, the casinos make Atlantic City much more appropriate for adults than families. And I certainly would not recommend Atlantic City as a primary family destination. However, if you’re just going to spend a day or two, families can bypass the casinos and go to the beach, enjoy the Boardwalk, shop, play games and eat at some nice restaurants.

 

  CLICK ON THUMBNAILS FOR LARGER IMAGE
BOARDWALK
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BOARDWALK
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THE BEACH
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LUCY THE ELEPHANT
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RAINFOREST CAFE
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RAINFOREST CAFE
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PAELLA - RAINFOREST CAFE
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RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT MUSEUM
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RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT MUSEUM - ROBERT WADLOW - TALLEST MAN
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RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT MUSEUM - MUSIC ROOM - CHATEAU IN MINIATURE
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RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT MUSEUM - CLOCKWORK LULLABY MACHINE FROM CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG
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RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT MUSEUM -CHICKEN LIVED FOR 17 DAYS WITHOUT A HEAD
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ATLANTIC CITY
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ATLANTIC CITY
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