Putting the “Atlantic” back in Atlantic City

This historic New Jersey town isn’t just about slot machines and craps tables.

First-time visitors to Atlantic City are often surprised to find that it has a beach at all—much less a broad, 4-mile stretch of sand where seagulls soar, waves roll in, surfers glide and children toddle through the shallows. But back in the 1850s, long before the casinos arrived, Atlantic City got its start as a retreat for saltwater bathing, then believed to cure a multitude of ailments. The first boardwalk ever was built here in 1870, as a favor to beachside hotel owners irked by the sand tracked in on their Oriental carpets by careless guests. What started as an 8-foot-wide wooden promenade is now 60 feet wide and 4 miles long—and still a place to see and be seen.

Atlantic City’s beaches are handicap accessible, via ramps from the Boardwalk, and have public restrooms and showers at frequent intervals. You can surf off three designated beaches and fish (for free) from the jetties. Several locations rent lounge chairs, and a number of the casino hotels operate summer beach bars for those who prefer to do their relaxing with a frosty beer (and maybe some live music). With all this, why spend your summer days indoors?

The Atlantic City Boardwalk loaned its name to Boardwalk Empire, the HBO series based on real-life tales of the city’s Prohibition days. The show has inspired a new interest in Atlantic City history, and the Roaring Twenties Trolley Tour is the best way to explore it. Over the years many of the city’s historic buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball, but this tour searches out the spots that still remain.

Passengers board the vehicle—a varnished-wood replica of a Victorian trolley—for a 4-hour excursion that takes in such sights as the Ritz, a former hotel (now condos) where notorious crime boss Nucky Johnson once sprawled over the entire ninth floor. You’ll also pass by the still operational Absecon Light, which your guide will tell you is the country’s third-largest lighthouse, having withstood every storm since 1857. And you’ll see two of the original boathouses used by Prohibition-era rumrunners—your guide might describe the “alcohol abuse” that took place when federal agents poured out confiscated hooch onto the beach.

Atlantic City’s modest but sweet aquarium scores points with kids who like to get up close with marine creatures. It’s located in a stand-alone building on Gardner’s Basin. Much of the display space is devoted to touch tanks, home to creatures such as white spotted bamboo sharks, epaulette sharks and chocolate chip sea stars. In other tanks, look for beady-eyed piranhas, diamondback terrapins, a massive red-tail boa and some good-size red and green iguanas. The star resident is a giant loggerhead sea turtle named Groman, who weighed in at 180 pounds at his last checkup. After your aquarium tour, consider a cruise on one of the sightseeing and whale-watching boats that tie up in Gardner’s Basin, or stop by the roadhouse-style Back Bay Ale House for lunch.

The last few decades have handed Atlantic City some economic challenges, and there are plenty of empty lots to prove it. But development has picked up. Revel  casino hotel opened up just about two years ago, with 1,100 rooms, 12 restaurants, a spa and a 5,500-seat arena—making it AC’s biggest hotel to date. And unlike most of the properties in town, it’s making the most of its oceanfront location: A 2-acre sixth-floor deck will have cabanas, fire pits and gardens with 30,000 trees and plants. Even the lobby, also on sixth floor, will offer water views. It could be that “Atlantic” will once again be the operative word in the “Atlantic City” name.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.

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Smugglers' Notch 2003

My husband and I finally had the opportunity to get away from the kids, so we looked into one of the Last CallSM vacations on RCI. Because it was mid-October, we were interested in seeing the changing colors of autumn. We live in L.A. and aren't really aware of it as much as when you are back east because there are so many trees. We were pleasantly surprised at Smugglers' Notch Resort when we arrived, and we were given a 1200 square foot condo, overlooking the valley below. Our room had a kitchen, full size dining room, living room, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths! Incredible! We visited the small little towns nearby and went on a tour at the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. My favorite was swimming in the heated full sized pool WHILE IT WAS SNOWING! What a joy! Being from Southern California, we don't get that. When we were in Vermont, some days it was just regular beautiful fall weather. A couple of days it rained lightly and snowed lightly twice two other days. We had a lovely fireplace in our room. It was cozy and fun for just the two of us as we snuggled up and watched movies we had rented and ate our popcorn. Lovely!

- Carol D. from Monrovia, CA
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The Landing at Seven Coves, 2009

Our son, wife, and grandchild spent the week with us at The Landing at Seven Coves at Willis, Texas. Our grandson loves to fish from the balcony of our unit which overlooks Lake Conroe. We were able to rent a boat and go sightseeing around the shoreline of Lake Conroe. The swimming was also great with 2 pools to choose from. We really had a great time, and the condos are within driving distance of Houston, Texas.

- Carolyn C. from Cypress, TX
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Canyon Lake Texas

We just returned from a wonderful stay at Silverleaf Hill Country Resort in Canyon Lake, Texas.

We just returned from a wonderful stay at Silverleaf Hill Country Resort in Canyon Lake, Texas. There were wild deer (or not so wild) near our building every day. I put in a request early with the resort to be placed on the same side of the FM hwy 306 as the amenities since we had children with us. Not only did they follow thru with the request but they put us in the Presidentials nearest to the lake with beautiful views. We also had our own pool there so we did not have to go up to the main area every time for the kids to swim. Staff was very friendly & helpful. Condos very clean & modern. Beds were 'very' comfortable & I have a Select Comfort bed at home. We rented a ski boat & Jet ski one day at the Marina...very nice on the water. Had 2 road trips to San Antonio & it wasn't too bad a drive. Overall this was a GREAT vacation spot!!

- Jennie G. from Rayne, LA
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California surprise

My husband had to attend a work related conference in California near Sonoma and I went along for fun. We had decided while there a few days that it would be wonderful to take a spur of the moment extra week in California and continue to see the sights. We called RCI and were able to make a last minute exchange for the next week. We completed our conference stay, rented a car, took a long beautiful drive into the mountains. We were delighted to find ourselves in a small mountain "village" in a very nice condo and spent the week relaxing (got a great massage there), hiking, exploring and generally having a good time. It was the best spontaneous adventure we have every had.

- Jovonna R. from Cleveland, TN
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Table Rock Lake

We loved staying at Rock Lane Resort-Branson Yacht Club in Branson, Missouri!

We loved staying at Rock Lane Resort-Branson Yacht Club in Branson, Missouri! The lake is just beautiful and we had an awesome view of the lake from our condo. So much to do and see in the area. We went to Island Fire, Ripley's, StoneHill Winery, the Duck Tour, The Hatchery, rented a pontoon boat, even took a road trip for a day to St Louis to see the Cardinals play and visit the Arch. Loved it!!!

- Jennie G. from Rayne, LA
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