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Atlantic City: From massages to Madonna
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., are in the midst of necessary transitions.

They're necessary because—well, let's face it—people don't need to go to these cities whose reputations were once built on gambling in order to get their dice on. Casinos have seemingly sprung up in multiple places overnight. Even in Illinois, there are 16 casinos (according to the World Casino Directory), with more next door in Indiana.

Vegas—as this writer has noted and as readers may know (thanks, Prince Harry)—has successfully reinvented itself as a getaway spot. Atlantic City seems to be well on its way to doing that, too, as a media trip revealed.

Hotel heaven

Upon arriving in Atlantic City, I checked into the Water Club Hotel at Borgata ( ). I can practically guarantee that if you check into this boutique hotel, you'll have a good time.

The Water Club has 800 rooms and rises 43 stories—and there isn't a bad view in the place. The hotel is very sleek and modern, but isn't stuffy.

It also can almost any need. Dining options abound, including the fun Sunroom, which certainly is a sun-filled space with so much plant life I felt like I was eating outdoors in the jungle—again, something I liked. (Of course, I also indulged in a little room service, and they delivered in about half the time they said it would take.) In addition, shopping fanatics can take advantage of stores such as Hugo Boss and Just Cavalli, which are in a hallway that leads directly to the original Borgata hotel (and tons of gambling).

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa ( ) is a 2,000-room casino hotel with units that range from "classic rooms" to residences—the latter occupying 5,000 square feet each. The casino takes more more than 160,000 square feet and offers restaurants ranging from Noodles of the World to Wolfgang Puck American Grille (more on the latter in a bit). In addition, nightlife is a big part of this casino hotel (as with others), with Borgata housing clubs such as mur.mur, B Bar and MIXX.

However, be forewarned: The Borgata complex is not on the famed Atlantic City boardwalk with other famed hotels, but is a bit isolated. Again, depending on what you like, that could be a good thing.

Reveling in Atlantic City

The next day, I chose to enjoy another aspect of the Water Club—the fitness center. (The hotel is famed for its spa, by the way.) The workout room ($15/day), which is loaded with machines and weights, provided a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean—which looked even more impressive at sunrise. Another aspect that I appreciated (and, oh, I don't know why...) was the music in the room: Hearing music by Rihanna, Swedish House Mafia and others definitely put me in the mood to work out.

After spending breakfast in the Sunroom, it was time for treatments at the Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars ( ), which had quite the Boardwalk Empire thing going on. Most people have heard of Caesars—primarily for its gambling and shows—but the spa is definitely something to savor. Bypassing the options of a Hungarian mud treatment of a snake-venom facial, I went for a Lava Melt massage, which basically involves melting wax from a very fragrant candle. My masseuse was extremely friendly and spoke with a British accent; it felt like getting a rubdown from Mary Poppins. However, it was extremely enjoyable—and I got to take the candle, which can be used as a moisturizer/exfoliant.

Everyone, of course, has to experience the famed Atlantic City boardwalk ( The longest boardwalk in the world provides access to hotels, resorts, shops, casinos, beach bars and more while offering stunning views of the oceans. There are many historic attractions (and I wanted to check out the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum) but there are also signs of change/reinvention, down to the pro-level beach-volleyball courts that are being constructed.

Later, I went to Revel ( ), a $2.8-billion hotel on the boardwalk that's a modern marvel of architecture. (Words can't do this place justice—really.) The rooms—decorated with neutral tones and modern furniture—are right on the ocean, providing the most incredible views of the Atlantic and the boardwalk. The Revel also has its own shopping complex—The Row, which is 55,000 square feet of retail shops and boutiques. Let the spending commence!

A tour of the hotel included walking through the one of the Sky Suites, where First Lady Michelle Obama has stayed as well as singer Beyonce (who performed there for the hotel's opening); prices range from $7,000 to $45,000 nightly at the 3,800-square-foot spaces, so one of the other suites might be better for most people. Among other things, there are floor-to-ceiling windows, two huge bedrooms and two large bathrooms as well as a spa room.

Dinner that night was back at the Borgata at Wolfgang Puck's American Grille. I was little nervous, as my friend and I got sick the last time I ate at a Puck eatery (in Evanston)—and this was a seafood-themed meal, which can be a bit tricky. However, everything from the Florida grouper to the crab risotto to the dessert platter (hello, blueberry crumble!) was absolutely delicious—and I was fine.

Touring, shopping—and Madonna

The last day involved a tour of historic Gardner's Basin ( ) and residential areas of Atlantic City. Gardner's Basin—which once teemed with commercial fishing fleets and rumrunner—houses everything from the Atlantic City Aquarium/Ocean Life Center to fishing charters.

Now, I'm going to be honest: Before I went on this trip, I was told to stay on the boardwalk because the area next to it is, shall we say, not the best (although every medium-sized and larger city seemingly has those regions). However, a tour also showed an area that is being redefined in an effort not only to make the city a more attractive destination, but to bond the residents already there. In addition, there are plans for venues such as arts centers.

One of the other ways Atlantic City is luring people is through shopping—and Tanger Outlets (; is the gateway to affordable shopping. Our media group actually had a contest to see who could find the best bargain—and, although I didn't win, I still got a pair of Steve Maddens at a steal ($39.99—no sales tax). Tanger Outlet Centers offer 38 shopping outlet malls and more than 400 brand-name factory-outlet stores, so you'll bound to find something you like.

Going back to Revel's One for brunch was a different experience than the previous night, as one might expect. While the previous night had staff members dressed more in line with a nighttime lounge, things were obviously more subdued the next day as I enjoyed my omelet. (By the way, if you're at One, be sure to get one of its cocktails. The Loosey Goose—Grey Goose vodka and strawberries rimmed with lemon graham-cracker crumbles—is fantastic.) Now, if I could only meet dashing chef Alain Allegretti, who runs things at Revel's Azure.

Dinner was at the Caesars' Atlantic Grill ( ). This restaurant offers something for everyone—whether it's the food, the view or the good-looking people who host, tend bar or serve. A special menu included Maine peekytoe crab, squash blossom, Dover sole Meuniere, roasted dry aged sirloin and pineapple cheesecake, and there wasn't a bad dish to be had.

I had mentioned "reinvention" in this article, so it made perfect sense to see the queen of reinvention: Madonna. She performed at the The Atlantic City Convention Center, also known as Boardwalk Hall ( ). The show was vintage Madonna, in terms of attitude: She started two hours late and even gave another singer a backhanded compliment: "I'm dedicating this next song to Lady Gaga because imitation is the highest form of flattery." However, the "Holiday" singer knows how to put on a show—with the high point being thousands of people standing and clapping along to "Like a Prayer."

And, like that, the show was over—as well as the trip. However, I learned one thing: Atlantic City is well on its way to offering a lot more than slot machines.

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