Visiting Atlantic City New Jersey With a Small Dog
When the bipeds said we were going to Atlantic City and would walk the Boardwalk, I was eager to go! I imagined bygone days when men wore hats and ties and women wore pearls as they strolled the Boardwalk, and was looking forward to seeing a modern version of that.
But I was sadly disappointed. Atlantic City looks tired. Old. Worn out. In fact, some parts of the city remind me of locations that would be used as a movie set for a zombie movie. The only thing missing was the tumbleweeds.
Do you know Grizabella, one of the characters in the musical Cats? When Grizabella first appears on stage, she is an old cat, withered by her age to the point that she no longer resembles the proud, carefree, flamboyant dancer of her youth. Many of the older cats resent her for having left the clan to go out and see the world. The cost of her choice is that her clan no longer accept her. Her fellow cats are also repulsed by her disheveled condition and taunt her relentlessly. It is possibly because of this treatment – and out of kindness and wisdom – that Old Deuteronomy, the leader of the clan, chooses Grizabella to go to the Heaviside Layer (afterlife) to be reborn.
Well, Dear Reader, Atlantic City reminds me of Grizabella. Atlantic City is a city that had its glory days in the sun and now desperately needs some strong, old wisdom to help it be reborn.
I think I understand what has happened to Atlantic City. The city was built on gambling and failed to diversify while the gambling money was flowing in. That cash flow now goes to casinos on Indian Reserves, casinos legalized in other states, and even gambling opportunities people can access on their own computers. It doesn’t help that gambling revenues also fed bankrupt local politics more than it fed the neighbourhoods around the casino district.
Atlantic City is no longer the destination that it once was, even just a decade ago. It’s no surprise that the Sands and Claridge Casinos are long gone. Trump Plaza and Atlantic Club have also closed their doors, and Revel and Showboat are on the cusp of doing the same. With those closures come job losses and the economic decline that follows. I suspect it will only get worse before it gets better. If it ever gets better.
Just as Grizabella claims our pity, so does Atlantic City. So many of Atlantic City’s buildings are beautiful skeletons without a beating heart.
I liked the Showboat Casino with its Mardi Gras theme and pet friendly hotel. We didn’t stay there (we don’t gamble), but we parked in their covered multi-floored parking lot. The murals are fun, bright, and cheerful – just as they are elsewhere in Atlantic City – but there was a smell of desperation in the air. The casino floor was far from full. The staff were a little too eager to help, the carpets a little too worn, and sections of the property closed off.
What I don’t understand is why the city has not succeeded in attracting tourists for other reasons. Atlantic City has magnificent beaches and a gorgeous boardwalk – remarkable and unique. The city could easily become a resort town, a foodies’ paradise, or a water sports playground. But even the shops on the Boardwalk are unable to rise out of economic dilapidation. They have sunk to selling cheap, tacky, kitschy, touristy stuff – the same items on offer not once and not twice, but at least a dozen times along the walk. *shaking head*
The demise has also affected the locals and how they treat tourists. Other than some lovely staff and other visitors who were in that good mood that comes from being on vacation, we felt a certain amount of resentment. The locals seem to have fallen into an “us versus them” attitude that baffled me. In the city’s glory days, perhaps folks could afford to be rude or act superior, and waiters could afford to serve customers as though they were doing the customers a favour. But now? Now, every tourist is precious, demanding a collective shift in local attitude.
All is not lost, however. There are some great “old bones” left to build upon, starting with the most obvious: the Boardwalk.
The Boardwalk is a lovely place. If you can look past the occasional boarded-up shop and the need for paint here and there, and instead focus on the ocean, you are in for a treat. Running along the shoreline, the Boardwalk is lined with shops, bars, restaurants, and amusement park-style games. The popular Steel and Central Piers (and their carnival rides) branch off the main stretch of the walk.
Here’s a fun tidbit of information about the Boardwalk: did you know the Boardwalk isn’t named after its wooden planks? Nope! Its name comes from its inventor, Alexander Boardman, who developed the four-mile walkway in the 1870s.
Although the Boardwalk is closed to canines between the end of May and September 15th, I discretely strolled the boards. I don’t know if it’s because of my small size, my status as an ESA, or what, but the police looked the other way and the folks in charge of safety and direction, wearing their special hats and vests, were happy to see me … even pet me. With that kind of open acceptance towards pets, I have an idea for Atlantic City: create a pet friendly hotel, with pet spa, grooming salon, training center, and pet-friendly beach at one end of the Boardwalk!
Anyway, if, like us, you enjoy long walks, then head out for over 5 miles (almost 9 kilometers) of exploring. Should your legs need a break, you may choose to catch a rolling chair for a ride. They are like tuck-tucks! You can also take a break to stop in for some of the city’s saltwater taffy. We bought a bag as a little gift for our cleaning lady, although many of the taffies were … umm … enjoyed by my canine host, Dino. Ack! I’m just glad that eating them wrapper and all did not make him sick.
I can’t tell you much about visiting the Steel Pier Amusement Park – a part of the Boardwalk for nearly a century – because no pets are allowed through the admission gates. The Steel Pier used to attract thousands of visitors each day. Even big-name performers like Frank Sinatra would go there to entertain. The Pier’s popularity slowed to a halt in the late 1970s, but it still has charm, I am told. Rides such as the Rock-n-Roll, the Ferris wheel, and the Drop and Twist Tower provide a thrill for humans and, so the rumour goes, offer excellent views of the Atlantic City shoreline. (If you want an even higher-flying view of the beach, you might decide to take one of the helicopter rides on offer. That sounds like fun!)
Here’s a little tip from me to you: if you are going to visit the Steel Pier (without your canine friend), go on a Thursday. On Thursdays, you can take as many rides as often as you like with a $40 wristband. Hours vary by the season and the weather, so visit the park’s website before you go. You’re welcome! *tail wag*
The Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum is also on the Boardwalk. It looked like it might be fun to visit, and the people working at the front of the museum were nice, but we didn’t go inside. I’m not sure if a small canine would be allowed inside the museum – I’d call ahead to find out – but if you are into the weird and odd, it’s something you could look into!
We found a fun section of the Boardwalk dedicated to the Miss America Pageant. I did not know this (I don’t really follow that kind of thing) but the origins of the Miss America Pageant lie in a 1920 event entitled The Fall Frolic. Who knew? The Frolic, held on September 25, 1920 in Atlantic City, was designed to bring business to the Boardwalk. That first event’s popularity led to other similar events until it became what it is today. With the Miss America Pageant being an Atlantic City thing, there’s a fun bronze statue on the Boardwalk marking where it all began. Anyone can enjoy being crowned on the spot. So many people were having fun with that and we jumped right in!
In Review: We had a lovely half-day on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. We parked at the Showboat and strolled all the way up and then back. We had a fantastic meal on the patio of a restaurant that made some of the best calamari the bipeds have had in a long time.
It was nice. It was fun. Would we stay overnight? No. Are we glad we strolled the Boardwalk? Yes. And I harbor some hope for Atlantic City. If they clean it up, figure out what tourists want, and make it pet-friendly, the city can be reborn. Like Grizabella, Atlantic City deserves a rebirth. The city should be fabulous.