Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Outside the World Review - Harrah’s Atlantic City

From time to time I will travel to destinations besides Walt Disney World (hard to believe, I know.) When I do so, I will attempt to review them here as well.

Intro: Opened in 1979 in the “Marina” section of Atlantic City, Harrah’s is the modest and unthemed cousin of Harrah’s Atlantic City properties (Caesar’s, Bally’s, Wild Wild West, Showboat.) It is also the farthest removed of any property in the city, located a few minutes on either side of the highway from Trump Marina and the Borgata. It was recently remodeled to include one of the best pools in the city as well as boasting one of AC’s top buffets.

The Rooms: The rooms here are nicer than many of Harrah’s other Atlantic City properties. My guest room overlooked the inlet and Trump Marina (by way of a parking lot and highway.) As with any property at the shore, rooms on the higher floors are better. Our standard room had two double beds, sofa, chair, desk with desk chair, small fridge, and average size television with the usual video game and WebTV accessories. The bathrooms were very nice, larger than average, but with only one sink. The rooms also had a full length dressing mirror, which was a nice touch.

The front desk had one feature, aside from the fish tank, that I have never noted in Atlantic City before (and think we will be noticing almost everywhere very soon): self serve check in kiosks. Just like the boarding pass machine’s in the airport, you swipe your credit card or type your confirmation number and you can select the number of beds, smoking preference, and floor (very nice feature) as well as add a credit card for room charging privileges.

The Restaurants: Harrah’s is certainly not the place for five star dining like the Borgata or Caesars, nor is it the place for the brand name establishments of the Tropicana. The two showcase restaurants are the Casino Player Magazine’s 2008 “Best Buffet” award winning Waterfront Buffet and the nationally popular seafood establishment McCormick & Schmick’s.

The Waterfront Buffet (which new Total Rewards members receive a “buy one, get one free” coupon among the many deals in the current “Passport” promotion) offered an excellent selection of fresh foods in an inviting setting near the resort’s pool. They offer a number of unique sections including a Brazilian rodizio featuring prime rib, turkey, chicken drumsticks, and ribs. The Brazilian section also included a “seafood pudding” which was about a million times better than the name suggests. The Asian section featured a few dim sum selections as well as fresh sushi (there was a sushi chef on hand) in addition to the usual teppanaki wok, lo mien, and General Tso chicken. Another unusual ethnic offering was a Middle Eastern station that is not even mentioned in promotional materials, so it may change regularly. The buffet also included made to order steaks and pasta, crab legs, a fresh fish carving station, and an extensive dessert area including a “cold stone” ice cream station and made to order flambé.

Harrah’s also offers an Italian restaurant, Steakhouse, and raw bar on it’s second floor dining area along with two American family restaurants, a deli, a food court, and a coffee shop.

The Pool: In addition to boasting Atlantic City’s top buffet, Harrah’s also has Casino Player’s 2008 “Best Pool” award winner, simply named The Pool. It is a large in door free form pool surrounded by hot tubs, cabanas, and a small bar and restaurant. It’s an amazing area and well worth spending the day at, especially for members of your group that aren’t into (or not old enough for) gambling in the casino. With the beach only steps away from most casinos and the clientele comprised almost entirely of senior citizens and day trippers, Atlantic City has never been big on the pools. Harrah’s tries their best to change this. While it is definitely not as “hip” as the pool at the Borgata, it’s definitely closer to the pool experiences of Vegas or the Caribbean than anywhere else on the Jersey shore.

Next door to the pool is the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa which I’m fairly certain is the only spa in Atlantic City themed after a perfume brand.

The Nightlife: And then, in another unusual move, at night the pool is transformed into the resort’s nightclub. One of the more unusual nightlife spots in Atlantic City, The Pool After Dark, is open Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday, with Saturday being it’s most popular night. The cabanas double as VIP booths and the pool in the middle of the club makes for an interesting atmosphere. It’s not as trendy as the Borgata’s mur mur but it ranks up there with it, the Taj Mahal’s Casbah and Tropicana’s Providence.

Aside from the nightclub, Harrah’s also has usual nighttime entertainment in the Eden Lounge and the 24-hour Xhibition Bar (which is themed after, I’m not kidding, dizziness.)

The Casino: The casino is fairly traditional with the usual slot machines and video poker machines as well as some newer multi-game machines and virtual roulette. The virtual blackjack and virtual roulette are great choices for newer players who may be intimidated by playing at a table with a dealer and other players. They also have the usual table games with a few variations that you don’t see as often like four card poker, “bonus” blackjack, single deck blackjack, “speed’ roulette, and a number of Asian games that I’ve never heard of. The cocktail waitresses were not as prompt as I’ve seen at other casinos but, then again, I was mostly looking for drinks late at night on a Sunday and Atlantic City is getting tighter with the recession so maybe I was asking for too much.

Thoughts: Harrah’s is a perfectly run of the mill casino. Nothing is going to knock your socks off (aside from the pool) but everything is clean and appears far younger than its 1979 birthday would suggest. Probably because not as many day guests come milling in and out of the casino but the whole property seems much less “run down” than parts of Bally’s or Resorts. Harrah’s is definitely geared towards older guests but there is enough here to attract families and twenty-somethings for a night or two. It’s not the best resort in Atlantic City but I can’t imagine anyone leaving disappointed.

Overall Rating: *** ¾

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