Roger St Pierre finds that Atlantic City is beginning to convince Europe it is a great MICE destinationIn this age of digital photography and Photoshop manipulation, the old adage that ‘The camera never lies’ is a lie in itself.
In the wake of last November’s Hurricane Sandy we were bombarded with images of devastation all along the USA’s East Coast. From the pictures on the news’ programmes it appeared that the gaming and leisure resort of Atlantic City had been particularly hard hit, with its famed boardwalk smashed to smithereens.
Truth was, though, that only a couple of hundred metres of the historic walkway were damaged – and they were on the outskirts of town. Of course, there was a measure of damage right across town but much of it was purely superficial and the casinos, bars, clubs, restaurants and leisure facilities were soon back in action. Business has very much been resumed!
Misconception is something of a blight for the New Jersey fun-time capital. For starters, far from being overshadowed by Las Vegas, it’s biggest rival, way out west in Nevada, Atlantic City can offer venues and entertainment of a similar quality and similar scale, with major international stars gracing its billboards.
The town has a long and proud history as a playground. It has starred in movies and books but unfortunately the fiction has tended to focus on largely mythical gangland connections – remember the toll-booth assassination scene in the godfather? – rather than the fact that's this is actually one of America's safest and most user-friendly cities.
There's also a mistaken perception that the place locals call simply AC is somehow hard to get to – but the reality here is that the journey from Philadelphia International Airport to the Jersey Shores takes little more than an hour: ‘It's been a stumbling block in our attempts to attract European MICE clients but we are gradually getting the message across,’ says Karen Martin, of the local CVB.
Atlantic City has a substantial bed-stock inventory, with many major US chains represented, along with specialist gaming resort operations. Key players include Harrah's Resort, Caesars Atlantic City Casino, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, Trump Plaza, The Water Club and the magnificent new Revel Resort. Recession or not, big investment new-builds have been proliferating here.
Rooms tend to be very generously super-sized. Indeed, my suite at the ultra-luxurious Atlantic City Sheraton was so vast that a bike would have been handy to help me get from one end to the other.
The 520-guestroom Sheraton has substantial meetings space of its own, with 20 dedicated conference rooms and it is just across the street from the magnificent Atlantic City Convention Center, opened in 1997 at a cost of US$268m.
There, with 50,000 contiguous sqft of function space spread over a 31-acre site, you will find four floors of spacious meetings accommodations, with useful 30 ft ceiling heights on Level Two where Hall D can host up to 3,500 theatre style.
Atlantic City is not just about conferences and gambling, it also offers quality shopping and lots of memorable eating-out experiences. I'd thoroughly recommend the lavish breakfast spread at Teplitzky's, within the Chelsea Hotel, and an al fresco seafood lunch on the dock at Scales, on historic Gardner's Basin.
And for dinner? Well, my choice would be for the cosy and homely ambience at the ever busy Knife & Fork – where affable owners Maryann and Frank Dougherty preside over an expansive menu starring massive steaks, succulent chops and the freshest of Atlantic line caught fish and seafood.
My selection? Well it had to be cornmeal crusted calamari followed by the Maine lobster, served thermidor style. Be well warned: portions are massive!
Close by, the Radisson Hotel and its brand new Valley Forge Casino Resort is well placed for MICE business, being just two hours' drive from New York and 18 miles from downtown Philadelphia and offering 100,000 sq ft of flexible meeting space.
With the facility to break down into 40 separate meeting rooms, the property can host groups of up to 3,300. Featured are four elegant ballrooms while the 54,000sqft exhibition floor is capable of accommodating up to 250 booths, measuring 10ft by 10ft.