Planning a trip to fabulous Atlantic City? With all of the high-profile resort casinos, one would think a vacation to the Jersey shore would cost a bundle. But many trip planners will be surprised by just how affordable it is to visit the resort city featuring the nation’s oldest boardwalk. Here are a few budget travel tips to get you on your way.
One of the most typical ways to save money on a trip to Atlantic City or anywhere else is to be flexible with your schedule. If you’re planning on flying into Atlantic City, the consensus amongst travel experts is to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Even better is to fly during off-peak hours (early morning and late evening). Of course, it’s more economical to ride Amtrak or New Jersey Transit’s Atlantic City rail line. Here’s why: using sample dates in September, the current lowest round-trip airfare from Newark to Atlantic City is $422 while a round-trip Amtrak ticket costs $134.
In many ways, it’s more practical to fly rather than take a train or drive into Atlantic City. This is especially true for visitors coming from longer distances like Chicago or Houston. If this is the case, it will help to spend a little extra time to make price comparisons on multiple travel sites such as Kayak, Hipmunk, Expedia and Priceline. While most online travel sites are valuable tools to find the best rates, the extra effort may find a greater bargain compared to other sites with mirror-like pricing. Travel packages also will help save in the long run, particularly when combining a flight and hotel reservation.
Another typical way, especially when flying, is to simply pack lightly. Only two airlines serve Atlantic City International Airport – Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. Spirit Airlines is described as an America “Ultra Low Cost Carrier” but charges a minimum of $26 for a carry-on bag and $21 for the first checked bag. Carry-on bags are free on United but the company “reserves the right to check a passenger’s carry-on baggage for any reason.” United charges $25 for the first checked bag, $35 for the second and $100 for additional or overweight/oversized bags.
Take Public Transit
Even if you’re driving into Atlantic City, it may help to use public transit to get around. That’s because there is a 13-passenger jitney bus service operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with frequent service and service throughout the city. The historic jitney service first began in 1915 and fare is just $2.25. Another reason is something visitors to Las Vegas casinos aren’t accustomed to – a parking fee – although some casinos like Revel Casino Hotel allow free self parking with a Revel card.
Sure Atlantic City is a gambling community, but it’s no secret that the odds are in the casino’s favor. While the house doesn’t always win and it’s always exciting to win, all games with the exception of live poker are in the house’s favor. Moreover, it doesn’t help when casinos offer free drinks and make it difficult to find the exit.
Like Las Vegas, there’s plenty of glitter and glitz in Atlantic City, but there’s also plenty of free entertainment to enjoy. Lady Antebellum’s free beach concert at AC Beach on August 3 is advertised as “sold out” but other free concerts remain open to the public at Kennedy Plaza – the 15th Annual Jazz on the Beach Series on Thursday nights through August 28, free concerts at Gardner’s Basin through August 18 and free concerts on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through August 31. Additional free upcoming events are the Bartram Beach Block free concerts through August 22, the “Don’t Call Me Francis” performance at Revel Casino Hotel’s casino floor venue, The Social on September 5 and the DO AC Pro Beach Volleyball Invitational at the Tropicana, featuring Olympians Kerri Walsh, April Ross, Sean Rosenthal and others September 5-7.
There is also much to see at any of the 11 casinos, such as the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, Revel Hotel Casino, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Trump Taj Mahal and Caesars Atlantic City. But the biggest free event this summer is the Thunder Over the Boardwalk air show on August 13, with last year’s spectacular event drawing over 800,00 spectators.
Boardwalk and Atlantic City Beach
Even without all of the advertised free entertainment, the Boardwalk and Atlantic City Beach are the city’s top attractions. Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is America’s oldest and at four miles long, is also the longest. When the weather’s good, thousands of people traverse up and down the historic wooden promenade, making it a great spot for people watching and low-cost entertainment. Among the sites to see are the arcades, the souvenir shops, the piers, the Korean War Memorial and Civil Rights Garden, a visit to Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy store and the world famous Boardwalk Hall.
Atlantic City Beach offers a host of activities like surfing and parasailing but there is no cost to take a dip or relax on the beach. Water temperatures reach a high of 73 degrees in August and lifeguards are on duty through September 30.
One of the most unique Atlantic City experiences is to take a ride on the iconic rolling chairs. First introduced in 1880, the rolling chairs are pushed by attendants and a trip up to five blocks is just $5 for one or two passengers. Other good choices for low-cost entertainment include the Atlantic City Aquarium, the Special Effects Theater at Atlantic City Haunted Tales, the arcades at Central Pier, Absecon Lighthouse and Lucy the Elephant, a 19th century attraction along the beach at Josephine Harron Park.
Eat on the Cheap
Aside from travel and lodging, dining contributes as the largest expense while on a vacation. Budget-minded travelers can save on meals by purchasing items from a grocery store and preparing their own meals. Several grocery stores can be found near the Boardwalk area like Food 4 Less, City Grocery, Dover Super Market and Nashville Market. However, eating in isn’t nearly as entertaining than dining out in Atlantic City. Good choices for cheap eats include White House Subs at the original location on Arctic Avenue or at Trump Taj Mahal, Maria’s Luncheonette on Atlantic Avenue, Tony Boloney’s on Oriental Avenue and Gilchrist Atlantic City Restaurant in Gardner’s Basin. One last bit of advice, if your lodging offers a free breakfast, try to avoid unhealthy items like croissants, muffins and fruit juices laden with sugar.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.