It’s hard to think about Atlantic City without also thinking about gambling. After all, the area is largely known for its abundance of casinos. But with the addition of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, the area now has something else to offer: A unique, luxury hotel experience making the perfect vacation destination for families.
June 2019 marks the one-year anniversary since the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. The picturesque building replaces the Trump Taj Mahal, just steps from the beach, boardwalk, and Steel Pier theme park. The Hard Rock was gracious enough to invite Best of NJ to explore the hotel for a weekend and see what makes them the best choice for families visiting the Jersey Shore. Since the hotel is so large and includes so much, we’re going to break this feature down into sections. If you’d like, you can click directly over to the part that interests you most.
Given that most people head to Atlantic City to gamble, we may as well start by talking about the casino. The first floor of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is where all of the gambling takes place. The casino offers 2,200 slot machines, as well as 120 table games. This includes a separate, dedicated section for Asian table games such as Pai Gow and Baccarat. Now that sports betting is legal in NJ, the Sportsbook Lounge is where you can place bets on games.
The slot machines have a variety of themes, though many of them follow the same rules of play. However, some are more interactive than others. For instance, traditional slots simply require you to bet and spin, hoping for a match; others, such as the Spider-Man or Wonder Woman machines, offer bonus stages with secondary objectives. But no matter which you choose, all machines are simple to use with easy to follow instructions. I personally enjoy the Spider-Man machine the best.
Wild Card Rewards
Those who like to gamble should be aware the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has a loyalty program. Known as Wild Card Rewards, membership grants points for playing at both slots and tables. Members can then redeem their points for a number of benefits. These rewards range from complimentary stays and early access to concert tickets, to discounts on dining options in the hotel. In fact, there’s even a gas station — Rocktane Gas & Wash — just outside the hotel that accepts Wild Card Rewards. (You can use your points to fill up on gas or have them wash your car.)
But perhaps the best part about Wild Card Rewards is the Hard Rock Hotel will tier match your reward card. In other words, if you are part of another casino’s loyalty program, you can automatically upgrade your Wild Card. (Click here to see the full list of participating hotels.) You can sign up for free online or at the hotel. (They have a kiosk that will print your card right away.)
The Hard Rock brand is known for its museum-quality memorabilia found throughout each establishment. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is no exception. The entire property — all 17 acres — is full of priceless clothing, instruments, apparel, and more from the world’s best musicians. Every display includes a brief excerpt saying who it belongs to and why it is significant. Whether it’s a pair of boots worn by Cher or Elvis Presley’s Rolls Royce Phantom V, you’ll find it here.
Of course, the Atlantic City hotel has an entire section celebrating the history of New Jersey music royalty. For example, their collection includes pieces from Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Valli, Whitney Houston, and more. If you’re a music lover with NJ pride, you owe it to yourself to tour the hotel and see this.
In addition to the memorabilia displays, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is a living tribute to music. What I mean by that is the hotel is not only constantly playing music, but also showcasing videos. This includes recordings of popular concerts that project onto the walls as you go up various escalators. In truth, there’s almost no empty space in the entire hotel; between the casino, video projections, museum displays, restaurants, and shops, there is something to do, see, or interact with everywhere.
When I said the hotel was a living tribute to music, I meant it. All throughout the Hard Rock Hotel, you’ll find stages, theaters, and a nightclub. As a matter of fact, whether you are indoors or just outside the hotel, there is always music nearby.
Inside the hotel, there are a four stages that play live music every evening. These “365 Live” stages, as they are known, typically feature local acts from the New Jersey area. The stages are found in the Lobby Bar on the casino floor, as well as the Hard Rock Cafe. The remaining two are in the Council Oak Lounge and by the beach bar. Of course, this means the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino features concerts on the beach all summer long. In fact, with four stages and multiple acts each night, you can always find something you like.
Beyond these stages, the hotel has two separate theaters for bigger shows. The first theater, Sound Waves, is the smaller of the two. Specifically, it seats 1,200 people (with standing room for 2,000). This stage is where the smaller concerts and musical theater acts perform. For example, the award-winning Jersey Boys show is coming to the stage for a special four-week performance. You can catch the show from June 25-July 21. What I like about this theater is that there are no bad seats. It’s perfect for stage plays and musicals.
Sound Waves also doubles as a comedy club during the week when not in use for concerts or musicals. Known as Howie Mandel’s Comedy Club, you can find new acts on stage every Monday – Thursday; moreover, Howie Mandel himself will be there in mid-August.
Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena
If there is a “main stage” at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, it would have to be Etess Arena. This is the largest performance space on the grounds, seating 5,000 or allowing standing room for 11,000 people. The Etess Arena is where the major concerts happen, and there’s something going on nearly every weekend. During my stay, I got to see both Bush and +LIVE+ perform as part of their “The Altimate” tour.
The Etess Arena is big, but is still able to provide a great concert experience with top-notch sound. I didn’t want to stand for the whole concert, so instead I went and sat down in the back. However, even from the back of the arena I could hear the whole concert. Then, as a special bonus, Bush Lead Singer Gavin Rossdale came over and sang from the back of the arena. It was quite a treat.
As if there wasn’t enough to do, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has a thriving nightlife scene. The DAER Nightclub is where you can dress to impress for a night of great music and dancing. DAER often features mega-sought after DJs, performers and celebrities; for instance, the DJ during my Saturday night out was DJ Chachi. I will admit that DAER is not a large club, but they use the space well. The dance floor is in the center, with a long semi-circular bar along the back wall. The club offers VIP bottle service, and security does a good job making sure no one gets out of line.
Lastly, when it comes to entertainment, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has ample ballroom space for events. There are frequent contests, expos, and other meetings happening in the many ballrooms on the second floor. Although they haven’t made any announcements yet, I’m hoping they will use the space for comic book expos sometime soon.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City has more than 20 restaurants and lounges. With that in mind, I’m only going to focus on the three primary restaurants I went to during my stay. (You can click here to see the hotel’s full list of dining options.)
Council Oak Fish
Although most Hard Rock Hotels have a Council Oak Steaks & Seafood restaurant, Council Oak Fish is exclusive to AC. (The hotel has Robert’s Steakhouse to take care of your steak craving.) The restaurant has a great location within the hotel. If you’re lucky enough to get a window table, you’ll have a view of the boardwalk, beach, and Steel Pier. As you can probably guess, Council Oak Fish focuses on seafood dishes. I tried a number of things while I was there, and all of them were delicious. Moreover, dishes come out as they are ready, to ensure freshness. This means Council Oak Fish doesn’t always follow the tradition of appetizer first, then entree.
I definitely recommend the oysters from the Raw Bar. In particular, the Cape May Salts and Delaware Bay oysters are very tasty. As an entree, the 2 lb Maine Lobster is a menu highlight. For the best of what Council Oak Fish has to offer, I say to try one of their shellfish pots. Specifically, the one that includes lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, sausage, corn, and potatoes is great. In addition, don’t forget to order a side of Homestyle Mashed Potatoes and Chives; despite how good the seafood is, I think this is my favorite thing on the menu. Finally, they have a few dessert options; I like the Apple Quince Crostata, which is an apple crisp with salted caramel ice cream.
Fresh Harvest Buffet
As the name implies, Fresh Harvest Buffet is a restaurant that offers daily buffet dining. Particularly, they serve a brunch buffet from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm, then a dinner buffet from 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm. It’s a popular spot on the second floor of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for two reasons: Firstly, you can use your Wild Card Rewards to get great discounts for you and a guest at the buffet. Secondly, they offer a near-overwhelming amount of food options, so there’s something for even picky eaters. I went to Fresh Harvest for brunch, so I’ll be focusing on that menu here.
You can either start off with a light course of fruit and salad, or jump straight into the heavy stuff. Fresh Harvest features traditional breakfast items like bagels as well as a crepe station. Additionally, the brunch buffet includes seafood (Salmon & White Fish) and a carving station (Roasted Chicken & BBQ Beef Brisket). On top of that, there’s an Asian station with Spring Rolls, Pot Stickers, Lo Mein, Fried Rice & more; there’s also an Italian station with everything from Pasta and Broccoli Rabe to Eggplant and Pizza. Lastly, for dessert, they have assorted Cookies, a Gelato station, Rice Pudding, Crème Brûlée, Tiramisu, and more. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the food can’t possibly be good at a place that offers so many options. But I tried a bit of nearly everything, and don’t have any complaints.
Last but not least on my Hard Rock Hotel & Casino food tour is Kuro, a contemporary Japanese restaurant. Kuro is similar to Council Oak Fish in that they bring the food out as soon as it is ready; however, they differ in that Kuro’s menu is exclusively made up of small plates to share. That is to say, the best way to enjoy Kuro is to try a little bit of a lot of things. With a theme of balance and harmony, Kuro stands out because of the menu’s bold and complex flavors. In addition, the menu accommodates those with gluten-free and vegan dining preferences.
During my meal, I was able to enjoy a number of menu items. The Softshell Crab and Salmon Avocado Sushi Rolls are delicious; likewise, the Wagyu Tacos and Crispy Brussel Sprouts are out of this world. The short rib tastes great as well, though is actually a surprisingly large portion in comparison to everything else. In order to get the complete Kuro experience, don’t forget to ask about their desserts. Though they don’t list any on the menu, they do offer a few choices.
As a luxury hotel, you can find just about anything you need inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. They have shops for clothing, accessories, salt water taffy, snacks & treats, and more. But a few of their standout amenities include the Rock Spa & Salon, Body Rock Fitness Center, and Rooms/Suites. I got to check out all three of these to round out my weekend trip.
Rock Spa & Salon
There’s no faster way to feel like a rock star than to spend a day at the spa. At the Rock Spa & Salon, they treat every guest like a VIP. This quiet oasis on the third floor of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is deceptively large. The spa section boasts 31 treatment rooms, including 20 massage rooms, four facial rooms, and two couples suites. In addition to these private areas, there is a coed room with a vitality pool, jacuzzi, and specialty shower. Meanwhile, the full-service salon offers manicures, pedicures, make-up, and hair services.
The Rock Spa “set list” features a variety of treatment options. One of their unique massages, the Synchronicity massage, incorporates music into a full body massage. I got to experience it for myself, and it is both relaxing and entertaining. The Synchronicity massage allows you to select from a few predetermined playlists, and I chose “By the Sea” as mine. The massage table has a clear dome above it that plays the music. Moreover, you can feel the soft vibrations of the music while you’re laying on the table during the massage. The playlist continues throughout the massage, remixing popular hits to match the mood. Overall, it’s a great experience that exceeds your typical expectations for a massage.
Body Rock Fitness Center
Since it is so easy to over-indulge while staying at a hotel that offers so many food choices, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City also has a top-of-the-line fitness center. The Body Rock Fitness Center is full of Technogym equipment, and has everything you need for a typical workout. There is also a separate room where you can workout to the fitness video of your choice. This option even allows you to choose a virtual personal trainer to guide you through an exercise regiment.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t use the fitness center during my stay. Though I did visit it as part of a guided tour, I didn’t use any of the machines myself. But don’t let that deter you, I simply didn’t have time during my weekend stay. While anyone can book a spa day, access to the fitness center is for hotel guests only.
The Sound of Your Stay®
Finally, we come to the rooms themselves. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino offers both rooms and suites, depending on your needs. The rooms come in typical hotel configurations, so there’s not much to say about that. However, the part that’s unique to Hard Rock is their Sound of Your Stay® program. When you get your hotel key, you also get a special code that unlocks a personalized playlist. You can find the playlist online. Additionally, you can rent turntables, Fender® guitars, and amps to create a pop-up studio right in your room. I imagine this is the closest most of us will ever get to feeling like a rock star. Despite not having time to dive too much into these services, I think they perfectly compliment the Hard Rock experience.
Not surprisingly, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino also has a pool. The pool is only for hotel guests, with an on-duty lifeguard as well as adult swim hours twice daily. (You need a room key to access the elevator that takes you to the pool.) It’s a fairly large pool, but it is not heated. However, it is indoors, so guests can access it year-round regardless of the weather.
Hero (Top) Feature Image (& other photos): © Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
Memorabilia Images Courtesy:
Vinny Parisi / Best of NJ