The Jersey Shore Is Back, Sort Of

If you’ve written off the Jersey Shore as a summer getaway, please think again. Though Sandy did grievous harm to Jersey’s 127-mile coastline, most of the damage was done to the northern coast; the southern Shore was relatively unscathed.

To the north, the beaches are significantly narrower than they were before Sandy; one survey puts the number at 30 to 40 feet. But in spite of the fact an estimated 10 million cubic yards of sand were lost, most of the northern towns plan to open their beaches by May, even if repairs and reconstructions have not been completed.

Unfortunately, in good-as-new Atlantic City, where all 12 casinos reopened about a week after the storm, post-Sandy surveys showed that much of the public believed that the boardwalk had been destroyed (thank you, Al Roker). Competition from Pennsylvania’s casinos had already triggered a six-year decline in gambling revenues; consumer perception that A.C. was seriously damaged cost even more precious business.

To attract visitors, the city’s top properties are offering bargain basement prices. The drop-dead-gorgeous $2.4 billion Revel is showing rooms at $129 a night, with a $50 food and beverage credit (with restrictions); the Vegas-sleek Borgata is close behind at $119 (or less on daily deal sites), while other properties are offering nightly rates between $60 and $100. As before, the casinos are booking headliners like Beyonce, Rihanna, Jackson Browne and Sting.

Shops and restaurants are open, so is the iconic Steel Pier, with new attractions including The Mix, a thrill ride that spins like a propeller and swings riders out over the ocean.

The barrier island communities known as the Wildwoods, with their sprawling (free) beaches, 8,000 hotel rooms and 3,000 condos are open for business, along with the two-mile boardwalk and the roller coaster. A major campaign – “The Wildwoods – Think Summer & Join Us!” – targets the New York Metro area with billboards and television spots.

Sea Isle City is also advertising its beaches and other attractions on billboards in the New York area. While the undamaged towns of the southern Shore need to get their message out, they are doing it discreetly, so as not to seem crass or insensitive to their hard-hit neighbors to the north.

It will be summer-as-usual in Victorian Cape May, which was ready for visitors almost immediately after the storm. Unlike other Shore towns, which hibernate during the winter, Cape May has a year-round calendar of events, including a Dickens Christmas Extravaganza and a Valentine’s Weekend. So for that little town, the problem this year was not Sandy damage, but the cold winter weather.

In Ocean City, which did suffer significant damage, the boardwalk is intact and city officials say the beaches are ready for summer visitors.

Seaside Heights, which had been famous/notorious for the fist-pumping crowd from Jersey Shore, became the symbol of Sandy’s power when its JetStar roller coaster slid into the ocean. Removal of the coaster and work to rebuild the boardwalk are underway. Though only about half the borough’s rides will be open by Memorial Day, Snooki’s favorite Club Karma had a grand reopening on March 9, just in time for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

In Point Pleasant Beach, Jenkinson’s boardwalk, including the aquarium and some arcades, is open. Most of the kiddie rides, which had been stored when Sandy hit, will be back. However the popular train ride, one of the arcades and a miniature golf course were lost; work continues on those.

Belmar bravely held its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and party on March 3. Beaches will open by Memorial Day; officials expect boardwalk repairs to be completed by that date, though rebuilding of restrooms, pavilions and other structures will not. Neighboring Avon is making no predictions.

In affluent Spring Lake, aka The Irish Riviera, reconstruction of the two-mile boardwalk will be complete before Memorial Day weekend.

According to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Associate, the beach and some sections of the boardwalk will be ready by Memorial Day weekend. The fishing pier will not be rebuilt this year, but a temporary roof on the Great Auditorium means the annual summer concerts, featuring such acts as the Beach Boys and Tommy James and the Shondells, will go on.

In Asbury Park, the Shore town beloved by Bruce Springsteen, Mayor Ed Johnson has declared that, while full recovery has yet to happen, the beaches and boardwalk would be open this summer, with an elaborate ribbon cutting ceremony on May 18.

Long Branch’s beachfront will be open by Memorial Day; however, a one-mile section of lost boardwalk, from Melrose Terrance south to Brighton Avenue will not be repaired by this summer. All the restaurants and shops at Pier Village are open.

Little Sea Bright, which saw all its beachfront facilities and most private beach clubs destroyed, will open its beaches Memorial Day; since restrooms were also destroyed the borough will bring in temporary facilities.

Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook sustained severe damage to roads, concessions, utilities, the wastewater treatment plant and the potable water system. The goal – not written in stone – is to open the park for summer, with temporary restroom facilities.

The Keansburg Amusement Park, which the storm left under up to 6 feet of water, is open, though the Wildcat roller coaster is gone and not all rides are operational. A new looping steel roller coaster may be in place by Memorial Day weekend, and the damaged carousel should be ready to ride.

Tourism is a $38 billion industry in New Jersey, and the four coastal counties – Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May – account for half of the state’s annual tourism earnings, so a successful summer 2013 is critical, not only to the communities still struggling to rebuild, but to the entire state.

So if you have fond memories of walks on Jersey Shore beaches, boardwalk food and drunken evenings at oceanfront dive bars (just kidding), don’t assume you can’t enjoy the same unique-to-Jersey fun this year. As Governor Christie has said: “No one is conceding the summer of 2013 to Sandy. My commitment is to try to restore the Jersey Shore stronger than it was before but with the same character that it had before.”

Airbnb Offers Free Housing For Victims Of Hurricane Sandy

Last week, thousands of residents along the East Coast had their homes destroyed or were left without electricity and heat by Hurricane Sandy. This week brought yet another injustice as a vicious Nor’easter storm bearing snow and frigid temperatures left victims scrambling for shelter. That’s why we were heartened to hear about a just-announced partnership between NYC.gov and apartment rental service Airbnb to coordinate free housing for New York area storm victims.

Since the storm hit New York and New Jersey last Monday, Airbnb has seen a surge in last-minute bookings in storm-affected areas like Atlantic City, New York City and the Hamptons. As a result of the surge, Airbnb announced it was partnering with NYC.gov to waive all fees for all Sandy victims looking for shelter on the service and put in a new call for generous New Yorkers with extra space to donate extra rooms and couches to those in need.

Airbnb is one of several services that let savvy apartment owners make money off their unused space, but what sets them apart is the site’s emphasis on community. Rather than just a place to rent apartments, the site’s users can now help displaced New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents find help in a time of need. We hope more travel brands will look to this example and continue to encourage this kind of generosity and community among members.

[Photo credit: Randy Le'Moine Photography]

Hotel News We Noted: July 27, 2012


scrub island resort


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that this is the month of the Olympics – and we’ll be doing our due diligence by bringing you the best hotel news, packages and trend data over the next few weeks in this column and elsewhere. This week, however, we’re highlighting spots of summer with a slew of new hotel stay reviews, openings, trends and far-out amenities.

As always, if you have a comment, thought, or want to share details from a great hotel you’ve recently experienced, send us an email.

Now Open: Scrub Island
If it’s private island luxury you crave (who doesn’t?) try the newly opened, yet unfortunately named, Scrub Island Resort on the east end of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (shown at top). As the first luxury resort built in the destination in more than 15 years, the hotel is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Set on a private island and rugged cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, you’ll enjoy a choice of 52 rooms as well as two-, three-, and four-bedroom villas, a spa, restaurants, three private beaches and a 55-slip marina. Rates for a July stay start at $400 per night.

Opening Soon: Margaritaville Atlantic City
Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, on a blanket with my margarita, that’s where I’ll be. More likely, we’ll be in the casino at the Margaritaville Atlantic City, predicted for a May 2013 opening. A hotel-within-a-hotel at the Resorts Casino, the Jimmy Buffett hotel will not be the first – there are already casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Las Vegas, as well as a hotel in Florida and a number of the iconic restaurants nationwide. USA Today reports that the complex will have a restaurant, bar, shops, year-round beach bar and the first ever Margaritaville-themed coffee shop.

Fun Perk: Sing-A-Long Movies at the Westin Resort & Casino, Aruba
This fun Starwood resort adds a twist to their traditional “dive-in” movie theme with a family-friendly Sing-a-Long Movie Summer. Every Tuesday through the end of August, guests gather in the resort’s free-form pool to watch and sing along with classic films like “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Wizard of Oz” and more. Summer rates at The Westin, Aruba start at a reasonable $179.

Hotel Review: The Reef at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
We are going to give the most positive review we can of our recent weekend at Atlantis in the Bahamas‘ Paradise Island. Keep in mind, we’re probably not the hotel’s target demographic – we don’t have kids, weren’t traveling on a company’s incentive trip budget, and don’t generally love gigantic hotels. The famed casino-resort-cruise ship stopping point was to be our home away from home at the wedding of a friend, the one reason we didn’t book a stay at the One & Only Ocean Club on the island instead.

The price for The Reef? A steep $398 per night pre-tax, which totaled out to an additional $120 per night … and this with a near 50 percent wedding rate discount. The rooms were spacious and the kitchenettes offered a good perk – we ordered from the handy FoodStore2Go to stock up for breakfast and other munchies. Red Flower bath amenities were a lovely touch; the horribly scratchy sheets (we’ve had better at a Hampton Inn for sure) were not.

Generally speaking, service was beyond, even the expected, “Caribbean time” slow. The staff (with the exception of housekeeping) was rude and unhelpful, and the resort was packed to the gills with the patrons dropped off from cruise ships each day. The Cove, the resort’s most luxe portion, was by far the best for adults, but even then, a DJ spinning morning and night at the pool made it feel more like Las Vegas or Miami then a relaxing Caribbean escape.

Rooms in other towers – the Beach, Coral and Royal – looked dated and in need of refurbishment. Sadly, rain deterred our plans to visit amenities like the Dolphin Cay and our time was cut short at the Aquaventure water park, but those definitely seemed worthy of a visit, particularly for families with children. The Mandara Spa, however, was a standout – the spa was still very crowded (go early in the day) but the treatment was one of the best we’ve had.

The final verdict? It’s the perfect day visit from a cruise ship or another resort. If you have kids and want to entertain them, it’s an easy alternative to Disney World. If you’re on someone else’s dime, enjoy! The island is beautiful. If you’re coming as a couple, save your money and go elsewhere.

Atlantic City Is a Hard Place to Love

Somewhere around Indiana and Pacific avenues, I had a sinking feeling. Atlantic City seemed to consist entirely of strip clubs and skin dens, convenience stores and empty store fronts. The beach was a few blocks away, true. But would a sparkling bit of ocean be enough to make the uneasy feeling in my stomach subside? This seaside resort, stacked with casino resorts dwarfed by their cousins in Las Vegas, did not look promising as I drove up to my hotel.

It was a dive of a place, recommended to me by a fellow travel writer, and someone I think of as an Atlantic City aficionado. He told me to try the Inn at the Irish Pub, a spot perched precariously above a dark watering hole, emphasis on the hole, that’s open 24 hours a day. The hotel is the sort of place that charges a deposit of $5 when you’re handed a brass key fastened to a plastic yellow diamond, stamped with a number.

I hiked up the stairs to my room, whose bathroom connected to the room next door, and flopped on the lumpy bed. I needed to call my friend, Robert Reid, and ask him if he’d set me up for an elaborate travelers’ joke, sending me to the inn to see if I’d actually go.

Traveling the American Road – Trying to Love Atlantic City


I told him, “This place is a dump,” to which he replied, “Oh no, I love that place!” I still didn’t believe him. “I wonder if you got a bad room,” he said. “I mean, it’s old, I know. I had fun there… You don’t like the room?” I mentioned that while I’d stayed in worse, that’s not really saying much, coming from a guy that’s slept in a hammock in a garage in Nicaragua, among other less-than-luxe places. “To me, you know what, it’s one of my favorite hotels in America.”

He explained: “Most of my hotel stays are forgettable, cookie-cutter experiences. My room was totally fine. It was clean, this kind of mixed-matched random old furniture, slightly slanted floors, the window with the lace curtain blowing, the people are hilarious. It’s just like, ‘Why does this exist?!'”

Robert’s interest in the hotel was unique, though, being informed by his Monopoly quest. See, the street names in the real estate game were drawn from Atlantic City, and last year, he set out to learn the stories of the avenues that we all know from the board. His trip-and resulting video-gave me high hopes for AC, even if they would soon be dashed.

For those not on a Monopoly quest, like me, it’s a tough place to visit. There are vacant lots, disused by everyone except a lone golfer I saw, swinging an iron simply because he had the space. There’s the grime you’ll find at any casino resort, set a little deeper and in need of a month-long scrub. There’s unemployment, too, bad and deep and forecast to last for many more years.

The boardwalk is a dimly bright spot. Even on a weekday evening, it was busy with families and couples, the famous pushcarts carrying tourists north and south. (There’s a big billboard advertising Boardwalk Empire, the HBO show that’s at least putting the name Atlantic City in people’s homes again.) The casinos, with Wild West, Roman, Mughal themes, do have visitors, if only a few. As my friend told me, “It just isn’t quite Vegas. It’s not even quite Reno.”

Robert insists–and I believe him–that the people in AC are proud of their hometown. But for those not interested in where Monopoly comes from or cheap blackjack tables, it’s a tough place to love. At least you can still get unbelievably good sandwiches at White House Sub Shop on Arctic and Mississippi. I took mine to go.

Fired middle-aged waitresses sue over skimpy uniforms at Atlantic City casino

fired waitressesIn Texas, we have no shortage of restaurants catering to the drooling male demographic. Hooters, Twin Peaks, Burger Girl, and many others require threadbare uniforms to entertain and engage their mostly male patronage. The decent food/hot waitress business plan has proven an effective tonic for a thirsty male demographic, and the phenomenon seems to be infesting the suburbs. Skimpy uniform capitalization extends beyond the suburbs though, and casinos are another hotbed for this sort of uniform minimalism.

At the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, several waitresses were recently fired after a modeling agency came in and evaluated the cocktail servers in their skimpy “Roaring 20’s” outfits. What appeared to be a harmless photo-shoot in the new uniforms was actually an evaluation of the servers to keep their jobs. According to USA Today, fifteen servers were let go after the “sham evaluation process.” Seven of the sacked middle-age waitresses lawyered up and are suing the Resorts Casino Hotel in an age and sex discrimination lawsuit.One of the fired waitresses, Katharyn Felicia, had been a loyal employee since 1978. A two time employee of the month, she felt that the process “was very degrading to women.” The Resorts Casino Hotel feels that they gave each waitress a fair shot, and the jazz era uniforms are part of a re-branding effort. The flapper costumes include elaborate hats, deep slit short skirts, and fishnets. The property is trying to capitalize on the popularity of the HBO program Boardwalk Empire which takes place during prohibition in Atlantic City.