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Beyond Baccarat in Atlantic City

From swank casinos to glitzy live entertainment, stellar shopping and a cuisine scene that can’t be beat, Atlantic City, New Jersey, has much to offer groups. But alongside these high-wattage attractions rises another, simpler pleasure motor coach travelers will want to explore: the sea. 

Blessed with an oceanside locale responsible for its very founding — Atlantic City got its start in the mid-1800s as a resort where health-conscious folks could take in the salt air — America’s Playground provides a wealth of diversions themed around the water. Here are a few tours that group leaders will want to include in their Atlantic City itineraries.

Steel Pier

Jutting 1,000 feet into the sea from Atlantic City’s world-famous boardwalk, Steel Pier debuted in 1898, making it one of the oldest amusement piers on the East Coast, according to Heather Colache, tourism account and film commission director for Visit Atlantic City. But the “Showplace of the Nation,” as it was dubbed back in the day, has more to offer groups than its fabled history, which includes hosting performances from such icons as Frank Sinatra and the Rolling Stones. 

Nowadays, Steel Pier is home to a bustling amusement park that includes a 227-foot-tall observation wheel. Opened in 2017, The Wheel features 40 temperature-controlled gondolas serving up Atlantic City’s best views. Meanwhile, Ocean Reef Bar and Waterside Pavilion, situated at the pier’s end, offer private event venues with catering and special pricing for groups of 25 or more. According to Colache, Steel Pier also periodically hosts seafood festivals group travelers are sure to love, including “a crab fest, a lobster fest and a shrimp fest, and that’s all throughout the summer.”

Absecon Lighthouse

Absecon Lighthouse offers its own showstopping views as well — group members will just have to climb 228 steps to access it. (“No, there isn’t an elevator,” Colache said, chuckling. “Everybody asks that!”) For group members who don’t feel up to the climb, there’s plenty else to see on site, including the well-tended two-acre grounds featuring a verdant community garden, a charming gift shop, and the Keeper’s House Museum, with exhibits focusing on the lighthouse and its keepers, local shipwrecks, marine life and more. Absecon Lighthouse happily hosts group tours.

First lit in 1857 and named to National Register of Historic Places in 1971, the 171-foot-tall masonry lighthouse is the country’s third tallest. Perhaps even more noteworthy, Absecon Lighthouse boasts its original, first-order Fresnel lens. Crafted of lead glass and weighing 12,800 pounds, the light still shines brightly every night.

Atlantic City Cruises

For groups that want to get out on the water, Atlantic City Cruises provides a variety of options. Public cruises depart several times a day and include the 60-minute Morning Skyline Cruise; the two-hour Dolphin Watching Adventure, which features an on-board marine naturalist; the 60-minute Afternoon Delight and the 60-minute Happy Hour Cruise. 

“They’re a lot of fun,” Colache said. “Captain Jeff George has been around for a long time and definitely knows some amazing facts about Atlantic City that he’s happy to share.”

Atlantic City Cruises, which departs from Historic Gardner’s Basin, also books private charters for up to 100 passengers. Leaders can add options like an on-board DJ, catering and bar service. For smaller groups of 25 or fewer, the company’s fleet includes the Atlantic City Tiki Boat, offering five public cruises a day, as well as private charters.

Historic Gardner’s Basin

Groups hopping aboard an Atlantic City Cruise will definitely appreciate some time to wander Historic Gardner’s Basin before or after their adventure. In addition to sightseeing and fishing cruises, travelers will find independent shopping and dining in the charming, relaxed little marine community. And the Atlantic City Aquarium, which specializes in exhibiting sea animals indigenous to the area, is due to reopen this May following a $1 million-plus renovation. Visitors can look forward to upgraded exhibits and a revamped gift shop, among other improvements.

Colache also suggests leaders make time for a group meal at Back Bay Ale House, which dishes up plenty of the fare for which Atlantic City is known best. 

“Our most famous type of food is seafood,” she said. “We have huge fishing fleets that fish daily, and a lot of the restaurants will buy right from the boats, so it’s from the boat to the table. And Back Bay Ale House has both indoor and outdoor seating — groups can sit and watch the sunset. It’s really beautiful.”