I had the pleasure of attending the June 28 opening day festivities at both Hard Rock and Ocean Resort casinos. I also spent some time checking out what each casino had to offer both that day and on subsequent visits. I will now share my initial impressions of the two new Atlantic City casinos.
Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino themes
Even if you have no intentions of playing in the casino, Hard Rock is worth a visit just to see how magnificent it is. Those of you who frequented the Trump Taj Mahal will find it hard to believe it is the same property.
Without the name of the place in big letters, it would be hard to tell some casinos apart. But at Hard Rock, the second you see the 60-foot guitar at the entrance, you know exactly where you are. Pictures of iconic rock stars and extraordinary music memorabilia all over the property and glimpses of live bands playing as you walk by different bars and restaurants also convey the casino’s musical entertainment theme loud and clear.
By contrast, the Ocean Resort name and “Have a ball” tagline could have been that of any casino with a beach view. Therefore, to clearly differentiate it from the other Atlantic City Boardwalk casinos, I think that Ocean Resort Casino could have done a lot more to drive that theme home. Only one restaurant, Dolce Mare, and one retail shop, Flying Point Surf Shop, and none of the bars or entertainment venues have a name one can associate with the ocean.
Creativity and originality
Hard Rock gets high marks
On a related subject, I was most impressed by the creativity and originality that Hard Rock demonstrated in its opening day festivities. In addition to an inspiring video highlighting the awesome teamwork and great sense of pride of the thousands of people contributing to the finished product, each speaker was brought on stage to the accompaniment of a different song fitting the occasion. “We Built This City on Rock and Roll,” “Whatever It Takes,” and “Look How Far We’ve Come” are a few examples.
But perhaps the most fitting of all was the “525,600 minutes” chorus from Rent since the transformation of the former Trump Taj Mahal into the Hard Rock also took place in the span of a year.
But that wasn’t all. The audience was also treated to a spectacular high energy extravaganza that included mesmerizing performances by the Hard Rock girls, acrobats, tightrope walkers, and fire dancers, culminating in fireworks. And then came the grand finale that everyone filling the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena was waiting for–the unforgettable guitar smashing!
But Ocean Resort’s opening was underwhelming
By contrast, I would have to call the Ocean Resort Casino opening somewhat anticlimactic.
The highlights of the day by far were the free wine and free tastings at four fine dining establishments. However, the show in the Ovation Room featuring a hodgepodge of mediocre “talent” paled in comparison to the magnificent and also flawless production at Hard Rock.
Traveling to Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino
Both of these casinos are located on the north end of the Boardwalk. Hard Rock Casino is situated where the Trump Taj Mahal used to be, and like the latter, can be accessed directly from the adjacent Resorts Casino. Ocean Resort Casino is situated where the Revel used to be, after the Showboat (now a non-casino hotel).
So if you wish to walk from Hard Rock to Ocean Resort (or vice versa), you certainly can. The Boardwalk is the best route, as that’s where the main entrance to Ocean Resort Casino is. Or if you prefer, you can take a tram or rolling chair to either casino from any other Boardwalk casino. (Check the posted rates and don’t let the rolling chair driver overcharge you.) If taking the jitney, keep in mind that the stop for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is on Pacific Avenue a long block away, while the stop for Ocean Resort Casino is at the Boardwalk casino entrance.
If you are arriving by car, parking at Ocean Resort Casino is free, but it is not free at Hard Rock.
By the way, the names for the different levels at Ocean Resort Casino can be quite confusing to a first-timer. The Boardwalk entrance level (which is also where the jitneys and cabs stop) is called RB. The lobby, rather than being on the ground floor, is located on a higher floor.
Hard Rock and Ocean Resort casino floor
Which of the two casinos will be luckier for you is anybody’s guess, but when it comes to casino gambling, if there’s any bet that’s a sure thing, it’s this. There is zero chance of being bored at either casino. Not with 2,220 slots and 120 table games at Hard Rock Atlantic City and 1,945 slots and 99 table games at Ocean Resort Casino!
Gambling options at Ocean Resort Casino but not at Hard Rock Casino
I did find the Hard Rock casino floor easier to navigate, with numerous signs pinpointing guests to each specific location. However, one part of Ocean Resort Casino you will be able to find very easily, not only because it is smack in the center of the casino floor, but also because there are lots of signs pointing to it, is the William Hill Sports Book.
Until the expanded state-of-the-art sportsbook is ready, hopefully in time for the fall football season, sports bettors will have to make do with a very cramped space and much more likely than not, no place to sit.
But judging by the huge crowds packing the area daily, combined with betting options that rival those at the biggest sportsbooks in Las Vegas, comfort is of very minor importance compared to convenience and conviviality (the bar is one of the casino’s most popular social gathering places). Current hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.
At some point, Hard Rock may also offer sports betting (if it can get past the legal complications). Ocean Resort Casino and the Borgata were joined by Bally’s on July 30 as the only places in AC offering sports betting. Then Harrah’s was next to join the NJ sports betting market on Aug. 1.
Another game you will find at Ocean Resort Casino, but not at the Hard Rock, is poker. However, it is a very small poker room with only a handful of tables.
Surprisingly, no one working there seemed to know what the poker comp rate was. Another problem was not only no side tables to hold drinks and snacks, but no cup holders. As a result, players were continually spilling their drinks.
Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino rewards programs
During opening weekend, there were very long lines to sign up for player’s cards at both casinos, but the lines at Ocean Resort Casino were ridiculously long.
Prior to the June 28 opening, it was possible to apply for a Hard Rock player’s card either at the Hard Rock Center in the Tanger Outlets or online, which undoubtedly helped reduce the overflow crowds applying at the casino. But at Ocean Resort Casino, people were waiting in line for two hours or more.
In the poker room, an executive took players’ ID’s in lieu of having them wait on line, but the wait for the card was no shorter. Players complained because they needed to leave but had to wait to get their driver’s license back. I think the casino should have anticipated the huge number of people wanting player’s cards and could have planned for it better. First impressions count.
Upgraded tier offers
I am happy to report that the lines to get player’s cards at both casinos are now much shorter. In addition, both casinos are offering attractive incentives to encourage new sign-ups, especially for holders of higher level player’s cards at other casinos.
Hard Rock Casino
For a limited time only, new players with a higher level card from another casino (not including Ocean Resort Casino) will qualify immediately for an upgraded tier at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Qualifying players will receive either an Elite or Rock Royalty Wild Card membership along with $50 or $150 respectively in free play and a complimentary hotel room for one or two nights, respectively. A complimentary dining offer and two complimentary tickets to Howie Mandel’s Comedy Club are included as well.
The offer is valid through Sept. 3, 2018. For additional information and terms and conditions, visit the Hard Rock Atlantic City website.
Ocean Resort Casino
The Ocean Premier loyalty program at Ocean Resort Casino includes four tiers: Blue, Gold, Platinum, and Black. Through Sept. 30, 2018, the casino will match the tier level of any other Atlantic City casino (except Hard Rock).
And as an added perk, all players who present another Atlantic City casino card on sign up will receive the following free play based on their starting Ocean Resort Casino tier level:
- Blue: $15
- Gold: $25
- Platinum: $50
- Black: $100
Players upgraded to Platinum or Black card status will also receive a complimentary room at the resort. The room offer, which is also good through Sept. 30, is for one night for Platinum tier cardholders and for two nights for Black tier cardholders.
Additional information about the Ocean Resort Casino player’s rewards program can be found on the casino website.
Ocean Resort Casino rewards program for sports bettors
Ocean Resort Casino also offers a Sports Rewards Club whereby frequent sports bettors can be rewarded for their action. The sports rewards program is separate from the program described above for other casino play.
Sports bettors who sign up for the Sports Rewards Club earn sports points based on both type of wager and amount, as indicated below.
- Straight Bet: 1 Sports Point for for each $1 wagered
- Parlay/Teaser: 2 Sports Points for each $1 wagered
- Parlay Card: 5 Sports Points for each $1 wagered
As long as at least one point is earned in a given 12-month period, the points don’t expire. However, you will need to do a substantial amount of wagering before any benefits are forthcoming. You will receive $1 in free bets for every 1,000 Sports Points.
Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino restaurants
Obviously, if you spend any considerable amount of time at either casino, after a while you will be hungry. The good news is that both casinos offer a wide variety of restaurant options catering to every taste and budget. So basically the decision comes down to what kind of food you’re in the mood for, how much time you have, and the maximum amount you wish to spend.
Here are a few suggestions (my top picks) for both casual and fine dining at each casino. To avoid disappointment and possible long wait times, be sure to make reservations at any of the fine dining restaurants. Advance reservations are also strongly advised for the Hard Rock Café, especially when there is a scheduled performer.
- Hard Rock Café: If possible, eat at a time when there will be a performer on stage. The entertainment is free so you are getting great bang for your buck.
- YouYu: More than just a noodle bar, this place also serves up Asian street food. Its extended hours from 11 a.m. to 2 am. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday make it ideal for anyone hungry in the off hours or late at night.
- Sugar Factory: This restaurant wasn’t open yet on day 1, but it is now. If you wish, you can have a whole meal there but, like the name, implies, the real reason to go is for the decadent ice cream desserts. This is a great place to take the whole family, but especially kids and all those who are still kids at heart. Everything is super-sized and designed for sharing.
- Harvest Buffet: For big appetites on a small budget, nothing can beat a buffet, and the Harvest Buffet at Hard Rock is open for lunch and dinner daily.
- Il Mulino: This hold-over from the Trump Taj Mahal is one of the best Italian restaurants in town.
- Robert’s Steak House: Sometimes the one item you’re craving more than anything else is a perfectly prepared steak. If that is the case, I suggest Robert’s Steak House, another fine hold-over from the Trump Taj Mahal,
- Council Oak Fish: This is similar to the Council Oak restaurants at other Hard Rock properties, but more seafood focused. A panoramic ocean view and live music nightly add to the appeal.
- Kuro: If you have an adventurous palate and would like to try something different, this upscale contemporary Japanese restaurant is a good choice. Kuro offers a wide selection of handcrafted cocktails, a perfect complement to the boldly flavored food.
Ocean Resort Casino
- Sky Café: Summer will be over before you know it. So now while you still have a chance, don’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing lunch or dinner here on the pool deck or overlooking the ocean. Or stop by later (up to 11 p.m. weekdays and 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday) for drinks and snacks at the bar.
- Villain & Saint: The menu is as creative as the name of this restaurant. So if you’re looking for familiar favorites served with a new twist, look no further — especially if you also like rock ‘n’ roll.
- Zen Bang Noodle & Sushi: Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese cuisine are all represented, so take your pick. Then watch the chef at work preparing your order in the open kitchen.
- Café 500: I stopped by this restaurant on opening day, but walked away when I asked to see the menu and was told none was available. Hopefully, this 24-hour eatery now has its act together because every casino hotel can benefit from a good 24-hour coffee shop.
Once the eagerly awaited Wahlburgers restaurant also opens, that will be another welcome addition to include in this list.
- Harper’s: Let’s begin with a suggestion for those who want a leisurely and memorable meal earlier rather than later. Every Atlantic City casino should offer a viable place to have brunch, but only a few do. Harper’s at Ocean ResortCasino is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily and serves hearty enough fare to satisfy you until dinner.
- Amada: This Chef Garces owned restaurant specializing in shareable Spanish tapas is similar to the Amada in Old City, Philadelphia. Whether you and your companion are seeking an intimate table for two or you will be joined by a small group, the experience should be thoroughly enjoyable.
- American Cut: On the other hand, if you prefer to stick to food you know and love and you’re hungry enough to polish off a generous serving of steak, look no further than the steakhouse aptly named American Cut.
- Dolce Mare: When a restaurant not only offers a large varied menu, like this one does, specializing in both Italian cuisine and seafood, but also a magnificent ocean view, how could you possibly go wrong?
Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino entertainment
Last but certainly not least, apart from playing your favorite games in the casino, one of the main reasons for going is the entertainment. However, comparing the two newest Atlantic City casino hotels — Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino — in that regard, there is no comparison.
Hard Rock Casino
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino promised from the outset no less than 300 live entertainment acts in its first year, and so far, it seems to be delivering on its promise. You will have to pay top prices for some of the major acts booked for the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena, but in return, you will be treated to a night of spectacular superstar entertainment.
But if attending one of those concerts is not in your budget, no worries. Not just on weekends, but every night of the week, there’s other live entertainment to choose from that’s either very nominally priced or free. And despite the name Hard Rock, this is the place to go to enjoy not just rock ‘n’ roll, but any genre of music, including pop, country, R&B, Latino, and more. Howie Mandel’s Comedy Club and Daer Nightclub are other options.
In other words, there is something for everyone. Visit the Hard Rock AC website to check ahead of time for various entertainment options.
Ocean Resort Casino
HQ2 Nightclub featuring renowned DJs is open Friday through Sunday from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., and Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub is open late Thursday-Saturday.
In addition, boxing matches are scheduled from time to time, the Top Golf Swing Suite and Exhale Spa are open daily, and the HQ2 Beach Club is open Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. seasonally.
The resort has only one concert venue, Ovation Hall (the same venue used for the boxing matches), and only a few concerts are slated to take place there anytime soon. These include Wanda Sykes (Sept. 8), Wayne Brady (Nov. 10), and RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles (Nov. 17).
You can find the most up-to-date list of acts at the Ocean Resort Casino website.
Which casino would you pick?
Summing up all of the above, the two casinos seem evenly matched with regard to both slot and table game choice and variety of dining options.
However, Hard Rock is drawing bigger crowds, which means if you want to eat at one of their better restaurants, even on weekdays, you should reserve well in advance. Otherwise, there is a good chance you won’t get a table at the restaurant of your choice at the time you want to go.
Reservations are also recommended for the Hard Rock Cafe, and speaking of the food at this place and other Hard Rock Atlantic City casual restaurants, I would have liked to see a little more restraint in the menus. For example, virtually every item at the Hard Rock Cafe has over 1,000 calories, and you can probably double that number for many main dishes, drinks, and desserts at the Sugar Factory. At least one casual restaurant at this casino needs to offer healthier, lower calorie choices.
Otherwise, the casino that’s the better fit for you depends on personal preferences. If betting on sports is important to you, Ocean Resort Casino is the only one of the two currently offering this option.
However, if live entertainment is high on your list of how you want to spend your time when not gambling in the casino, Hard Rock AC is your best bet by far. Both casinos offer outstanding nightclub entertainment, but otherwise, it’s slim pickings entertainment-wise at Ocean Resort Casino compared to Hard Rock.