From July 30th, 2016 to Thursday August 4th, 2016, I had the pleasure of staying with my girlfriend and two kids at the Golden Nugget located on the Marina in Atlantic City, New Jersey. During this time, I stayed in a king-size room on the fifteenth floor overlooking H2O, which is the name that they give their pool area. Given the length of the stay, I believe that I have enough experience with the property to offer an even more comprehensive review than usual.
While Golden Nugget is a longtime staple of both Las Vegas and Laughlin, this property has actually only been a Golden Nugget since May of 2011. It was first built and named Trump Castle, but then rebranded as Trump Marina about a decade later. The property underwent a very similar story as the Trump Taj Mahal which, interestingly, represented the very competition (though also owned by Donald Trump) that would force the Trump Castle into bankruptcy through which fifty percent interest in the property was given to bondholders and twenty-five percent of the property’s debt was forgiven. This was only after Donald Trump’s own father made a massive purchase of casino chips to give the company enough cash on hand to make its payments.
Throughout the late-90’s and throughout the 2000’s, there were a number of attempts to either sell the property outright, or alternatively, to enter into a partnership on the property, but virtually every deal fell through. Eventually, Landry’s Inc. acquired the property for only 38 million in May of 2011 and invested 150 million in property improvements. For anyone who has visited the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City recently, it is evident that Landry’s is focused on the long game and continues to reinvest in the property as they are in the process of doing construction on one entire side of the parking garage.
When we booked the room we had requested a room with two beds as we were bringing the kids with us, but we were informed at the time of calling that room types are not guaranteed. That’s usually a fairly standard thing for a property to say, but given that we were checking in on a Sunday, we did not expect that disclaimer to actually be invoked. Surprisingly, when we arrived at about 8:30p.m. we were told, in fact, that there were no rooms with two beds clean and available and we could either check into a room with a king bed, or alternatively, we could wait for about an hour and a half for one with two beds to be cleaned.
After the long drive, this was a particularly annoying development, but we were informed that there was a couch in the room and that staff would provide a blow up mattress. We accepted that and made our way up to the room unwilling to commit to keeping the same room for the remainder of our stay,
Upon walking into the room, we noticed that the, ‘Couch,’ was not merely a couch, but rather an entire L-Shaped sectional complete with an ottoman. The sectional and ottoman combined were so large, in fact, that there was more than ample sleeping room for a five-year-old and eight-year-old, so we called the front desk and informed them that we would be satisfied with that room for the entire stay and, furthermore, we no longer needed the mattress though we would like some extra sheets and blankets. Less than a half hour later, the sheets and blankets (in unopened packages) arrived, but so did the mattress, but the gentleman who brought it up spoke enough english that I was able to convey, ‘Sorry, we don’t want the mattress anymore,’ at least after a few tries.
For those of you who have stayed at The D in Las Vegas, I would suggest that the rooms at the Golden Nugget, while better furnished, are roughly the same aesthetically. Black and red are the dominating colors with red appearing in wall accents, curtains (partially) as well as a lot of red in the wall hangings. Furthermore, the ottoman was red while the sectional, bed and the rest of the wood furniture in the room were black. The room also featured a high-back desk chair with a cell phone port, and I am happy to say that all rooms in the Golden Nugget have a refrigerator...and since they don’t load it up with a bunch of bullcrap you have to pay for, there’s actually room in there to put stuff that you buy at the store!
The bathroom was rather small, though nice with a marble tile floor, bathtub/shower combo with two different showerheads and different streams and pulse rates. One would walk into the bathroom with the toilet immediately in front of them and then the sink to the left and the bathtub/shower to the right. While the vanity surrounding the sink was a decent size, it also comprised the entire depth of the bathroom, so one could take, perhaps, about two steps into it before reaching the toilet.
When complimenting the front desk on the room, I was informed that my room was essentially a standard room and that they are particularly proud of the fact that all of the rooms that they offer are that level room, or better, as opposed to other Atlantic City properties where, ‘Experience may vary.’ Though I pressed the question, I could not get them to identify which properties they meant specifically.
Another amenity that guests of the Golden Nugget enjoy is that the Internet, while not free, is included in the resort fee as opposed to the Trump Taj Mahal who charges a resort fee and then has a separate charge for Internet.
The only problem that I had, which in reality wasn’t a huge deal on a comped room, was that we were quoted a resort fee of $10/night on the phone, but on the morning of August 1st, we were informed that the resort fee had gone up to $15/night as of August 1st, so the first night would be a $10 resort fee and the remaining nights would be $15. I understand that there are many people out there who have a categorical problem with resort fees, particularly those of you who are used to getting rooms comped, but don’t view it as an actual comp anymore if a resort fee must be paid. However, unlike many properties who charge such a fee and could not ever remotely justify using the word, ‘Resort,’ to describe themselves, I think Golden Nugget Atlantic City can make the claim given their impressive amenities and offerings.
With respect to the public areas, everything in the entire establishment is actually supremely easy to find. I recommend, if you use the self-park, (free for everyone whether staying or not, at least, as of the time of this review) just to keep going up until you find a spot along the wall in line with the elevator, then the only thing to remember is what floor you are parked on. Getting out is also exceptionally easy as the Golden Nugget has a winding parking lot exit ramp that has an entrance on the same location of every floor. The result is no need to worry if you miss the exit, just drive up to the next floor and you’ll have another chance.
If you enter the casino via the parking garage, you will arrive at level two from which you will make a right and go down a corridor which sometimes has table game dealers in a room on the right, often not doing anything, followed by the arcade, a second gift shop (I think called, ‘Essentials’) and a Starbucks. From there, the stairs or escalator are taken to a third floor reception area which houses the front desk, the casino, and almost all of, if not all of, the restaurants. Furthermore, these restaurant selections are ideal for people with kids as all of the restaurants are easy to find and most are accessible without ever walking on the casino floor.
The hotel check in area is located straight off of the escalators and then, making a right and then a left after the security desk (they say they always check people for hotel keys, but my experience was that happens about 75% of the time after factoring out security guards who may have recognized me) one will arrive at a set of seven elevators which are for hotel guests. Despite the fact that there are seven of them, the Golden Nugget does have over twenty floors, so even if the hotel does not seem particularly busy it is possible that you’ll have to wait a couple of minutes for an elevator. I believe the longest single wait was about three minutes and two minutes was probably the average.
The fourth floor contains the Wine and Wi-Fi INternet Lounge as well as the Spa & Salon. While we did not avail ourselves of the services of any of these amenities, (there was free Wi-Fi in the room) I did peruse the rates of the services and found, as expected, that there is something of a pretty significant casino premium on those compared to standalone shops. That’s no surprise, of course.
The fourth floor also houses a fitness center which is freely accessible to guests and to which non-guests may purchase a day pass. I took a brief look around the fitness center, and the equipment looked both modern and clean, but I did not avail myself of the services of the fitness center. The Chairman’s Club is also located on the fourth floor and is available for upper-tier cardholders.
The fifth floor and the sixth floor are also ideal spots for people travelling with children. The sixth floor houses what the Golden Nugget calls, ‘H2O,’ which is their outdoor pool ranging in depth from three feet deep to four-and-a-half feet deep. The pool is surrounded by a variety of loungers and beds that are all quite comfortable and, when there aren’t a ton of kids around, (and there usually are) relaxing atmosphere. The sixth floor also contains four different hot tubs with each pair at different temperatures, (101 and 104) but I found out that they are strict about the rule that no children under twelve are allowed in the hot tubs...I assumed that the sign meant without a guardian present, but no, it was meant in general.
When one walks past the hot tubs and the main pool, one notices that there is a sitting pool with a variety of large loungers in it of different angles in order to submerge different parts of the body. Of course, this sitting pool also effectively doubles as a baby pool, but it is convenient for parents who would like to play with their really little ones and still at least somewhat relax at the same time. If one walks past all of the pools, there is another bar (the first one being when you first go outside) and some seating that comprises the smoking area and a wonderful overlook to both the Marina and Atlantic City as a whole.
The fifth floor consists of a rooftop lawn with a wide variety of games such as volleyball, basketball, corn hole and what is essentially a giant beer pong game consisting of a larger ball and garbage cans, but of course, no beer. As anyone would expect, this is another popular area for people with children, although, my kids were much more interested in the pool. That is, when we weren’t at the beach.
The arcade on the second floor as one departs from the parking garage elevators is also a supremely enjoyable place to take the kids. A few of the machines (including the video poker one, most especially) are quite liberal about dishing out tickets which can then be exchanged for prizes.
I should imagine that many people unfamiliar with Atlantic City would initially be trepidatious about staying at the Golden Nugget because it is a Marina property and one must drive to the beach. Personally, I don’t consider it much of an ordeal if you have a high enough level card at Resorts, Tropicana, Trump Taj Mahal, (at least, for now) or Bally’s/Caesar’s to park for free or are willing to pay the parking fee. Traffic is rarely very much of an issue and one can arrive at any of these Boardwalk casinos in under fifteen minutes with, perhaps, another ten minutes of walking to get to the nearest beach. I could certainly understand someone preferring to stay at a Boardwalk property, but I believe the Golden Nugget offers enough that I would not dismiss it out of hand. If travelling with kids, I would choose the Golden Nugget over the Trump Taj Mahal, but if just travelling as a couple, it would be a toss up.
As previously stated, the casino is located on the third floor of the establishment along with most of the restaurants, if not all of them. Fortunately, all of the eateries essentially form a semi-circle around the main casino floor making the casino not only accessible from multiple points, but also resulting in the front desk being easy to find from anywhere in the casino. That’s actually quite convenient as many other casinos are designed in a manner that makes it easy to get lost, whether that be intentional or unintentional.
The Golden Nugget offers a wide variety of games both live and online, but the latter is only if you are in New Jersey at the time of playing. In fact, it took me a minute to figure out what the point of the dealers being in the room just off of the parking garage elevators is, but when it occurred to me that the roulette wheel did not have an actual table connected to it, I realized that is where the broadcast for the live casino games takes place.
While it is easy to look anywhere from the casino floor and find a way off of it, finding one’s way around the casino floor can initially be difficult, especially if one is a smoker. I would say that the majority of the casino floor is non-smoking, though one bar in the center of the floor (but not the one closest to the front desk area) allows smoking. There is also a detectable difference in the air between the smoking and non-smoking sections, even to me, despite the fact that I am a smoker. The video poker offerings in the main smoking section are a bit lacking and are limited, perhaps, to about thirty devices. There may be a different smoking area in the casino that I found myself at Monday, or it might be the same one that I found myself at the other two days I went down, I really can’t be sure. As stated, it’s kind of difficult to figure out where you are going once you are on the floor unless you want to leave the floor.
The casino floor at the Golden Nugget was one of the busiest I have ever seen at virtually all times of day with exception to the very wee hours of the morning. Strangely, during my stay, Tuesday night seemed to be noticeably the busiest night with Wednesday perhaps slightly busier than Monday. There is a full offering of table games ranging from the usual staples of blackjack, roulette, craps and three-card poker all the way to somewhat newer games such as Mississippi Stud and four-card poker as well as other older game such as pai-gow poker and let it ride. It seemed that the minimums on everything ranged from $10-$15 (usually $10) regardless of the time of day with exception to Mississippi Stud and, strangely, three-card poker.
I sat down and played Three-Card Poker (again, $5 minimum) for perhaps twenty minutes, or so, but other than that I only played machines (usually slowly) in order to get free drinks. I just played Three-Card Poker to say that I played table games while I was there and because I was not going to play $10 minimum craps. The dealer failed to qualify a few more times than expected, but that was partially offset by my good hands getting beaten by better hands (I had a pair of aces bested by a flush) and I finished $10 ahead, though it was really $7 because I tipped $3. I did have the table to myself the whole time, though there was a guy who thought about playing and changed his mind.
The Golden Nugget offers a wide variety of the latest slot machines including many favorites. Particularly noteworthy are a giant Buffalo machine that actually has a seat big enough for three people, though only one playing spot, an Orange is the New Black game, which has to be very new because the series isn’t that old and a wide variety of other licensed slot games. Naturally, I gravitated towards video poker and the Golden Nugget offers many of the new favorites such as Ultimate X, Extra Draw Frenzy and Multi-Strike as well as a bunch of older games such as Double Down Stud and games available on the, ‘Keno Plus,’ machines. They actually had a machine with Multi-Strike Double Down Stud that I didn’t play because:
A.) Combining two of my favorite games could be habit-forming.
B.) It was for quarters, and that’s above my pay grade if playing at a negative expectation.
Typically, I just selected a Super Times Pay machine for nickels with a pretty crappy Deuces Wild paytable or a crappy Joker Poker (Kings) paytable and played one hand at a time without making the feature bet for a total bet of $0.25. If I would hit a decent hand, sometimes I would follow it up by betting the extra nickel for the feature, even though that makes no mathematical difference. Given that I was mainly playing for free drinks, I might have been trudging along at 400 hands per hour, or so, when I am capable of over 800 per hour.
Other than a few opportunities to vulture Ultimate X, I only found two other advantage plays (at least, straight up) during my time at the Golden Nugget. On one occasion, I got on a Rock Around the Clock machine at ten o’clock, though I lost two dollars. On my second night there, I found a must-hit machine by $200 at about $197.70, but I wanted to get to bed so I bet more than the minimum, either way, I finished ahead about $40 on that one. The expectation was obviously more than that, but those things can be volatile, especially if one is betting more than the minimum.
The Golden Nugget is home to no fewer than eleven eateries, and I had the pleasure of experiencing five of them, so I will limit this review to those as that seems a relatively good sample.
The first place is technically an eatery, Starbucks. Everyone is familiar with Starbucks: Overpriced, mediocre on its best day, everyone loves it, the end. Actually, I just got my girlfriend a hot white chocolate mocha every morning, I don’t even believe I bought myself anything from Starbucks on any occasion...the room comes with free coffee.
The worst dining experience was probably at Michael Patrick’s Brasserie, not because it was bad, but because the prices were objectively ridiculous. Three sodas, an apple juice, two Caesar salads with chicken, one grilled cheese and fries and one burger and fries came out to almost ninety bucks! That’s insane! The salads were $17.99 each and not terribly big. With all due respect to the establishment, the food was basically on the level with that of a really good diner, certainly not any better. The ambiance was lovely, however, and the service excellent.
Bean & Bread is their little carry-out type place, but you can also eat in if you wish to sit by the casino floor, which is what we did. Between the four of us we had two chocolate milks, a coffee-drink of some sort (was my girlfriend’s, don’t remember) a Dr. Pepper, a roasted turkey sandwich, a chocolate-chip muffin, a scone and...I don’t remember what sandwich I had. The total price for all of that came out to just over thirty dollars which is more than a Subway or Quizno’s would have been, but in my opinion, the food was also better. The sandwiches were pretty good and they were loaded!
For lunch one day, we grabbed two personal pizzas from Grotto, which we shared. They were perfectly serviceable pizzas and the pizza menu does offer a few somewhat exotic choices that people might like. The pizza prices are also reasonable and comparable to just about any pizza shop of the same quality.
Of course we had to go to the buffet! Four people comes out to just under $100, but fortunately, I had a food credit or I wouldn’t have paid that, obviously. I should imagine it comes as no surprise that the buffet is not even remotely worth $100, so let’s get that out of the way right now. We did have astounding and attentive service as our glasses never got close to empty, and in fact, our server unprovokedly asked if we would like to switch out our silverware at one point prior to dessert, even though we didn’t take him up on it. In terms of the food, the selection is probably in line with other casino buffets and, in my opinion, all of the stuff seemed to taste slightly fresher than I am used to at other casino buffets. I definitely prefer the Golden Nugget Atlantic City buffet to the one in Las Vegas, but that’s only based on one visit to each.
The star of the show, for me, was the Cajun shrimp cocktail which brought just the right amount of heat. I ate a ton of that! My favorite dessert there was this chocolate thing that looked like an open-face Reese Cup with some sort of chocolate mousse inside, it was decadent as all get out. Overall, I would consider the Golden Nugget Atlantic City to be the third-best casino buffet I have ever been to with exception to the Bayside Buffet at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and the Riverview Buffet at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, as much as I hate to compliment Rivers about anything, their buffet is actually pretty terrific. If it were a stand-alone restaurant buffet, I’d pay asking price were I in the mood for a buffet.
I will say that the cocktail waitresses at the Golden Nugget are always friendly, but service can be a little spotty, at times. My first night on the casino floor it took about forty minutes before I even saw one come by in order for me to order my first drink. However, one later night the cocktail waitress was not only quick, but also came up with this idea, “I’ll just bring you a Heineken every second time I come around, if you want to slow down, just tell me and if you’re about to go upstairs, just tell me.” That arrangement actually worked out extremely well as it matched my drinking pace almost exactly!
On average, though, I would say that the cocktail service seems to be just slightly faster, generally speaking, at either the Trump Taj Mahal or Resorts. The servers at Resorts are just as friendly as those at the Golden Nugget while the servers at both of those are friendlier than those at The Taj...which shouldn’t wholly come as a surprise right now as, due to the strike, many of the, ‘Servers,’ are actually just moonlighting dealers at The Taj.
I almost forgot, my girlfriend did grab something from The Chocolate Box. I think it was a gelato, or something like that, that she said was very good and she got a chocolate for each of the kids. I wasn’t there at the time, so I don’t know specifically.
With all of that out of the way, it’s time to go ahead and score it:
-The overall customer service at the Golden Nugget is simply outstanding from top to bottom in every eatery and every department. On those few occasions where I had to deal with player services, they all seemed knowledgeable and competent. The only issue, and that a very minor one, was that I was not informed that resort fees were going to go from $10/night to $15/night at the time that the reservation was made or when I had called back about the reservation a few days later. I’m obviously going to take a comped room, so it’s not going to change whether or not I stayed there, just surprised it wasn’t mentioned.
While the cocktail service was spotty, at times, I really don’t consider that as taking away from the customer service in a direct enough way to detract from the score.
The dining scene at the Golden Nugget is pretty good, but that Michael Patrick’s Brasserie has some patently ridiculous pricing going on for what is essentially upscale diner food. There was nothing particularly impressive about the establishment other than the aesthetics, and quite frankly, those only come in as above average.
With that said, the Golden Nugget does have some eating options for the budget-conscious visitor including Bean & Bread with their high-quality sandwiches and Grotto which has above average pizza at barely above average prices. Furthermore, their buffet is better than that of most casinos and they have a little fine dessert shop. I would suggest that there is something for everyone at the Golden Nugget but Michael Patrick’s is a waste of money and/or comps with their ridiculously inflated prices on mediocre food.
The minimums on all the table games were too high, with exception to three-card poker and that was true even during times at which there was no reason for such high minimums, such as two in the morning. Certainly a place with two open craps tables, one for each player, can go to $5 minimums at two in the morning, but they don’t seem willing to do that.
Generally speaking, Atlantic City seems to have fallen ever so slightly in line with Pennsylvania casinos when it comes to video poker offerings when usually they would be at the forefront of the newest games. Fortunately, the Golden Nugget Atlantic City seems to have just about any game that a video poker enthusiast could ever want, so it is majorly redeemed in that regard.
There is also a noticeable difference in the air between the smoking and non-smoking parts of the casino, which means that the air filtration system must be pretty good. Even though I am a smoker, it makes me feel bad for the non-smokers when I walk into a casino and immediately notice that there is virtually no difference between the smoking and non-smoking areas. That’s particularly true of the Trump Taj Mahal, which smells about the same wherever you are, and also of casinos like The Meadows in Washington, PA and the Rivers in Pittsburgh where the only difference between the smoking and non-smoking areas is a sign on the machine. The Meadows is probably the biggest offender, though, at least the Rivers dedicates an entire side of their casino to non-smoking patrons.
The cocktail service can occasionally be spotty if playing on the floor, but is really quick if one is playing table games. In twenty minutes of playing three-card poker, I got offered a beverage three different times and accepted once. While I did not play any other table games, I observed the table games area on a few other occasions and found that cocktail service seemed just as fast, even at busy times.
The casino floor also offers two different bars and the Grotto restaurant is located there, as well. The bar located the closest to the front desk area was an entirely non-smoking bar while there is a smoking bar located towards the back of the casino floor near the smoking section. Too often, casinos will only have bars in smoking areas, or alternatively, they will have a bar in a non-smoking area that is essentially never open, but that is not the case with the Golden Nugget.
Overall, the casino floor should be a pleasurable experience for just about anyone, unless they are a table games player unwilling to play for more than $5/hand.
Obviously, I can’t speak for every room in the hotel, but aside from just the slightest bit of dust on the corner s of the headboard, the room was immaculately clean and was otherwise very enjoyable with exception only to the somewhat small bathroom. The room had ample furnishings, excellent amenities including a refrigerator that wasn’t full of a bunch of room service crap not leaving room for anything else as well as a coffee maker with free coffee and a rather large LCD HDTV. Of course, the channel selection sucked with Cartoon Network being the only kid-friendly channel and even not that when it turns into Adult Swim, but that is to be expected at a casino hotel...they don’t necessarily want you in your room watching TV all day, after all.
I’m awarding a full half point bonus due to the fact that the resort fee includes Wi-Fi access, it seems that many casinos wish to make Wi-Fi a separate charge even when a resort fee is paid. Beyond that, the H2O pool area on the sixth floor and activity lawn on the fifth floor are nothing short of stupendous for people who are staying with kids. If the weather is kind of so-so that day, (which, fortunately, wasn’t really the case during our stay) then you could certainly do a lot worse than going in and out from the H2O pool when it is not raining. I would suggest that the Golden Nugget Atlantic City’s pool area would compare favorably to many properties in Las Vegas, in fact.
While it is located on the Marina, the Golden Nugget of Atlantic City should not be written off as a property that is worthwhile to bring your kids to, even if you are wanting to go to the beach. The property has an excellent combination of services, amenities and eateries that, in my opinion, should put it on the short list of anyone travelling to Atlantic City.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my too brief stay at the Trump Taj Mahal, even if it were to stay open, it would not even be a consideration in the event that I was travelling with kids. In fact, barring anyone specifically recommending something else to me, it is unlikely that I would ever choose to stay with my kids at any property other than the Golden Nugget. The amenities, activities and ease of getting from place-to-place within the property just make it hard to imagine there being a better place to stay.
For the record, if staying as a couple, I would still give The Golden Nugget a slight edge over the Trump Taj Mahal, primarily because of how much I like the pool and hot tubs of the former.