The Pier's most distinctive feature debuts this weekend -- an $8 million indoor water, light and sound extravaganza at the far end of the mall. Directly above it will be Atlantic City's first wedding chapel, presided over by a minister specializing in nondenominational ceremonies.
For me, the Pier store that has no peer is IT'SUGAR, a candy emporium at the front of the mall. A "department store of sweets" is the way it's described by creator and owner Jeffrey Rubin, former co-owner of Dylan's Candy Bar, the chic sweet spot on New York's Upper East Side.
Just inside the entrance is a 20-foot replica of Lucy, the 1881 elephant-shaped landmark building in nearby Margate, N.J. The candy store's Lucy, however, is made out of 1,050,493 jelly beans.
In another section of IT'SUGAR, you can design your own candy bar. For $6.40, you are handed a small plastic cup, which you can fill with goodies from any of the store's numerous bins. I choose sour grapefruit wedges, a chocolate-covered marshmallow, Heath Bar bits, nonpareils and chocolate-covered brownie pieces.
A "bar tender" -- Kathy Naveja was the artist who assembled mine -- then embeds these selections in molten dark, milk or white chocolate; puts the bar on a conveyer belt that takes it through a cooling unit; and presents the finished product in 15 minutes.
Of course, candy has been a staple of Atlantic City at least since the 1880s, when two companies claimed to have originated saltwater taffy. Now jointly owned -- though still operating stores with separate names -- Fralinger's and James' include a history of the confection in each box. According to this enclosure, the chewy treat came into being when "a lively surf ... sprayed sea foam" over a candy merchant's wares. He sarcastically referred to the result as "saltwater taffy," and the moniker -- like the taffy -- stuck.
There's just enough time for a little more boardwalk browsing before catching the bus back to Baltimore. I drop into a few stores to compare prices with those at the Pier. At Louis Vuitton, a handbag can run $1,900; a knock-off on the Boardwalk costs $20. Then, of course, there are the 99-cent stores (where a psychic reading costs $1). Among the souvenirs are banks shaped like slot machines or dice.
As I head back to the bus, I scarcely notice the slots that promise Lotsa Loot, Winning for Dummies and Money Money. But I have to admit that one particular slot machine did strike a theater critic's fancy. The machine was called "Phantom of the Opera." If it had been called Hairspray, I just might have pulled that lever.
IF YOU GO
Several bus lines offer express, economical service from various Baltimore locations. Among these are: Golden Ring Travel (410-391-8700, goldenringtravel.com), Hunt Valley Motor Coach (410-584-7377, huntvalleymotorcoach.com) and Superior Tours (410-602-1704, superiortours.net).
Harrah's Atlantic City--777 Harrahs Blvd., has a $199 package that includes a one-night stay and two tickets to Hairspray (subject to availability). 800-HARRAHS, harrahs.com (Individual tickets to Hairspray cost $40 and $60.)
Bobby Flay Steak--The Borgata, for a celebratory meal. 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Sunday. 888-MYBORGATA, theborgata.com.
Cavo Crepe Cafe--122 N. Michigan Ave., for a light lunch. 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. 609-340-1300, cavocrepecafe.com.
Spas--The Spa at Bally's, 1901 Boardwalk, one-day spa package, $190, 800-225-5977, harrahs.com; Spa at Resorts Atlantic City, 1133 Boardwalk, massages range from $25 for a 15-minute chair massage to $140 for hot-stone therapy, 800-336-6378, resortsac.com.
Shopping--The Pier at Caesars, One Atlantic Ocean (high-end, will house 90 retailers and 10 restaurants; one-third of the stores are open), 609-345-3100, thepieratcaesars.com; The Walk, Michigan Avenue (outlet mall, 52 stores, restaurants, entertainment venues and clubs) 609-872-7002, acoutlets.com
Sweet tooth--IT'SUGAR, The Pier at Caesars. 609-289-4200; James' and Fralinger's Salt Water Taffy, multiple locations, 800-441-1404, seashoretaffy.com
For more information call 888-AC-VISIT (228-4748) or visit atlanticcitynj.com.