What a difference a decade makes.
As Father Time's odometer rolled from 1999 to 2000, New Year's Eve revelers had to make plans months in advance - and often paid thousands of dollars - to celebrate in Atlantic City or Las Vegas. Even more recently, New Year's Eve casino parties in Atlantic City were mainly for high rollers, and in Vegas, room rates remained astronomical.
As 2009 draws to a close, room availability and access to parties is up in both towns, while prices are down.
The changes reflect casinos' efforts to cope with a dismal economy and - especially in the case of the Atlantic City - increased competition.
"In Atlantic City, there was a monopoly for so many years, and we could say, 'For [big] casino players only,' " says Don Marrandino, regional president for the Eastern Division of Harrah's Entertainment. "But . . . people can go to neighborhood casinos now. We have to reinvent this place."
This New Year's Eve, just about every casino in Atlantic City is offering parties open to the public - not just those on the casinos' invitation lists.
Two Harrah's properties, Harrah's Atlantic City and the Showboat, are offering specials that include hotel room, party, drinks, and, in some cases, even dinner, with prices in the range of $800 to $900 per couple.
At Harrah's Atlantic City, you can get a Waterfront Tower premium room, two tickets to a celebration in the resort's lush indoor-pool area, three-hour open bar, and a lobster-and-champagne buffet for $887 per couple. Another party-hotel room special features live alt-rock entertainment for $797. And at the Showboat, a party at the House of Blues featuring rock band O.A.R., access to the exclusive Foundation Room nightclub, a bottle of champagne, and a deluxe room goes for $799 ($999 with upgrade to a suite).
For music of an earlier vintage, Philly radio legend Jerry Blavat will play doo-wop and Motown at the Trump Taj Mahal's Tiara Ballroom, where there will be an open bar, buffet dinner, and dancing for $125 per person. You can package a room with the Blavat party for $695 (Taj Tower) and $795 (Chairman Tower). All three Trump casinos will have parties, some with no cover charge.
A.C.'s most upscale casino, the Borgata, will have parties at its night spots - mur.mur, MIXX, and Gypsy Bar - with general admission ranging from $25 to $100. The all-nighter package, called the Rockstar, includes one-night stay, admission to all three clubs, $100 beverage credit, and breakfast for two for $999 to $1,099.
Room rates in Vegas are a moving target, but some Web surfing yielded several reasonably priced options.
The swanky Mandalay Bay recently had a couple of 72-hour sales offering New Year's Eve rooms at $199 with a two-night minimum. Just a year ago, such a rate would have been a huge bargain for an ordinary weekend.
The Monte Carlo was offering a room for two nights, an all-you-can-drink New Year's Eve party at the Pub, a $25 spa-services credit, and a bottle of sparkling wine for about $580.
At the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street in downtown Vegas, a two-night stay, dinner, open bar, and live music was advertised for $549.
The stroke of midnight will be accompanied by fireworks set off from seven rooftop locations along the Strip. The best vantage point will be atop the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower, which will have six celebrations. The Indoor-Outdoor Observation Deck Party, with an open bar, food stations, champagne toast, and unlimited access to the tower's three thrill rides will cost $199 per person. Two nights at the Stratosphere hotel (Dec. 30-Jan. 1) will be $300 to $345, and there's a 10 percent discount when you buy a party package.
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Jan. 10: Online Traveler