A lot of excitement has been generated by Revel — pronounced with stress on the first syllable, as in rebel, not like the last name of Patti LaBelle, and never immediately preceded by the. The $2.4 billion complex sprawls on 20 acres upbeach, with a 47-story tower that dwarfs its colleagues on the skyline as you approach from the Atlantic City Expressway.
But it’s only once you walk inside that you appreciate the meaning of having 6.3 million square feet.
There’s plenty to appreciate, and the excitement is justified. I’ll note right off that my colleague had a point — we all have certain expectations of luxury travel that we forego easily at the opposite budget-travel end. In that, Revel was complete with features that were not yet fully revved — a little like a meal with all the trimmings, but slightly undercooked.
And we all know that the final analysis is weighted heavily by the attitude of the staff. In this, Revel is exceptional. Everyone, from a lifeguard at the gorgeously ovaled indoor/outdoor pool (85 degrees, sometimes more) to a custodian who explained that the rooms labeled "vending/ice" on each hotel floor had only ice and no vending, displayed a clear sense of pride in the place. And even as they apologized for something that didn’t quite work yet, they sincerely bid me and my wife, Susan, a great stay.
I understand the pride. Revel is different. While its nearest rival in the high-end rent district, Borgata, offers calming rooms and a hip-and-happening sensibility in its public spaces, Revel offers calming rooms and a chance to slow down and smell the coffee — if you can find the coffee at the only breakfast service currently there, the sleek and overworked O Bistro on the 11th-floor hotel lobby. (A breakfast of two eggs, potatoes, meat — pork only, no turkey substitutes — cost $17.50. And no way to get egg whites except as an omelet because the cash register won’t let the waiters cater to egg-white oddballs.)
Revel’s differences redefine the experience of such a place. The oceanfront end of the single-floor casino is open to daylight; the industry standard has you in a timeless cocoon, but not here. The player-cards you sign up for are egalitarian, without mandating several different levels of play for rewards. The staff responds to Revel’s oceanic theme by internally referring to the place in sea-level heights, not floors. They may say to one another, "Go to 87," the meeting rooms, or "I’m on 114," the hotel lobby, 114 feet above sea level. This would put Revel’s buffet at Deep 6 — among its 14 restaurants, there is none, another big difference.
The biggest of all, though, is the resort’s outright ban on smoking. Not just in the hotel rooms, but the entire casino and anywhere. The place smells — and feels — crisp as ocean air.
Revel is the creamiest resort I’ve been in, with public hallways colored in off-white and white, sands and taupes and light beiges and pastels that make it as natural an extension of the oceanfront as 10 different design firms can provide without Mother Nature’s actual intercession. (One, a designer for some restaurant interiors, is even called Créme Design.)
Montreal’s Scéno Plus — designers for theater, including Cirque du Soleil — is among the firms, and before I even knew that, what struck me most about the place was its affinity to theater: The same elements of stagecraft that make a show complete lend Revel their magic.
Walk up to the check-in desk, and a line of guest-service workers is dashing. They smile in costumes: three-piece suits of different gray shades with pink ties for the guys, pink blouses and gray jackets for the women, human after-dinner mints in sleek, dark wrappers.
Self-park at the 6th-level oceanside entrance, and you walk straight into a hallway of hanging lamps that click on with colored light as you walk under each, and inside your head each speaks to you — a plink, a whir, a tweet, a tinkle. It’s sound and lighting design, pure and simple. (It’s also wholly obliterated at night by the music coming from the nearby restaurant.)
You’ll see set design everywhere. Cushy, classy sitting areas dot the entire resort, from its 1.7-acre sky garden (open to hotel guests), warm with fire-pits, to the commanding hallways that surround the casino. One area has what appears to be a library, but it is a piece of fake stage scenery — a lighted box illuminating a convincing picture of bookshelves. (In the hotel lobby, carefully-chosen real books and games are on offer.)
No international men/women signs at the pit stops here — these are curving and stylized, with simple balls for the heads of each gender, like the big white ball of lights that tops Revel’s tower. Revel has so many distinct design variations, the management responded to oohs and aahs during the past weeks of "soft opening" by offering free tours on the hour. They fill up.
The most impressive set design is in the casino, where huge wooden structures — are they kites, birds, huge fish? — hang overhead, and twisted steel slats make a wall of gentle seaweed, where strings of large metal circles could be bubbles and other metal cutouts may be schools of small fish. If you look long enough, and people do, at a calm, lighted group of large designs off to one end — could they really be jellyfish?
Yes, the ear candy of any casino remains constant with all its electronic melodies — and luxury or not, a dollar has the same value on Revel’s casino floor as it does in its counterparts. I was still able to do my casino magic trick and make my money disappear, quickly. But I’ve probably never done it in a place that seemed designed to soothe me.
The folks at Revel Entertainment Group, the owners of the resort (a group whose financial history is at best awkward), may differ or even take offense, but I think that Revel is foremost not a casino. It’s a place to gamble, of course, but the designers have lavished such emphasis on public spaces and on the hotel that I could go to Revel, stay, eat well at any of its mostly pricey restaurants, walk onto the newly refurbished boardwalk and smell the salt air, hit a nightclub, pay an additional $55 to hang around the saltwater spa called Bask, and never miss the card-slap of a blackjack dealer or the swoop on green felt of a croupier’s stick.
With that in mind, I’m not sure the place is fully ready to deliver — or at least it wasn’t on the night before opening weekend. After a night of exploring the resort, we wanted to slip into bathrobes and enjoy our creamy standard room with comfy king-size bed, subdued sand-colored rug, and spacious bathroom with two inside enclosures — one for the toilet, the other for the spacious shower. We would sit and watch the skyline and the ocean; every room has at least a slice of ocean view.
Had someone taken the bathrobes already? An "amenity menu" on a counter listed them as worth $150 apiece, so I doubted it. I called the desk. The clerk apologized. Revel supplies bathrobes only in rooms above the standard — in suites, she said. At what level in a luxury hotel do the basics actually begin?
Well, then, let’s have some tea or coffee. Oops, no coffeemaker. How about the nicely stocked minibar? No price list. "You can find it on your TV or your room tablet," we’re told. Every room has an electronic Sanyo tablet to connect to the Internet (free WiFi) or to hotel services, the phone, whatever. We flip on the TV. No hotel service channel. We fire up the tablet. Nothing but a Windows home page. The desk says they’ll send someone up, but by now it’s approaching midnight.
About a half-hour later, we’re still in computer hell. Then we realize that someone has done something from inside the hotel, and it appears to be set up with our name on the home page. Except that we can’t get it to work once we press the link to room services or anything (except our bill). Plus, no instructions. As we check out the next day, we see that it has begun to work, and so has the TV.
We got a solid sleep — the main attribute of any hotel. And the next day, we spent three great hours at Bask, the spa, dipping in its soak pool and hot tubs, relaxing in its amber salt-brick cool-off room and generally releasing our toxins. We went to the outside pool, where many people were chilling out. We stretched out on sleek white-fabric chaises and focused skyward as the afternoon fog rolled up against the side of Revel’s tower.
The sun bounced off the glassy monolith and into the gathering fog, creating a little prism that turned into a rainbow against a stretch of hotel windows. I wondered where the pot of gold was. Somewhere down in the casino, or the front office, or the cheeky restaurants. Or, as I drifted off to the sounds of the omnipresent music, I thought, maybe for just a few minutes in this setting, with me.
Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or email@example.com, or #philastage on Twitter.