By Karen Rubin
The kids are away. Work is at a summer pace. Have I got a great getaway place for you: Mohegan Sun, the stunning and stirring gaming destination in Connecticut that features a fabulous luxury hotel and spa and an incredible atmosphere. And if you want to bring the kids along, that is fine, too, since there are wonderful diversions including arcade, supervised care for infants as young as six weeks and supervised activity program for children up to 12 years old, incredible shops, indoor pool, and the superb attractions of Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium about 20 minutes away.
Mohegan Sun is the very opposite of Las Vegas glitz and Atlantic City schmaltz. This is a gaming resort with soul and spirit. The resort is owned by the Mohegan Tribe and operated by Sun International (which also owns and operates the Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas). It is set on 240 acres on the Mohegan Indian reservation in Uncasville, along the banks of Thames River, surrounded by forest.
You will be awed by the architecture and design elements: these are actually faithful and respectful of native traditions. Everywhere you look, there are fascinating features that seem to tell ancient stories.
Those who have visited Mohegan Sun’s first casino, the Casino of the Earth, which opened in 1996, will be amazed at its evolution into a major entertainment, meeting, shopping, gaming and resort destination with the completion of a $1.1 billion expansion (the largest private development project on the East Coast these past two years). It now offers a 1,200-room luxury hotel, a 20,000-square foot world-class spa by Elemis, a shopping area with 40 distinctive shops and restaurants, a 10,000-square foot indoor pool, three entertainment venues including a 10,000-seat arena, 300-seat Cabaret and a 350-seat Wolf Den (where there is free nightly entertainment, right in the middle of the Casino of the Earth).
Mohegan Sun has already been discovered by meeting planners who take advantage of more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting and function space, including the largest ballroom (40,000 sq. ft.) in the Northeast and two professionally managed business centers (there is even golf nearby).
Gaming Par Excellence
I have to say that I am not a huge fan of casinos but I adore the ambiance of Mohegan Sun and didn’t mind dropping a few bucks worth of quarters in the slots (who knew there were so many different varieties?). I am intrigued to watch others and there were so many different styles of gaming: pai gow poker (a Chinese form of poker with tiles instead of cards), with $100 minimum and $3,000 maximum stakes. Casino of the Earth has 180,000 sq. ft. of gaming space featuring 3,600 slot machines, 192 gaming tables (blackjack, with some tables at a $5 minimum), craps, roulette, poker, Caribbean stud poker, Keno and baccarat. There is a non-smoking area, Hall of the Lost Tribes, with about 600 slot machines. Casino of the Sky offers 115,000 square feet more of gaming space.
Indeed, Mohegan Sun is now the second largest casino in the world-but you would not even realize it, because instead of being football-field sized casinos, the two casinos are separated by a stunning interior mall of intriguing shops and restaurants, and the casinos themselves are broken up with gorgeous architectural and design features.
One of the drop-dead gorgeous features is the centerpiece of the Casino of the Sky, Wombi Rock. This is a three-story high crystal “mountain” crafted of alabaster and more than 12,000 individual plates of hand-selected of onyx from quarries in Iran, Pakistan and Mexico, which were transported to Carrera, Italy and fused into glass. The “mountain” peaks appear to glow from within, and reach to the “sky” created by the world’s largest, fully functional planetarium dome, providing ever-changing cosmic displays.
When I ascended to the top (where there is a stunning martini bar and separate private seating areas with just a couple of plush high-backed red velvet chairs, looking down on the sea of slot machines and gaming tables), you feel this rush as if you actually have climbed a mountain, look into the stars, and feel what seems to be cool mountain breezes. The lighting (which everywhere in Mohegan Sun is dramatic), here is like moonlight. The planetarium dome incorporates cutting-edge fiber optic technology to project displays of constellations, sun cycles and stirring clouds as they would appear on a late summer night.
The design elements are chosen specifically to honor the Mohegan heritage. For example, in Mohegan tradition, rocks are not merely inanimate objects, but have the life force of beings. Tribal lore, the cosmos and nature’s elements-earth, wind, fire and rain-are transformed into awe-inspiring designs and environments throughout the complex. Even the passage, the Trail of Life, that connects the two casinos is designed as a Tree of Life, with roots symbolizing tribal elders, branches that reach to the sky and support exquisite, back-lit canopies of hand-strung beads. The Trail of Life incorporates suntrails, or curved life paths walked in traditional Mohegan life. In the center isTaughannick Falls, a 55-foot high indoor waterfall flowing down to Chahnameed’s Island (named for a historic Mohegan figure); the falls represent a treacherous crossing point during the tribe’s migration.
Just across from the falls, there is River Blue, a towering, 10,000-pound glass sculpture by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. The 2,500 richly colored glass components were hand-blown by a team of artisans in Seattle, then assembled onsite to create a stunning masterpiece, soaring 25 feet high.
You will no doubt notice the gray wolf (animated) atop a rock at the entrance of the Casino of the Earth. In the Mohegan language, Mohegan means “wolf people” and sun means “rock.”
Mohegan Sun Hotel
The opening of the Mohegan Sun Hotel, only this past spring, gives the gaming center a whole new dimension. You enter the 35-story three-winged tower, one of the tallest buildings in Connecticut to a dramatic lobby in a simulated cedar forest, with water gurgling in reflecting pools, light dancing through canopies of beaded crystalline leaves on trees that reach toward luminous sky lights. The ceiling is ringed by birch bark, evoking the feeling of a longhouse.
Designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates, the 1,200 spacious guest rooms (including 180 suites) are a minimum of 450 sq. ft. and provide luxurious bathrooms, deluxe bedding and linens, three two-line telephones with dataports, a full-size working desk area with ergonomic chair, and Playstation. The level of guest services (and security) is exceptional (including the free valet parking).
The hotel offers a full-service Elemis Spa, with 15 private spa-therapy rooms, a relaxation area, hair and beauty salon. There is also a fitness center ($15 a day for guests). There is also a 10,000 square foot indoor swimming pool and juice bar (music is piped in adding to the pleasant atmosphere).
There is every kind of dining, from casual to gourmet, from sports bar to romantic. Indeed, Mohegan Sun does an exceptional job of appealing to just about every age and cultural taste as well as palate. Gourmet dining is available in Bamboo Forest, a sophisticated Asian restaurant; the Longhouse, a fine-dining steak house; Pompeii and Caesar, a gourmet Italian restaurant; The Cove, a full-service restaurant where you can select from menus of the three restaurants; Rain, a 100-seat fine-dining restaurant featuring live piano music; Michael Jordan’s Steak House; and Todd English’s Tuscany, serving old-world Italian cuisine.
Casual dining selections include Big Bubba’s BBQ; Jasper White’s Summer Shack featuring New England-style seafood; Michael Jordan’s 23 Sportcafe (hugely fun and the hangout for the 20-somethings); Mohegan Territory, open 24 hours and Fidelia’s, also open 24 hours and providing room service (with a huge selection at moderate prices).
Specialty dining is available form Ben & Jerry’s; Brew Pub; Chief’s Deli, a fabulous New York-style deli (best corned beef sandwich I’ve ever had), Poker Bar and Bow & Arrow Sports Bar.
In addition, there are two buffets (Seasons and Sunburst), two food courts and four coffee places including Starbucks.
Shopping here is actually an event. This is not your typical stuff but retail shops that are as entertaining.
We found the first Farmer’s Almanac Store, loaded with country-style stuff collected from a variety of vendors; the Nostalgia Store, which sells collectibles such as autographed photo montages (Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, Lucille Ball, Three Stooges, the Beatles); Discovery Channel Store; OdySea (the entrance is a massive aquarium); Jaboola, featuring handcrafted furniture and accessories from Israel; Jewelry Nirvana, offering one-of-a-kind jewelry and accessories from the Orient; and Trading Cove, a Native American shop, among others.
Mohegan Sun offers a variety of entertainment venues. The 300-seat Cabaret showcases cabaret and comedy performances in an intimate atmosphere, and has hosted Tony Bennett, Nell Carter, Hal Linden and Mary Wilsen.
The 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena has hosted Gloria Estefan, Janet Jackson, Aerosmith, Julio Iglesias and features sports events, as well.
Wombi Rock has a lounge and dance floor on three levels.
The 350-seat Wolf Den offers free nightly entertainment for guests 21 and over. There have been entertainers from almost every musical genre including pop, country, rock, alternative, big band, jazz, R&B and folk, all at no cover charge and no minimum (and if you can’t get a seat, you can stand at the outside and see and hear just as well). It has hosted such acts as Blondie, the Go-Gos, Jon Secada, Glen Campbell and Joan Jett.
Kids enter a tunnel of neon lights to Kid’s Quest, a family entertainment complex just steps from the retail promenade. It is staffed by licensed professionals who are trained in first aid and CPR. There is a separate area for babies as young as six weeks old (Lil’ Dippers), and supervised activity area where we were able to see youngsters up to 12 years old actively engaged and many counselors participating.
There is an indoor playground with slides, ladders and tunnels, a gym with basketball, volleyball, hula-hoops, parachute play, jump rope.
There is also a video arcade with nonviolent games (children who are not part of the supervised activity program can use these, but those in the program can play for free).
The area also includes a high-tech café, Karaoke star stage, Kids Quest recording studio, Barbieland (a master planned community of Barbie and her friends), and Construction Quarry with Legos.
Each child is checked in by an associate with pertinent information entered into a computer. A photo ID must be presented upon pick-up in order for the child to be released.
Kids Quest is open from Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, Staurday and holidays from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. (reservations strongly recommended, 888-226-7711, or 860-862-8150). The cost is $7 per hour for children over three years old; $7.50 per hour for children six weeks to three years.
Mohegan Sun is superbly situated in the heart of some of Connecticut’s most compelling tourist attractions.
Mystic Seaport, displaying America’s maritime history, and Mystic Aquarium, combined, would take a full day to visit.
There is also the Carousel Museum of New England in Mystic (displaying 70 antique carousel horses);Children’s Museum (Niantic); Old Lighthouse Museum (Stonington, where you can climb to the tower of the 1823 lighthouse for a panoramic view of Long Island Sound; Historic Ship Nautilus & Submarine Force Museum, the first nuclear-powered submarine can be visited at Groton; Tantasquidgeon Indian Museum, Rte 32 in Uncasville, has a collection of artifacts of the Mohegan Indians.
Also, Gillette Castle State Park (East Haddam); Monte Cristo Cottage, the boyhood home of playwright Eugene O’Neill (New London); Nathan Lester House, an 18th century farmhouse and museum on 100-acre site crossed with hiking trails; Thomas Lee House & Little Boston School (Old Lyme); Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center (Mystic), offers seven miles of hiking trails in a 125-acre sanctuary; Millstone Nature Trail at Millstone Nuclear Power Station (Waterford).
There is also the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Ride, a 2 1/2-hour trip on a 100-year old steam train and riverboat (Essex); Capt. Bob II cruise boat, out of Groton, and Capt. John Nature Cruises out of Waterford.
Golf is available at the Pequot Golf Club, Stonington; Shennecosset Golf Course, Groton; Cedar Ridge Golf Course, East Lime; Chanticlair Golf Course, Colchester; Elmridge Golf Course, Pawcatuck; River Ridge Golf Course, Griswold, and Norwich Municipal Golf Course.
For further information about attractions, contact Connecticut Tourism at http://www.ctbound.org/.
There are various packages available that feature deluxe guestroom upgrade, special welcome gift, discounts on meals, entertainment and attractions.
Legendary Escape package includes a $15 coupon per person for food and beverage plus $10 gaming coupon; rates start at $154.38 per night, double occupancy.
Couples Spa Package is $306.80/couple, includes a well-being massage in the spa, and full access to spa activities and fitness center (a single’s package is $231.80).
A Getaway Package includes $70 per person in food and beverage credits plus $15 in gaming credits per person, starts at $272.40 ($362 in summer).
Romance package includes $100 in food and beverage credits, $20 per person in gaming credits and a bottle of champagne and keepsake candy basket, starts at $372.40 (as high as $542.65 in summer).
Mystic Places Package includes two tickets admission to Mystic Aquarium or Mystic Seaport, and $10 per person in food and beverage credit, priced at $208.80 per couple, year-round.
The Mohegan Sun is less than a 2-� hour drive (take I-95 north to Exit 76/I-395 North to exit 79A, Route 2A East).
For further information, contact Mohegan Sun, 1 Mohegan Sun Boulevard, Uncasville, CT 06382, 888-226-7711, www.mohegansun.com.
Pix1 The casino floor at Mohegan Sun, a major gambling resort destination in Connecticut (© 2005 Karen Rubin).
Pix2 World-renowned artist Dale Chihuly’s “River Blue,” a towering, 10,000-pound glass sculpture is one of the gorgeous design features in the Mohegan Sun mall (© 2005 Karen Rubin).
Pix3 Wombi Rock, a glowing, three-story high crystal “mountain” crafted of alabaster and onyx, provides unique lounge spaces (© 2005 Karen Rubin).
Pix4 Trail of Life: Mohegan Sun incorporates stunning art and design features which pay tribute to Mohegan Indian traditions, even in the walkway that serves as a shopping and dining mall (© 2005 Karen Rubin).
© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.