|Rainy Day Magazine|
|"We Entertain When It Rains"|
Reason #1 for being wary of going to Mohegan Sun (which has nothing to do with Mohegan Sun):
When I was a sophmore in high school, I accompanied my mother to our local church Bingo. While I was flattered that my mother wanted me to be a part of her Friday night ritual, upon arriving I was utterly repulsed by the people and their 30 lucky stuffed animals, the staking of their bingo table claims, their arriving at 4pm for a 7pm start. I couldn’t get the hang of the daubers and felt a little stupid that my mother had to help me with my 12 papers while she adeptly attended her 48 (“Your cousin Sharon can do 56!”). It was such an unpleasant, down-at-the-heels experience that I never went again.The second grade game, “There was a farmer had a farm and Bingo was his name-o,” where all you won when you won was the game, seemed a lot more fun. It also made me feel very sorry for my mother, since clearly her life at home with her two kids and one husband was so stultifying that she sought intellectual stimulation in trying to cover the outside square for a pot of $100.
Reason #2 for being wary of going to Mohegan Sun (which also has nothing to do with Mohegan Sun):
A few years ago my boyfriend and I took a fabulous driving vacation around Nova Scotia (2000 miles exactly from the driveway and back) and the overnight ferry proudly touted its all-night “casino.” I suppose it was the combination of the all-you-can-eat buffet and my ever-increasing seasickness, but that casino, ugh, ugh, ugh. Overweight women in velour tracksuits, wearing too much makeup, sporting artificial nails, smoking incessantly and cackling dementedly over “their” slot machine. I played $20 in quarters on, something, and quickly left.(The throwing up came later, in the middle of the night, which was compounded by the fact that my boyfriend was deeply, blissfully asleep in our cheapo cabin and so I had to throw up all by myself in the public bathroom.)
When an opportunity arrived at the RainyDay offices to check out the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino, I was not excited. I was assured that the focus of the article was non-gaming activities, and that I wasn’t expected to go into the casino. I acquiesced to the assignment, but warily. If 200 people playing quarter slots on a boat gave me a problem, how was I going to handle them playing 6,000 slot machines in the middle of Connecticut?
I waried for nothing. Mohegan Sun is a spectacular place, and I enjoyed every single second of my stay there. It’s a great place to go for a weekend getaway, and the casinos are secondary (almost).
Take a breath, Carolyn, and have a good time, will ya?
We arrived on Saturday afternoon, and left on Monday morning. The whole time, it felt like we were at a tasteful, upscale amusement park for adults. So much to look at! So much to buy! So much to eat and drink! Oh, they have casinos, too? That’s nice…
The casinos (there are two) were built in 1996, but the 1,200-room hotel is only three years old. Once at Mohegan Sun, you don’t need to go out to do anything: everything is connected. So if, say, you find yourself at the resort during the worst blizzard to hit the Eastern Seaboard since 1978, not only don’t you care, you don’t even notice!
There is complementary valet parking for hotel guests (day-trippers have complementary self-park, with free shuttles between the garages and the casinos), and once you walk through the front doors, you know you are somewhere special. The materials, quality, and craftsmanship of the spaces in the resort are excellent, and give the whole place a feeling of sumptuousness that I wasn’t expecting. The place was way more elegant and stylish than most of its visitors (including us). There are casinos here, right? I read it on their website…
The hotel normally runs at 90% occupancy (and on the night that the blizzard was in full swing they were at 98% occupancy), but if there were that many people in the resort, I didn’t notice. The public spaces are almost huge, but in a proportional way. It all works.
The casinos and hotel are owned by the Mohegan tribe, who take great pride in their Native Indian heritage, and display that heritage throughout their property (they even have a self-guided audio/walking tour that tells you about specific motifs and provides a history of the Mohegan tribe). There is definitely an “Indian” feel to it, although it is a very New England/Birch trees/babbling brooks type of Indian; these Indians were here way before John Wayne got to the Great Plains, you know what I’m saying? The whole thing was really, really well done. Real stone work and fused glass lighting, no "pretend" materials, like (I’ve been told) some of those casinos out in Vegas.
This is a lush place. The public spaces are full of water elements: there’s a pond in the hotel lobby that flows into a stream that cascades down a rock face that flows under a bridge, and eventually meets up with the 55-foot waterfall. The sound of all this water is a lovely kind of white noise, and with 30,000 visitors a day, the dampening effect is perfect. Honestly, the size of the place is such that never once did I feel crowded or squished.
You get your room keycard at check-in, and show it to the security person to gain access to the elevator banks, and once in the elevators, you insert it into the slot in the elevator before pressing your floor number. You cannot select any other floor number, only the one that your room is on. (Keeps the rabble out, I suspect.)
Our room was on the 20th floor, and looked out over Trading Cove, part of the Thames River. The room was handsome and quite large; the images on the Mohegan Sun website does not do them justice. The mini-bar is weight-based; “it” knows how much everything in it weighs, so when you take something, the weight changes and you get billed. I don’t know how “it” knows the difference between the two ounces of cashews and the two ounces of Oreos, but perhaps it is based on the location of the items as well. This is only speculation; I was afraid to open the mini-bar in case all reason abandoned me and I actually ate something…
The bathroom more spacious than I expected. Its double sliding door opens to a tile/mosaic/black granite sink area with the shower on one side and the toilet (with its own sliding door) on the other. The tiles were decorated with iridescent glass squares in blues and purples, both on the floor and on the back splash. The mirror was the length of the vanity, easily five feet. The vanity was pure black granite, very cool. The shower curtain was an iridescent periwinkle, and easily slid open and closed on a metal rod. The showerhead was high enough up that I believe even basketball players could get themselves under it, and had good pressure and very hot water.
I liked that the toilet had it’s own room, so to speak, but every time I flushed I got a little afraid, it was very quick and, what’s the word, powerful.
The bathroom came stocked with Mohegan Sun personal care products: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body lotion. Everything was lovely, but the body lotion had a fragrance that was so overpowering and, um, manly (ish) that I only used it once. They even had mouthwash!
The only things that seemed amiss in the bathroom were:
The bed needed four pillows to reach across. We both got very good nights’ sleep in it. Quality sheets, handsome bedcover, nice for lolling around and watching the tv (that HBO, I see why people get it on cable at home…).
The room has a table that’s big enough to actually do work on, but really, you’re at a resort, put the laptop away and go have some fun. There was also a nice contemporary easy chair and ottoman. The whole room was well proportioned, and we enjoyed our two nights there. There was a healthy live plant, a hosta, in the room.
One thing: don’t even bother with the “Get the Internet on the Television!” wireless keyboard thing. It’s free, as long as you want the front page of MSNBC, and even then, it seems like it’s a PDF of the pages, not the actual pages. If you want to check your email with it (but you don’t, you are at a resort and should be relaxing), it’ll cost you, but it’s unwieldy to use and s…l…o…w.
Mohegan Sun does offer a high-speed Internet connection (and keeps the cable you need to connect your laptop in the drawer of the table), so if you really really really are that much of a Type A personality, I would go that route (I believe there’s a charge involved).
There were two cool technologies in use in the room. The first is the thermostat; it is electronic, with a big LED screen so you can see how high or how low you are setting the temperature (and the temp responds very quickly). The other is the “Do not disturb” door hanger; it is now a button on the wall next to the door; you press either “Do not disturb” or “Make up this room” and a corresponding light on the outside of the door lights up. Is that cool or what?
Every staff member we encountered was polite and pleasant. The cleaning lady, whom we never saw, left us this note: “Thanks for your tips.” And since my mother was at one time a cleaning lady for richer people’s houses, I am big on actually leaving tips every day for the people who clean up the rooms I am staying in.
The rule of thumb for cleaning-lady tipping, in case your recollection is hazy: it’s TWO DOLLARS per DAY per PERSON, and you leave it every day, because the cleaning lady who cleaned your room today might not be the cleaning lady who cleans your room tomorrow. And don’t be stingy and not leave a tip on the day that you leave just because the cleaning lady will be cleaning up the room for somebody else; it was clean when you got there, wasn't it? Just leave two dollars per day per person, every day.
On checkout, I had a wonderful conversation with Isabela, a university student from Brazil who is on a work abroad-type program. She is working on an international relations degree back home, and really liked working at the hotel because it provided her with interactions with many different types of people, and a chance to keep her English-language skills up-to-date. The hotel has some work/training deals with a few foreign universities, and since I got to go on a work abroad program myself through Umass (I was a Kelly Girl in Dublin), I think it’s a great opportunity for both sides.
The third floor of the hotel at Mohegan Sun is the spa and pool floor. The pool is 10,000 square feet, and the Winter indoor pool becomes the Summer outdoor pool by opening two of the walls, which are made of glass panels. It was kind of cool to see the Blizzard of 2006 poolside. The walls, when open, open to a 6,000 square foot sun deck. And yes, there’s a bar next to the pool. And a Jacuzzi. And lots of lounge chairs. Oh, I wish to come back in the Summer-time, just to hang out at the pool.
The pool is open to all residents of the hotel, but the spa is not. You either need to book a service, or buy a day pass. Either way, I highly recommend doing so, or else you will never get to walk up the rose-petal strewn steps to the whirlpool. Please see my accompanying article on the Elemis Spa at Mohegan Sun.
The Rest of it
Mohegan Sun is a visual feast; there is something to look at everywhere you, um, look. The ceilings have unusual coverings – many of them are beaded, and if you think making those necklaces takes a long time, try making something that’s about 20 foot square, and then making a lot of them. When you walk out of the elevator towers, you walk through the hotel sitting area, then out to the hotel lobby. The rest of the resort opens to your left in a V shape. You have to descend stairs/escalators on either side of the mini-waterfall (that comes from the pond in the lobby) and there you are standing in front of the waterfull, thinking, “Wow, this is really cool.” The casinos are at the end of each arm of the V, but there are lots to see and do before you get to them.
In front of the waterfall is a martini bar. We got an Appletini, and a something else martini that had strawberry vodka in it. I profess, it was my fault that I ordered it. Just being at Mohegan Sun makes you a little giddy. The bar was on a low, wide bridge that spanned the pool eddying in front of the waterfall, with tables and chairs in addition to the bar. Behind the waterfall is Tuscany, an upscale Italian restaurant.
There are 30 shops at Mohegan Sun, and it felt like an upscale shopping mall, although with some stores I was unfamiliar with. The entrance to Oddes-sea was one humungous aquarium (the entrance to the store went through the fish tank), so of course everybody is drawn to it. Funny thing is, the shop is not about the sea. It had some affordable and some expensive things, and it dawned on me that this is the sort of store that caters to people who win BIG at the casino. Four-foot high ebony greyhound figure, anyone?
There was a country store, with all of the candles, dips, and calico-quilted pot-holders any middle-to-senior aged lady could want.
There were luggage shops, clothing shops, science-y shops, jewelry shops. Since it’s a fairly established “fact” that most shoppers are women, it made sense to have a lot of shops for women. I was a little scared to go into the lingerie shop in case the giddiness of just being there made me purchase that little velvet tiger-skin number with rhinestones on the straps and black feathers under the cleavage…
There’s something for everyone to eat here, from french fries to filet mignon (the chefs at Mohegan Sun prepare 35,000 A DAY hello). Michael Jordan has a steak house here, Todd English (started out in Boston, big name in cooking, we have his “Figs” cookbook) has an Italian place here. There are also hamburger places, barbecue places, coffee places (who knew Don Imus roasted coffee?), and dessert places. There are standalone restaurants, buffets, and a food court, complete with TREES (that had live birds flying about them) and a wide selection of food choices. There is also a nightclub, an Irish pub, and one or two cocktail lounges.
Our first night we ate at the Uncas American Indian Grill, which is run by the casino (not a franchisee). Again, the materials used to create the place were fabulous. It felt like being in a birch glade, because they had actual (but not live) birch trees in it. His pan-fried rib-eye was deemed “great,” my portabella mushroom burger came with two huge mushroom caps, and sandwiched between them was even more mushrooms. Loved it. He had the local brewed beer, I had a Belgian wheat ale that was yummy. Only caveat: the side of sliced maple-glazed carrots came from carrots so big even Bugs Bunny would’ve had to cut them up.
The next morning we found a Starbucks, although there are other places you should try for your morning boost, like the 24-hour Chief’s Bagels, which is right next to Uncas and looks a little like an Indian lodge (a New England Indian lodge, not an Arapaho one). Really good espresso for two bucks.
For lunch we stopped at the Seasons Buffet, which was recommended by Mom (hey, she takes the bus down here sometimes). It was a really good value for the money (15.75 per adult), and although some of the items might maybe not be the best choices for a buffet (apparently, the pepper sausages were mushy) but the standard buffet fare, like the sliced-just-for-you ham and turkey and the salads were good. Nice thing: they’ve got a gazillion desserts at this buffet, but they are on the small size, so you can have more than one (plate) of them and not feel like a giant porker. Well, that’s my thought, anyway. Free soda, tea, and coffee (refills, too).
Our final night of dining was at Big Bubba’s BBQ, and it is very Southern-style; finally I had cheese grits! His BBQ combo of chicken and ribs went over nicely with Him, and He enjoyed trying the six sauces that were available on the table. My fried oysters I liked very much, including the tartar sauce, and cheese grits and a spicy green bean dish rounded it out so nicely that I didn’t have room for dessert. It was fun to have a place like this in an Indian-run casino.
I only wish we spent more time at Mohegan Sun, if only to eat, except I think I would run out of stomach before we ran out of restaurants…
Mohegan Sun has a bunch of venues for music and whatnot (the Connecticut Sun, the 2005 WNBA Eastern Conference Champions, play there), from a 350-seat cabaret to a 10,000 seat arena. We went to both. Saw “The Comets and the Crickets” at the cabaret, and a Latino concert with Gilberto Santa Rosa and Olga Ta ñon.
The Crickets worked with Buddy Holly, and the guy who wrote most of Holly's songs was in the band. The Comets are Billy Haley's Comets, the Rock around the Clock Comets, and while it was a few years before our time, it was amazing to see. The guitar player is 84, but good gawd, Sting would be hard pressed to keep up with him!
The Latino show was fun and full of energy, and completely not in English. I think we were the only two that had no idea what was being said or sung. I’ll just say this, Latino men wear much better clothing than their white counterparts. Not a single baseball cap to be seen in over 5,000 people.
In addition to the paying venues, one of the casinos also houses the Wolf Den, which has free concerts. Keith Sweat was playing at Wolf Den the Saturday night we were there, and the Village People (Y…MCA!) are coming in March.
Okay, the Casino
Yes, I went to the casino, but blame my bus-riding mother. I saw her the day before I left, and just as I was walking out her door she shoves a twenty dollar bill in my hand and says “play it for me, at the Jeopardy machines.” I mean really, how can you defy your mother?
The day we after we arrived I found had a message on my cell phone from Mom; she wanted to give me directions to the Jeopardy slots machines (they’re near the bus entrance, in case you want to try them out).
Yes, I found them, and yes, I played. And yes, I won! I totally get the draw of gambling; I won $134.25 from 20 bucks, although Mom and I split the winnings. That whole something for nothing, it is very appealing, no?
The dings and dongs did go off when I hit the big square button that provided me with my hard, unearned cash. I was a little alarmed with all the noise, because I am a dope when it comes to standard gambling notifications, so I turned to my boyfriend and asked him what I should do. “Cash out,” was his immediate reply. And so, I took my little slip of paper, went to the cash window, and exchanged it for actual money (and a bright “Congratulations!” from the cashier). I wandered around in a glow all that day, knowing that could I buy anything I wanted, as long as it was sixty dollars or less. NOW I know why they have 30 stores, and 15 restaurants, you want to spend it as soon as you win it!
Mohegan Sun seems to offer something for everyone, and seems to make all of its customers, both hotel and casino, feel at home. For instance, you can rent a scooter while there; I saw an elderly man with an oxygen tank zipping around in one, and his wife in a matching one zipping after him. I think Mohegan Sun has engineered the toilet seats to accommodate the bigger buttocks that a lot of Americans are hauling around these days. I practically fell in! With the seat down!
There are a lot of staff on hand, and a “Lost Customer” booth or two. The casinos themselves are round(ish), so you never really end up at the end, you know?
I am going to get another lucky twenty dollar bill from my mother and come back!
|Photography by Wan Chi Lau and Carolyn Donovan|