It is 8 a.m. on Saturday morning when I notice the long-haired tattooed man in front of me in line for coffee is Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Rickey Medlocke. The previous night Medlocke and his band had played a packed show at Mohegan Sun Arena that I’d attended.
“Great show,” I say enthusiastically.
“Thanks!” he says, turning to shake my hand before heading off with his coffee in hand.
The encounter reminded me what I had already learned more than halfway through my 24-hour stay at Mohegan Sun: Connecticut’s giant resort casinos are not like the rest of the state. A self-contained city on what seems to be a perpetual and largely side effect-free acid trip, Mohegan Sun has 300,000 square feet of casino space, two hotel towers with more than 1,500 rooms, 45 restaurants, bars and lounges and 130,000 square feet of shopping. As many as 40,000 people can visit the resort in a day.
All the excitement is fueled by the constant buzzing, whirring, spinning and card-dealing sounds of the actual casino and the almost palpable sense of hope that someone — not you or me, unfortunately, but someone — will walk home with much more cash than when they arrived.
My wife and I recently spent the night at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville and sampled a portion of what the resort has to offer. Here’s a snapshot of our trip.
4-6 p.m.: Check-in and an extremely happy hour
We stay at Aspire, a new “hotel within a hotel” that opened in April and occupies the 31st through 36th floors of the casino’s Sky Tower. Catering to high rollers and high-end spenders, the ultra-luxurious hotel has a VIP valet entrance and guests are offered free drinks almost as soon as they step out of their cars. Our room is spacious, with an extremely comfortable king bed, nice views and amenities. The crown jewel of Aspire is the hotel’s restaurant, Thirty Three, a sleek lounge on the 33rd floor that is open only to Aspire guests. The room fee entitles guests to “free” cocktails and other drinks and chef-driven food for the duration of their stay at Aspire. There are also blackjack games in the lounge with minimum bets far higher than anyone working in journalism can afford. We treated ourselves to a single malt scotch and delicious lobster bisque. This is the kind of amenity you get used to fast. Dangerously fast. Throughout our stay we’d find ourselves stopping in at Thirty Three every time we left or came back to the room. But access to this Shangri-La of food and drink comes with a justifiably hefty price tag — prices for a stay at the hotel vary, but mid-week they start around $379.
6-7:30 p.m.: Tacos and tequila
For dinner, we head to SolToro, a Mexican restaurant owned by the restaurant group that owns Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse. Recently renovated, the new space has a brighter, more open feel and a vibe that temporarily takes you away from the casino atmosphere. We love the guacamole made tableside and enjoy an order of empanadas, while the pork tacos and wedge salad were decent. We would return for drinks, however; the margarita was excellent, as was the restaurant’s version of a rum runner, made with rum and tequila.
7:30-10 p.m.: Epic rock
During our visit, Lynyrd Skynyrd performs at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The band played through many of its most popular hits, from “Sweet Home Alabama” to a moving encore rendition of “Free Bird.” The 10,000-seat arena is designed well enough that there is no disconnect between the performers and the audience. The band rocks out with enthusiasm and amps that were definitely cranked to 11. My ears ring afterward with the ghost echoes of guitar power chords, but I don’t care.
10 p.m.-midnight: Comedy roadhouse with dancers
After the concert, we swing by Mohegan Sun’s newest bar and comedy club, Comix Roadhouse. It features a strange and strangely effective mix of bull riding, country music, craft beer, comedy performances and Coyote Ugly-style dancers who take the stage at regular intervals in cutoff jean shorts to shake what their mommas gave them in ways their mothers may or may not approve. We missed comedian Jessica Kirson’s performance earlier in the night, but enjoy Connecticut craft beers and watch one set of the dancing, which, as I repeatedly tell my wife, was just so I could write about it.
Before heading to our room we stop by Thirty Three again, which has an assortment of after-dinner drinks available. These include Kahlua Baileys, limoncello and Fonseca 20-year port. We opt for the port, which puts us right to sleep (you can bring the drinks but not the food from Thirty Three to your room).
8-10 a.m.: Spa la, la
After my chance meeting with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s guitarist earlier Saturday morning, I do the least rock ’n’ roll thing imaginable: go to a spa for a massage. Located many flights below our room is the Mandara Spa, which has a host of amenities including saunas, jacuzzis and a variety of spa services. Normally while traveling, when my wife goes to a spa, I catch up on reading, but I’m glad I give this spa a try. The hour-long massage we booked is relaxing and the perfect antidote to the grogginess of a late night followed by early morning.
10 a.m.-noon: Breakfast time
After the spa, it’s time for breakfast at Thirty Three. Like everything else at this exclusive restaurant, it is immensely enjoyable. An omelet with the works is great and helps along with another cocktail. Did I mention I love having access to a restaurant and bar near my room that I don’t need my wallet to enjoy?
Noon-2 p.m.: You win some, you lose some
Time to gamble. My wife plays the slots while I try my hand at the lowest-stakes blackjack table I can find, which is $10. As usual, I have limited success. I really have to read up on the odds of this game. My wife texts me that she won $170. I venture over to watch her “hot streak” continue at the slot machine she had settled into. Five minutes later she’s down $70, and I realize I might be the real-world equivalent of William H. Macy’s character in the movie The Cooler whose luck is so bad he’s hired by a Vegas casino to stand next to patrons on hot streaks and ice them.
2-3 p.m.: Burgers and shakes
We pay a visit to Bobby’s Burger Palace, a high-quality burger-and-shake restaurant from celebrity chef Bobby Flay. This place lives up to the reputation of its namesake with some of the best burgers I’ve had in the state and great shakes topped by positively incredible housemade whipped cream. Medium-rare burgers are served with a pinkish hue here that might scare off timid eaters, but which adds an incredible burst of soft, meaty flavor. Despite all there is to like about Mohegan Sun, this restaurant remains my favorite stop.
4 p.m.: Goodbye for now
On the way out we stop at Carlo’s Bakery, from celebrity baker Buddy Valastro of Cake Boss fame. The rainbow cake is great looking and solid tasting. It’s the perfect sweet treat for the road. As our car is retrieved by a valet driver, we emerge from the resort blinking the sun out of our eyes, realizing we hadn’t been outside since checking in the previous afternoon. It was good to breathe fresh air again, but also sad to leave this indoor amusement park for grownups. If given the option to stay another night, we would have definitely doubled down.
Upcoming Events at Mohegan Sun
Schedule is subject to change. See mohegansun.com for details.
July 3: New Kids on the Block with Salt-N-Pepa, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany and Naughty by Nature
July 4: Toby Keith
July 5: Mike DelGuidce (Free Wolf Den show)
July 6: Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (Free Wolf Den show)
July 7: Little Big Town
July 9: Phish
July 10: The Great American Hemp & Blues Festival
July 11: Sublime / Rome
July 13: Queen Latifah
July 20: Lionel Richie
July 21: Elvis Costello & The Imposters / Blondie
July 26: Godsmack
July 27: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
July 28: Ben Folds / Violent Femmes
August 2: Lady Antebellum
August 3: Bryan Adams / Billy Idol
August 4: Rob Thomas / Abby Anderson
August 8: Jon Bellion
August 9: Why Don’t We
August 9-11: Terrificon
August 10: Chris Tucker
August 11: Train / Goo Goo Dolls
August 17-18: CT Psychic & Beyond Expo
August 18: NRBQ
August 21: Jonas Brothers
August 22: Nickelback
August 24: Daughtry
August 30: Shawn Mendes / Alessia Cara
August 31-September 1: New England Food Truck Festival
September 2: Peter Frampton
September 7: Of Monsters and Men
September 13-14: Miranda Lambert
September 15: Jethro Tull
September 25: J Balvin
September 27: Bastille
September 28: The Chainsmokers
October 3: Foreigner
October 4-5: Journey
October 9: Deep Purple
October 12: Sara Bareilles / Emily King
October 12-13: Maddie Rae’s Slime Bash 5
October 19: Dane Cook
October 27: Jake Owen
November 1: Logic
November 2: Steely Dan
November 3: Marc Anthony
November 9: Cole Swindell
November 10: Paul Anka Sings Sinatra
November 15-17: Connecticut International Auto Show
November 16: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
November 22: Luke Combs
December 20: Straight No Chaser
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