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Take a gamble on Connecticut weekend getaway

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Picture a piece of quartz sticking out of the rough glacial rock that lays exposed throughout Connecticut. At the right time of day, the quartz reflects the sun, gleaming, almost iridescent.

That appears to be the concept behind Mohegan Sun, the casino, resort and conference center in Uncasville, Conn., that shares its name with the Indian tribe that owns the lavish grouping of structures that comprise the Mohegan Sun experience.

The basic elements of nature — earth, fire, water and sky — are incorporated into the design and theme of almost every aspect of Mohegan Sun. From the exterior of the 34-floor hotel and conference center to the 315,000 square feet of gaming spaces to even the smallest wall sconce, nature abounds throughout the place.

Opened in 1996, Mohegan Sun makes a great weekend getaway for anybody trying to escape the winter doldrums in Queens. With gaming, fine dining, shopping, a 10,000-seat arena, a full-service spa and a conference center all under one roof, one need not worry about stepping foot outdoors during a stay.

The Casinos

You name the game, and odds are Mohegan Sun has a table for it.

The gaming is divided into three sections — The Casino of the Earth, the Casino of the Sky and the Race Book.

The Casino of the Earth is nearly 180,000 square feet, and the oldest part of Mohegan Sun. When the facility opened, the Casino of the Earth was all that there was, which on its own was plenty.

Set in the round, its four entrances are each designed with features to signify the four seasons — from the style of carpet to the color of the lamps that hand and are mounted to the walls. In the center sits the Wolf Den, where entertainers perform nightly in the heart of the casino.

The casino itself has 3,600 slot machines and 192 gaming tables with such favorites as Blackjack, Craps, Roulette Keno and more. There is also a separate room for poker and an enclosed smoke-free room, the Hall of the Lost Tribes.

In the new section of Mohegan Sun, unveiled in September 2001, the Casino of the Sky is a 115,000-square-foot addition is located under a fully functional planetarium dome, evoking the feeling of being under a blanket of stars. Wombi Rock, a three-story alabaster and obsidian structure that houses a cocktail lounge, sits on the edge, overlooking the casino.

Rather than sealing off a room for the non-smoking crowd, Mohegan Sun has designed a turtle-shell-inspired canopy that sits to one side of the casino. Fresh air is blasted downward from enormous vents, keeping any neighboring smoke away from the smoke-free zone.

Though there are some table games in the Casino of the Sky, as well as a 3,000-square-foot high-limit lounge, the main focus seems to be the slots, with thousands arranged in rows — their bright lights flashing, bells ringing and musical pieces playing.

The Race Book is an enormous enclosed lounge with more than 300 television screens where wagers can be placed on horse and dog races from around the country, as well as on jai-alai matches. By Connecticut state law, unlike Las Vegas, there is no wagering allowed on sporting events.

The Restaurants

At every turn in Mohegan Sun, there are excellent places to eat. From gourmet dining to casual environments and the ultra-casual food courts and specialty dining stations throughout, Mohegan Sun has food for every taste.

The gourmet dining includes the Asian-themed Bamboo Forest, the Italian charm of Pompeii and Caesar, Michael Jordan’s Steak House and Tuscany, created by Todd English, acclaimed for his high-class Figs and Olives restaurants.

On the casual side, the South is well represented in Big Bubba’s BBQ and Jasper White’s Summer Shack is home to New England-style seafood.

There is also the scaled down version of Michael Jordan’s Steak House — Michael Jordan’s 23 Sportscafe — and Fidelia’s, which is open 24 hours a day and also provides the room service to the hotel.

The Seasons Buffet and the Sunburst Buffet, located just off the casinos, offer sit-down dining with chefs preparing food at stations throughout the day and night.

There are also two large food courts — Rising Moon and Casino of the Earth Food Court — that offer a range from soup and sandwiches to pizza, hot dogs and desserts.

Strewn throughout the shops at Mohegan Sun is a handful of specialty food outlets, such as a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor, Starbucks and Imus Brothers Coffee shop.

Though the range is fantastic, the prices are also somewhat incredible as well. For a family staying the weekend, the food bill can run pretty high. Dinner for two at Fidelia’s was about $30, which isn’t too bad, but breakfast came at about the same price. If you’re planning to break bread at one of the gourmet restaurants, make sure you win a little at the tables before making your reservations.

The Stores

Bits of nostalgia, educational tools, crafts, books, golf clubs, clothes and more can be found at the shops at Mohegan Sun.

At the store appropriately named “Nostalgia,” the ‘50s and ‘60s come alive with signed memorabilia from sports and film history. Newer items, such as notepads, lunch boxes, postcards and refrigerator magnets bearing likenesses of Elvis, Betty Boop and characters from “The Wizard of Oz” line the shelves in this historical emporium.

“Odysea” is magnificent to look at. The underwater theme of the items sold is perfectly represented in the front of the store. The entire facade is an aquarium, with the arched entryway completely made of glass, creating the illusion of entering the ocean.

Inside, every item is either related to the underwater theme or seems to be made of colorful sea glass.

Another themed store is Trading Cove, a Native American boutique offering collectibles, blankets and keepsakes rich in the history of the Mohegan nation, as well as other Native American tribes.

All 27 stores, which sit in the 130,000-square-foot retail area between the two casinos, are operated independently from the Mohegan Sun facility itself.

Entertainment

There are three main performance venues at Mohegan Sun, attracting such A-list performers as Cher, Tony Bennett, Janet Jackson, Aerosmith and more.

The Mohegan Sun Arena is a 10,000-seat venue for some of the bigger acts, and the tribe is currently in negotiations with the WNBA to locate a professional women’s basketball team at the site.

In the Wolf Den, smaller acts known for playing mid-size venues find themselves right at home in the 350-seat theater that opens up into the Casino of the Earth. The Go-Gos, John Secada, Joan Jett, Clarence Clemons and more have all graced that small stage.

The 300-seat cabaret, set off from the Casino of the Sky, has been the place for such performers as the late Nell Carter, Patty LuPone, Hal Linden and Mary Wilson to reach their audiences in an intimate setting.

In addition to the live performers, there is the Mohegan After Dark nightclub where people can dance their gambling-loss blues away throughout the night.

Elemis Spa

One of the most opulent, luxurious features to the entire Mohegan Sun experience can be found on the third floor of the hotel — the Elemis Spa.

This 20,000-square-foot spa includes full services of the Elemis company — world renowned for its superior spa services — with a 17,000-square-foot sun terrace, a 10,000-square-foot indoor swimming pool and a 3,000-square-foot cardiofitness center.

Private rooms, as well as rooms for couples, are available at the spa so that customers can enjoy massages and treatments in privacy or with a partner.

One package in particular, the Ceremony of the Strawberry Moon, includes a couples massage lesson, a jasmine bath for two and a bottle of champagne served with chocolate-covered strawberries during the bath.

The spa also offers detoxifying wraps, personal training sessions, body composition analysis, hair treatments, facials and more.

The Conference Center

The two-level conference center is designed in such a way that when you enter the lobby, you have no idea that there are bars, restaurants and casinos just around the corner.

Though in keeping with the Native American-inspired motif, the conference center is designed in such a way as to separate itself from the rest of the environment.

On the lobby level, 19 rooms, many of which can be doubled in size by removing the sliding Air Walls, are named for tribes of the northeast, including Penobscot, Oneida, Abenaki and Pequot.

Taking the escalator downstairs reveals the Uncas Ballroom, which can be divided in a number of ways, but is perhaps its most impressive when the walls are removed and the single room stands in its 40,068-square-foot glory. The 23-foot ceiling adds to the impressive size of the facility, which can be used as individual rooms ranging from just under 3,000 square feet to a room half the size of the whole.

In all, Mohegan Sun is an enormous experience that can’t possibly be experienced in just a single weekend. It may take several trips to truly have the ultimate Mohegan Sun experience.

To find out more about Mohegan Sun, call 888-226-7711 or go to www.mohegansun.com.

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