THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

During a pregnant pause, she gambles on relaxation

Email|Print| Text size + By Tina Cassidy
Globe Staff / January 18, 2004

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- The older woman wearing elastic-waist jeans leaned over the manicure dryer and said, "When are you due, hon?"

"Any day now," I said.

"Well, you're doing the right thing, getting a pedicure now," she said.

Indeed, it felt great having shiny red polish on the toes I could no longer reach. Realizing we had a free weekend before the imminent birth of our son, my husband and I decided to make a mad dash getaway to a spa -- one within a reasonable drive of Massachusetts General Hospital.

How we ended up at Elemis, the spa at Mohegan Sun, had more to do with the process of elimination and a sense of humor about this last-minute fling than anything more purposeful. The Berkshires and Canyon Ranch: Been there, done that, loved it; let's try something else. Avanyu Spa at The Equinox in Vermont: sold out. The Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa in Vermont: a pre-pay, no-cancellation policy that would be a drag if baby or blizzard intervened. At least that's what I was told initially. In a follow-up call, I was told they had a 24-hour cancellation policy -- but by then it was too late.

Meanwhile, I had heard of Elemis, an international chain with only three spas in the United States (Mohegan Sun, Las Vegas, and Coral Gables, Fla.). The spa was less than two hours from the maternity ward, and besides, what better place for the hungry insomniac I had become? The casinos are open 24/7 (and some areas are even smoke-free). There are 24 restaurants, including Krispy Kreme, Ben & Jerry's, Summer Shack, and Tuscany, a Todd English joint. And compared with the rest of the crowd, in my track pants I could look positively dressed up.

So we headed south, and soon I was wearing a fluffy white robe and spa sandals, shuffling into my pregnancy massage.

I was expecting a table with a doughnut hole in it; I dreamed of being able to spend an hour on my belly after so many months of not being able to. But the table was standard, and Lenny, my masseur, gave me a stack of pillows, then told me to hop up and lie on my side. He left the room for a minute, and trying to hoist myself up, I felt like I was in an "I Love Lucy" skit. The massage was very relaxing, especially all the attention he paid to my aching legs. Yet I could not keep my mind from wandering back to my last massage, an athletic shiatsu at the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan, performed by a muscular Italian on a floor mat. Instead of being compressed with limbs at odd angles, Lenny gently kneaded my body, propped by pillows, as a Native American version of "Amazing Grace" wafted through a speaker.

Next up: The one-hour facial, where the therapist immediately noticed the light-brown splotches near my cheekbone that had appeared early in the pregnancy. By the end of the treatment, the discoloration had diminished, as had the bags under my eyes, which she knew were from lack of sleep. The only downside to this treatment was having to lie on my back for so long, but the massage helped get me through it.

I had wisely scheduled a break for lunch between those treatments and the next two. Unlike most spas, Elemis does not have an eating area. You can order room service in the cramped "relaxation room," but that felt odd, given that the space was essentially a waiting room. Staff sent us to the nearby pool, where we could eat a salad and a sandwich at the bar, which also offered hot dogs, chips, and cookies.

It was pretty clear we were far from Canyon Ranch, and not just geographically. There were other clues, too. The staff on this busy Saturday was flustered, and one guest had her appointment lost. The relaxation room had a TV in it. And while it was shut off, the one in the men's area was blaring ESPN. (The men's area, my husband reported, also was out of combs, the lockers were too small, the water for tea tepid, the coffee truck-stop quality). The hotel room, which we could not check into until 4 p.m., was well appointed and spotless, but lacking such niceties as robes. And if you so much as touched a minibar item, computer sensors charged you for it, even if the snack or drink was not consumed, the front desk attendant warned us.

But enough nitpicking. I still had spa appointments to focus on.

The manicurist, a perfectly pleasant woman with four children, including a 1-year-old, seemed unfazed by my puffy hands, which she massaged, and carefully painted my nails.

That was followed by the crucial pedicure, with some red polish to accent my sausage-like toes. The color choice might have been irrational, but at least I didn't chop off my hair or wear strange clothes, things I had been warned many pregnant women are predisposed to do. Besides, the carmine paint could be a focal point during labor, I convinced myself -- an instant reminder of a very relaxing time.

The foot massage was incredibly soothing, as was the salt scrub. The pedicurist also slathered on cream that smelled like menthol and seemed to reduce the swelling. It was well worth the $60.

The bigger question was, as we pondered the cost of parenthood, should we blow some cash in the casino?

And the truth is, we tried. But the smoke-free gaming tables (the few there were) were so backed up that they were not worth waiting for. Fate had intervened and a seat beckoned in front of a slot machine. Five minutes and $20 later, we were done with gambling and hungry. We headed over to Summer Shack, where chef Jasper White was actually working the kitchen. We had wonderful calamari and salmon cakes at a bar overlooking the gaming floor. We chased that food with dinner at Tuscany, which was a disappointment. A hot appetizer was cool, the steak overdone, and the risotto flavorless.

But we were too zombie-like from sensory overload to complain, and the king-size bed beckoned. Surely I'd be able to sleep this night. And I did. For a little while. Until 4 a.m., when I decided to take advantage of my surroundings.

I tiptoed out of the room and bolted down to the 24-hour Krispy Kreme for two glazed fresh off the conveyor.

Jackpot.

Tina Cassidy can be reached at cassidy@globe.com.

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