Somewhere between the time we drank a smoking cocktail designed by Pitbull and zip-lined off the roof of the Fox Tower, we realized that things had changed in Connecticut Casino-land! And that was before we discovered Foxwoods’s Sky Drop that plunges you 120 feet straight down or its Sky Launch that hurls (the operative word here) you 140 feet into the air to execute your best freestyle bungee moves. Meanwhile, at nearby Mohegan Sun, you can now align your chakras on a quart crystal bed and have your guacamole prepared tableside (regrettably, not at the same time). Oh, yeah, there’s gaming. Connecticut’s biggies, facing potential competition from casino projects in Springfield and Everett, are doubling down on amenities and improvements to entice fun seekers. On a recent weekend, we took a trip west to see what’s new.
For thrill seekers
“Foxwoods is evolving into a one-stop destination for fun. We’re not just a place for gambling, but for things that families can do together,’’ says Rachel Metzger of Highflyer Zipline, the attraction (www.foxwoodshighflyer.com) that launches riders from the 350-foot rooftop of the Fox Tower to the ground next to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.
Opened in March ($59 per adult in fall and winter; $69 in summer), the zip line will operate all year, weather permitting. Surrounded by woodlands, it’s a cool way to see fall foliage, Metzger says. “You can see all the way to Long Island on a clear day.’’
For more extreme fun, there’s the Foxwoods Thrill Tower, home to the Sky Drop ($15), where four seated riders are lifted more than 10 stories up and then free-fall down. The Sky Launch ($25) is even better/worse, depending on your perspective, flinging two back-to-back riders about 45 yards in the air, then springing them back down on cables.
We’re suckers for those rides that seem to move you through time and space, but actually just move your chair around, so we were psyched about the new X-D Dark Zone ($10.99) virtual reality ride at Foxwoods. Alas, there’s shooting involved — you mow down the walking dead on this one (there’s also a Wild West version) as you careen through the virtual zombie apocalypse. Real time scores are posted outside the ride.
Waiting for the starting flag to drop this weekend
at Foxwoods Resort Casino: Monza World Class Karting. This attraction, designed for ages 7 and up, will be one of the largest and fastest indoor tracks around, they say, using gas-powered 9-horsepower karts. Topgolf, a golf simulator, is slated to open in November.
For the spa-deprived
On our recent tour, we saw packs of women whose gaiety and wardrobe choices (matching T-shirts, sashes, ersatz bridal veils) revealed their status as bachelorette parties. Casinos and such gatherings are a match made in heaven: All the necessary components are located under one roof, including food, drink, music, dancing, and spas. Foxwoods has two spas, and Mohegan Sun has a newly reimagined one, Mandara Spa (www.mohegansun.com/spa), formerly an Elemis spa, that raises the stakes. Located in the resort’s Sky Tower, this elegant space (featuring a wall made of Himalayan salt) is a minimalist retreat. Here’s your chance to try an amber-and-quartz-crystal bed — there are only two in the United States. Four treatments have developed around the bed, including the Ritual of Earth and Sea (50 minutes, $165). Elements include a rosemary-eucalyptus sea salt body scrub and quartz poultices, applied as you sprawl on warm crystals. The Mandara Signature facial can be customized to lift, brighten, and hydrate — all good things.
For the curious connoisseur
They do have real food at the Sugar Factory (www.sugarfactory.com) at Foxwoods, but you may not care — you’ll be too busy Instagramming your 60-ounce smoking candy-goblet drink. Yes, the beverage is actually smoking, thanks to dry ice in the glass ($25 without alcohol; $36 with booze.)
One of these brightly-hued concoctions was designed by Pitbull (the Watermelon Patch); our Coconut Gone Bananas potion was a blend of coconut, banana, pineapple, and citrus, mixed with Drake’s Virginia Black whiskey and garnished with gummy coconut slices and two giant gummy bananas.
This is a chain (there’s even one in Dubai) but it’s a lot of fun, and they do offer a lengthy menu of savory and sweet foods. That said, if you’ve ever been tempted by, say, a white chocolate burger, this would be the place. For more sweet stuff, there’s an attached candy store.
There’s also a brand-new brewpub at Foxwoods. From Branford, Conn.-based Stony Creek Brewery comes a brewhouse (including a deck with views of the beer production process), a beer garden, and a second-floor cocktail bar with a stage for live entertainment.
In its former incarnation, it was a dimly-lit space with lots of heavy, dark wood, so you may not recognize SolToro (www.soltororestaurant.com) now. The sibling restaurant to Michael Jordan’s Steak House at Mohegan Sun, SolToro was redesigned as a bright, open dining spot, accented with red ceramic bulls (get it?) and a wall-length tequila bar. It offers nearly 150, 100 percent blue agave tequilas, both aged and un-aged.
Plus, it has overhauled the menu. One of the signature items is guacamole prepared at tableside. Few diners can resist. Everything we sampled was delicious. We took a gamble and ordered the habanero-agave glazed salmon recommended by our server. Served on a bed of garlicky spinach studded with corn kernels, it was among the best fish dishes we’ve had in ages.
We asked a Mohegan Sun employee if she saw lots of concerts, given that the resort is home to a world-class arena. “Nope,’’ she said, grimacing. “They have a bunch of old-people shows — like Britney Spears!’’ Ouch. While both casinos have a full calendar of live music performances and comedy, Mohegan Sun gets some big acts on the arena stage. Recent headliners included Camila Cabello, Charlie Puth, and, yes, the ancient Britney. This fall and winter, look for Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj & Future, Florence + the Machine, Josh Groban, and Justin Timberlake. And there’s always someone to see for free at Mohegan Sun’s intimate Wolf Den. When it comes to comedy, Foxwoods is holding aces, with acts like Steven Wright, Iliza Shlesinger, and Jim Breuer.
For kids and other creative types
By now, everybody knows about the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods, a two-story array of 80 off-price retail stores and quick-service dining spots. You’ve got your Auntie Anne’s, your Cinnabon — you’ve even got a store called “As Seen on TV,’’ as well as the usual outlet mall suspects. Plus, there’s this: Ready Glaze Fire, a paint-your-own pottery studio (www.readyglazefire.com.) that opened in April. Owner Wayne Mocadlo fires pottery every day, and the shop is lined with unpainted pottery galore — an estimated 500 pieces to choose from, Mocadlo says. Despite all those options, “everybody wants to do a personalized mug,’’ he notes. Prices start at $20. Platters adorned with kids’ handprints are also popular. Customers include kids whose parents drop them off during the day, couples on date night, and of course, bachelorettes. “They make their own margarita glasses, and then drink out of them,’’ Mocadlo says. (The shop is BYOB, BTW.)