Can’t decide whether to go to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun? Guest contributor *Nancy Monson offers the scoop on both to help you decide. (Warning: You may end up visiting the two—just as she did.)
This post, originally published in April 2019, has been updated (see added COVID-19 Update section below) to offer readers more current information
I am not a gamer. I couldn’t care less about slots, blackjack tables and craps, and I dislike the smoky environment that pervades many casinos. And yet I recently visited Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, Connecticut’s two premier resort casinos near the Rhode Island border, lured by the expanding array of activities they boast for adults.
Wondering whether your next visit should be to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun? Here’s what to expect:
What You’ll Find at Foxwoods Resort Casino
Foxwoods Resort Casino has a fairytale quality, reminiscent of The Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. As you drive toward it, two buildings—a grand hotel and an adjacent tower—suddenly appear in the distance, rising majestically from a lush, green valley. The Foxwoods complex spans 9 million square feet—the place is huge!—with seven casinos and four hotels. (Apparently, people tend to stick to specific casinos and areas within the resort, making it less burdensome to get around. On the other hand, it’s a great place to get 10,000 steps, rain or shine.)
Wooing gamers for more than two decades
The largest resort casino in North America, Foxwoods has been in operation since 1992 and is open 24/7. Older adults are their bread-and-butter-clients (I know several retired people who travel to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun weekly or even biweekly), and the resort makes it easy for these customers to get to the casinos with bus services and great deals that include bus fare and discounts on dining.
They have also pioneered smoke-free casino areas. (Smoking is allowed in Connecticut casinos because they are located on Native American reservations that are subject to tribal law rather than US federal law.) One of my biggest hesitations about visiting the casinos previously had been the residual smoke smell that permeated the resorts, but over the past couple of years, they seem to have figured out how to manage the ventilation better, making it a more pleasant environment for nonsmokers.
More than gaming alone
Bingo was the first game offered at Foxwoods and continues to be popular, offering hours of entertainment for a relatively small outlay of cash. Slots (they have 4,100 machines) are also a big draw, along with tables for various style of poker, blackjack, baccarat and roulette. Dining, of course, is a common pastime and the Festival Buffet at Foxwoods, which will reopen in May 2019 after renovations, serves up cuisine for every taste.
There are gourmet restaurants like Alta Strada, Cedars Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, David Burke Prime, VUE 24 and Red Lantern, as well as casual restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen, Guy Fieri’s Foxwoods Kitchen + Bar, Hardrock Café and Juniors Deli. For even quicker bites, you can get coffee and a donut at Dunkin’ Donuts, a bagel at Einstein Bros. Bagels, a burger at Fuddruckers or a sandwich at Subway.
At night, there are six nightclubs to entertain guests, as well as major acts like Steve Martin and Martin Short, Toni Braxton and Sarah Brightman in the Grand Pequot Ballroom, Grand Theater and Fox Theater. The casino/resort hosts a variety of entertainment and sports events, fan festivals, conferences and special millennial-oriented activities like Liquid Sundays, a Vegas-style pool party at the Fox Tower.
In an attempt to draw bigger crowds and families, Foxwoods opened Tanger Outlet Shops a few years ago, featuring 80 or so retail stores (there are also a number of luxury boutiques sprinkled throughout the resort).
Golf is another draw, given that Foxwoods operates two top-notch golf courses. The property also offers hiking trails around the reservation, a bowling alley and a museum dedicated to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe that runs the resort.
Attractions for family fun and thrill-seekers
Foxwoods has also invested in thrilling experiences and rides such as a zipline that starts at the top of the 33-story-high Foxwood Tower and slopes down to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum; while descending on the zipline, you can travel at up to 60 mph. Also at the Fox Tower are two extreme thrill rides—a Sky Drop that hoists four riders up at a time before sending them freefalling 120 feet to the bottom of the ride, and a Sky Launch that sends two riders 140 feet into the air. (No thank you!)
If more excitement is needed, there is a world-class karting track and e-racing simulators that give guests a taste of what it’s like to drive a race car around famous tracks, as well as a virtual reality gaming area.
And unforgettable spas
Personally, I was most interested in the spas at Foxwoods: They have two that appeal to slightly different audiences. As a journalist, spas are part of my health beat. As a woman, I love being pampered! G Spa is an adults-only, serene oasis in the Fox Tower away from the gaming floor that offers a variety of body and face treatments, including water-themed and Native American-inspired services.
It also has an indoor lap pool, outdoor sun patio, hot tub and quiet area and fitness center, plus manicure/pedicure stations—and many areas have views of the lusciously green Foxwoods property.
The Norwich Spa at Foxwoods, tucked onto the 9th floor of the Grand Pequot Tower, is affiliated with the Norwich Inn and Spa located about 20 minutes away.
It offers similar services and amenities but has a brighter, perkier vibe with the same emphasis on luxury and relaxation. G Spa director Charisse Duroure told me that her spa tends to appeal to an older, more corporate crowd than the Norwich Spa at Foxwoods; the latter attracts a younger, gaming crowd as well as families since it is open to clients ages 16 and up. Like G Spa, the Norwich spa has a fitness center, indoor pool and whirlpool, and salon.
Both spas offer day passes so you can use the pools and facilities even if you’re not staying at the resort. And G Spa often offers a discounted rate if you book the first treatment of the day.
What’s You’ll Find at Mohegan Sun
The smaller resort of the two and within a 20-minute ride of Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun is stunning in a unique and glitzy way. A little more hip and contemporary, it has a tribal-inspired design aesthetic that has been carried throughout the property. Walking through the main corridor lined with shops, you feel like you are walking through a forest in autumn. A centerpiece of the property is a spectacular glass sculpture by renowned artist Dale Chihuly that changes color periodically throughout the day.
Two casinos with one more to come
The resort is located on the banks of the Thames River, and first opened in 1996. There are two main casinos—the Casino of the Sky and the Casino of the Earth—with a third coming soon, according to the PR manager. Today, it offers slots, blackjack, roulette, craps and a number of other games. Like Foxwoods, there are no-smoking areas in the casinos and the ventilation system has been designed to prevent smoke drift.
Luxury accommodations and top-class entertainment
There are two guest room towers—the Sky Tower and the Earth Tower—and Mohegan Sun is upping its luxury quotient with accommodations on its “Aspire” floor and private gaming suites, while also expanding its mass-appeal activities, like bowling, outdoor festivals and entertainment venues.
Actually, that’s what brought me to Mohegan Sun in the first place: I came to see Kelly Clarkson, first-ever winner of American Idol and current coach on The Voice, perform in the resort’s arena on a Thursday night in March.
But it’s not unusual to catch high-profile acts at Mohegan Sun: I’ve seen everyone from Keith Urban to Aerosmith there, as well as dancers Derek and Julianne Hough. The arena is on the small side and its location within the resort makes it easier to attend concerts there than at other venues.
While it has no hiking trails, Mohegan Sun does have a golf course and its own Native-American museum called the Tantaquidgeon Museum.
My friend and I tried several of the numerous restaurants (Tuscany, Hash House A Go, SolToro) the resort had to offer and they were all outstanding. For dessert, we stopped by Carlos’ Bakery, of Cake Boss fame, where I had a delicious carrot cake cupcake that was totally worth the caloric indulgence. We also shopped a bit, stopping at Sephora and Lush, a natural skincare chain that has products that look and smell so good you want to eat them!
Of course, I also visited Mohegan Sun’s Mandara Spa, which was renovated in 2018 in a sleek, Scandinavian style. It felt completely decadent and relaxing to be in the spa environment. (The adjacent indoor atrium pool offered a little less serenity: It was noisy from kids, but it was enjoyable nonetheless to be in a sun-lit environment on a cold day. And by the way, Mohegan Sun has a kid-friendly activity area called Kids Quest/Cyber Quest.) There was also a fitness center and salon, just like the spas at Foxwoods.
My friend enjoyed playing roulette and poker while I spa-ed, and informed me that you can find cheaper slots and tables to play here than in Atlantic City. Plus, the dealers here were friendlier.
The Bottom Line: Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun?
Despite not caring about slots and gaming, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my visit to both properties. I found Foxwoods a bit overwhelming in size, but I appreciated the opportunity to do some outlet shopping, visit the fabulous spas and dine from here to Sunday.
Although I’m not a fan of artificial environments, there was practically nothing about Mohegan Sun that I didn’t like either. It felt magical to be there, and I greatly enjoyed the Mandara Spa, the restaurants we visited and the concert.
COVID – 19 UPDATE
Whether or not to visit a casino during the pandemic is a personal decision based on an individual’s personal health status, vaccination status, COVID-19 infection rates at the destination, and willingness to take risks, etc.
If you do decide to visit Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods (or any other resort or hotel), be prepared to see changes in their operation, including that of the casinos.
It is prudent to carefully examine the health and safety protocols in place to make sure you are comfortable with them. Since these are likely to change over time, be sure you check the websites of the respective properties and recent user reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and Google. If you aren’t sure or have questions call the property.
Here is a summary of some of the major changes at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods as of 2/18/21.
Mohegan Sun Health & Safety Protocols
After closing due to the COVID-19 virus on March 17, 2020, Mohegan Sun reopened on June 1, 2020. According to a news report, presumably due to pent up demand, the resort did more business at its slot machines and table games during the first two weeks of reopening than it did during the same time period the previous year.
Mohegan Sun has developed an extensive safety plan to minimize the risk of virus spread that includes temperature checks, physical distancing on the gaming floor, encouraging use of hand sanitizer stations, mandatory use of face masks, and enhanced cleaning, disinfection measures and staff training.
Similarly the hotel is adhering to strict safety protocols including modified check-in procedures, disinfection of room keys, elimination of turn-down service, and thorough disinfecting of rooms between bookings.
Many modifications have also been made to restaurants and bars, including some closures. Those that are open adhere to reduced seating to allow for physical distancing. Self-service food and drink stations are closed.
The Earth Tower gym and pool are also currently closed. In addition, there is no valet parking or shuttle bus service. During this phase of the opening, smoking isn’t permitted indoors. Regarding entertainment, the Mohegan Sun Arena/Wolf Den are closed at this time.
Just announced: As of February 19th, Connecticut residents who are eligible for the vaccine and have registered for appointments, will be able to take advantage of a new vaccine clinic at Mohegan Sun’s Earth Expo & Convention Center, operated by Yale New Haven Health.
Recent guest reviews are largely positive noting that everyone seems to be complying with the new safety protocols. One individual mentioned having difficulty parking.
For updates and additional information, check out the Mohegan Sun website.
Foxwoods Health & Safety Protocols
Foxwoods is also open, under Phase 1 of its reopening plan. Entry points are limited to the Grand Pequot garage, Great Cedar garage and Fox Tower garage entries. Upon arrival, guests receive temperature checks before entry and are required to wear masks, and remain six to ten feet away from others. The property is limiting its guests to 25% of capacity to allow for social distancing. Masks are mandatory for all guests and staff.
Attention is also being paid to increased sanitation and hand washing, social distancing, staff training,
Gaming tables, slot machines and casino cages have been modified to promote appropriate physical distancing, and to make hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes available for guests to wipe down buttons, handles, and table game rails. Face masks are mandatory while guests are playing and guests will be instructed not to touch cards and/or deal cards face up. Poker rooms are currently closed.
Physical distancing is required at restaurants and bars, which are only offering grab-and-go only. Buffets are closed and VIP lounge food offerings are attendant-provided only. Beverage service on the casino floor will be provided in fully disposable drinkware.
Guestrooms are subject to enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols with housekeeping services limited to the time of check-in. Room delivery is only available bagged and hung on doors.
Entertainment venues are currently closed and valet parking is not available. Guests are able to park in the Fox Tower, Grand Pequot, Great Cedar or Rainmaker parking garages.
Google reviews of the property post-pandemic are largely positive although a couple of reviewers said that the place was “packed” and that they were disappointed at the early closure hours of the shops.
IF YOU GO
- Both resorts are easily accessible from all points in Connecticut; they’re a 2.5-hour trip from New York City and less than 2 hours from Boston by car. Public transportation is available from these cities and within Connecticut.
- Entry to the casinos and parking are free so it’s possible to visit both resorts and spend very little money. They also run specials regularly, and I’ve found Foxwoods’ hotel discounts on Groupon.
- You can take advantage of outdoor activities in the spring, summer and fall months, but the casinos, restaurants, outlets, etc., are open year round, and weather permitting, both casino resorts are great places to while away a cold winter’s day.
Disclosure: The author was a guest of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun but any opinions expressed in this post are her own.
*Nancy Monson is a freelance writer and artist, as well as a health coach. Her articles on travel, spas, lifestyle, health, nutrition, crafts, creativity, pets and entertainment have been published in numerous magazines, such as AARP The Magazine, Costco Connection, Family Circle, USA Today Go Escape, Woman’s Day and Women’s Health. She is also the author of three books.