The locale: Around a two-hour drive from Buffalo.
The scoop: Confession: I’m not much of a casino person. I like blackjack, but I like risking my hard-earned money even less…and the latter usually wins out. So when I got a chance to visit the brand new del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo, N.Y. — about 5 miles from Seneca Falls, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region — I was pleasantly surprised to discover there’s a lot more to do than gamble.
In fact, according to Chris Pulito, the senior VP of hospitality there, a diverse experience is the heart of the casino’s operating philosophy. Although the casino itself has a lot to offer gamers (99 gaming tables including 14 poker tables, almost 2,000 slots and free drinks served while you play), the developers set out to offer something more. Included at the resort are a beautiful spa; 2,400-person capacity performance space; multiple high-quality restaurants, including one by celebrity chef Fabio Viviani; and a welcoming aesthetic/design. Plus, easy proximity to the wine, cheese and beer trails that populate nearby Seneca Lake makes it a destination that’s perfect for people with varied interests — which means dad can hit the slots while mom tours the wineries.
Superior king rooms are available at $129 and up during the winter months, and range from standard rooms to deluxe suites. The decor is bright, upscale and cheery, with marble bathrooms, high-end Italian linens and beautiful finishes. Upon check-in, you will be greeted with Prosecco; service is thoughtful and attentive throughout the resort. Look for “Hot Date” specials, offered five weekdays each month, where select rooms are priced at a special rate of $99.
Portico — Sleek space and top-notch food characterize this on-premises restaurant launched by celebrity chef Fabio Viviani (“Top Chef,” “Home and Family”). It’s an Italian steakhouse, which means your Filet Mignon is as perfectly cooked as your Pasta Carbonara (with a creative presentation: the egg is mixed in and hand shaken in a mason jar tableside so as not to overcook). Don’t miss the Coccoli appetizer, which are beignet-style bread balls served with prosciutto, truffle honey and the creamiest of mozzarellas — beyond mouthwatering.
The Sociale Café & Bar — For lunch, Sociale offers a sophisticated and varied “Gastro-spa” menu based on the chef’s extensive experience with various cuisines. From delicious duck pate to Pho to a roasted turkey club, everything is high quality and features local Finger Lakes ingredients when in season.
Farmers Market Buffet — Del Lago has stepped the typical casino buffet up a few notches, with everything from fresh cut beef to wood-fired pizzas to a stunning array of pastries and desserts (nine pastry chefs work on-site). The restaurant prides itself on sourcing local produce, fruit, dairy products and meats when in season.
Savor NY MacKenzie-Childs at del Lago — Featuring products made in New York state, this beautiful store inside the casino most prominently features the ceramics and hand-painted furniture of Mackenzie-Childs.
The Vine — This brand new performance space, also located inside the casino, welcomes multiple acts per week in comedy, music and more. We saw comedian Joe Materese during our visit – it was a great show in a very comfortable space.
Spa del Lago — With a eucalyptus steam room, hot sauna and beautiful, serene spaces to relax, you can treat yourself to anything from a massage to wrap to a facial or mani-pedi. Make-up and hair styling are also offered. The spa draws upon the natural healing properties of the region’s herbs, plants, minerals and abundant grapes.
Muranda cheese — About a seven-minute drive from the casino is Muranda Cheese, where you can taste 16 cheeses made from the farm’s fresh milk. They range from Gouda to Colby to the Muranda Blue, which won the Best of New York award at the New York State Fair (with good reason!)
Wineries — We took a tour around Seneca Lake and stopped at three wineries (but passed at least 20 more), so you may want to plot your itinerary before you hit the trail. Of note: Hermann J. Wiemer, a classy operation with a beautiful building and site; Glenora, a huge winery with sweeping lake views and plenty to sample, including hard cider and sparkling wines; and Billsboro, a small boutique winery with a cozy, cave-like tasting room.