Harrah’s Cherokee Casino ( www.harrahscherokee.com), owned by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, began as a glorified pole barn in 1997. Its location – an easy reach from Charlotte, the Triangle and Atlanta – plus an influx of investment made it an ever-growing draw that morphed into a large and slick adult-oriented vacation destination. The casino never closes. And the changes don’t stop.
In March the facility relaunched as Harrah’s Cherokee Resort to accentuate the completion of its multi-year $650 million expansion. About 110,000 square feet of gaming space was added; there are now roughly 1,100 hotel rooms, including luxury suites, in three towers. The complex now fields a conference center; an event center that books top-name entertainers; and 10 restaurants, including Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Paula Deen’s Kitchen – a satellite operation of the celebrated TV chef who made her name with the famous Lady & Son restaurant in Savannah, Ga.
Last August, a new compact with the state was literally a game-changer. The sprawling series of gaming rooms is still festooned with video machines – the type of gambling always allowed at the property – but added to the mix were live, Vegas-style table games – blackjack, roulette, craps and baccarat. In December, the 18,000 square-foot Mandara spa debuted with luxury offerings that include traditional Cherokee treatments plus the Balinese-style therapies and aesthetics that made Mandara a global enterprise (more than 70 spas around the world, plus spas on most major cruise line ships).
You can fly fish on the property – the stocked Soco Creek runs between skywalk-linked towers. Hit the links at the tribe-owned Sequoyah National Golf Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones, which is nearby.
Elsewhere in Cherokee ( www.cherokee-nc.com), the ancient heritage is retained. Shop for tribal crafts at Qualla Arts and Crafts Center on U.S. 441. Stop in at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian ( www.cherokeemuseum.org), visit the Oconolufte Indian Village (May 1-Oct. 19) and see the “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama (June 1-Aug. 17; www.cherokeehistorical.org/UntoTheseHills.html).
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