A decade ago, Biloxi was a sleepy vacation spot on Mississippis Gulf Coast. Visitors came for white sand beaches, fishing, golf and pleasant weather.
In 1991, Mississippi approved casino gambling, and the coast experienced dramatic changes. Todays visitors still enjoy the beaches, golf, fishing and weather, but 12 casinos add excitement.
The operations range in style and elegance from a small former cruise ship to the $650 million Beau Rivage Resort and Casino built three years ago by Las Vegas-based Mirage Resorts, Inc., which was later acquired by MGM Grand, Inc. The Beau Rivage is AAAs newest Four-Diamond resort on the gulf coast.
Altogether, some 7,000 guest rooms at casino hotels are now available. Branded and local motels, bed-and-breakfast inns and condos add another several thousand rooms.
Most of the action lies along or just off Beach Boulevard (U.S. Highway 90), a divided scenic roadway with beaches on one side and stately residences and commercial services on the other.
All but three casinos are in the eastern end along a thin strip of land that juts into the Mississippi Sound. In addition, two casinos are in adjoining Gulfport and a third is in the town of Bay St. Louis.
Casino Magic Biloxi, the Isle of Capri Casino Resort, Mississippis first casino, and Grand Casino are on east Beach Boulevard, now called Casino Row. The three combine promotional efforts, including shuttling customers between properties.
Our first daylight diversion was a shrimping trip from the small craft harbor near the Casino Magic Biloxi hotel. Corrie and Virginia Eleuterius operate the 70-minute sail. She pilots the small, two-deck craft in the calm sound, while he works the net and gives nearly non-stop narration on the business of shrimping. This trip netted four shrimp and some sundry sea life, which he held up to show passengers.
Biloxis visitors center, a lovely Victorian house across the street from the dock, marks the historical district. Get a walking tour brochure and amble along picturesque streets past some 20 functional vintage buildings and shops. The 1847 Magnolia Hotel, the class of its era, now houses the Biloxi Mardi Gras Museum displaying colorful costumes and memorabilia spanning the early 20th century. The annual parade, one of the largest in the country, is creative and colorful.
Mary Mahoneys Ole French House is an excellent choice for lunch. It was set up some 60 years ago in a 1737 brick French-style house, has several dining rooms and a broad menu featuring seafood.
Jefferson Davis home, Beauvoir, is a few miles west on a wooded, 51-acre site. Its an outstanding piece of Confederate history. Rambling nature trails connect the 150-year-old Greek Revival house with a small military museum and a cemetery solemnized with the tomb of an Unknown Soldier. An impressive presidential library built just four years ago by the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization is a rich repository of wartime documents, books and Davis memorabilia. Check in there first, watch a short film and then wait on the house porch until a guide takes you into the Victorian hallway. From the porch, youll see why Beauvoir, in French, means beautiful view.
The Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum pays tribute to fishermen and workers whose livelihoods historically depended on the gulf waters. Photos, boat models, equipment and hundreds of artifacts tell the story of the industry and those who have kept it going.
On the way from the museum to our hotel, we discussed having a seafood dinner at Pier 4, the Casino Magic Biloxis premier restaurant. Seafood, beaches and booming casinos make Biloxi a town to visit any time of year.
Jean B. Bloom is a contributor from North Miami Beach, Fla.