By Gary Trask - TraveLife, Canada
BILOXI, MS — He’s a lifelong resident of the area, a well-known businessman, and current mayor of Biloxi. So, there aren’t too many people more qualified to speak to the tremendous growth and popularity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast than Andrew Gilich.
Gilich, who founded the first high-tech software business in Biloxi in 1983 and has been mayor since 2015, always gets a charge out of the reaction he hears from first-time visitors.
“They usually kind of shrug their shoulders and say, ‘I had no idea,’ ” he says with a thick Southern accent and a wide smile. “The key for us to get’em here. We’ve got the product, so once we get’em here, we’re confident they’ll enjoy themselves, and they’ll be back. That’s a bet I’m willing to make.”
The Mississippi Gulf Coast celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first casino opening last year, but there’s much more than just gambling action here. The region offers almost 100 kilometers of scenic shoreline — stretching from Ocean Springs to Biloxi to Gulfport to Bay St. Louis — and an abundance of music, golf, culture and authentic southern cuisine. Toss in a year-round temperate climate and genuine southern hospitality and it’s crystal clear why Gilich is so eager to wager about return visitors.
Above: The Jerry Pate-designed Preserve is one of Mississippi's best courses.
Recent numbers from Visit Mississippi indicate that the Magnolia State gets more international travellers from Canada (24 per cent) than any other country in the world. In 2016, 36,000 Canadians overnighted in Mississippi — a record.
Here are just a few of the highlights found within the Mississippi Gulf Coast that we’re pretty certain that if you give them a try, you’ll likely be wanting for more.
Just as Mr. Mayor predicted.
Beau Rivage Resort & Casino: Owned and operated by MGM Resorts International, Beau Rivage — which means “beautiful shore” in French — brings a delectable taste of Las Vegas to Mississippi. The Beau is the tallest building in the state at 32 storeys, with a casino floor that checks in at 85,000 square feet, a lavish pool deck overlooking the Gulf, a 20,000-square-foot spa and salon and an array of first-rate restaurants. And there’s no better way to begin a hotel visit than to walk in the entrance to see and smell a stunning arrangement of fresh flowers and plants in the elegant atrium and lobby area. A $10 million (U.S.) suite renovation was completed in April, capping off a multi-year renovation project that included an expanded VIP check-in area and luxurious high limit area on the casino floor.
Golden Nugget, Biloxi: Located seven km east from The Beau on Beach Boulevard sits The Nugget, which recently underwent a $100 million renovation that gives the entire property a modern look. The Rush Lounge, found just inside the main entrance, is a great meeting spot that features table games and live entertainment. The Nugget also has a great selection of restaurants — ranging from a Morton’s The Steakhouse to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. — and a Saltgrass Steakhouse was due to open this summer. But the biggest draw here may be the expansive H20 Pool area, which regularly attracts a spirited crowd thanks to its choice of cabanas, daybeds, fire pits, a swim-up bar and poolside blackjack tables with bikini-clad dealers. Yes, please.
Fallen Oak: Open exclusively to guests of Beau Rivage, a visit to Fallen Oak, perennially ranked as the No. 2 casino golf course in the U.S., is more of an experience than simply a round of golf. The locker room and caddy service and expansive practice range set the tone for what promises to be one of more pleasurable 18-hole stretches of your life. Before or after your round, don’t miss the legendary Fallen Oak Bloody Mary, best enjoyed sitting at the sunken bar inside the clubhouse, which was ranked by Golf Digest as one of the best 19th Holes in America.
The Preserve Golf Club: Jaw-dropping beauty and nature collide at this Jerry Pate creation, located about 20 minutes from the Gulf Coast in Vancleave. As beautiful as the course is and as fun as it is to play, the best part about a trip to The Preserve may be the exceptional value and service. The Preserve is the amenity course of the newly renovated Palace Casino Resort and stay-and-play packages are especially reasonable during off-peak months.
Coast Seafood at Beau Rivage: Just like Gilich, Kristian Wade was born and raised in the Biloxi area where his grandmother taught him to cook. The 41-year-old has been at Beau Rivage for 19 years, working his way up from sous chef to executive chef. Coast Seafood & Brew is Wade’s Mona Lisa, if you will. Wade, who has cooked alongside Chef Irvine on the Food Network’s Dinner Impossible, has his handprints all over not just the menu at the Beau’s newest dining venue that sits steps off the casino floor, but the ultra-hip design, which was unveiled last year. You will not regret choosing any of the fresh oyster combos available and the best way to enjoy them is grabbing a seat at the extended bar, ordering one of the 40 craft beers on tap and catching a game on one the 16 high-definition TVs. Talk about being in your happy place.
Half Shell Oyster House: Just across the street from Beau Rivage and the Hard Rock Casino Hotel Biloxi, this trendy downtown restaurant is another favourite for locally caught seafood and majestic cocktails. The historic, two-storey brick building was transformed from a bank to dining establishment by adding vintage chandeliers, Deco brick walls and French Quarter art on the walls. The Charbroiled Oysters are highly recommended and the Shrimp Orleans is as mouth-watering as it sounds, with Gulf shrimp sautéed in an original New Orleans-style smoky Cajun sauce, served with sliced French bread. •
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