Snowbirds are heading home, and a parade of spring breakers are arriving in South Mississippi looking for fun.
They may come for the beach or the casinos, but visitors are discovering zip lines, arcades and indoor trampoline parks have opened in the last year or two on the Coast. And the fun isn’t just for kids.
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“There’s way more for them to do,” said Nicky Cvitanovich, who opened Mullet Hop Trampoline Park in D’Iberville in July. He’s seeing an increase in business as schools begin spring break.
Connected to Cypress Lanes, a bowling center, Mullet Hop is filled with trampolines for all ages. Moms bring young kids in the morning when it’s not as crowded. Young airmen from Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi come in for a quick aerobic workout. Once a month, while parents go out and have fun, young teens are locked in, eat pizza and jump all night. The lock-in is limited to 80 kids and Cvitanovich said, “They normally sell out ahead of time.”
Margaritaville Resort Biloxi opened just a few weeks ahead of Mullet Hop last year, but families staying at the resort a few miles away still come to his business, Cvitanovich said, because he has attractions Margaritaville doesn’t have.
Margaritaville is hosting lots of spring breakers already this year, some in conjunction with gymnastics, baseball and other youth sporting events being held on the Coast. The outdoor water playground opened March 2, and Ann Carter Bloomfield, director of public relations, said local families are booking rooms for a “staycation” during their upcoming spring break so they can enjoy the water attractions that are only open to hotel guests.
Escape indoor playground at Margaritaville is open to all, and visitors can climb a 48-foot volcano rock wall through the floor of a restaurant, soar across the room on Cloud Coaster, a zipline roller coaster, challenge the ropes course, and play the arcade or one of 87 world-class golf courses. Even the restaurants and bars are designed for fun. The newly opened Land Shark Lookout is an outdoor bar overlooking the water.
Millions of dollars were spent over the past few years to open new Coast attractions, hotels and restaurants, and the investment is paying off. Renee Areng, executive director of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, said 6.2 million people visited South Mississippi last year, an 8 percent increase over 2015. At this rate, the Coast will exceed its goal of 7 million visitors ahead of 2020, she said.
“People are coming,” she said. “The more we get the message out the more we’ll attract.” The Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast website, lets them search for attractions and events.
Unlike some tourist destinations whose attractions are concentrated in one spot, South Mississippi’s fun spreads across three counties. That’s a good thing, Areng said, because traffic isn’t a problem and it’s easy to get from a boat ride on the Pascagoula River to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, for example, in the same day.
“The travelers don’t really see the boundaries,” she said. “They seek the experience.”
This year, they can experience a new bowling center, arcade and sports bar that opened in the fall at Big Play Entertainment Center. When the weather is warm and dry, people can play miniature golf and ride the bumper cars. When it’s wet, the fun moves inside to the bowling alley and arcade, where Lazer Maze and “The Walking Dead” game are new favorites.
“We got the local business during the winter,” manager Brandon Wooldridge said, and warm weather in February brought early-spring business and a chance for renovations. “We bought all new go-karts and renovated the go-kart track,” he said.
Like the other new attractions, Big Play is geared to all ages. The center hosts birthday parties, he said, but also corporate events, military luncheons and team parties.
At Gulf Islands Waterpark, the ZipN Play zipline park opened last year. It’s giving locals and visitors something to do until the waterpark opens May 6, spokeswoman Betty Wallace said.
Investing in new attractions brings people to the Coast and gets them to stay longer, she said. While families soar through the woods and over the road on ziplines, crews are working on a new wet playground attraction and giving Gulf Islands a makeover with bright paint. An Extreme Raptors area will be part of this summer’s experience at the park.
‘More for families’
Mississippi Coast Model Railroad Museum in Gulfport opened in April 2015 and is one of those places where generations can have fun together.
“We have trains big enough that even the parents can ride along with the kids,” said owner Tim Billings, a member of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Attractions Association, whose website has listings for many of the Coast attractions.
The train museum sees visitors from across the country and around the world who learn about the attraction through Trip Advisor and other travel websites; from rack cards at the Mississippi welcome centers; and from recommendations of those who work at nearby attractions.
“We try to make sure everybody can have fun on the Coast,” he said.
“We still need more for families,” he said, adding the museum will have another building by year’s end, decorated inside like a railroad station, so there will be more to see for next spring break.
Infinity Science Center has been open for awhile but now has so much to do the staff had to create a visitors guide to help people discover everything at the Hancock County aerospace attraction, said John Wilson, executive director. Visitors can build a hurricane, wander through butterfly gardens, see the giant Saturn V rocket or take a tour Stennis Space Tour, where rockets are tested that will launch Americans into deep space.
When the vacation funds run low, the beach is free. Where else but in South Mississippi can spring break visitors build a sand castle, ride an indoor zipline roller coaster and see an alligator and a moon rock on the same trip?