Sunday's announcement that Margaritaville Resort Biloxi will open before the Fourth of July and bring a playground of family fun is what people in South Mississippi have been waiting for, and what tourists say they want.
The new resort in East Biloxi boasts the first indoor zip-line roller coaster that -- instead of just a straight shot -- takes riders up, down and around. At the new Escape entertainment center, visitors will be able to play virtual golf on the best courses in the world or climb the 40-foot volcano rock wall up through the ceiling and into the Margaritaville Restaurant, then try hundreds of the newest arcade games and claim their reward at the prize redemption center.
A new survey says there is big demand for entertainment. "Of the roughly 124 million households in the U.S. in 2015, 82 percent of them visited an attraction in 2015," according to The Voice of the Visitor: 2016 Annual Outlook on the Attractions Industry conducted by PGAV Destinations.
Attractions expected to see the most robust growth this year include family entertainment centers and aquariums that are on the way to South Mississippi:
-- Mullet Park trampoline park will open early this summer at Lakeview Shopping Plaza in D'Iberville, with 18,000-square-feet of trampoline activities attached to Cypress Lanes bowling alley.
-- FunTime USA theme park is planned on Cowan Road in Gulfport with rides for children and adults and the return of Humpty Dumpty and other mini golf figures that survived Hurricane Katrina.
-- A new bowling alley and arcade are under construction at Big Play Family Fun Park on U.S. 90 in Biloxi.
-- A $60 million aquarium with a river of aquatic animals and indoor and outdoor exhibits is planned in downtown Gulfport, with construction expected to begin early next year.
-- A ferry from the Biloxi mainland out to Deer Island is on the way.
These and the recently-opened Lava Links miniature golf at Scarlet Pearl Casino, the new Audubon Center in Moss Point and the Zip 'n Fun adventure course at Gulf Islands Water Park give visitors more options, said Rich Westfall, president of Visit MS Gulf Coast tourism bureau.
"Combine our efforts to really identify and capture the amateur sports market," he said, and South Mississippi is beginning to build critical mass that can bring more visitors into the area.
New attractions also bring new restaurants and retail to South Mississippi, along with visitor expectations. The Voice of the Visitor survey says what matters most to attraction guests are friendly staff members, a diverse experience with a lot of different things to see and do and a unique experience that is out of the ordinary in some way.
And they want WiFi service to keep occupied while waiting in lines and to post pictures of the fun they are having on social media.