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One year after opening, Margaritaville Biloxi is family first but not just for kids

A family from Monroe, La., hams it up for the camera in one of the photo booths at Escape in Margaritaville Resort Biloxi.
A family from Monroe, La., hams it up for the camera in one of the photo booths at Escape in Margaritaville Resort Biloxi. meperez@sunherald.com

It’s been a year since Margaritaville Resort Biloxi opened on the beach in East Biloxi, and surprises and a tour by Jimmy Buffett came along the way.

“Having a resort for kids is different,” said Cono Caranna, spokesman for Lodging & Leisure Investments, which transformed the former Casino Magic into a family resort. Something that caught the developers off guard is timing.

Unlike a casino that’s open all night, he said, “There’s definitely a point in time when the kids have to go to bed.” By that time and on weekends, adults head in to try their hand at the games in the Escape entertainment center.

“You’ll see people on dates,” said Ann-Carter Bloomfield, who handles public relations and social media for the resort.

Then there are school holidays, when the resort suddenly is full of families.

“Spring break was incredible,” Caranna said. The build-up started at Mardi Gras and the boom stretched out for the next two months as universities and then school districts across the South went on spring break. Soccer camps, gymnastic competitions, a volleyball tournament and music events were timed to coincide with spring break in South Mississippi. The kids brought energy and even entertainment as students from Myers School of Music, who were staying at the resort, performed their full concert for guests.

As the first anniversary on June 23 nears, new games are on the way and it’s become obvious the resort fills an unmet need. Margaritaville Biloxi provides a way for parents and kids to have fun together — and apart — on their family vacation.

While the kids are in Escape, the 50,000-square-foot entertainment center, “Mom and Dad go upstairs and have a nice meal,” Caranna said. Doe’s Eat Place is an upscale restaurant, he said. Several other restaurants are more family-friendly, where parents of children too young to be on their own playing games can feel comfortable having a drink while their children are entertained by the lively atmosphere and the sight of rock climbers coming right through the floor.

The Margaritaville family resort changed the vibe in East Biloxi.

“I think this brought a lot of new energy,” Caranna said. The Biloxi resort has 373 rooms and suites, many with a balcony overlooking the water, Deer Island and the adjacent site where the developers are still eying plans to build an amusement park. They’ve already added a Land Shark Lookout, a deck where people can sip a Margarita at 5 o’clock somewhere and watch the sun and dolphins slip into the water.

Besides becoming a destination resort, he said families driving east now stop on their way to Disney or Destin, and spend their first or last night in Biloxi.

“If it rains they can come inside. If it’s sunny they can go out,” he said. They can ride the zip line roller coaster, scale the volcano climbing wall and challenge the ropes course in any weather. Then hotel guests cool off in the water playground with its slides, lazy river and splash pad.

And when Margaritaville is full of families, business booms next door at Golden Nugget Casino Biloxi.

Jimmy Buffett, who played his first professional gig in Biloxi, visited to see the newly branded Margaritaville, and Caranna said, “He loved it.” Buffett’s son is a game tester, he said, and Buffett took videos in Escape and forwarded the virtual tour to his son.

Guests’ favorite games are Jurrasic Park 3D and Zombie Snatcher. “It takes your pulse and if it’s not quite scary enough it will send more zombies out,” Bloomfield said. Those who want live action can swing away with virtual sports, aiming for the wall in the electronic home run derby or playing the world’s best championship golf courses St. Andrews, Pebble Beach and Robert Trent Jones in Alabama.

“We recently launched our rewards club,” Bloomfield said. Power-Up Players Club is designed for locals and regular guests who accumulate rewards such as room stays, discounts on food and free games.

This is the third incarnation of Margaritaville in Biloxi and there is a perception Buffett owns the resort. Margaritaville is a brand and Buffett’s company owns the name, Caranna said. Biloxi Lodging owns the resort.

The model has been so successful, the development team from Biloxi announced it will open Margaritaville Resort Vicksburg next spring. What was going to be a casino now will be a family resort with games, Landshark Bar & Grill, 117 rooms and suites and a water playground in Vicksburg. It will open next spring, along with the developers’ new hotel at the former Santa Maria in downtown in Biloxi.

The same development team restored the White House Inn that sat vacant in Biloxi for decades.

“We do a lot of weddings, corporate events and meetings,” said Caranna, and Cora’s restaurant at the White House has become a favorite restaurant with its coastal flair and seafood. A new bar menu and drink specials have been introduced for summer, he said.

Southern Living magazine recently declared The White House the top hotel in Mississippi.

“If they’ve never been there they don’t know what to expect,” Cono said of guests at the hotel. The historic building was just a shell when they started the restoration and the traditional exterior wasn’t carried inside. Instead it’s a modern hotel with great views and personal service.

“It’s just a relaxed Gulf Coast feel,” he said.

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