By NASH NUNNERY
With Biloxi mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich in attendance, the highly anticipated ‘coastal-luxe’ resort opened June 23 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and signature margarita toast.
“This development means so much to Biloxi and the Gulf Coast on so many levels,” said Gilich. “It transforms a site that had been dormant since (Hurricane) Katrina into a $100 million development, creating 600 jobs and nearly 400 brand-new hotel rooms.”
Formerly Casino Magic, the all-new Margaritaville features 373 guest rooms, many with private balconies offering scenic views of the Mississippi Sound, and 83 suites. Located at Point Cadet, the resort offers three meeting rooms and a 55,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor entertainment center with lazy river, splash pad, the area’s first indoor zip-line roller coaster and hundreds of arcade games.
Aptly-named Escape, the entertainment center’s other attractions include a 40-foot volcano rock climbing wall, two multi-game golf simulators and six boutique bowling lanes. Paintings by local marine artists Marty Wilson and Jody Barrielleaux Barrio are scattered throughout every corner of Escape, including the waterpark that is reserved for hotel guests, and even into the elevators.
The 22-story family-friendly resort also features several bars and restaurants, including the world famous Doe’s Eat Place, a Mississippi Delta staple known for its mouth-watering steaks and hot tamales.
Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast executive director Renee Areng believes the new and improved Margaritaville will attract more tourists, especially families.
“The resort is another example of the recent resurgence of family attractions and hotels on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” she said. “We believe it will be an attraction for all ages with the amount of diverse amenities offered on-property.
“With the addition of nearly 400 rooms, we’re quickly approaching pre-Katrina numbers of hotel rooms.”
The brand’s first proposed Biloxi resort, a planned $700 million casino and hotel, was delayed by the economic downturn of the late 2000s. A much smaller second casino located off Fifth St. eventually opened but failed in 2014 due to bankruptcy.
“There’s no comparison to the two previous Margaritavilles,” Gilich offered. “One never really got off the ground and the other had no hotel, few amenities and, consequently, was unable to attract people to its location.”
Unlike the first two incarnations, Margaritaville Resort Biloxi has no casino. Instead, the resort’s vibe is aligned with the escapism that has become synonymous with the laid-back lifestyle of singer Jimmy Buffett and his ‘ParrotHead’ fans.
Due to limited meeting space, it’s not likely the new Margaritaville will compete with other Gulf Coast properties for large conventions. However, the mayor said the resort will still be a draw to pull convention traffic to the Gulf Coast.
“The state-of-the-art and unique amenities that it brings to the table will be huge in helping other properties lure conventions to our community,” Gilich said. “Hotel operators up and down the Coast will be touting Margaritaville in their pitches, along with our collection of museums, historic sites, great shopping and the natural beauty of our location.”
William Brantley, who moved to Ocean Springs from Jackson five years ago, is a self-proclaimed Parrothead and Buffet fan.
“Margaritaville is a feeling, not a place,” he said. “Jimmy Buffet understands his brand and the whole ‘cocktails and palm trees’ culture. We already have enough casinos on the coast, so I am happy to see that this place will offer everyone another entertainment option.”
Launched in 1996, the Margaritaville brand is close to becoming global. In addition to Margaritaville Resort Biloxi and the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach (Fla.) Resort, there are eight more hotels in various stages of development. In 2015, over 15 million dined in one of Buffet’s 67 restaurants.
According to a recent New York Times article, over 400 Margaritaville-themed items are sold on home-shopping giants HSN and Frontgate.
“I’ve bragged about Margaritaville (Resort Biloxi) in five states over the past few months,” said Gilich. “For some time, people have said we need more (entertainment) diversity and this is a huge step in that direction.
“I certainly believe we are going to attract more visitors with this family-oriented destination resort.”
Margaritaville Resort Biloxi developer Cono Caranna did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.