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Card Sharks, Body Rubs and Redfish 

How to spend two days gambling and fishing in Biloxi without ruining your marriage.

Professor Longhair was crackling in my ear as we turned onto Beach Boulevard, a sandy, salty strip that serves as Biloxi's lifeline for seafood enthusiasts and casino dreamers. Huge billboards towered over us, touting unbeatable odds on craps and promoting upcoming acts like George Carlin. The Gulf Coast has come to resemble a mini-Vegas over the past decade, shedding its quaint beach resort skin for a sleeker look with bright lights. Old schooners cutting through the bay's waters, however, serve as a constant reminder of what Biloxi once was and what it still has to offer, aside from dice and cards.

Make no mistake -- this is a casino town where shows and conventions dictate ebb and flow. In fact, we arrived in Biloxi the same day as opera star Placido Domingo, who was performing at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. It made it near impossible to find adequate accommodations, but the local visitors bureau somehow worked its magic. Tip No. 1: Schedule your trip well in advance. There's no telling when a famous tenor might cause hotel reservations and traffic to stack up.

Thankfully, my wife and I were not interested in hearing anything performed above baritone from Jules Massenent's Le Cid. Instead, we were in Biloxi to fish and gamble. Correction: I was in Biloxi to fish and gamble. Karron, my wife, was brought here with the promise that luxurious spas, fine dining and various shopping destinations would help her fill the void during the times I would be wasting our money on poker and having more fun with live bait than I would with my in-laws.

It was the kind of blueprint any couple could follow to construct a weekend vacation balanced by testosterone activities and estrogen getaways.

DAY 1: Pirates and Peppermint

Upon arriving into town Friday morning, the first order of business was to grab lunch, set up a chartered fishing trip and drop Karron off at the Spa Caribe at Imperial Palace. In close proximity to all of this was the Ole Biloxi Schooner, a seafood joint that has been a local favorite for generations. If you're able to navigate through the shoulder-to-shoulder lunchtime crowd, the Schooner's overstuffed po-boys are a must-have. Two can eat for less than $20, and for a mere quarter you can pull up anything from Bob Marley to the Bee Gees on the old Rock-Ola jukebox.

Around the corner is the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. Admission ranges from $3 to $5, and the short documentary on the devastation left by Hurricane Camille is worth the charge. You can also check out how 18th century marsh Indians pulled in their redfish and see what Mardi Gras flambeaus have in common with flounder anglers.

To set up the charter, we headed toward the back of the bay to Point Cadet, a harbor where many captains dock their vessels. If you're interested in a certain boat, then just walk around the docks and look for charter signs. It's advisable, however, that you surf the Web and set up your trip weeks in advance.

Overlooking the docks is Gorenflo's Tackle and Marina Store, which opens most mornings around 8:30 and offers everything you need for big game and inshore fishing. You can likewise get your license here.

Our next stop brought us to Spa Caribe. For $85, Karron got a 25-minute peppermint-rosemary body treatment and a 25-minute Swedish message. Her transformation began in a low-lit room filled with soft music. After slipping into a plush terrycloth robe and comfortable sandals, her body was exfoliated with an aromatic salt scrub and then showered off. A Swedish message therapist asked Karron to point out problem areas on her body and, within minutes, knots in the back, neck and shoulders disappeared. Once the spa package was complete, Karron had free access to the spa's steam room, workout facility, whirlpool and sauna.

Our overnight accommodations were at the Treasure Bay Casino, where we landed a last-minute room overlooking the Gulf through a spacious balcony -- all at a rack rate of only $80. The room was standard as they come, but would suffice for a quick overnight stay. Downstairs in the lobby we found the Pirate's Den, a 24-hour bar with a friendly staff that didn't laugh at Karron's grasshopper. It's known for having a quiet, older crowd, but is packed with casino industry types after 2 a.m. If the mood strikes you, head down there during the wee hours of the night and buy an off-duty blackjack dealer a round of drinks. You might walk away with a few tricks of the trade.

Across the street from the hotel is the casino itself, a land-based replica of a pirate ship that would make Johnny Depp proud. It's a smaller casino than others on the strip, but it offers everything from $3 blackjack (depending on when you're there) to $100 slots. The dealers were patient and willing to explain the more complex games, and free drinks were especially easy to come by here -- more so than other casinos we visited. Whether we were sitting behind a nickel slot machine or a $25 minimum table, there was always a waitress nearby taking orders.

Dinner that night was at Jazzeppi's Ristorante and Martini Bar, which offered some of the best Italian-seafood fusion cuisine either of us had ever enjoyed. Drinks, appetizers, entrees and dessert for two will run you close to $100, but it's worth the extra jingle. Don't miss the 'Oysters Carciofi,' roasted artichoke bottoms filled with an oyster stuffing over angel hair pasta and a veloute sauce. And when the waiter tells you they have the best cheesecake in Mississippi, you can take him at his word.

DAY 2: Captains and Crabmeat

The second day began at 6:45 a.m. on the docks of Point Cadet. Even before the boat set out, all of my senses were piqued -- saltwater and fresh bait mingled in the air while the sound of waves and whipping Gulf winds played in concert. It doesn't take long for an angler to get juiced up in this kind of environment.

I had booked my inshore fishing trip with Capts. Mike and Tommy Moore of Strictly Business. As I approached their slip, the 24-foot Open Fisherman was coming to life as country music blared from its custom-made onboard entertainment system, which included a satellite TV. Everything you would need is provided -- rods, bait, tackle, drinks and lunch. All you need to bring are sunglasses, sunscreen and a good attitude. The cost: $350 for a three-hour trip, which can be split by as many as three other people.

The brothers grew up around Biloxi's bay. They openly share secret spots and are willing to teach technique. The Moores are also quick with one-liners, jokes and local history. While I took the effort to meet them at their dock, Strictly Business is willing to pick up clients wherever they are -- some casinos have docks behind their facilities.

Once on the water, it was easy to see these guys were pros. They sneak up on spots without making a lot of noise -- they cut the motor and drift in, then gently let the anchor down. If the fish don't bite for a couple of minutes, they keep it moving. And before you even begin to stand, a pole is baited and thrown out for you. If you want bigger game than trout and redfish, the brothers can take you out for shark, tuna or anything else that tickles your angling fancy.

While I was out on the water, Karron was back at The Spa and Salon of Beau Rivage, receiving a 50-minute European facial. It was personalized for her skin type and carried out as she relaxed on a heated bed. Soft music and aromatherapy soothed her senses as the session kicked off with a gentle messaging of the arms, upper chest and neck before the face was ever touched. After applying a series of deep cleansing creams, the therapist rubbed them off with a hot towel and placed Karron's face into a hydrating steamer. A décolletage massage followed and it was all capped off with a revitalizing mask, more messaging of the scalp, and a skin reconditioner.

My wife was glowing after this one.

We enjoyed a late lunch at Mary Mahoney's Old French House, another local favorite for fine dining. If you're lucky enough to get a table on a pretty day, sit outside in the courtyard -- it will no doubt remind you of many French Quarter digs back home. Dinner for two will run you as much as $80; an adjoining 24-hour café is significantly cheaper. A cup of oyster soup was good enough to make me want to change my order to a bowl, and Karron's eggplant and crab casserole was a delicate dish that had obviously been perfected over the years. My 'Lobster Georgo,' mingled with shrimp and a cream sauce, was under-seasoned, but the environment made up for it.

One of the only rooms we could find that was still available for Saturday night was a jacuzzi suite at the Edgewater Inn. At a rate of $219, we received spacious accommodations spanning three rooms, including a den, master bedroom and a large vanity/bathroom area. A balcony off the bedroom overlooked a tasteful courtyard.

Around midnight we headed back to Beau Rivage for table games and the late night buffet -- a bargain at only $9.95 per person. If you park in the public garage at night, drive up to the top level. It offers a gorgeous view of the Biloxi strip glimmering off the shoreline.

Inside 'The Beau,' as the locals call it, there's upscale shopping, coffee bars, dance clubs, live music and a variety of table games and slots. In addition to roulette, blackjack, craps and the like, it also has a new table game called 'Deuces Wild,' or as I like to call it, 'How to Drop $50 in nine minutes.' Actually, it's a great poker game based loosely on video poker. All 2s are wild and you're playing for the payoff on a single hand, not against the dealer or others.

If you want to gamble with a James Bond swagger, this your place. Travel + Leisure Magazine has named Beau Rivage one of the world's top resorts during the past three years, and with good reason. From the games to the non-gambling options, it's an exciting place to end your trip -- or to spend an entire vacation. In fact, it was an exact match for the getaway we both wanted. Whether looking for a 'pair-a-dice' of fishing and gambling or a more relaxing weekend of spas and fine dining, Biloxi's new offerings and old ways can provide the perfect venue.

For More Information ...

Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau
942 Beach Blvd.

Gulfport, Miss. 39507

(888) 467-4853 ext 224

Where to Stay and Where to Play

Beau Rivage
875 Beach Blvd.

Biloxi, Miss. 39530

(888) 750-7111

Edgewater Inn
1936 Beach Blvd

Biloxi, Miss. 39531

(228) 388-1100

Treasure Bay Casino
1980 Beach Boulevard

Biloxi, Miss. 39531

(800) PIRATE-9

Where to Dine

Jazzeppi's Ristorante and Martini Bar
195 B. Porter Ave.

Biloxi, MS 39530

(228) 374-9660

Mary Mahoney's Old French House
110 Rue Magnolia

Biloxi, Miss. 39539

(228) 374-0163

Ole Biloxi Schooner
159 Howard Ave.

Biloxi, Miss. 39530

(228) 374-8071

Goin' Fishin'

Gorenflo's Tackle and Marina Store
119 Beach Blvd.
Biloxi, Miss. 39530
(800) 887-6702

Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum
115 1st St.

Biloxi, Miss. 39530

(228) 435-6320

Mississippi Charter Boat Captains Association
(800) 237-9493

Point Cadet Marina
693 Beach Blvd.

Biloxi, Miss. 39530

(228) 374-6600

Strictly Business Charters
3042 Racetrack Road

Biloxi, Miss. 39540

(228) 392-4047

Get the Massage

Spa Caribe at Imperial Palace
850 Bayview Ave.

Biloxi, Miss. 39530

(888) WIN-AY-IP

click to enlarge CUTLINE: Charter fishing and shrimp tours provide a respite from slots and table games. - MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU
click to enlarge CUTLINE: The action at Beau Rivage's outdoor swimming pool is one reason the resort earns top honors from Travel + Leisure. - MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU
click to enlarge CUTLINE: All manners of seafood are the specialties at restaurants along the Gulf Coast. - MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU


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