Biloxi's Beau Rivage exudes Southern hospitality

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BILOXI, Miss. -- She tossed the dice hard at the far side of the craps table, hoping for a pair of fives. Instead, the dice bounced over the edge and flew across the casino floor.

The woman, a guest at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino here, apologized, confessing she'd taken her first craps lesson earlier that day.

"Don't worry about it," said a fellow player after retrieving the dice. The dealer nodded: "Just throw 'em out there again, lady. You'll get the hang of it."

The beginner didn't last long at the craps table, but she left smiling. Beau Rivage is like that. It has been leaving visitors smiling since it opened nearly five years ago.

The largest of the Mississippi Gulf Coast's 12 casinos, the 1,740-room Beau Rivage has all the amenities clients would expect in a Las Vegas or an Atlantic City casino-resort: a huge gaming area; a luxurious spa; attractive rooms; and more than two dozen restaurants and shops.

But the resort, which was built by Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of MGM-Mirage, also has a distinctively Southern graciousness.

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, largest of the Mississippi Gulf Coast's 12 casino resorts. "Inside and out, Beau Rivage reflects the special features and personality of the Mississippi Gulf Coast," said a resort spokeswoman. "It's not just another casino that could be anywhere. It has a style that's distinct to Biloxi and to the South."

And, it's an increasingly sophisticated style, too. Beau Rivage (which means "beautiful shore" in French) recently completed a $10 million renovation that converted an entire floor into suites, bringing the total available to 95. Two new upscale restaurants also opened earlier this year.

Anna Mae, a chic Pan-Asian restaurant, serves the area's freshest sushi as well as traditional Asian cuisine. Diners can sit at a teppan yaki table, where the chefs turn cooking into live theater. At Port House, the resort's signature restaurant, guests dine on prime dry-aged beef and fresh lobster prepared 17 different ways.

Beau Rivage has also stepped up the caliber of its entertainment offerings. Top-name talents such as Cher and Chris Rock as well as production shows such as "Cirque du Soleil's Alegria" appear in the resort's 1,550-seat theater.

"If we have a headline act in the theater, we fill up, and neighboring hotels do, too," said Cathy VanDeMark, director of hotel operations at Beau Rivage.

VanDeMark said occupancy levels at Beau Rivage are higher than they've ever been, and she predicts steady growth in 2004.

Linda Spruill, leisure sales manager, attributes some of the recent growth to more wholesalers offering packages to travel agents and their customers.

"But I still meet a lot of agents who tell me they had no idea what this area had to offer visitors," she said. "We've still got a lot of work to do in the Midwest to introduce ourselves to agents and their clients."

Once agents know about Beau Rivage, Spruill said they and their clients keep coming back.

The resort is considered among the best in the Southeast. Earlier this year, Travel + Leisure magazine named it one of the world's best hotel values and ranked it fourth in the under-$250-a-night category. AAA designated it a four-diamond resort in 2002, making it the largest resort in the Southeast to win that distinction.

The 32-story Beau Rivage, which cost about $650 million to build, now has the third-largest gaming revenues behind Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Guest rooms are spacious, tastefully decorated and offer panoramic views of the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico or of historic Biloxi and its Back Bay. Bathrooms have marble vanities as well as shower stalls and soaking tubs.

The atrium lobby resembles an indoor arboretum. Eleven 25-foot ficus trees are surrounded by colorful flowers that are changed monthly. (When I was there in October, boulder-sized pumpkins were arranged in beds of gold chrysanthemums.)

More than a dozen shops and eateries open onto the walkways between the atrium, the casino and the parking garage, creating the ambience of an indoor shopping mall. Upscale boutiques sell jewelry, clothing and accessories as well as art and eclectic gifts.

Beau Rivage's 12 restaurants include a buffet with more than 200 hot and cold food choices.

At La Cucina guests can experience the sights and aromas of Italian cooking in an open Tuscany-style kitchen. There's also an authentic Chinese restaurant and a Memphis-style barbecue joint. Other eateries offer late-night snacks.

A popular evening entertainment option is the Coast Brewing Co., the state's oldest brew pub; there's usually a live band playing.

Plush sofas enhance the atmosphere of the resort's Spa and Salon, which was recently expanded to include two massage rooms for couples. The spa, which opens onto the pool area and has views of the Mississippi Sound, offers massages, facials and hydrotherapy tub treatments.

Hair, skin and makeup consultations are available in the salon. The fitness facility, which is stocked with Cybex exercise equipment, has steam rooms and saunas.

A large, outdoor pool is situated on a deck overlooking the gulf coast. Poolside cabanas can be rented for the day; an outdoor pavilion is available for special events. From the pool deck, guests can watch the sun set and the shrimp boats sail out to sea.

West of the pool is a 31-slip marina, which can accommodate yachts of up to 200 feet.

An expansive room with arched promenades, the casino has a complete array of gaming tables surrounded by thousands of slot machines of all denominations. (There's also a designated nonsmoking area.) Several bars are equipped with video poker machines.

When players are ready to spend their winnings or forget about their losses, the resort's specialty restaurants are just a few steps from the casino. The floor beneath the casino contains meetings rooms, including a ballroom capable of holding 1,800 people. A business center offers mail, fax, photocopying and word processing equipment. There's also a boardroom with an adjacent bar.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

It's not all gaming

eau Rivage is offering several room-only packages. All are based on double occupancy. Here is a sampling:

• Southern Exposure Package starts at $129 per person for two nights, Sundays to Thursdays, and comes with two breakfasts and one buffet along with a welcome drink.

• Spa Package starting at $249 per person, Sundays to Thursdays, includes one night in an oceanview room with a one-hour Swedish massage, manicure/pedicure or facial and a spa lunch. For spa reservations, call the Spa directly at (888) 750-7111, Ext. 7472.

• Beau Rivage Golf Package includes a round of golf at one of 30 golf courses in the state. Prices vary. Call for rates at (877) 805-4657 or e-mail [email protected]

Several packages including air also are available from Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Fla., via Air Tran Airways; and from Houston, on Continental.

Prices begin at $226.50 per person, double, for two nights. One buffet meal per person, per day, is included. The packages are good through April 30. Commission is 10%.

For more information about room-only rates, call (888) 595-2534. For information about air-inclusive packages, call Beau Rivage Vacations at (800) 261-9548 or visit www.beaurivage.com.

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