We went to Biloxi for our anniversary this weekend. This is our second trip since Katrina. We spent 6 weeks in the area last summer for my husband's work, and decided we want to move there eventually. We own land in Gulfport off the Lorraine-Cowan road and plan to build a home there sometime in the next 10 years.
I wrote this trip report for my personal blog, so it's very long. I figure there's little enough traffic here that no one will mind and maybe some people will enjoy it or find it informative to read about our experiences in the open casinos.
I didn't expect it to be transformed in the four months since we've been there, but I do have to admit that it's still very sad to see the once stately homes across from the beach, still sagging, broken, or gone, with FEMA trailers on the property, still waiting for their insurance checks, some of which will never come. I saw a picture in the paper of a completely ruined house in Bay St. Louis, a spray painted sign on it reading STATE FARM SAYS NO WIND DAMAGE FROM KATRINA, PAID $0.00 and apparently the state is full of stories like this.
State Farm is being sued on the behalf of these people. The lawyer representing them just won a $13 million case against the same company on a tornado in Oklahoma. I guess the consultants who surveyed the damage in both cases and wrote the reports are pretty much in State Farm's hip pocket.
It's interesting to us how much the storm has changed the culture of that area, even more than the physical face of it. The biggest selling point of a house advertisement now is "no flooding during Katrina!" or "high and dry lots!" There's a whole section in the newspaper devoted to telling the stories of people who need help, elderly people write in and ask for assistance clearing their yards, single moms write in and ask for food donations since all their money is going to pay for daycare and they're not eating all day at work so they can feed their kids. One woman had six children with whom she lived in a car for two months while waiting for a FEMA trailer. The children were rescued during Katrina by their aunt who drowned in the act of saving them. One woman asked for help removing the mold from her home, she'd been doing it herself (with difficulty, since she only had one lung!) and fell off the ladder, breaking her arm.
There's millions of these stories, and I think it's great that the newspaper is devoting so much prime real estate to them for free, trying to hook up folks who need help with folks who have help to give.
We checked into the Palace, it was an hour early but they had our room ready. Unfortunately, Sean had forgotten to request a king room when he booked, and when we found we had a queen room on the third floor, I called to see if we could be moved. They were full up however, so we had to live with it. This was our third stay at the Palace, but our first not in a king room. Those rooms are huge, really impressively spacious with a nice loveseat. The queen room was small, just average hotel room size, and no sofa. We had the expected view of the bay, but since we were on the third floor, the view was over the roof of the second floor casino which was directly outside the window.
Unfortunately that also meant we had a lot of machinery noises at all hours, which was particularly bad for me and my insomnia. I would gladly stay at the Palace again, but from now on I will be sure that we reserve a king room on a high floor, because this was the only time our accommodations have been less than stellar.
We freshened up and then hit the casino. They have limited space of course, since their old casino is in the bay and they had to carve one out of their conference center, spa, foyer, and meeting rooms. They devoted the most area to slots of course, because slots are the biggest revenue generators, and casinos like revenue!
They had two craps tables, a $5 and a $10. Obviously I went for the $5. Sean went off to play slots and I proceeded to lose $100 with the quickness. The table was just cold as ice! That was enough for me, thanks. I went and found Sean, and decided to kill some time while he finished what he was doing by playing $20 in a Texas Tina slot. I got $50 out, so I couldn't complain. Except I then proceeded to lose that and in a Money Storm and $40 more dollars in some quarter slots.
We went back up to the room for some private anniversary celebration, and then got all spiffed up for our dinner. Drove to Mary Mahoney's and took some pictures of the 2000+ year old oak tree in their courtyard, known as the Patriarch. We were happy to see it had weathered the storm quite nicely.
The patio cafe part of Mary's has closed and the restaurant across the courtyard is totally destroyed. Sad. I'm so glad Mary's survived, the house the restaurant is in is one of the oldest in America, dating back to the mid-1700s (the best guess anyone has is 1737).
We were seated on the back patio next to the windows, and our server was a very nice young woman. She clearly used to be a dealer, we had to chuckle because she would sometimes do the clap and wave her hands when she finished taking our order or serving us, and when she didn't do it, you could see her start to and then stop herself, I suppose that is a hard habit to break.
Mary's has a little quirk that I like, because the restaurant is broken up into many separate rooms, you get the impression that your server is only waiting on you, because no server has more than one table in a room. So as you look around, each table has a different waitperson. I guess they manage not to spread them too thin, because the service is always as excellent as if that waitperson truly had no one else to help but you.
We each had a cup of their famous and amazing seafood gumbo to start with. And their rolls, my gosh, those rolls. I could eat the whole basket of four with no hesitation, they are just that good, hot and fresh. Sean had a ribeye with baked potato, and I had probably the best of the three (all excellent) dishes I have eaten there. Butterflied grilled jumbo shrimp, stuffed with lump crabmeat, cheese, and scallions, on a bed of garlic butter angelhair pasta.
Wow. Oh wow! That was so good!
I should have got the bread pudding for dessert though. It's their signature dessert and is probably really good. Instead I got carrot cake that was clearly not fresh made, and I didn't care for it much.
We picked up a fountain Diet Coke at the Pass Rd. McDonald's and then went back to the Palace to gamble the night away.
The craps tables were both $10 at night, so I didn't have a choice, though I much prefer to play $3 or $5. I started with $140 and made $60 on the roll of the guy to my right who had apparently been doing well for quite a while, I guess he hit about 8 points by the time he sevened out. When he did, and the dice came to me, I didn't do so well. Then I proceeded to lose all the way around the very crowded table.
I was down to $40 when an older Asian guy at the far end had a good roll that got me back to $100. I got back to $140 where I'd started by the time the dice came back to me.
I tell you what....I had the best roll of my short craps career. I made $385 on myself! Everyone at the table was so excited, it was really cool. I hit 5 points and a bunch of my own come bets. Seriously fun. When I colored up I got a $500 chip along with a $25. I had never had a $500 chip in my hand before, I kept it overnight and took pictures of it before I cashed it in!
That was all I wanted to do for the night, I wanted to end on a high note and not ruin it by losing any money. I went to find Sean, who was doing okay on the fifty cent slots, which are his new thing. He was absolutely not ready to retire, so I sat and watched him for a while. But watching someone else play slots is pretty boring. My boredom must have shown on my face, because Sean suggested I go up to the room. I got kind of grouchy because he didn't want to come with me, and I'd been sitting around with him because I wanted us to spend the evening together, but I couldn't deny that I didn't really want to sit there and he knew it and didn't want to feel pressured to quit when he was having a good time.
So I went upstairs and read for about an hour and a half and then went back down at 1 to see if he felt like going to bed anytime soon. He said he would only be a bit longer, so I sat with him and watched him win some money, and then we went to sleep.
You know how some hotels sell their pillows or bathrobes? I wish I could buy one of the Palace's ultrasuede comforters, those things are utterly divine,
Though having an ivory suede comforter would be a bad idea in a house with two black cats and two messy people.
On saturday we figured we would be up in plenty of time for my 1000 massage, but we set the alarm for 0900 just in case. We just beat it, waking up 20 minutes early.
We got dressed and hustled over to the Isle of Capri. We haven't been there since before Katrina, and even then we had only been once because we were so unimpressed. The casino was very brightly lit and tacky looking, and it smelled funny. Boy what a difference! It's beautiful now, absolutely the nicest casino open in Biloxi at the moment. It doesn't look at all like a stop-gap measure, it's a full sized proper casino!
I stopped at the Tradewinds Express snack bar and got some Starbucks mild, which is the only Starbucks that I like, so I was happy to find it. They also let you bring back your receipt for a free refill. Bonus!
Sean went off to play slots and I settled in for 45 minutes of craps before my spa appointment. The money went fast, all the way around the table until the guy at the far end got ahold of the dice. Next thing I knew, I had not only made up the $70 I'd lost, I'd made another $85 on top of that! I risked being a little late by waiting for him to finish shooting so I could have my own turn. I had a short roll, I basically broke even by rolling a 7 (so I made $10 on my pass line bet) and then an 10, which I put $10 on odds on, and then put down a $10 come bet and rolled another 7. So I made $10 more and lost $20. Time to go.
After seeing how nice the hotel is done up, I had higher hopes for the spa than I'd gone in with. And my hopes were far exceeded. It was no Spa at Red Rock, but it was certainly equal in quality and service to the spas at the Paris or MGM Grand. There was a nice jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and rainshower room, the robes were super soft microfiber lined with french terry, and the staff were all very friendly.
My massage therapist did a great job and did not try to chit chat with me, which is something I appreciate in a massage therapist, I am not there to talk, I am there to relax! He did a great job, I had had a headache for almost a week and it was gone when he finished.
I thanked him profusely, and tipped generously. He gave me two bottles of chilled water to take away, so I drank them in the locker room and utilized the rainshower room to get some of the oil off. The shower gel was tropical scented and smelled great!
Sean met me in the lobby and we agreed that we were starved and would go to IP to check it out and eat the buffet, since we'd heard it had gotten better since the storm (unlike the Palace buffet which used to be the best, and now is horrible).
It took us forever to find a parking spot, and we commented that the IP must have really improved post-Katrina since it was always so busy, where the Palace and the Isle weren't quite so packed. We finally got a spot on top of the garage and went inside. Well. I'm not sure what the big draw is, the casino looks pretty much identical to the way it used to, although the lobby has been upgraded and they've added on a fancy sports lounge & restaurant area.
The buffet line, as one would expect, was outrageous, so we decided to try the Highlights Sports Bar & Grill. The menu was really expansive, there was a lot to choose from and it all looked good! We decided to just go with the soup and salad bar though, they had a really wide selection of fruits and vegetables and 5 different homemade soups. I had a salad, a bread roll, and some fairly decent shrimp creole. Capped it off with a big bowl of strawberries with coconut, raisins and dried cranberries on top. It was so good I went back for seconds.
It took forever to get our check, but it was a pretty good meal for $7.95 each!
I decided to give the craps table a go, even though I was immediately turned off by the yellow table that looked old and dirty. Should have taken it as a sign, I lost $100 in less than 20 minutes. Ouch. Sean lost about as much at the slots that quickly, and we were more than ready to get out of there and go somewhere nicer. I never cared much for the IP before the storm (though compared to the IP in Vegas, it's a five star resort!) and don't care for it now.
We went a block over to see Boomtown, which wasn't open yet last time we were there. Now that is new! Everything is so shiny and bright, they really were improved by starting from the ground up. The purple carpet with cowboy boot print is tacky, but it made me smile.
Their craps table is so long, because it's crapless craps which I hadn't played before. I liked the shiny clear gold dice, they were easy to see on the bright blue felt. It was a pretty brand new table, overall very visually appealing. I don't know how I feel about crapless craps, it's kind of weird to have all those numbers to bet on. I guess it's nice since there's less ways to lose your money, but it also seems harder to win your come bets. Sean pointed out that people would roll threes or twos or elevens or twelves just as much in either game, so you'd have equal chances to win regardless. I don't know, it just seemed harder to me, but it did also seem to make my money last longer.
After maybe ninety minutes of playing, and being down more than up, I had the same $100 I started with, so I decided it was a good time to quit. We were happy to see that the rainstorm which had been threatening all afternoon had hit while we were inside and was now finished. We'd been worried we'd have to walk across the parking lot, across the street to the auxiliary parking lot where we'd left the car in a pouring rain.
We headed back to the Palace to rest for a little while. I washed my hair, mainly so I could enjoy the silky soft and shiny effect that the soft water imparts to my hair. Then we decided to check our internet before dinner. So we went out to CompDot on Pass Rd. which is $6 for an hour of internet, cheap! As long as you don't mind gamer guys cussing at their games all around you while you're trying to read and write email.
We used up our hour and then decided it was dinner time. We'd spotted a noodle bar in the Isle of Capri and agreed to go there for dinner, since we both love a good noodle bar. When we looked at the menu and the way they served their soups, we realized it was the same people who'd had the yummy noodle bar in the Grand that we ate at so often last summer.
I was torn between won ton soup and tempura shrimp, so I got both. Sean ordered some egg rolls and a build your own noodle bowl with shrimp. When the order came, it was clear they hadn't gotten the won ton soup, but the order of tempura was so big and Sean said he'd share the egg rolls, so we didn't complain. Boy was that a good meal! Ambience left something to be desired since it's basically in a food court. But for a big $20 dinner, it was fine and the food was excellent. I'm really glad they found a way to keep their business alive, hopefully one day they will open a sit down restaurant again.
We went up to the casino once we'd eaten, passing two guys who looked like your normal hipster Abercrombie guys from the neck up, but who were wearing pastel ruffly sequined flamenco outfits and walking on stilts. Some sort of Isle attraction, but I found it kind of weird. When we got to the tables, it turned out that all the table minimums were bumped to $15 or $25 because it was saturday night. No way, jose. $10 craps is hard enough for me to stomach. So we figured we'd go back to the Palace and see if I could get a spot by one of the two the $10 craps tables there.
I squeezed in at the end of one table between a very gregarious gentleman from Alabama and an older man I'd played next to the night before who welcomed me happily. The night before he'd had $3500 on the rail, I don't know if he'd lost that much in the ensuing hours or had just tucked most of it away, because saturday night he only had about $900. He told me the table was up and down, mostly down.
He wasn't kidding! I hung on until my $100 was gone, which took about an hour. Decided to take a break, and went to sit with Sean while he played slots. We developed kind of a system on saturday where he'd stand with me and watch me play craps for a while and then I'd go watch him play slots for a while. That way we could spend time together in the casino which was nice. He never did feel bold enough to try craps though, but he's got a good handle on it from watching and promises he'll play in Vegas at a $3 table where it's not so risky to get started.
After some slots, we moved back to the craps table and I wedged myself between my two friends again. They said things had gotten a little better at the table, and for a while it seemed they had. I had a decent roll, but in the end I lost another $100 and gave up for the night. At that point I was down $200.
Should have just gotten up and gone home! Instead we got up and went to the Isle for breakfast. We ended up eating at their buffet and it was fantastic. Any of you who read my Vegas trip report know that we paid $30 each for a brunch buffet at the Wynn? And felt totally ripped off? As far as the breakfast selection on offer, the $7.95 Isle of Capri buffet blew the Wynn's out of the water. Great food, eggs florentine, chorizo hash, cheese blintzes, fruit crepes, made to order waffles, fresh cranberry nut muffins...ah bliss.
That said, I've discussed on TA Vegas the people who will just pile their plates sky high at the buffet and sit there shoving food into their faces with both hands? You see a lot of that in the Mississip'. There was a lady in front of me when I was trying to get a pancake, and bless her heart, this woman was morbidly obese. Not overweight, not chubby, not fat, she had a serious, serious weight problem. And when I see someone like that, especially a young woman (she looked to be in her 20s) I want to think they have some sort of medical problem, something preventing them from losing weight, not just bad habits and a sedentary lifestyle. But when she turned around, she was carrying two plates. One one was a pile of scrambled eggs probably equivalent to 5 or 6 eggs. Ten, count 'em, ten sausages. a handful of bacon strips, three slices of country ham. Syrup poured over the meats. On the other plate was 6 pancakes, 4 slices of french toast, two blueberry muffins, and a biscuit. It was just...disturbing? Mississippi has the highest obesity rate of any state in the nation and I did see the proof of that at the buffet, and not just this girl. She was simply the most outstanding example. Sad.
Once we were full, we headed off to the table games area and I lost $100 in a flash. Well, $95, after my roll I had $5 out of $100 left so I decided to save my shiny new Isle chip for my fledgling collection.
I had $200 of gambling money left for the weekend, and we decided to go to Boomtown where I could either win my lost $300 back or lose it all. I did the latter but it took a long time. They carded me walking in though, so that was worth something. A little ego boost at least!
A $10 come bet with $10 odds ended up on the 12, and the shooter hit it again. It paid off $70! Again, if I'd been smart, I would have taken my $80 and left then, but didn't. Oh well, that's gambling for ya. The dealer at Boomtown that day was the same dealer I'd had at the Isle saturday morning, he remembered me. It was funny, he is new to Boomtown and is still getting used to crapless craps, he kept trying to pay me on 11s.
Anyhow, when the money was gone, it was clearly time to go home.
We drove over to Gulfport, got me a soda at the Sonic on 49 and then went up to visit our land. It was raining so we didn't get out and walk around, but we talked as always about how excited we are to live there. It's such a beautiful neighborhood. The one house that was damaged in Katrina has not been touched, It was under construction when the hurricane hit and the windows weren't boarded so a lot of them broke and there's some water damage. It's weird though because the fancy Viking appliances are in there, the granite countertops and custom cabinets, the house was fairly close to being finished, and they just leave it standing open. There was a deflated air mattress and another regular mattress in the closet and junk food wrappers that weren't there last time, so I guess someone might have been sleeping there. Weird. I am going to call the realtor we bought our land from and get the gossip. The builder of that house is the brother of the builder we want to use, so we have to wonder what happened.
We got home around 1600 and the kitties were very happy to see us.
Hopefully will have the few photos we took online tomorrow. I'm going to have to reboot, it's not seeing my flash card reader at the moment.