Christmas on the Water

Strolling in the sand

Walk-about on Biloxi Beach

I’m not sure if I should start with “Happy New Year” or “My apologies.” This was supposed to have been a pre-Christmas post featuring fun holiday activities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that you could enjoy during the holiday season this year. I mean last year. In 2016.

If you were following us in December and read Casino on the Coast then you know we headed to Harrah’s Gulf Coast casino in Biloxi for a four-day weekend adventure. You also know it’s a great (dog-friendly) casino with rooms over-looking the water and perfect Cosmos.

What you don’t know is there is way more to do in Biloxi, MS than beaching and gambling, and even though you’ve missed the holiday season, I encourage you to go there and create your own adventure. Mardi Gras is coming up and Biloxi knows exactly how to do that- they even have a Mardi Gras museum where you can play in the costumes!

Reason for the Season

There were lots of reasons to choose Biloxi for our Christmas trip but I didn’t know that until I actually started planning. What began with a dog-friendly casino on the coast and a lighted boat parade on Saturday night, turned into a holiday arts and crafts fair, open-houses, new food and new friends.

Though we’d planned to arrive in Biloxi before dark, we weren’t cruising down Beach Blvd. on Hwy 90 until almost 7 p.m. That put us in great luck though, because we drove right past 2 schooners from the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum already staged for Saturday night’s Christmas on the Water Lighted Boat Parade. We turned around for a sneak peak at the decorations and a few photos and though I wasn’t entirely sure I could pull it off, I wasn’t convinced I couldn’t- I was hoping for a run-in with a captain and maybe a boat ride.

Mike Sekul at Schooner Pier

A stop at Schooner Pier for a sneak peak

I didn’t know it at the time but the boats were docked at Schooner Pier, which we would be able to see from our hotel room window. We parked the car and while Mindy got out some camera equipment, I let Henri take a lap in the sand.

THE SAND! That’s when we saw the No Dogs sign. No dogs?! What?!

Apparently Mommy was distracted by the idea of a dog-friendly casino on the beach with a boat parade and didn’t do enough research about the actual beach. Harrison County and their ‘No Dogs’ policy includes Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Long Beach.

Harrison County Beach Authority

No Dogs Allowed

We’d been in the car 9 hours. It was dark. We went on the beach. Without a leash. It must’ve been the ocean air but we totally went against Ray’s Rules. Ray is a wise friend who contends that you should ‘only break one law at a time.’ Though technically, if dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, there probably isn’t a need for a leash law. Also, the sign says ‘ordinance’ not law. Both my Mom and attorney will tell you that I’m really good at justifying things.

Henri pooped. I picked it up. We’re rule breakers, not heathens.

A Day of Rest

I always try to schedule an easy day after a long drive so the first order of business on Friday morning was sleeping late. I was up before Mindy and doing my best to be be quiet. She’d already told me she could sleep through anything as long as no one was bleeding or dying, and I envy my mom friends’ ability to sleep like the dead. I also know for most of them it rarely happens. I took Henri to potty, stopped in the lobby for fruit and bagels, then returned to our room to drink my coffee and stare at the water in silence. Most of my mornings begin this way, I just don’t usually have the ocean as my backdrop. Or bagels.

We lazed a good portion of the morning and finally got out the door around 11:00. Our plan was simple: lunch at Shaggy’s then find a beach where Henri was welcome. We’d be back to the casino in time to clean up, make Tito’s Happy Hour before 7, and our dinner reservations at 8.

Before lunch we detoured back to Schooner Pier to get a closer look at some of the boats. Folks were busy with last minute decorations and preparations but Captain Ron of the Mike Sekul took some time to chat with us.

Boarding a schooner

All aboard on the Mike Sekul

One of two 68′ two masted gaff-rigged schooners, the Mike Sekul is an authentic replica of a Biloxi oyster schooner and part of the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. It had been chartered for Saturday evening and would be “sailing” in the boat parade. Both the Mike Sekul and the Glenn L. Swetman have hefty engines for the sake of efficiency. However, if you go out with them and the wind is right, you’ll be encouraged to help hoist and man the sails. Walk-on sails are available throughout the month and you will need to call for times. The cost is $30/adult, $15/child, and well-behaved dogs are welcome. Though it’s not required, your dog should bring his own PFD.

Since Capt. Ron needed to get back to his preparations and we couldn’t find anyone else on the pier to bother, we headed to lunch.

Close to the casino and right on the beach, Shaggy’s has received numerous culinary awards and accolades. Obviously, it’s best attribute is the location. And the drinks. Oh! And the fried green tomato stack with crab cakes. And…

The first thing I noticed was all the SEC team flags flying from the railing in front of the restaurant. All of them except Arkansas, that is.

Shaggy's deck overlooking the water

A perfect view

I wasn’t willing to give up raw oysters over it but as soon as I was seated I inquired. The hostess laughed as she laid down our menus and pointed to the Razorback flag inside over the bar.

Our waitress appeared quickly with a bowl of water for Henri and a few suggestions from the drink menu for us. Beer, wine, frozen, frosty, beach-y and non-alcoholic kids daiquiris were all available. I went basic with a bloody mary to compliment my raw oysters and Mindy ordered a Shag-a-rita ’cause somebody should always order the signature cocktail.

I think the best thing about doing trips with a human friend is that you get to eat more stuff. I couldn’t have consumed a half dozen raw oysters (and they brought me extra), a Shaggy’s Stacker of fried green tomatoes and crab cakes, and Beach Tacos all by myself. It was all delicious and Henri even got to have a little leftover blackened Mahi from the tacos.

While dining, I took the opportunity to chat with our waitress about dog-friendly things to do in the area, where to go, etc. I asked where she took her dog when they went to the beach and she said, “Right here.” “This beach?” I asked. “I thought they didn’t allow dogs on the beaches in Biloxi.” She explained. Technically, they don’t, but during the off-season there is precious little beach patrol. In fact, right before we arrived there was a Border Collie playing frisbee out there. She said there’s usually at least one or two dogs on the beach at any given time, and really, no one minds. I think Henri must’ve heard her, because although he’d been eyeballing the stairs since we got there, he was now starting to get restless.

Sign? I don’t see a sign. Do you see a sign? There’s a sign over there but I don’t know what it says.

We walked right off the deck, ditched our shoes and put our toes in the sand. The waitress said we could.

Playing in the sand

Enjoying some beach time

Then came the moment. The moment I knew things were different. The first time Henri ever went to the beach he was SO excited. He splashed in the water, he dug in the sand, he made lap after lap, jumping over sun-bathers while I apologized and they laughed. That was three years ago. Just three. Henri was happy but at his age one fast lap was all he needed to be content. We strolled down the beach together in search of a tourist shop we’d seen and hoped they’d be dog-friendly. I needed a swimsuit so I could make use of the hot tub later and Mindy had promised her daughter a purple seashell.

Sharkheads on Biloxi Beach is dog-friendly with a sign on the door that says pets must be carried. Either that’s more of a guideline than a rule or we looked well-behaved, but they allowed us to come inside. If you forget the beach necessities, need tourist tchotchke, or make promises of purple shells to 3 year olds, go here.

The sun was just beginning to set as we returned to the car. I determined that we had just enough time for a ‘drive-by’ of the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival located in Jones Park about 20 minutes away. I was curious but I didn’t want to miss happy hour or be late for dinner unless it looked really fabulous.

It appeared to be your typical Winter Wonderland, lights in the park, holiday attraction. Live music, train rides, funnel cakes, visits with Santa, and a ferris wheel from which you can see the whole park would be a great family outing or a romantic date night for lovers, but Mindy and I weren’t interested in holding hands and with my proclivity for distraction, I knew we’d miss dinner. It might have been worth missing $2.00 Cosmos, but Henri was tired and I wasn’t interested in the gamble.

Rue Magnolia Art District

Henri waits while I shop

Patiently waiting on Mom

Christmas on the Water marks the official opening of the holiday season for the city of Biloxi. An annual event that began as a small lighted boat parade in 1986, the event has grown into a weekend of family-oriented holiday fun. Part of that fun is Christmas in the City, an arts and crafts festival along the Rue Magnolia Walkway. That’s where we headed Saturday morning. We met several other dogs, chatted with vendors, and were pointed in all the right directions by locals.

Croatian dessert

Yes, I ate an entire dozen

First stop, we were told, HAD to be the table in front of Mary Mahoney’s restaurant for a Puscharte.

That’s Push-ah-rata, if you’re southern.

Made by the Slavic Ladies Auxillary of Biloxi, it is a Croatian dessert of apples, oranges, lemon, pecans, raisins and spices, fried then coated with an almond glaze. It’s like a fruitcake and a donut hole got together and had a really moist, delicious baby. The baking of these tasty treats is the ladies’ big yearly fundraiser and as of December 3rd there was already a waiting list of over 100 to purchase 2016’s treats. If you’d like to try these fabulous desserts, you can call the ladies auxilliary to get on next year’s order list. Right behind me.

The second suggested stop was Mary Mahoney’s for gumbo. The restaurant had already been recommended to us by locals at Harrah’s Magnolia House bar on Friday night and we were told all their food is amazing. The other thing that is amazing is the New Orleans style courtyard. It so distracted me that I forgot about the gumbo.

The cornerstone of this courtyard is a centuries old Oak tree that stretches its branches across the brick for shaded, dog-friendly dining. Ivy grows up the walls and bits of moss drip from the trees. When you think of sipping a cold cocktail in the Old South, this might be the next best thing to exchanging scathing gossip with Scarlet O’Hara on a wrap-around porch.

Many of the businesses located in what is known as the Rue Magnolia Art District are art galleries that were either closed, blocked by vendors, or not dog-friendly. Our meandering eventually lead us to The Radish Loft, a small shop selling a variety of home goods and fashions. We appreciated them being dog-friendly but if your pup is bigger than Henri you may have trouble navigating the store. Henri and I plopped down in the white wicker porch chairs and waited on Mindy, who returned with a Mississippi mug and something called Pecan Pie in a Jar. Our next stumble-upon was the Mardi Gras Museum.

Occupying the first floor of the Magnolia Hotel, the Mardi Gras Museum of Biloxi is an ever-changing museum evolving with each year’s celebration of Mardi Gras. Wall panels depict the history of the hotel- the oldest on the Gulf Coast- as well as Mardi Gras in Biloxi and mannequins dressed in the costumes of past kings and queens are displayed in every room. Much to my delight and Henri’s chagrin, it also has a try-on room where guests of the museum can play in some of the costumes.

Henri quickly tired of my attempts to photograph him with things on his head and that seemed as good a reason as any to get on to our next destination. I was trying to cram way too much into our day and finish it all with enough time to relax a bit at the hotel before the boat parade Saturday night.

Ocean Springs

Ocean Springs

Merry Christmas from Ocean Springs

Ocean Springs is one of those hidden coastal gems and one I’d never heard of until I needed a dog-friendly beach near Biloxi. The town is now right up there with Apalachicola and the Forgotten Coast in my book and I can’t wait to return. I mean, how do you not love a quirky little town with a free-roaming band of roosters?! The next time I’m passing through or planning a stay or thinking about retirement, I’m going to focus on Ocean Springs where practically every place is dog-friendly.

Conveniently located just over the bridge and only about 7 minutes from Harrah’s you can easily have the best of both worlds: quaint shops and moss-draped trees line Washington Avenue, two beaches that allow leashed dogs are just a hop, skip, and a jump from the shopping district, and back across the bridge, casino entertainment awaits. If you’ve no interest in staying at a casino, then check out The Inn at Ocean Springs.

The Inn at Ocean Springs has four rooms right in the middle of the shopping district and plans to open six more at a second location, The Roost at Ocean Springs, in April. All rooms are dog-friendly with no size limits, just the stipulation that your dog is well-behaved and if left alone is crated and quiet. Although we didn’t stay there, it seems a very charming retreat and an excellent alternative to a casino stay. Anna was very helpful with information about their locations and things to do in Ocean Springs.

The first shop we noticed was an art gallery featuring jewelry, pottery, and blown glass. The windows sparkled with holiday décor and the only thing warmer than the ambience was the welcome we received. I wasn’t sure if such a place would allow an animal with a wagging tail but they waived us in and offered us cocktails. It was their holiday open house!

Artist Bob Bows

Bob Bows takes a break to say hi to Henri

You can’t (and shouldn’t) miss Hillyer House. There’s a giant mermaid out front- she was sporting a Santa hat the day we went- and owner Paige Riley features works of art from over 300 local, regional and national artists. In addition to shopping and sipping, we got to meet and chat with Abilene, KS artist Bob Bows about his Turtles of Hope, which are said to give owners courage in the face of diversity.

 

Our next discovery was Coastal Magpie, a store with an “eclectic mix of vintage and modern industrial furnishings, fine art, unique crafts, and one of a kind gifts”. They also have metal dog art and a very honest and friendly staff. While purchasing a stocking-stuffer for my Mom, Henri distracted the staff with his charm and I forgot to get my change. Upon returning to our hotel, I realized the mistake and called the store to let them know that if they were over at the end of the evening I thought perhaps I’d not gotten my change before leaving with my purchase. They assured me they’d call me back if that was the case and they did. When we went back the next day, they’d even restocked their dog treats for Henri.

Other Ocean Springs highlights include Two Dogs Dancing pet boutique, where Henri got some gourmet treats for his nightly turn-down, and several restaurants and cafes with dog-friendly patios. Leo’s and Government Grocery are two of the more popular spots for doggie dining and both have outdoor spaces that are covered.

The best thing about Ocean Springs is that you are only a few minutes from the beach. In fact, if you’re a walker, Front Beach is less than a mile from The Inn.

Both Front Beach and East Beach allow leashed dogs and, as I mentioned, it’s less than 7 minutes from the casino. Front Beach was one of the stops we made on our way out of town on Sunday and one of the first places I’ll return if and when I ever go back.

There wasn’t a lot of sandy shoreline but Mr. BJ, who walks his dog, Foxy, there everyday, said there’s usually more. We had quite the storm Saturday evening and it was still pouring when I took Henri to potty Sunday morning. Not only had the tide come in a little further than normal, the fog had yet to lift, creating a peaceful, quiet scene. Aside from the no-see-ums that chewed up my ankles, we practically had the beach to ourselves.

Public fire pit

Front Beach fire pit is an invitation to linger

I’m not sure what the sun bathing on Front Beach would be like on a warmer day, but with a public fire pit, it is exactly the reason I always have a few tailgate chairs- Razorback, of course- in my trunk. I suspect that at the end of a warm spring day as the sun sets and the temperatures start to cool, this is the perfect place to linger and just be.

Last Stop

Our last stop in Biloxi was a gas station and thankfully they sell beer on Sundays! I always grab a few sixes of Yuengling anytime I’m east of the Mississippi River. We can’t get Yuengling in Arkansas but with my parents planning a move to Destin at the end of this month, I expect to remain fully stocked in this department, as well as be passing back through Biloxi in the very near future.

A few things I’ll be checking out on our next trip include the new Blind Tiger on the Great Lawn at Harrah’s, a cruise on one of the schooners or a Biloxi Shrimping Trip, and LOTS and LOTS of time in Ocean Springs.

Hey, Ocean Springs! Do y’all need a resident dog trainer? I can do roosters, too.

A note about the boat parade: Although the parade was part of the reason I chose Biloxi for our Christmas trip, it was by no means the highlight of our adventure. After joining the crew of the Big Bobber in Oklahoma a few years ago and seeing those boats, I had pretty high expectations from a coastal parade. Sailboats, barges, and sea-worthy yachts decorated with lights galore made spectacular scenes in my head, but unfortunately, not on the water. If you’re already in or near Biloxi, go see the parade; if you aren’t close, it isn’t worth a special trip.

To view more photos of our trip visit us on Facebook and be sure to LIKE our page. If you really want to stalk us, then follow us on Twitter and/or Instagram @MyTravelTails.

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