It started when casino executives in South Mississippi looked for a way to extend the tourism season while the weather was still nice, and now Cruisin’ The Coast has grown to the largest event in Mississippi.
The 23rd year of Cruisin’ officially kicks off Sunday as the antique and classic cars start rolling in. It runs through Saturday and admission is free to most of the venues and entertainment during the day. At night, casinos bring in headliners like Tony Bennett, the Beach Boys for “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and even Elvis.
Just in time for the mostly outdoor event, the daytime high temperatures along the Coast finally will dip into the 80s. Woody Bailey, executive director of Cruisin’, said pop-up showers expected Sunday and Monday will bring some nicer weather.
The highlights of the schedule at the beginning of the week are a two-day View The Cruise this year on Saturday and Sunday in downtown Gulfport. Coast Transit will run a free shuttle bus on Sunday for the first time to make it easier to park and get around. Also on Sunday are the Cruise-In at Hardy Court Shopping Center in Gulfport and Cruisin’ Through the Decades in Gautier.
Autocross on Monday through Wednesday lets registered Cruisers challenge the driving course set up at the Coast Coliseum, and the Long Beach Parade on Monday night is a favorite tradition. Tuesday after dark, the flame-throwing competition fires up at Island View Casino.
Here’s what to know about this year’s Cruisin’ The Coast:
It’s been headquartered at Centennial Plaza along U.S. 90 in Gulfport for the past several years, but this year the plaza is a new resort of hotels, restaurants and attractions.
That brings new traffic and parking plans and Bailey said, “We’ll be ready when we open at Centennial Plaza on Monday, for sure.”
Overnight guests at the resort will come in the main gate and turn left, he said. Registered cruisers will turn right inside the gate and park under the trees. Spectator parking will be to the east, outside the fence, and signs will direct them to enter the parking area off Arkansas Avenue.
Bailey said it will be difficult to make a left turn into Centennial Plaza coming east on U.S. 90 Monday as car registration opens. “The rest of the week it’s probably not going to be a problem,” he said.
CONES ARE COMING
“If you are in a hurry please avoid Hwy. 90 over the coming week and be patient as we will have an additional 20-30 thousand people visiting the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Gulfport police tweeted on Friday.
Downtown streets of Gulfport will be closed for View the Cruise on Saturday and Sunday as will Mississippi 613 between Dutch Bayou Road and Bellview Avenue in Moss Point on Tuesday.
In Biloxi, the orange cones will return between the lanes on U.S. 90, but not until later in the week. Biloxi Police Chief John Miller said the city had to come up with innovative ways to keep the traffic moving and the roads accessible for emergency vehicles during major traffic events.
“We hope to drop the cones Thursday evening,” Miller said. ”The beginning of Cruisin’ we can handle that.”
The cones will be spaced farther apart than last year to accommodate the larger cruisers that want to change lanes. Should traffic build to the point where emergency vehicles can’t get through, U.S. 90 will go to one lane in each direction, with the inside lanes reserved for first responders.
EVENT PARKING AND MORE
▪ Parking — Only cruisers can park at the venues from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at Ocean Springs, D’Iberville at Scarlet Pearl Casino this year, Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and Pascagoula. Spectators will park off site and walk to admire the cars and trucks, chat with their owners and listen to the bands.
▪ Raffle tickets for the Make a Wish raffle vehicle are available only at Cruise Central. The ’68 Chevy C-10 CST truck that will be given away on the last day of Cruisin’ has a 350 V8 engine, 350 auto transmission, power steering and brakes, air conditioning and a LED lighting package. Raffle tickets are $10 or 3 for $25.
▪ Volunteers — Putting on such a large event takes an army of volunteers and Bailey said, “We still need help.” Those who want to volunteer should come to Cruise Central and they will be given a job or directed to one of the venues that need help.
▪ Street Closings
Moss Point — Tuesday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mississippi 613 will be closed from Bellview Avenue to Dutch Bayou Road. Northbound 18-wheeler traffic should take Martin Luther King Blvd. to State Route 63 to access I-10.
Biloxi — Downtown streets will be closed all morning until about 3 p.m. Wednesday for the Biloxi Block Party
Bay St. Louis — Thursday to Saturday North Beach Blvd. from U.S. 90 will be closed from 5 a.m.-6 p.m.
Ocean Springs — Downtown streets, including portions of Washington, Government, Church, Robinson, DeSoto and Porter, will be closed from 5 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, 5 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday. Only official golf carts will be allowed inside the event.