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Island fills up for holidays

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Former Anna Maria resident and artist Mark Alonso, left, and wife Miren, second from left, now residing in Michigan, visit the Where’s Woody art show at The Islander newspaper Dec. 22. They visited for the holidays — Thanksgiving to Christmas — along with lots of family, kids and grandkids. They are pictured with daughter Ginny Alonso and artist Linda Molto, right. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

As the late Bing Crosby would croon, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

At least for Anna Maria Island it is — without the snow.

As more and more out-of-state vehicles show up on island streets and people flock to local restaurants and beaches, that’s what an island Christmas looks like, said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce vice president Deb Wing.

But with Christmas and New Year’s Day both falling on a Tuesday, it makes for an odd week, she said.

Many people were waiting until schools let out for winter break to make a reservation, she said, which only gave them a few days until Dec. 25. It appeared some people were waiting until the last minute to make a reservation, Wing said.

“Our resorts are filling up fast,” after a slow start in early December, said David Teitelbaum, owner of the Tortuga Inn, Tradewinds, SeaSide and Tropical Isle motels in Bradenton Beach.

He said reservations for the Christmas-New Year week were a bit slow a few weeks ago, “but, now, reservations are through the roof. Tuesday is an odd day for a holiday and for visitors to arrive. They prefer a Friday or Monday holiday, but we’ll be full by the weekend.”

Some people plan Christmas at home when it’s mid-week, and then take a weekend holiday to Anna Maria Island, he noted.

At the Harrington House Bed & Breakfast Resort, 5626 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, co-owner Mark Davis was excited about the bump in reservations for the week.

“We are really doing well. It looks like we’re going to be full for the week and our phones keep ringing,” Davis said.

“We’ll try to help everyone who calls,” he said.

The Cedar Cove Resort & Cottages, 2710 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, owned by chamber member Eric Cairns, also started slow for holiday week reservations, but the “phones have been ringing off the hook the past week and we’re filling up fast,” said a reservationist at the resort.

“It’s going to be a great Christmas, which means a full house,” she said.

Ken Gerry at the White Sands Beach Resort, 6504 Gulf  Drive, Holmes Beach, said anyone looking for a reservation after Dec. 25 will be taking “potluck.”

He said a number of reservations recently came in for Dec. 26-Jan. 1, and he was expecting a full house.

“I’ve got a few rooms available Dec. 26, but I’m hoping they’ll be gone very quickly,” he said.

Jeff Gerry, Ken’s brother and co-owner, asked island residents not to be discouraged by the expected increase in traffic during the holidays and the season.

“Our winter visitors spend a lot of money on the island, and keep a lot of people employed. We can put up with the traffic increase for a few months,” Gerry said.

The hope for an accommodation rental for the holiday week at AMI Accommodations in Anna Maria — with more than 200 options in its rental stable — does not appear promising, said Rebecca Barnett.

She said there were still a few of the smaller properties available, but accommodations for families are already booked.

“If it’s just a couple, we’ll be able to find something,” Barnett said.

Even if a family walks in looking for an accommodation rental, the AMI Accommodations staff will do their best to find a location, even if it’s with another agent, Barnett said.

“We all try to help each other,” she said.

And if the good weather continues through the holiday week, restaurants, particularly those with outdoor dining, should do well, said Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, BeachHouse and MarVista restaurants on AMI and Longboat Key.

“If the weather holds and the people come as expected, all the restaurants should do well. We should be fine as long as the sun is shining and we don’t get a freeze,” he said.

While restaurants and accommodations were gearing up for the holidays, retailers said it’s often hit or miss if visitors go shopping or go to the beach.

“It’s hard to predict,” said Linda Clayton, co-owner of Mister Roberts Resort Wear, 5330 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

“One day, we’ll have a flood of walk-in traffic, and the next day nobody will show up. But if the weather’s good this week, we should be fine,” she said.

All-in-all, it appears the holiday visitors this year will be arriving a bit late on Anna Maria Island, but staying for the full week of vacationing.

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