Beachgoers last week at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach dine on the patio at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Anna Maria Island is the No. 4 best island vacation destination in the United States in TripAdvisor.com’s annual Traveler’s Choice Awards.
Voting for the awards is done by visitors to the website and from reviews on TripAdvisor.
The first three islands in the voting are San Juan Island in Washington state, Kauai in Hawaii and Marco Island near Naples.
TripAdvisor wrote, “The barrier island of Anna Maria is an absolute slice of laid-back paradise. Golfing and fishing are two of the most popular tourist activities, though an afternoon lounging at Bean Point beach is a must-do, too. The Anna Maria Island Historical Museum is a fun way to soak up some local history when you’re taking a break from soaking up the sun.”
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman said fourth place in the voting was no surprise because the island has gone from the “island that time forgot” to a favorite destination for people looking for great beaches and relaxation.
“We’re getting pretty well known. Just look at the winter season and the people who are here,” Brockman said.
She said it appeared to her this season is going to set a record for visitors. Tourism to the area is up 7.5 percent from the first two months of 2012.
Also, resort tax collections — the 5 percent collected by Manatee County on rentals of six months or less — for the first four months of the October-September fiscal year already are more than $200,000 ahead of the same period last year. Resort tax collections for 2011-12 set a record of $8 million.
In March, finding a room for more than a one- or two-night stay was difficult, Brockman said.
Additionally, spring break for some universities was the last week of March and many spring breakers — and their families — found their way to the island.
“We came for the peace and quiet. We didn’t want to be in Panama City or places where thousands of kids went. We just wanted some place with great beaches and relaxation,” said Gary Johnson of Chicago, who enjoyed playing volleyball at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach with friends and visitors from Michigan.
And it appeared the guidelines for a vacation on AMI, part of the best practices adopted by many rental agencies and provided to tenants by rental agents, worked well during March in Anna Maria.
There were no formal noise complaints in Anna Maria, code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon said, and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies settled several minor noise issues without any problem.
“It was young kids playing in a pool one time and everything ended peacefully,” Rathvon said.
There were certainly enough people on the island in the week before Easter.
An informal survey of where vacationers came from found a family of four traveled from Vancouver, British Columbia, for a week on the island, while another family came from Germany.
Most people surveyed were from the Midwest or Canada and said they were glad to be on Anna Maria Island and not snowed in back home.
One Chicagoan said he would try to spend another week on the island if snow hit his area while he and his family of eight were on vacation for a week.
“This place is paradise,” said Mike Mascheri of Chicago.
“I’m hoping for snow because that’ll give me an excuse to take another week off and stay here,” he said.
Top 10 U.S. Islands
1. San Juan Island, Wash.
2. Kauai, Hawaii
3. Marco Island, Fla.
4. Anna Maria Island, Fla.
5. Maui, Hawaii
6. Sanibel Island, Fla.
7. Chincoteague Island, Va.
8. Island of Hawaii, Hawaii
9. Amelia Island, Fla.
10. Key West, Fla.