On Manatee Public Beach on a sunny high-70s afternoon March 28, the mashup on the sand looked like a soft drink commercial.
Parents slathered sunscreen on toddlers while babies slept under umbrellas. A blue University of Kentucky flag served as a sunshade for college kids. Behind the students, two older women in sun hats sat with their backs to the wind.
It was spring break, and all manners of visitors had descended on the beach for frivolity, indulgence and soaking in the sun.
What do all these visitors mean to Anna Maria Island? It means hectic days at area businesses and revenue.
Tanner Enoch, who manages the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach, said weather plays a role in when people go to the beach.
“When the temperature is above 70 degrees, we’re killing it. But we’ve had some chilly, windy days. Now the local kids are out and we are loaded with high-schoolers, both from Manatee County and from up north. It’s hard to find a seat at meal times,” Enoch said.
In Cortez, the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill was seeing customers arrive by car and by boat, according to director of marketing Liza Kubik.
“We are slammed,” Kubik said March 28. “On Tuesday, (March 27) we went on a wait (for seating) at 5:15 and didn’t come off until 9 p.m. That’s a long time for a wait.”
The Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria saw a pickup in the number of diners during spring break. Manager Greg Grosser said, “We’ve had a lot of families and groups in the past few weeks, but we usually just don’t get the college kids. It’s not their kind of thing. A lot of our regulars and snowbirds are here right now it seems.”
Just4Fun owner Joe Prather said a rush for rental umbrellas, kayaks and bikes began in mid-March. He expects a heavy rental business through the end of August.
“The next two weeks are close to sold out,” Prather said March 27. “We are super busy here.”
Spring break in the United States got underway in March, while some universities and colleges took holidays earlier in February. April 15, two weeks after Easter, is the official close of the 2018 spring break season, according to the website springbreak.com, which tracks college and university spring holiday dates.
Business owners say they continue to see more families and fewer college students, which is typical for the island.
Cathy Pizzo, administrator of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, said visits to the chamber office in Holmes Beach have been by families or groups of people looking for fun things to do on the island. They also are in search of accommodations, which, during peak periods, are difficult to find.
“We help them search for local cancellations — that’s about all we can do. Some even book for next year while they are here now to avoid a problem next year,” Pizzo said.
Katy Demick, assistant general manager of Anna Maria Island Resorts in Bradenton Beach, said the company’s four flagship properties on the beaches were almost booked solid.
“We are mixing properties at this point — one night here, two nights there, at another property, trying to make it work for people. They just waited too late to book,” Demick said.
“It’s busy, real busy,” Bradenton Beach Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz said March 27. “I’m afraid our little secret is out.”
Diaz said the city had no major issues, other than traffic, as of March 27. He said he had seen more people on the beaches and sidewalks than for past spring breaks. Visitors began pouring onto the island in February, bringing heavy traffic with them.
Holmes Beach code enforcement officer JT Thomas said, “It’s packed. The short-term rentals are packed. The roads are packed. And the sidewalks are packed, including people who don’t know where to ride their bikes.”
On Anna Maria Island, Easter meant packing up and heading north for many seasonal residents. Rebecca and Eric St. Jean, owners of Island Mail and More in Holmes Beach, said business had been brisk at their office.
“We’ve shipped a lot of Easter items and, on top of that, the snowbirds are starting to ship goods back up north for the offseason,” Rebecca St. Jean said. “Tourists and sometimes spring breakers are shipping things they bought, too. It’s been pretty busy for a month or so now.”
On March 29, kayaks, SUPs and boat tours traveled along bays and the Intracoastal Waterway and people of all kinds continued to pour onto the beaches and into the shops and restaurants for the long Easter weekend crescendo.
In a few weeks, the opera singer will have hit the high note and the numbers will tell if any records were broken this spring.