Island wedding festival Feb. 26-27

The fourth annual Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Island Wedding Festival begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, and appears headed toward another success if advance reservations are any indication.

Organizer Deb Wing of the chamber said last week she had received about 200 advance reservations and expected walk-ins this week to boost that figure considerably.

Last year’s event drew 889 registered participants, primarily from the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas. This is the first year the festival has become a two-day affair, and Wing said she expects more people than ever to attend.

The move to a two-day event allows people the time to see how “beautiful the Island really is” for a wedding or honeymoon, she said. After all, we’re known as the beach wedding capital of Florida.”

Wing said she’s noticed that a number of registrants this year are from northern areas, including Ohio, Michigan and Canada.

“I think the word is spreading about our festival,” she said.

“I expect we’ll be very busy this week and this Saturday,” Wing said.

More than 90 wedding vendors spread among 14 Island locations will participate.

Registration and the vendor stroll starts at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at the chamber office at 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, followed by a tiki hut reception at the Gulf Drive Cafe at 7 p.m.

On Sunday, Feb. 27, the festival really “gets going,” Wing said.

Complimentary limousine service is provided for festivalgoers. Vendors include wedding photographers, cake specialists, florists, musicians, wedding planners, restaurants, caterers, accommodations, hair and makeup specialists, disc jockeys and transportation providers.

“What’s unique to our festival is that the bride and groom and the wedding party can meet and see first-hand the wedding sites and businesses available. They can smell the flowers, taste the cake, check out the view from the honeymoon suite and see actual venues for a wedding or reception, not just endless photos of what it may look like,” Wing said.

If a participant checks in to 10 of the 14 sites, they can enter drawings that will produce more than $10,000 in prizes, including certificates for a three-day resort stay, jewelry, dinner, retail gifts, spa services, wedding portraits, music and water sports and sailing, she said.

The final event is a reception at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, where prize winners will be announced.

Last year’s top prize-winner won a three-night stay at the Tortuga Resort in Bradenton Beach and held her wedding at the resort.

Tourism industry officials estimated more than 500 weddings were performed on Anna Maria Island in 2010.

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