The digital sign near the Kingfish Boat Ramp on Manatee Avenue west of the Anna Maria Island Bridge flashes an alert: “No fires, dogs, camping or alcohol allowed on beach.”
It’s time for spring break, and people arriving to the island are ready to celebrate with a few days of fun in the sun.
“We’re just giving people a bit of education as they enter,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer told The Islander March 5. “It’s the same rules we always have.”
“And,” he added. “pack your patience and leave early.”
Officials at Tampa International Airport announced March 4 they expect 3.6 million passengers to arrive at the airport in the next six weeks.
Spring break is typically the six-week period spanning March and the first two weeks of April, when some colleges and K-12 schools are on spring vacation. Some schools break later in April, depending on Easter’s date. Officials expect the 2019 spring break to be the largest ever in the Tampa Bay area, according to a news release from TIA.
Accommodations on the island are filling up, according to rental agencies polled by The Islander.
“Our 250 vacation rental properties are 99 percent full for March and about 75 percent full for April,” Joe Varner of Anna Maria Vacations told The Islander March 6.
“Love spring breakers!” he said. “And, summer is filling up very nicely, too.”
Varner was scrambling to finish renovations at the former Blue Water Beach Club, 6306 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, now the Anna Maria Beach Resort.
Barbara Baker, general manager of Anna Maria Island Resorts — Tortuga, Tropic Isle, Seaside and Tradewinds resorts — said starting the week of March 11, the properties are “pretty much booked completely” through the end of March.
“We are looking good,” she said, adding that some scattered dates are available in the first two weeks of April.
In Anna Maria, Suzette Buchan said her Rod and Reel Motel is 98 percent booked for March and 77 percent booked the first weeks of April.
In 2018, 93.2 percent of lodging rooms on Anna Maria Island were booked in March, with an average room rate of $242.40 per night.
People calling or stopping by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce in Holmes Beach have not only been inquiring about island activities. Sometimes they are searching for immediate lodging.
Such was the case March 6, when a couple arriving in the area stopped for help.
“They were looking for a two-week stay on the island. No reservations. They were on vacation, heard about Anna Maria, drove down and decided they wanted to stay,” chamber president Terri Kinder told The Islander.
Kinder found them a room. A chamber business member had called earlier in the day with a cancellation alert, and Kinder sent the couple over.
“We got them set up for two weeks,” Kinder said. “From all we are seeing, it’s going to be a great spring season here.”
Kinder said the majority of inquiries to the chamber have come from couples, followed by families.
Full lodgings benefit many businesses
Vacation rental companies aren’t the businesses that profit from the spring break influx. Island eateries and bars fill up, live music venues are hot stops for breakers and paddleboards, kayaks and other “island” rental items are popular commodities.
While some restaurants maintain the status quo, others feature drink and food specials to draw spring breakers.
Shawn Culhane, manager of the Ugly Grouper, 5704 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, said the restaurant is serving breakfast and morning beverage specials. The outdoor eatery also will feature live music during lunch and early afternoons and at dinner.
Tanner Enoch and crew at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at Manatee Public Beach are no strangers to high volume.
“It’s what we live for,” he told The Islander.
Enoch said business ticked up in March and he is seeing more families on vacation than college students on spring break.
“We increase our staff and our orders,” he said. “We love it.”
Anyone out and about on Anna Maria Island will probably notice an uptick in cyclists and golf carts, along with scooters and Segways. Some visitors try their hand at kayaking and paddleboarding. All these items are for rent from local businesses.
Kelly Crawford teaches kindergarten at Anna Maria Elementary, and her husband, Shawn, owns Florida Sportfishing Outfitters. While Crawford is looking forward to her own spring break from teaching, she admits she won’t see much of her husband during her time off.
“He is booked every day that week,” Crawford told The Islander. “But this is a wonderful thing, considering what the red tide did to the charter captain businesses in the fall and winter. I’ll just hang out.”
Just how many of the 3.6 million passengers traveling into TIA between now and mid-April will make their way to Anna Maria Island?
Time will tell, but islanders are ready and waiting for them.
Record numbers soak up Florida sunshine
Yes, lots of people are here.
Not just on Anna Maria Island, but all over Florida.
A record number of out-of-state visitors — 126.1 million — traveled to Florida in 2018, according to statistics from Visit Florida, the tourism marketing corporation for the state.
For the eighth consecutive year, visitation set a record.
Visitors had an economic impact in Manatee County of $973,798,000.
Domestic visits numbered 111.8 million in the state. Overseas travelers made 10.8 million visits and 3.5 million Canadians came south.
Visit Florida estimates 30.3 million visitors traveled to the state in the fourth quarter of 2018, an increase of 4.6 percent over the same period in 2017.
The highest percentage of domestic visitors came from Georgia, with 9.6 percent; followed by New York, 8.5 percent. Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania rounded out the top five states providing the most visitors.
The most popular activities for domestic visitors were the beach and waterfront activities, visiting friends and relatives and culinary experiences.
Overseas travelers to Florida, on the other hand, cited shopping as the top draw.