Manatee County residents, visitors, take to the AMI water shuttle

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 17, 2013 

MANATEE -- Visitors and residents alike are enjoying a "water shuttle" based in Holmes Beach that serves Bradenton Beach, Longboat Key, Sarasota, Egmont Key, Bradenton and Palmetto.

The Anna Maria Island Shuttle Service, LLC, also offers "dolphin watch" excursions, and a "circle line tour" around Anna Maria Island, says co-owner Capt. Jeffrey Stephens.

Stephens and business partner Tracey Dell are considering expanding their range to more regional destinations, such as parts of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County's Fort DeSoto Park.

"This is the perfect solution for Tampa Bay," Dell said. "We're out of roads."

Earlier this month, developer Carlos Beruff said he would like to offer ferry service from a hotel he is proposing at Long Bar Pointe, in southwest Bradenton, to

the Gulf beaches.

Last month, promoters at a presentation in Ruskin proposed a high-speed ferry that would run between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, according to news reports.

HMS Ferries, the nation's largest ferry service operator, was among those interested in the project.

Anna Maria's water shuttle differs from a ferry in that it does mostly round trips, rather than taking commuters on regularly scheduled, one-way trips and dropping them off, said Stephens.

Asked who his patrons tend to be, Stephens said it depends on time of year.

"This time of year in the summer, it's mostly vacation families," he said. "In the winter, it's more of the part-time residents, the winter residents."

In the winter, the trip to Sarasota is popular, while trips involving more watersports are popular in the summer, he added.

Wednesdays, the company offers "A Day Along the Manatee," departing at 10 a.m. from Holmes Beach and continuing to Palmetto, Bradenton and Bradenton's Riverwalk, and returning at 4 p.m.

The cost is $27 for adults and $22 for kids under 12, according to the business' web site.

Among the shuttle service's fleet is the 49-passenger "Island Pearl," and another called "The Minnow," which carries 20 passengers.

The company employs six or seven employees, and carries probably a couple of thousand passengers in a year's time, said Stephens.

"People have come in here, and said they've taken the water taxi," reported Mary Ann Brockman, president and chief executive officer at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

"We have heard they had a very, very nice time; the reports are good, we've not gotten one complaint."

Information, www.amishuttle.com, or www.islandpearlexcursions.com; email, amishuttle@gmail.com; phone 941-780-8010.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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