Spring breakers fill Anna Maria Island to the brim

acastillo@bradenton.comMarch 10, 2014 

HOLMES BEACH -- A slow drive through the Manatee Public Beach's parking lot on Monday makes it evident: spring break is in full swing - and tourists have arrived to indulge on Anna Maria Island. On Monday, the beach's sandy parking lot was filled with license plates from New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Delaware, and even as far as Canada's Ontario and Nova Scotia provinces.

Becky Wittenmyer was among the first to see visitors make their way to the beach from her post in front of the Anna Maria Island Beach Café. The 65-year-old, who works seasonally at the establishment, said she has noticed a good number of people from other places outside of Florida. Undoubtedly, this is good for business.

"When the sun's out and the beach is calling, we have a good day," she said as she stood by a stand selling Ray-Ban and Armani sunglasses.

Wittenmyer herself is from Ohio and described herself lightheartedly as "one of those tourists." This is the second winter season in the area for the retiree, who is currently staying in Bradenton with her son.

"It's paradise here. It's a whole other atmosphere," Wittenmyer said, adding that she expects business to pick up even more.

While some may view the intensified traffic partly due to tourism as a nuisance, Skipper Victoria Bond views it as the complete opposite. The Realtor at Skipper Real Estate & Associates Inc. believes the increase in new faces emerging up from other states and countries benefits everyone - residents, the city, the county and beyond on the state level. She mentioned that the heavy traffic is only really bothersome from February through March.

"Yes, it (tourism) slows down traffic, but when you look at the bigger picture ...February and March isn't that much," she said. "Two months out of 12? That's not enough to complain."

Bond added that this is only like this because it's spring break season and noted that "all of Florida gets hit on spring break."

"Tourists do a lot more than most people think," Bond continued. The Realtor said they help mom-and-pop shops in the area and help pump in revenue for the city.

As for her and her husband's real estate and rental agency, she said the places -- mostly condos -- they help rent out are all booked solid through March.

"Most people who come here are respectful. They respect the place they're staying in," she said, "and they respect the beach."

Outside on the packed parking lot, 18-year-old Angelica Lebron got ready to walk towards the beach with three of her friends. The high school junior drove from Ruskin to enjoy her spring break here.

"I love the beach. I don't like it out there (where she lives). It's boring," she said. She and her friends, like many other teens, came to soak some sun on the island.

On the outer edges of Manatee Public Beach, 59-year-old George Huffman and his wife Lisa relaxed on red-and-white lawn chairs. The retirees from Ohio escaped the snow for some sunshine. The couple, who has visited this area every year for the past decade, said they wanted to come down before spring break but couldn't because of the weather up north.

"We're looking for a place for the winter anyway," Huffman said. "We feel comfortable here."

Among the beachgoers sunbathing and reading under colorful tents on Monday was Holmes Beach Police Chief William Tokajer, who patrolled the area.

"We're just enforcing our alcohol violation laws and making sure that all of our tourists and people who are out for spring break are acting appropriately," he said over the phone Monday afternoon. Tokajer added that his department came across a couple of alcohol violations but noted that "everyone's been very well-behaved today."

Spring Break has been tame so far, he added.

"We've been making contact with all the youth and explaining to them that we will be out on Spring Break," he said. "They are welcome on the island. We just want them to abide by our alcohol and parking laws. They're already in paradise, so slow down and bicycle by and enjoy the scenery."

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