CORTEZ -- It's spring break and that means Manatee County's beaches are packed with college students and other tourists from around the nation.
Motorists trying to reach Anna Maria Island beaches Sunday afternoon from Cortez Road and Manatee Avenue West ended up creeping along in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Not all of Sunday's spring breakers were willing to wait in traffic to catch a wave.
About 20 spring breakers in their 40s, 50s and 60s, from Missouri, Colorado and Michigan, headed to Cortez Village for their break because, they said, it has all the right relaxing, tropical vibes, saves at least 20 minutes of bumper-to-bumper waiting at Cortez Bridge on the way to the beach -- and no sandy feet because Cortez has no beach.
World traveler Gayla Barker of Branson, Mo., said she has been everywhere, and keeps coming back to tiny Cortez when she needs some spring break.
On Sunday, she brought her husband, Stan, and Harold and Becky Hartzell and Dave and Sandy Miller, all from Branson, to the Cortez Kitchen, 4528 119th St. W., Cortez.
All the group required for inner peace and enlightenment was for the wait staff to keep fresh seafood and margaritas coming.
"I would say Cortez Village reminds
me of Grand Cayman," said a happy Harold Hartzell who was soaking up every tropical moment of his spring break adventure.
The Millers were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, said Dave Miller, who works for the state of Missouri, and Sandy Miller, a sixth-grade teacher for the Branson Public School system.
"Branson was once known as the biggest parking lot in the world because it's is basically just one strip and it would get bumper-to-bumper," Harold Hartzell said when the conversation came around to Anna Maria Island beach traffic.
"But then we built bypass routes to circumnavigate and we color-coded them red, yellow, green and blue," Sandy Miller said.
The Barker group drove Sunday morning to Cortez from Tampa on the last leg of their spring break, which began with a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, Belize, Roatan and Grand Cayman.
"I think this is what is called, 'Having a full plate,' " said Stan Barker, who works for the White River Valley Electric Cooperative in Branson but was working on a grouper sandwich Sunday with all the fixin's.
The wait staff brought appetizer plates of buttery "peel-and-eat" shrimp and lightly battered conch fritters.
"It doesn't get any better than this," Gayla Barker said, throwing her arms back and enjoying 82-degree weather while back home in Branson, it was 39 degrees at the exact same moment, 2:39 p.m.
As the Branson breakers were blissing out at the Cortez Kitchen, the Adrian, Mich., breakers were doing the same thing a few steps over at the Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar, 4528 119th St. W., Cortez.
The Adrian group, including Sandi Lee, Pam Wood, Kassie Wood, Dave Golembiewski and Larry and Diana Faust, was led by Pam Wood, the owner of the well-known Tip Top Diner in Adrian, a legendary southeast Michigan spot featuring old-fashioned biscuits and gravy, homemade meatloaf and huge burgers from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week.
"Anyone who comes to the Tip Top and mentions Cortez Village can have half off their bill," Wood said.
"And free water," said Larry Faust, a real estate agent and born comedian.
Earlier this week, the Adrian spring breakers schemed to fly Golembiewski to Florida to surprise his girlfriend, Kassie Wood, on her 44th birthday.
She screamed as he snuck up behind her and planted a kiss on her cheek Sunday.
"Spring is in the air," Slicker said with a wink,
Capt. Mark Bebernitz's Water Taxi cruised out of the Cortez Village Sunday with the Fort Collins, Colo., group of spring breakers, which included the Zabel family, Kathy and Mark and children, Molly, 13, and Will, 11.
"Two hours of dolphin and manatee sightings," said an excited Kathy Zabel.
The Zabels are staying with "Grandma" Maggie Bowen of Bradenton on spring break. Bowen assembled a group of 10 to go on the tour with the Zabels.
"Awesome, awesome, awesome," Zabel group member Kathy Reichart of Seabreeze Mobile Home Park said of the spring break day.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.