Advice for Islanders this weekend: 'stay home'
Islanders are bracing for what appears to be a record number of visitors this weekend, and local law enforcement officials are giving Island residents some good advice to avoid the expected heavy traffic.
"Be patient," said Sgt. John Kinney of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Anna Maria substation.
"If you have to go off-Island, leave early and return late, if possible," he said. "If you can, stay at home and walk or take the trolley if you have to go somewhere."
That's good advice, echoed Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine, who expects traffic this Easter weekend to be "the busiest we've seen this year.
"Traffic will be heavy. It's usually the last hurrah before the end of the season, and we'll have extra officers on duty. Our primary goal will be traffic control," he added.
Romine also took time to praise the Island trolley, which has carried more than 2,000 passengers on many days this season. "I'd hate to see what our traffic would look like without it," he said.
In Bradenton Beach, the traffic crush will be at the Cortez Road-Gulf Drive intersection and along State Road 789 to Coquina Beach, where traffic often backs up across the Longboat Pass Bridge and into Longboat Key.
"We'll have all extra officers on duty for traffic control," said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, and he's asked the MCSO for additional officers and a horse patrol at Coquina Beach.
"The question is how much more traffic can the Island handle?" said the chief. "This weekend will be our biggest beach day of the year. We all just have to be patient."
Islanders should plan on staying home and using the trolley if they have to go anywhere, he suggested.
"And if you do go anywhere in your car, expect some serious delays," the chief added.
While you can expect traffic delays on the Island this weekend, don't expect to find a hotel room if you're heading here this weekend without a reservation.
"We've still got a few rooms," said Marge Moran of the Surfside Econolodge and Bamboo Club condominiums, "but they are moving fast, and I expect to be sold out by this weekend. People don't book well in advance like they used to, and we try and accommodate people who show up Friday afternoon looking for a room. But, if you're coming for Easter, call now.
"And I would guess that everyone else is filling up rapidly. It should be a sold-out weekend on the Island," Moran noted.
"Absolutely," said Mary Ann Brockman, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.
"We're trying to keep track of which members still have rooms, but they are rapidly filling up. Anyone thinking of coming to the Island for Easter weekend without a reservation should start looking around now."
The Chamber tries to assist walkup visitors to find accommodations, but anyone arriving at the last minute could face some difficulties.
"It's going to be hard to find a room," Brockman predicted. "We usually can find a few vacancies" for people who show up at the chamber office's in the Island Fitness Center this week, but there aren't many rooms left.
Any accommodation owner still with a vacancy for Easter can call Brockman at 778-1541 and it's a good bet she'll be able to fill that room by the weekend, if not sooner.
"It looks like a good ending to a solid winter tourist season," she observed.
The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has estimated as many as 30,000 people will be on Anna Maria Island and Palma Sola Causeway beaches on Saturday and again on Easter Sunday.
"Just be patient and drive with care," asked Speciale.