Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer Beach Season
Businesses along the Florida Panhandle are gearing up for this weekend’s unofficial kickoff to summer. Many are planning “drive-to” destinations for the Memorial Day weekend — such as Pensacola Beach.
“We already have a lot of people coming in; we’re excited for the summer and hope everybody enjoys our beach just as much as we do,” says Alison Westmoreland, director of the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce.
What happens during Memorial Day weekend, she says, sets the tone for the rest of the summer.
“This is like our prime opening weekend, the season kicks off,” Westmoreland says. “Our beach trolley will start running every single day starting the weekend, and then we have the new Pensacola Bay cruises starting to run every single day after this weekend as well.”
One of the most-visited events each year is the nation’s largest gathering of the LGBTQ community at Park East. Previous chamber directors have declined to comment, but Westmoreland is more forthcoming – saying that Park East over the years has become more accepted and mainstream.
“They do a really great job of have all of their information on their [website]; and they work with the Santa Rosa Island Authority regarding the parking,” says Westmoreland. “[The Chamber] always had a pleasure of working with them. I think they bring a great crowd to Pensacola Beach, and help our local economy and tourism.”
“Our entire beach sees an inundation over those four days of Memorial Day,” says Paolo Ghio, director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority. He’s a believer in the old beach adage, “leave only your footprints.”
“Bring your chairs and umbrellas and your coolers; bring your sunscreen, bring your music,” says Ghio. "[And] when you’re done on the beach, take all of those items that you brought – including your empty food bags, your empty drink cups – and take them back home with you.”
“We’re heading into the summer travel season; the weather’s warming up and a lot of folks are heading to the beach, to the attractions,” says Mark Jenkins at AAA South in Tampa. “Pensacola is a very popular destination – not just for people in Florida but for folks in some of the states to the north.”
Those coming to Pensacola Beach will be among the more than two million Floridians and 43 million Americans visiting other places this weekend. The surge in travelers, he says, could be summed up by two phrases: strong economy, and lower gas prices.
“Right now the average price in the Pensacola area is $2.61 [per gallon]; the state average right now is about $2.63,” Jenkins says. “We’re just about 30 cents cheaper than what travelers were paying during Memorial Day last year.”
That translates to about a $5 saving per tankful – and that five bucks don’t remain in their pockets very long – it goes toward shopping, lodging, and dining out. And Jenkins says some travelers at some point will need a little help.
“We’re anticipating rescuing about 353,000 stranded motorists on the roadside this holiday weekend,” says Jenkins. The primary causes are for dead batteries; flat tires, and lockouts. With so many people hitting the road, we’re encouraging people to take their vehicle and get it checked out.”
And if you overdo the partying a bit, AAA will offer its “Tow-2-Go” program, to make sure you and your vehicle get home safely. That number is (855) 2-TOW-2-GO or (855) 286-9246.