SUN PHOTOS/TOM VAUGHT
Wedding Festival participants jump for joy.
HOLMES BEACH – It was hard to tell whether this year's Anna Maria Island Wedding Festival attracted as many people as last year's because this one was more organized, according to organizer Deb Wing, the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce's executive assistant.
"Last year, we had the fashion show early and then people left to visit the vendor sites, which means they all left the same time in a big bunch," she said. "This year, the fashion show went on all day and people were more inclined to leave whenever they felt like it, so the crowds were smaller but steadier as they visited the vendors."
Wing said that they had more than 500 people sign up before the event compared with last year's 300. Last year's event attracted 882 people total.
This year, the Wedding Festival went two days with a party at the chickee hut at Gulf Drive Café on Saturday night. The intent was to get more people to spend the night on the Island, and whether it did would be hard to tally during season.
When the festival started Sunday morning, the skies were clear and the temperature stayed moderate but warm, which prompted the visitors to head for the trolleys and limousines to visit the vendors located at various sites around the Island. At the tent in the Chamber parking lot, music played as models showed off the various bridal fashions.
"This is a great event for this community and it gains exposure for Anna Maria," said Stacy Brown, who worked the vendor booth for Weddings of Sarasota, a group of wedding professionals. "This is a different format from other shows because the people travel around the Island and see various sites for a wedding or a reception."
Vicki Sack stood in the sun next to an arbor fitted with seashells, watching the crowd.
"This is the perfect setting," she said. "I live on the Island and I've gotten business from this festival before. I know it is a beautiful setting."
Jeff Smith and his fiancé, Jennifer Croffy, stood in front of the chickee hut at the Gulf Drive Café, waiting for a trolley or limo to take them south to Bridge Street. They were checking out the Island for a location for their beachfront wedding.
"We love this (chickee) hut because we could have our wedding under the roof if the weather gets bad," Jeff said. "This venue is great for a wedding."
Richard and Georgeann Butler were at their table inside the Bridge Street Bistro, formerly the Sun House, on Bridge Street. They are both wedding facilitators and were impressed with the view of the Gulf across the street.
"We have done a lot of destination weddings in Europe, South America, Canada, and here on the Island at the BeachHouse," he said. "We haven't seen any slowdowns in weddings, and we might break our record for business this year. People are still looking for something special."
Jill Chandler Fisher, who owns the floating chapel with her husband, Capt. Orca, had a booth under a tent at the Tortuga Inn. This was her second Wedding Festival and she remains impressed.
"We booked a wedding last night at the chickee hut," she said. "We brought the chapel to the Bradenton Beach Marina and were able to show it."
Last year, they docked it behind the Tortuga and a lot of people looked it over.
The festival culminated with a mock wedding at the Sandbar. Adrienne Merritt and Michael Ananicz took the vows from Rev. Charlie Shook on the beach as the sun headed for the Gulf. Following that, they drew entries for several gift baskets.
Liz Maokhamphiou won the grand prize basket. She said she had originally booked her wedding for Disney World, where her boyfriend proposed to her, but she said after seeing the Island, she booked the Sandbar restaurant and will bring her wedding party here.
As the sun set following the festivities, the crowd disbursed and the vendors started packing up. It was the end of another day, but it was the dawn of a new day for a number of people who found Anna Maria Island to their liking for their destination weddings.