Why Your Vacation Should Include Anna Maria Island
By Jennifer Schultz
Imagine my surprise last July when I received an email that said that I won a trip to Florida. The email said that I had entered a contest to win a 4 night stay at a luxury beach house for up to 10 people, a photography session on the beach, a gift certificate to a local restaurant, rentals from the local fun center and some cute little tabletop beach umbrellas to keep our drinks cool. The only thing we had to do was cover our travel expenses.
Now at first, I thought it was a joke, or some kind of “yes, we’ll give you the trip if you come to our timeshare presentation” – can’t tell you how many times I have received those. So, after receiving the email, I went to the website of the contest sponsor and saw that my name was announced as the winner of the trip contest. Then I proceeded to check their social media pages, and again my name was on everything. I started yelling out loud to the family, “I think we just won a trip!” So, I quickly sent an email back to the contest sponsor and a few minutes later received a call.
On the other end of the phone, I was congratulated by Nancy McAleer of Anna Maria Island Home Rentals. She was just as excited as I was to share that I had indeed won the contest. She explained that the beach house we would be staying at was on Anna Maria Island in Florida, which is north of Sarasota. She immediately sent me all the details and said all we had to do was pick a date.
Nancy and her partner, Terri Mason, own three gorgeous island properties on Anna Maria. We would be staying at the one named, Sirenia Cove, which was right on the canal and a few blocks away from the beach. I checked out the pictures of the house online, and grew more excited by the minute. The house boasted four bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a huge kitchen, living room, library, screened in porch, two car garage, crow’s nest, and an amazing backyard oasis complete with a bar, patio and swimming pool. I knew that the pictures would not compare to seeing everything in person upon our arrival.
Our trip was originally planned for October, but, because of some personal obligations, we were going to have to cancel our trip. Nancy would not have it! When I reached out to her to explain our situation, she said, “don’t give up” – “choose another date”. I was floored. I did not expect such flexibility. Since it was a contest, I thought that we would have to adhere to the dates and lose the trip. It meant so much to our family to get to go on this vacation and now we still were.
We arrived on the island on a January evening after being in the car for the two day trip from Pennsylvania. We noted upon our drive, where the local food store, the shops, and restaurants were placed as we knew we’d have to get some food after we unpacked the car. We entered the house through two French doors and our kids started turning on all the lights and running from room to room and yelling about what they were finding. The house was tastefully decorated with warm beach colors of blues, peaches, yellows, whites and pinks. We found comfy couches in the living room, big beds in the bedrooms, colorful dinnerware in the kitchen, and basically everything looked clean and brand new. Did I say clean? Yes, not just clean, but very clean.
We were welcomed by a basket of goodies on the counter with a bottle of wine, dish and laundry soap, some toiletries and lot of brochures for places to go and things to do.
When I say that we just had to bring ourselves and food, I am not telling a tale. After heading out to the food store and getting some essentials, we all flopped on the couch and found a great selection as the house was outfitted with a SmartTV and Netflix. After a little TV, my eight year old son took over the kid’s room and picked out the bottom of the one of the two bunk beds to sleep on. We gave our daughter the upstairs master suite as we thought it would be great for an eighteen year old to have her own space and feel grown up. Her room had a huge king size bed, TV, private bathroom, walk-in closet and was adjacent to the library. My husband and I took the main floor bedroom near my sons room which also had an oversized king size bed and bathroom.
After being on the road for two days and eating some pretty bad food, we were thrilled the next morning to be able to just eat bagels and eggs that we had picked up at the local food store the night before. The kitchen had plenty of cabinets stocked with all the necessities you could need to cook any type of meal. While this house sleeps 10 people, it was just my husband and two children that took the trip, but, you could certainly envision having plenty of space to entertain a large group.
We went to the beach after breakfast and found a lot of very unique shells and our first sand dollars. I was super excited to pick up a gorgeous peach colored conch shell, but, disappointed when I turned it over to find a live sea snail inside, so I had to throw it back in the ocean. The water was actually a little warm on our feet, but, it was another cool morning. We went back to the house to return our treasured finds.
A knock at the door signals the arrival of another of our contest prizes. Fun and More Rentals had given us a golf cart, four bikes, boogie boards, beach chairs and umbrellas to use during our stay. We spent the first day motoring around on the golf cart exploring the island and our first stop was the beach by the bay. It was a little cool, around 55 degrees and overcast that morning, so pants and sweatshirts were the clothes of the day. We found a small selection of shells and then ventured back to the house to cook out on the grill and take a dip in the heated pool. By now, the sun had come out and it started to warm up to around 70. We hung around the house for the rest of the day, just trying to enjoy being on vacation.
The next morning, we rode our bikes to the beach and again were on the hunt for more seashells. We found some conch shells, albeit small – and I prayed to the seas gods to repay me for the snail I saved and let me find a new beautiful conch shell, but, alas it wasn’t to be. We had breakfast and again took the golf cart through town to sight see. We stopped at places like: Rod N Reel Pier, the town museum and some gifts shops. Back to the house again for lunch and to get ready to have our pictures taken on the beach before sunset courtesy of Memories by Billi.
We were greeted by Emily who was super sweet and hit it off with all family members during the shoot. It was a little windy, but, we were lucky, because it had been sunny early in the day, and then cloudy, but, the sky had cleared up enough to let the beautiful sun shine for a great sunset. We felt excited as this was the first time we ever had our photos done on the beach and about four years since we had a professional family photo. Emily worked with us to get a lot of creative shots and we looked forward to how they would turn out.
After the photos, we took advantage of the gift certificate for dinner sponsored by the Eat Here restaurant in Holmes Beach, which was still on the island. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because at first it looked like a super upscale restaurant and I took one look at my eight and eighteen year old and wondered what would they have on the menu for them. When you have picky eaters, you have to wonder. We explained to our server that it was our first time eating there and that we were the contest winners. He made some recommendations and when he brought back our drinks, he also brought shrimp tacos courtesy of the chef for us to sample. My son ended up ordering a make-your-own pizza, so that was a hit! My daughter ordered the Not Mama’s Pot Roast and was in heaven. She kept saying it’s not yours mom, but, it’s really good. That was code for “I like theirs better”, but, I was glad. My husband got the Wild Atlantic Salmon with horseradish cream and homemade French fries, (which all of us tried). For me, I ordered the Gulf Shrimp, Mosca’d – which is pan-seared with garlic butter, chardonnay and rosemary. Dinner was nothing short of amazing and none of us could order dessert.
The next day, went to the beach again on our last full day on the island to see if we could find any new shells. My uncle who lives in Boynton Beach made the four hour drive out to the island to spend the day with us. We had lunch at the house, showed him around and then headed to Mote Aquarium in Sarasota. This was an especially fun trip since he is a retired marine biologist and could explain a lot of the ocean life we were looking at. My uncle had mentioned that we might want to search for shells at the tip of Anna Maria Island, which we did have a hard time finding since that area is mansion sized homes with small public access paths between them. It was getting to be around sunset when we finally found a way to the beach and the wind was howling because a storm was on its way for the next day, so we didn’t stay long.
We headed back to the house and started to clean up and pack as we were going to be on the road back to Pennsylvania in the morning. None of us wanted to go home and the kids asked if we could stay. We really felt like there was so much more to see. I started to remember on the first day how we had met two older couples on their way to the pier. They pulled up next to us in our golf cart and asked where we got it from. They shared that one couple had moved to Anna Maria Island 20 years ago and the other couple came every year to visit them, but, was finally considering moving down there.
I thought about how it was nice to not have the hustle and bustle of our normal everyday lives for a few days and how we really created some spectacular memories. The kids were already talking about what we would do the next time we went to Anna Maria Island. We left in the dark of morning, the wind whistling from the coming rainstorm as we headed up north to below freezing temperatures.
Our only regret was forgetting to bring our Shadepop drink umbrellas…I forgot to pack them. You can be sure we will use them this summer on our patio.
We can’t wait to plan our next trip to Anna Maria Beach Island as it has left its mark on us. We encourage anyone who is looking for a top notch place to stay to reach out to Nancy and Terri at Anna Maria Island Home Rentals. Thanks to them both and all the other sponsors for a fantastic trip!