In 2008 Congress enacted legislation to expand the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The new law required that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) develop an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to gather biographic information from nationals of the soon-to-be 34 VWP countries traveling to the U.S. in advance of their visit.
ESTA is mandatory for all VWP travelers beginning January 12, 2009. Information required through ESTA mirrors the data travelers already submit through the I-94W paper form currently filled out upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry; however, it simplifies the process by allowing visitors to complete the form online prior to arrival.
Anna Maria Island – Florida has an amazingly complex eco system home to everything from the Florida Black Bear to the majestic manatee, but a little known fact is that Florida is one of the only geographies that can support both alligators and crocodiles. So do these scaly reptiles pose a threat to the average vacationer?
Well let’s look at the facts; alligators are not naturally aggressive creatures. There were only 10 fatal alligator attacks in the US between 1970 and 2000 (compared to the 25 fatal attacks by house hold dogs just between 1970 and 1980). This works out to be about .3 per year and several of these reports were of people who started out with harassing or feeding alligators in their natural habitat. Crocodiles however claimed over 50 lives between 1990 and 1994. Having said that, NONE of these attacks occurred in the US furthermore these attacks were all credited to the freshwater crocs (like the one in the picture to the left) found in southern Africa and Australia, not the much more docile saltwater crocodiles found here in Florida.
In addition to this the American Alligator is known as a “Keystone Species” or one whose presence can affect the entire ecosystem. For example before the endangered species act alligators were hunted because local fishermen thought this would improve the numbers of game fish in the water. The outcome was an overpopulation of a type of fish called gar, and what is the meal of choice for gar? You guessed it, game fish and this caused a steep decline in their numbers. So at the end of the day the odds of an alligator invasion of your vacation rental is highly unlikely, if you leave them alone they’ll probably do the same. But if you find yourself yearning for an up close encounter they can be found at the Myakka State Park and viewed up close and personal from airboat tours.
Outdoor Dining Anna Maria Island is the quintessential way to hang out in beautiful tropical climate! There’s nothing better than when going out to grab a bite to eat or drinks, having the warm island breeze surrounding you. Some of the wonderful restaurants I’ve listed below have beautiful water views of either the crystal clear Gulf or Bay, or an open-air setting directly across the street from the beach.
The fresh air of AMI always makes your food taste that much better and your drinks that much tastier, bringing you relaxing vibes that will be sure to lift your spirit. I have suggested different places from smaller and more quant spots, to casual any-time spots, to romantic night spots.
The Havana Cabana Grill is a Cuban restaurant situated on the Marina Drive, Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island. The restaurant has a large selection of dishes available for people eating in and ordering out. The food served is a mixture between Greek, Italian and Cuban traditional dishes and there are a variety of others. There are dinner specials available and for the adventurous spirits out there the catch of the day will offer a delicious fresh meal. Be sure to ask what it is!! There is a relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant and one immediately feels at home and welcome.
On my visit to the Havana Cabana I had an authentic Cuban sandwich and my aunt had the Sopa del Dia, both of which were extremely good. I would recommend any of the sandwiches that are made with Cuban bread. There is so much to choose from and I will definitely be going back. The restaurant is owned and managed by John Droukas who is also the chef, you can be sure one of the better chefs on the island. The best way in testing the theory is by testing the food. We were served by a kind lady by the name of Michelle Ruiz del Vizo who was very knowledgeable of the state of Florida and its cultural heritage. We learnt from her the meaning behind the term ‘cracker’, used to describe people who are born in Florida. The term derived from the crack of the whip above herds of cattle that were being herded by the first Floridian residents, early pioneers of the region. She is a proud Cuban cracker.
The Rod and Reel Pier is an institution in Anna Maria City. Ask a local on Anna Maria Island where to eat and just about everyone has Rod & Reel Pier restaurant in their top three. The Rod & Reel Restaurant is located in Anna Maria City and is the most Northern eatery on Anna Maria Island. The restaurant sits out on the end of a pier in Anna Maria City so it makes for perfect scenery. I have personally seen fish, dolphins and manatee off the pier while waiting to get into the restaurant. The pier also doubles as a great fishing spot for visitors and locals alike. Just about every hour the restaurant is open you will see folks fishing from the pier.
Rod and Reel serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their breakfast is very good as well as their lunches and oh yah, their dinners too! Every meal at the Rod and Reel is great! The restaurant has an old Florida diner charm. It seats about 20 inside and seats about 15 outside. The 20 seats inside are made up of tables for 4-5, tables for 2 and one table that can seat about 6-8. There are about 4 tables that sit along the Bay so you can glance out at the water while you enjoy your clam strips, fish & chips, grouper Reuben sandwich or grouper any way you like it. The 15 seats outside face towards the West so you can get an early glimpse of our Anna Maria Island Sunsets as well as the pier below. There are a flight of steps up to the restaurant so if you have someone in your party that cannot do steps it is best to skip this restaurant.
One insider secret is the small bar under the restaurant. It is back behind the stairs up to the restaurant and is considered on the ground level. They will serve food at the bar although it can get tight on popular nights. The seating is a tight 10-12 but the beer is cold and cheap. Last time a “friend” had a beer there it was $3 for a draft. (Yes, I have updated this in 2018 and it is still $3 for a domestic draft) I recall the first time my “friend” got a beer down in the bar area. The bar tender said “Three dollars please,” My friend said “What?” The bartender quickly said, “I know, I know, we just raised our draft beer prices from $2 but we had too.” Of course we were surprised with how reasonably priced the draft beer was. If you are looking for “insider” secrets then swing by the bar and pull up a seat. There are plenty of locals that have a drink or two at the bar.
Now for the meals. The lunch and dinner menu’s are one in the same. The restaurant has plenty of sandwiches to choose from, grouper any way you like it, a Reuben grouper which is just like a Reuben but with Grouper as the meat and about four other choices of sandwiches. My son loves the clam strips or the fish & chips. If you are looking for a meal on the bigger side then the Mexican grouper is your ticket. Of course they serve plenty of fish any way you like it. The most recent night I visited they had several specials, Mahi Mahi, Sword Fish, and a few others. They do serve bottled beer up in the restaurant as well as wine. Their coleslaw is great as well as their desserts. If you still have room try their Key Lime Pie. You won’t be sorry!
Another great feature of the Rod and Reel pier other than the awesome food? If you get window seats you can take in the Tampa Bay, maybe see some dolphins and take in the gorgeous Sunshine
Rod & Reel Pier – Anna Maria, FL
Tripadvisor Rating: 4 stars – based on 2042 reviews
Esca in Sarasota should be on the top of your list of things to do once you venture off Anna Maria Island. The Nightspots in Sarasota are all in close proximity to each other, so it would be very easy to see all the hottest spots within one night! Esca is only a 40 minute drive off Anna Maria Island.
Esca Restaurant and Bar is one of Downtown Sarasota’s main hot-spots. With nightly entertainment and a roof-top dance floor that overlooks Downtown Sarasota, a night at Esca would truly be a night to remember!
The Nightly entertainment at Esca consists of Live Music, Jazz, DJ’s, Rock, Lounge, Karaoke and more! Esca’s menu is American Cuisine moderately priced at $7-$13. Valet Parking and Self-Parking is available.
Esca Restaurant and Bar serves Brunch, Lunch and Dinner.
Brunch 10:00AM-2:30PM Sundays
Lunch 11:30AM-2:30PM Monday-Friday
Dinner 5:00-10:00PM Monday-Thursday
Bar Menu- Until 1:00AM Monday-Saturday
Weekday Happy Hour- 5:00-7:00PM
Minnie’s is a great breakfast and lunch restaurant. The diner like restaurant plays oldies music that the waitresses sometimes sing to. It is seat yourself so if you see a table free sit-on-down. There is a very large table close to the cashier which is used mostly for single diners. Minnie’s is very local as you often see lots of folks stopping and catching up with each other.
Saturday’s and Sunday’s they serve breakfast all day and normal days up until noon. They have some great lunch and breakfast specials. Be sure to bring your CASH as they do not accept credit cards. I have had lunch and breakfast there several times and Minnie’s of Holmes Beach has always satisfied my hunger and the prices are very reasonable. For breakfast they have Pancakes, eggs, breakfast sandwiches, as well as a few breakfast specials.
For lunch they have sandwiches as well as bigger meals with soup or salad. The atmosphere is fun and in a central location in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island. Stop in and tell them Island Real Estate sent ya!
Sorry no outside seating except for a few seats for a quick smoke. As mentioned cash only so keep your credit cards at home. Breakfast and lunch only.
Looking for a great place to go for an informal lunch/breakfast on Anna Maria Island even though you are covered
in sand from the beach? Rudy’s located in Anna Maria City is the perfect restaurant for you! Rudy’s of Anna Maria City offers a great selection of breakfast items such as fresh baked cinnamon rolls, veggie sandwiches and a sandwich called the “roo”. Rudy’s offers wonderful sandwiches that are on toasted sub roll with egg and either steak, mushrooms, onions and cheese or for the veggie lover egg, mushrooms, onions, tomato and cheese.
Rudy’s Philly cheese steak is a perfect lunch choice! This sandwich, if you can still call it that (more like a meal) has your choice of onions, mushrooms, marinara sauce and their famous special mouth watering homemade peppers. Prices at lunch range from $4.95 – $9.95.
Rudy’s is located in Anna Maria City just prior to Pine Avenue. It is on the West side about a block from the beach just prior to the Sandbar restaurant on Gulf Drive. Stop in and check it out.
9906 Gulf Drive
Anna Maria City, Anna Maria Island, Fl
SeaWorld is the perfect Anna Maria Orlando day trip for visitors. In addition, United Kingdom visitors typically hit Orlando for about 3-5 days then come to Anna Maria Island for a week long REAL vacation.
Sea World is just a short drive from Anna Maria Island making it a great Orlando day trip destination. If you can get the family up and ready to leave by 8:00 AM you should reach Sea World
by 9:30 AM and walking through the front gates of Sea World, Orlando by 10 AM. We like to leave a little earlier and stop at the Denny’s just across the street from Sea World for a strong breakfast to start our day. It starts us off on the right foot after the quick 1.5-hour ride to Orlando and seems to help the kids calm down since they can see the entryway to Sea World just across the street. Most parking in Orlando is NOT free and Sea World charges to park.
Sea World has a ton of stuff to do for all ages. They have an amusement park outfitted with a roller coaster that any adult would love. Tea Cups for those of you that have strong stomachs, swing rides, twirling rides, you name it. Of course, Sea World is not as large as a stand-alone amusement park but it has plenty to get you past your roller coaster “fix.” Sea World also has the classic water log ride and you can see a portion of the ride in the video shown below.
SeaWorld also has a large play area for children. Huge climbing nets will keep your children playing for hours and nearby is a water play area if they get bored of nets or other play areas.
Of course, we cannot forget the shows. The biggest show of all, “Shamu” will not disappoint. Plenty of jumps, dives, and splashes. Another great show is a dolphin show where more than 5 dolphins jump in unison all throughout the water. A high diving show lets your children watch as parrots buzz by just over your heads as well divers dressed in costumes dive into the water from about 30-40 feet above. One last show which is great for kids. The Sea Otter show is filled with blunders, clean jokes, and a few animals that perform tricks that even the toughest critic will be impressed with.
There are lots of sea life to view at Sea World. There is a great penguin exhibit where you see a great variety of penguins. There is sea life tunnel where sharks and other sea life swim throughout the tunnel overhead. The tunnel provides plenty of Oohs and aahs. After one of the shows, there is a neat spot where the floor below is made of glass and right above is a glass ceiling both outfitted with plenty of sea life. Children love to run around and chase the fish in the floor.
Be sure to bring your sunscreen, some cash, and a little patience and Sea World will offer a lifetime of family memories. For more great Orlando things to do be sure to visit our Orlando Activities pages.
The Ringling museum is a great day trip from Anna Maria Island into Sarasota. The museum is located right off Sarasota Bay just a short 30 minutes drive away. This is truly an amazing museum, and a must visit for art lovers!
John and Mable Ringling built their home and museum in 1927 and left their beautiful grounds and buildings to the State of Florida. The museum opened to the public in October of 1931. The history behind this gorgeous waterfront property is incredible, to read more please go to www.ringling.org.
The museum includes the Ringling Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, Rose Garden, Ringling Courtyard, and the Ca d’Zan Mansion.
Exhibits at The Ringling
You will fall in love with the historically significant art found here. Works from Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens fill an entire room. These pieces are huge and astonishing. Additionally many other famous names decorate the walls.
The Circus Museum is fun for everyone! Yes, this is the John Ringling of Ringling Circus. You will find interesting circus history, and fun things to see.
Ca d’Zan is the summer home of John and Mable. It’s like visiting a palace on Sarasota Bay. This mansion is one of a kind. You’ll never see anything like this luxurious home. The Ringlings held amazing balls and also loved entertaining here.
One of the galleries at the museum is for rotating exhibits. This is an excellent place to catch traveling shows.
The museum offers complimentary tours with admission of the Ringling Museum and the Circus Museum, but it is $4-5 for a tour of the Ca d’Zan mansion.
Saturdays at the Ringling Museum are family fun days with story time, exploration stations, family friendly exhibition tours and more all with paid admission.
Also located on the grounds, Banyan Café and the Treviso Restaurant are great for dining.
Open Daily from 10am to 5:30 pm
Admission is $7-20, Children under 6 are free.
Located at the end of University Parkway on beautiful Sarasota Bay, check here for directions and parking.
For more things to do on Anna Maria Island or Sarasota visit our top ten list of things to do while vacationing in paradise.