Massive crowds and extremely limited parking. If you're headed to Clearwater Beach this weekend, expect major traffic tie-ups.
It's a double whammy on the island: Easter and the Sugar Sand Festival at Pier 60. More than 100,000 people are expected to make their way over the bridge and onto the sand, and Friday it already started causing big backups.
"Traffic is a mess," uttered Cathy Martinico as she looked out over the bridge. Martinico decided to skip the bridge and hop on the Clearwater Ferry.
Bumper to bumper traffic is one thing, but what's boiling driver Ricardo Melendez's blood even more: There's not a single parking space in sight. “I’m just trying to find parking. Seriously. It's Impossible."
He's been on the hunt for a spot for more than 25 minutes without any luck. "It bothers me," he muttered. "I can't even tell you how irritated I am right now.
Every trolly is packed. The trolly is offering free rides onto the island to encourage more people to ditch their cars.
A big crowd made their way onto the ferry too.
Trisha Rodriguez runs the ferry service. "We get to see the traffic every single day and how fast it builds up. It is already over an hour. It's only going to get worse," she explained.
Rodriguez learned her lesson during last year's Sugar Sand Festival. There was an hour wait to get on the boat. "It was exactly what you don't want in the service industry. We got our butts kicked but we learned our lesson," she explained.
This year, she’s added extra boats, and tripled the number of people she can bring on board. Instead of transporting 100 people an hour, the ferry can now take 300 people between downtown and the beach. "We will be operating all 3 boats back and forth and back and forth."
Clearwater Beach spokesperson Jason Beisel says they're expecting record numbers for the Sugar Sand Festival, which runs April 14-23. "This is always a big event for Clearwater Beach and each year it becomes more and more popular."
Luckily, help is on the way to alleviate traffic even more. Clearwater leaders just paved the way for the first transit center…adding several buses to take you and your gear to the beach. "It should make it easier for people to come in and out and bring more of their belongings. A lot of the complaints we get is they can't bring all their stuff on the trolley or the ferry. The bus will have storage for beach gear and luggage," Beisel added.
There’s even a route coming soon to connect tourists directly from the airport to the beach, but that’s still a year away.
In the meantime, your best bet: ditch the car or come early.
The sugar sand festival expects the biggest crowd this weekend but should be busy all 10 days. "A lot of people plan their vacations around the event," Beisel added.
The Sugar Sand festival costs $10 for adults, $6 for students age 6-17 and $8 for adults 55 and older, military members, police officers, firefighters and teachers. Children 5 and younger are free. There are also several free events around the festival including play areas, street performers, crafters, live entertainment, sand sculpting classes and speed sand demonstrations.