Hey, Tampa Bay. Spring breakers are here to vacation where we live.

The crush of travelers at Tampa’s airport can remind Floridians of all we have.
People wait to claim their luggage at Tampa International Airport on Thursday.
People wait to claim their luggage at Tampa International Airport on Thursday. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Mar. 10

Let’s say, for the sake of conversation, that your current relationship with Florida is a bit fraught. Maybe after a slate of agitated political news, you could use a reminder that most people are coming here for a clinical dose of palm trees and clear skies, not to argue. You need to remember why so many flock to our southern paradise at the first glimpse of free time.

Here’s a breezy balm, a small way to get off the internet and fall back in love with our politicized peninsula: Hop in the car. Drive across a sparkling waterway on a perfect, 75-degree March morning, past the cyclists, joggers and woman on roller skates filming herself on the causeway. Now, merge into the lane with the airplane painted on it.

That’s right. We’re going to the airport.

Passengers board the tram when they arrive at Tampa International Airport on Thursday in Tampa.
Passengers board the tram when they arrive at Tampa International Airport on Thursday in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

No, no, stay with me. Spring break is upon us, bringing a glut of travelers from around the country and world. Tampa International Airport is their rendezvous point, averaging 76,000 passengers a day right now, up from the typical 60,000. Weekends, airport officials predict, could bring 90,000 travelers through the airsides.

Now, these numbers normally make locals a little cranky as our roads, beaches and restaurants become clogged with people who don’t know the difference between grouper and tilapia. Which, valid.

But let’s be more charitable today. Why not? What do we have to lose by indulging a brief good mood? At the risk of sounding too “Love Actually” about it, let’s celebrate the glee for Tampa Bay’s spring, welcome the giddy visitors pouring in from Chicago, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Albany.

Just look. Just listen.

Go to the terminal Starbucks, where young people slump around a table like the preflight mimosas have worn off. They’re studying Google maps of Tampa streets, Google images of sandy shores.

“The trolley is right by our house. It’ll take 30 minutes from our spot to downtown Tampa …”

Listen to the languages, the Spanish, the French, the German, the Mandarin. See the Amish and Mennonites in traditional dress, destined for their communities’ annual escapes to Sarasota and Siesta Key.

Count the winter coats, the warm boots, the Crocs with socks, the sweatshirts wrapped around waists and screaming with regional embroidery. Boston. Pittsburgh. Colorado. Kansas City. See new arrivals lumbering off the train and pointing at the airport’s giant flamingo sculpture, a pink beacon of tropical life.

“Where are we going? I’m sightseeing!”

Yes, momentarily get distracted by the woman in the DeSantis 2024 T-shirt, and the man grumbling, “How many Trump hats are we going to see here?” This, everyone, is inevitable. I’m sorry.

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Quick, pivot to something pure. Keep track of children’s backpack themes: Minnie Mouse, Buzz Lightyear, Moana, unicorns, llamas, LOL Surprise Dolls, Lego, Paw Patrol. Watch them wander into gift shops, their parents managing the impossible balance between vacation and moderation.

Related: Your guide to a busy spring break week in Tampa Bay

“Come on, babe. We’re not buying any more stuff.”

See the sports teams here for warm-weather tournaments, the Marist College Red Foxes softball team in all-red sweatsuits, the Southern New Hampshire University tennis team clutching multiple neon rackets.

Passengers arrive at Tampa International Airport on Thursday.
Passengers arrive at Tampa International Airport on Thursday. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Venture down to baggage claim. Watch travelers juggle their cumbersome luggage while holding onto the fashiony straw vacation hat that seemed like a good idea. And, I’m sorry, but watch them hug. Do it! Watch them reunite with families and friends, with people they get to see for a blissful infusion of Vitamin D and serotonin on our beautiful beaches. For them, this whole thing is temporary. For us, it’s not.

So head back to your car, over the bridge, past a group of partiers in tiny bikinis drinking on a floating tiki bar, into your life, buoyed by the knowledge that, in a week, we are the ones who get to stay.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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