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Get ready for a crowded spring break: Every Tampa Bay public school and USF have off

For one week in mid-March, more than half a million students and staff will be off at the same time. And that’s on top of a recent surge in tourism.
Spring break was busy in 2021, as seen along Clearwater Beach in March of last year. Expect it to be even harder to find a spot in the sand when all of Tampa Bay's school systems and USF have the same spring break March 14-18.
Spring break was busy in 2021, as seen along Clearwater Beach in March of last year. Expect it to be even harder to find a spot in the sand when all of Tampa Bay's school systems and USF have the same spring break March 14-18. [ CHRIS URSO | Times (2021) ]
Published Mar. 7|Updated Mar. 8

Brace yourself. Starting Saturday, March 12, through the following Sunday, March 20, the public school systems of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties — plus the University of South Florida — all have the same week off for spring break.

If you do the math, that puts some 570,000 students out into the world with time on their hands, not to mention all the teachers and staff who will also have the week off.

“We had already been super busy on the beach with the weather getting nice lately. We are definitely going to see the volume go up for spring break,” said Maggie LeBlanc, owner of the Coconut Inn on Pass-a-Grille and an ambassador of sorts for the beach at visitpassagrille.com. She advises using Uber or public transportation to get to the beach, since parking is at a premium.

In March of 2020, Tampa International Airport had a "dismally low" numbers of passengers. But TIA estimates this year's spring break traffic could break pre-pandemic records.
In March of 2020, Tampa International Airport had a "dismally low" numbers of passengers. But TIA estimates this year's spring break traffic could break pre-pandemic records. [ CHRIS URSO | Times (2020)  ]

LeBlanc said the past 12 months have been her busiest ever, even surpassing pre-pandemic years.

“There is all this pent-up demand, and people don’t want to get on a plane, so they are looking for local places,” LeBlanc said. “And just this week I have Canadians checking in for the first time in a long time.”

Ferdian Jap, co-owner of Zukku Sushi at Tampa’s Armature Works, said he was already bracing for March to be a busy month with tourism numbers increasing each week. Having that many locals on spring break at the same time will likely result in a visible surge, he said.

“I think it’s going to be crazy,” Jap said. “It’s going to be packed, and people are going to find that it’s all day. There will be no break. No slow time.”

All that local spring break traffic will come on top of what is already turning out to be a strong tourism season.

Over the past several days, Tampa International Airport said, it has seen passenger counts that exceed the same record-breaking dates in 2019, some by as much as 29 percent. Its estimates of passenger counts are both arrivals and departures, but even when you cut the number in half to get an idea of just people who are coming to this area, more than 39,000 people per day are expected to arrive during spring break, the Tampa airport estimates.

“The 2022 spring break period, which runs through April 26, will see peak days that reach nearly 88,000 passengers and many that will exceed 80,000 — a very strong comparison to 2019 spring break, which beat all prior airport records,” Tampa International said in a news announcement last week.

In comparison, according to the airport, last year’s spring break saw about 65,000 passengers per day during peak times, and in 2020, the numbers were “dismally low” in March and April. Some days that spring there were as few as 1,500 passengers moving through the airport.

The marked rise in passengers over the past few weeks reflects the rapidly returning demand for travel combined with many countries loosening restrictions surrounding COVID-19, according to the airport.

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March through May is Tampa Bay’s peak tourist season, said Visit Tampa Bay spokesperson Patrick Harrison.

“We expect March to be a very successful month, potentially the best ever month in Hillsborough County hotel revenue history.”

Spring break by the numbers

The week of March 14-18 is spring break for every Tampa Bay area public school system and the University of South Florida. Here’s how many students and travelers are expected to be on break that week.

Pinellas County students: 104,000

Hillsborough: 223,305

Pasco: 75,000

Hernando: 24,000

Manatee: 50,000

Sarasota: 43,485

USF: 49,591

STUDENT TOTAL: 569,381

Airport arrivals: Tampa International Airport expects an average of 39,570 passengers per day to arrive starting the weekend of March 11.

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