Book fast: Jersey Shore, a close-to-home vacation spot, is selling out quickly

Are you starting to get that feeling? The weather is warming, and the sun is

Are you starting to get that feeling? The weather is warming, and the sun is showing its face as winter’s icy shackles melt away.

We’re talking about summer.

On top of the excitement that summer normally brings, this is a year in which we are (hopefully) at the tail end of a pandemic that has kept many of us cooped up at home. An outdoor beach vacation, within driving distance, could be the ticket.

“There is so much pent-up demand to get out and spend some time outdoors,” said Jeff Vasser, executive director of the New Jersey Division of Tourism and Travel.

And a beach vacation might be a good first step toward normality.

“The experts are saying the outdoors are a much safer environment,” Vasser added. “We can offer the beach, the boardwalk and a lot of open spaces.”

But be warned — if you’re planning a beach vacation in the Garden State, you better book your rentals or hotel rooms now. Lots of people have the same idea.

Not only are the summer bookings far exceeding what they were at this point last year — at the start of the coronavirus pandemic – but they are exceeding 2019.

“That’s a very promising sign since 2019 was a record-breaking year for tourism,” said Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority. “We’re very encouraged that by May, there will be vaccines readily available for everyone, and we’re expecting a robust tourism season.”

Besides Atlantic City, the beaches and destinations that make up the Wildwoods have the most accommodations on the Jersey Shore, with more than 3,000 vacation rentals and over 8,000 hotel and motel rooms. But they won’t last long.

“Outdoor vacations closer to home are a better option than getting on a plane to travel,” Rose said. “Put in your reservations in early. We’re sure there’s going to be a shortage of accommodations coming this summer.”

It’s got to be better than last year for the Jersey Shore.

Wildwoods saw a 23% decline in visitors, which wasn’t as bad as the 30% they were initially projecting. At the state level, Vasser said the final numbers for 2020 won’t be in for a few more weeks, but they were projected to be down about 25% from 2019, a year that saw 116 million visitors to New Jersey, spending more than $46 billion.

It’s hard to tell if New Jersey will spring back to that level yet, but tourism officials are hopeful.

“I do see 2021 being stronger than last year,” Vasser said. “We just need people to be responsible and safe. It can all come crashing down if we have any spikes in cases.”

Another bit of good news is that some of New Jersey’s coronavirus-restrictions are easing on Friday.

The indoor capacity for many establishments is increasing from 35% to 50%. This includes indoor restaurants, cafeterias, food courts, and bars. It also includes indoor recreational, amusement and entertainment businesses, as well as casinos, gyms, barbershops, nail salons and other personal-care businesses.

It’s a much more tourist-friendly picture than last summer when indoor dining was prohibited and Atlantic City’s casinos were shuttered through July.

Also as of Friday, New Jersey’s beaches, boardwalks, lakes and lakeshores can open, as long as social distancing can be maintained. Face coverings are required indoors and in outdoor public spaces where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Outdoor gatherings also increased Friday to a limit of 200 people.

You can find links to all of the beaches here.

While New Jersey’s beaches follow the guidelines put in place by the state, there are many beaches along the 130 miles of coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May, and every town and beach may have additional restrictions or rules.

Wildwoods, for example, requires face coverings inside all businesses and outdoors when social distancing is not possible. They followed strict sanitizing protocols at the hotels and restaurants and amusement piers.

The Wildwoods beaches are free and require no beach tags. They are wide and spacious, Rose noted, and they have 38 blocks of boardwalk, giving tourists plenty of room to socially distance.

“We follow the Department of Health and CDC guidelines very strictly,” Rose said. And as guidelines change, “We’re able make adjustments quickly here in Wildwoods and will do that.”

While 2021 is looking like it will be a better year than 2020, we’re still in a pandemic. But Rose believes New Jersey will be entering a new era of tourism by 2022.

“We’re going into a new Roaring ’20s,” he said. After the Spanish Flu and World War I, Americans in the 1920s were ready to let out their their pent-up isolation and frustrations, he said. Those days may repeat themselves in 2022, when he expects, “tourism will back to 100 percent, and people will have a renewed sense of being with family and friends and reconnecting again.”

Vasser agrees.

“We’re all looking forward to being able to be outside and to be with friends and loved ones,” he said. “The Jersey Shore is a great place to do that.”