The month of October hasn’t been kind to Mardja Gray’s business in recent years.
Gray, owner of Goodbread House, a bed and breakfast inn in downtown St. Marys, said tropical storms and hurricanes have led to bad Octobers the past four or five years, but not this year. More than 70 percent of her guests driving business plan visits to Cumberland Island National Seashore during their stay.
“This has been a fairly decent month,” she said. “Cumberland Island has alway been a strong part of my market.”
Gray said her business closed for two months, from mid March until mid May, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business was slow when she reopened until the National Park Service began allowing visitors to Cumberland Island, with restrictions.
The ferry transporting visitors to the island is limited to two-thirds capacity to enable people to social distance. And everyone is required to wear masks during the 45-minute ride to the island.
The limited capacity on the ferry means it’s often booked, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. When customers call for a reservation to Gray’s business, her first question is whether they plan to visit Cumberland Island. If they say yes, Gray said she offers to book the ferry reservation so it’s waiting when the arrive.
Normally, the 2:15 p.m. ferry doesn’t run this late into the year, but the extra ride to the island, accessible by water only, runs on Fridays and Saturdays, at least through the end of October because of the demand.
Another restriction that has hurt business is the island is still in Phase 2 of the recovery from the pandemic. That means the popular Land & Legacies motorized tour of the island still isn’t running. Once the park service moves to Phase 3, Gray said the island tours will resume.
Gray said she has lost reservations because the island tours aren’t currently offered. She said a majority of her guests at the age where they don’t have the physical ability or the time to hike the length of the 17.5 mile barrier island to see all the attractions shown during the motorized tour.