Annamaria Dacosta of Middletown came straight to the beach with her two children in tow as soon as she got off her shift at 7 a.m.
“It feels awesome. Actually, I can breathe,” said the nurse.
“It was packed. I was surprised to see it,” said Costa Nasiakos of Suffield, who brought his father and son to go fishing at the park.
The nearby town beach in Cini Park was the same.
“Definitely more crowded. We actually came on Friday of this weekend because we didn’t want there to be a lot of crowds,” said East Lyme resident Allison Pearsall.
Tiago Paula Santos brought his five children to East beach at Rocky Neck State Park once a week for the past month. He said Friday was the busiest he’s seen it this season.
“It’s a huge difference. Usually on the days we’ve been coming here there’s five to six families and today I got here before 10:30 and it was crowded,” he explained.
In fact, the beach was closed when it met its new more limited capacity by lunchtime. Although Dacosta, who spends her summers there, said the crowds were light for the kickoff to the long holiday weekend. She said it’s usually elbow to elbow.
“You can’t move, you can barely walk. So, this is a big difference,” she said.
“We kept at least six feet away from everybody. Everybody’s respectful of everybody’s space,” said Santos.
“From what I see, people are following the guidelines,” Dacosta added.
One of those guidelines caught visitors by surprise.
“I was actually expecting for the bathrooms to be open,” said Santos.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said the bathrooms can’t be sanitized frequently enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While all buildings remain closed, port-o-potties were still available.
It may make for a shorter trip to the beach for some families, like the Pearsalls, who chose the nearby town beach in Cini Park Friday, but often visit Rocky Neck.
“We’ll just have to go home. So, it’ll be interesting. It’ll be a lot different,” said Alison Pearsall.
“I have kids so it definitely shortens my day quite a bit. If they have to go they have to go, we leave. It limits the time we have here,” added Santos.
Pandemic Keeps People Close to Home this Holiday
After staying home all spring, Friday, some people were ready to kick off summer, even if it’s not in the same way they are used to.
“Oh my gosh it feels wonderful. It feels like you’re a person again,” Alexandra Perreault of Thompson said when she stopped for ice cream after a walk on the Niantic boardwalk.
“We normally always travel. We don’t have family that lives close so we’re always traveling to go visit them,” said Pearsall.
“It’s going to be very different. Usually we all get together and hang out,” said Nasiakos, who added that he’s planning a socially-distanced barbecue with his brother.
With parades and tributes canceled, local businesses aren’t expecting the usual crowds.
“I think that’s going to be the hard part,” said the owner of Gumdrops and Lollipops, Melinda Graus.
She added that the weather may play a bigger part than the pandemic this weekend. She doesn’t expect to sell a lot of ice cream on Saturday when it’s supposed to be rainy and cool.
“I think business will be down substantially. I’m hoping not but it’s because of the weather,” she noted.
Jordan Kovacs, a server down the road at Dad’s Restaurant says it won’t be business as usual for them either due to limited capacity and social distancing rules.
“Normally on Memorial Day weekend we usually pack the restaurant and have tons of takeout but now we only have seven tables on our one side and only two on this side where we normally have 10 or 11,” she pointed out.
Camping is also out this Memorial Day Weekend. State officials are planning on reopening campsites June 12.
"I feel like everything’s going to be different this summer," said Perreault.