MIAMI BEACH, FL — They sprinted. They skipped. They oohed and aahed. Some even made a splash as Miami's famed South Beach sprang back to life Wednesday after being shut down since March to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
"We want to greet the customer. We want to welcome them back to Miami Beach and we want to remind them that they have to have their PPE equipment on — which is their face mask," said one of the safe distancing ambassadors, who was positioned along the Fifth Street beach entrance just off iconic Ocean Drive. The area is known for its art deco hotels and many outdoor cafes.
Ashley Castille was so excited she snuck out of her hotel room still wearing her pajamas as her husband, Jeremy, and five kids lay asleep at the Marseilles Hotel.
"Honestly, we just came here from Arizona," she told Patch. "I have always wanted to come here, and literally just woke up and came out to see if the beaches were open. I am so excited. It is so beautiful here."
While the pandemic has discouraged many people from traveling, Castille said it also made her once-in-a-lifetime trip a bit more affordable for her family, which includes four teenagers and an 8-year-old.
"We got plane tickets for just over $1,000 round trip for all of us," she said. "We jumped on it even with all this stuff going on."
The extended beach closure has given nature a chance to reset itself around the Miami area, with a number of people reporting more contacts with wildlife and cleaner beaches.
A news helicopter spotted four sharks swimming close to South Beach on Wednesday.
That didn't deter hospitality worker John Beltre from getting back on his skim board as the shallow waves foamed up the South Beach shoreline.
"It's been so many months that we haven't been at the beach. This is home," Beltre told Patch. "It actually helps us feel better inside."
James Donner moved to the Miami area from Racine, Wisconsin the day before the beaches were shut down. He couldn't resist seeing them reopen.
"It's like historic. I don't think they've ever had the beach closed this long," said Donner, a physical therapist. "I was actually up enjoying the sunrise and put the news on, and they were like, the beach is opening at 7 a.m. I got a coffee and shot down. I figured I'd catch it before it got crazy."
He understands why Florida had to take the unusual step of closing its beaches.
"It's been a beautiful thing to just kind of watch everybody just kind of come together and everything slowly and gradually open its way back up," Donner said. "I'll probably take a seat for a while, and just kind of take it all in, and enjoy."
Miami Beach hair stylist Cris Reynaga stretched out an orange towel and couldn't wait to stick her toes in the sand.
"It's my birthday. This is a perfect way to celebrate," shared Renaga, who missed her daily visits to the beach before work. "For me, it's more of a meditation early in the morning."
Jessica, a consultant for a Dallas-based company, was taking a photo of a miniature cutout of a man nearby.
"It's for work. We're all working remotely so they sent our CEO to us," she confided. "I generally don't take pictures of my CEO on the beach. I prefer to walk. Sometimes I'll sit down and catch some sun and get a tan, but mostly I walk."
Jose Luis, a therapeutic magnet salesman who lives on Miami Beach said he didn't even know the beaches were reopening Wednesday until he got there. "I ended up taking a dip in the ocean," he said. "This is like a reset."
Miami Beach residents Dennis Taras and his girlfriend, Katarina, finished a 7-mile run before making their way to the beach for a dip.
"We're so excited. This is the first day," he said "It's so amazing — such beautiful weather and such beautiful water today."
Ydette Estrada lives close to the beach, which made it that much more satisfying to be able to resume her morning run in the white sand.
"I definitely did want to be one of the first people and I wanted to be on the sand to see the sunrise," Estrada said. "I missed coming out on the sand — the fresh air and being next to the ocean."