Tourists poured into Maine for Memorial Day weekend despite a forecast that called for clouds and showers.

The traffic count at the York toll plaza Friday – the busiest day for tourists coming into Maine for Memorial Day weekend – was 55,494, down slightly from the 56,346 vehicles recorded a year ago, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Maine’s tourism industry generates more than $7 billion annually, attracting 25 million or more tourists per year, according to the Maine Office of Tourism.

Nationally, AAA Travel was projecting a 1.5 percent increase in Memorial Day travel over last year with 35.5 million people expected to make a trip of 50 miles or more during the holiday weekend, a new post-recession high.

When the sky in southern Maine finally flip-flopped from gray to blue and the sun emerged Sunday afternoon, there was a clear sense of relief among tourists and residents.

Suddenly the horrible winter, a disappointingly cool and windy spring and 36 hours of clouds and showers this Memorial Day weekend were just a distant memory. Boaters started to show up at local marinas. Parking lots at state parks filled up with out-of-state license plates. Lines started to form at the rides in amusement parks.

“We need summer,” said Kim Galanif of South Portland.

Galanif and her husband, Ken, were readying their 37-foot boat, the Reel Tradition, docked at Spring Point Marina in South Portland, for its first trip of the season to Cow’s Island. They loaded aboard the two kayaks they had been dreaming of using since last Christmas.

“It’s an adventure,” Kim Galanif said.

The Galanifs were among those heading outdoors to celebrate the unofficial kickoff to summer.

Some southern Maine hotels and restaurants reported a strong showing from out-of-state visitors despite the iffy weather forecast.

Boaters said this was a particularly terrible spring to be out on the high seas. Jamie Conway, captain of the 57-foot Reel Action, said he was weeks late making the annual trip up from Palm Beach, Florida, where the Reel Action spends the winter.

Usually the trip takes five or six days, but bad weather prolonged the trip this spring.

“This year we started on April 6 and didn’t make it here until May 15,” Conway said, awaiting the arrival of the Reel Action’s owner for a trip out to the mouth of Portland Harbor.

At the Lobster Shack at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth, where license plates from 17 different states and Canadian provinces were spotted, Sajay Suresh, Yogesh Kauntia and Neeraj Rai, all from Hartford, Connecticut, sat at a picnic table with an oceanfront view awaiting their second Maine lobster spread of the weekend.

The three, who arrived eight months ago from India to work in the insurance industry in Hartford, said Maine was high on their list of places to visit. They said Maine was living up to its reputation as Vacationland.

“Absolutely with a capital A,” Rai said.

Tourist businesses along Maine’s southern coast said the weekend was turning out to be a success, compared to last year.

“We were rained out” then, said Amy Wheeler, general manager at York’s Wild Kingdom.

She said this year on opening day – the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend – people were lining up in the afternoon. She expected a couple of thousand visitors a day during this holiday weekend.

All 73 rooms at the Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit were sold out this weekend.

“We are lucky,” owner Sarah Diment said.

Diment said people return to the inn for Memorial Day every year, many booking a year in advance.

“A lot of people have heavy spring fever and we are booking solidly for the season,” Diment said.

Monday’s forecast for the Portland area calls for mostly cloudy skies with a chance of showers and a high near 77, according to the National Weather Service.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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