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How Margaritaville is faring one year into business at Lanier Islands
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Patrons enjoy the beach and lake at Margaritaville at Lanier Islands on Thursday, May 23, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Lanier Islands will never be the same thanks to Safe Harbor Development LLC’s Jimmy Buffett-overhaul.

The hundreds of thousands of people who have wasted away in Margaritaville at Lanier Islands over the past year are more than OK with the changes.  

Almost everything at the island’s 1,600-acre entertainment complex has received either an upgrade or complete reconstruction, including Paradise Beach & Water Park, LandShark Landing and Margaritaville’s two marinas.

Safe Harbor, owned by Darby Campbell, has a long-term lease with the Lake Lanier Islands Management Co. and is licensed by Margaritaville.

John Lush, Safe Harbor’s chief operations officer, doesn’t see an end goal with the improvements. Almost every month, something new pops up at the property.

Lush believes that “winners never cross the finish line.” He compares this philosophy to people who run a marathon for the first time. Once they complete it, he said they feel as though they never want to do it again. However, after taking a breather, they motivate themselves to not only run another marathon, but beat their time.

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People make their way around Margaritaville at Lanier Islands on Thursday, May 23, 2019. This will be the second year the complex has been open. - photo by Austin Steele

“Our belief is that you have to keep things fresh,” Lush said. “We’re going to continue to improve and uplift our facilities, services and the quality of the environment.”

Last year from May through September, he said around 350,000 people visited Margaritaville. This summer, Lush expects 400,000, based off of purchased season passes and upcoming events.

Going into this summer, Lush and his team were worried about increasing attendance and sales from last year. They thought last year’s influx might have resulted from curiosity in the new improvements. Doubts were lifted once the months warmed up.

“We’re up about $200,000 in season passes, and we’re really excited about that,” Lush said.

Margaritaville also took on an extra 100 staff members, growing the team to around 500. The average seasonal hires range from high school upperclassmen to college-aged students.

Lush said a large number of those workers returned for the summer, which offers a testament to the fun work culture of Margaritaville.

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People make their way around Margaritaville at Lanier Islands on Thursday, May 23, 2019. This will be the second year the complex has been open. - photo by Austin Steele
Always thinking fresh

Over the past year, Safe Harbor has listened to people’s concerns and criticism, and reacted accordingly. Lush conducts meetings with the team leaders at Margaritaville every week to discuss improvements and suggestions attendees make.

As a result LandShark Landing has added on shrimp boils every Saturday, pop-up grill tents and additional food options to help with the wait time at LandShark Bar & Grill. The location also doubled its legs of docks to six, which Lush said “created a user-friendly environment.”

Four weeks ago Margaritaville opened its Margaritaville RV Resort, which currently contains 48 sites. Lush said it will accommodate another 80 by the end of July.

Amenities provided at the RV resort include 22-by-50-foot concrete pads, electrical outlets, Wi-Fi, cable TV access and a laundry room-fitted bathhouse.

If there’s one thing Lush has learned from RV people, it’s that, “they love their dogs.”

In the near future, he plans to provide a spa and daycare for dogs who stay at Margaritaville.

Last year, Lush said Safe Harbor invested around $11 million into the resort. This year, another $9 million will be added to the mix.

“We brought on a few investors, which will help us continue to build and grow the island,” Lush said.

The most immediate addition to Margaritaville involves Aquatic Adventure, which will arrive in around a week.

Lush describes it as a large blue and white tower with a swing, which kids can use to jump into the lake. Aquatic Adventure will connect to Wibit, the floating obstacle course.

By mid-summer people can expect to see a revamped Parrot Mountain. The steep hill will soon have a giant slide.

Instead of having to walk up to Parrot Mountain, Raging River or the parking lot, people will soon cruise up on a moving sidewalk.

When people visit Margaritaville this year, they might notice that something seems a tad more vibrant.

Lush said his team always seeks out subtle enhancements like repainting the white slides in blue, installing a new Tiki Bar sign and adding more menu items to Margaritaville’s restaurants.

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Landshark Bar and Grill is open at Margaritaville at Lanier Islands on Thursday, May 23, 2019. This will be the second year the complex has been open. - photo by Austin Steele
Battling mother nature

Margaritaville’s staff can’t control every aspect of the entertainment complex.

For some Lake Lanier reaching full capacity is a blessing, not so much for Margaritaville.

“What that was doing was creating havoc,” Lush said. “We moved the power up at our gas docks and for LandShark we had to move the dock entrance up to the walkway.”

With these changes, he said Margaritaville is now a safer environment and prepared for another overflow.

Another challenge poured down in December 2018.

Lush said Safe Harbor spent $3 million on a snow ride for Margaritaville’s License to Chill Snow Island. It rained 10 of the first 11 weekends the attraction opened.

Despite the battles with the weather, Lush likes to think on the bright side.

“We have the opposite problem now,” he said. “Right now we’re fighting the dry and ordering more sprinklers, which I’ll take over rain any day.”

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Patrons enjoy the beach and lake at Margaritaville at Lanier Islands on Thursday, May 23, 2019. This will be the second year the complex has been open. - photo by Austin Steele
Not the typical unfriendly giant company

Lush said he hopes that people notice how Margaritaville continues to spread its roots into the surrounding communities.

Nicole van Leeuwen, Margaritaville’s marketing manager, said every Friday first responders receive discounts on admission and teachers get the same deal on Tuesdays.

The reduced costs also applies to those who bring in five cans on Mondays, which are donated to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and people who purchase an item off of Northeast Georgia Humane Society’s wishlist on Wednesdays.

“We’re proud to be a branded Margaritaville, but we’re equally proud to be a part of the community,” Lush said.

Looking to launch a festival series on the island, Margaritaville tested the waters by hosting the Atlanta Music and Arts Festival, which began Saturday and ends today.

Lush said people can expect a couple of other events during the summer.

To create a family-friendly environment, Margaritaville has increased its security on the island, started to revamp its mini golf course and is in the works of making a ride that will fit four or more people.

“We believe in being a family destination, and we feel like we’re a rooted part of Georgia,” Lush said. “Our goal is to have a safe, fun and friendly environment at all times.”

For more information about Margaritaville at Lanier Islands visit lanierislands.com/margaritaville. The entertainment complex is located at 7650 Lanier Islands Parkway in Buford.
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Children run into the lake to play at Margaritaville at Lanier Islands on Thursday, May 23, 2019. This will be the second year the complex has been open. - photo by Austin Steele
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