You could say that the modern day week long Spring Break dates back to the 1960s with the release of the classic road trip film “Where the Boys Are” which tells the story of four very different college girls who drive to Fort Lauderdale in Florida looking for boys, fun, sun and romance.
During the hippy period of the late 60s and early 70s, alcohol and free love took its toll and some beach communities tried to deter spring breakers.
A number of Florida towns make the top 10 most popular Spring Break destinations including Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers and Tampa
A lot of students who had previously visited Fort Lauderdale, moved up the coast to Daytona Beach which was easier to get to, cheaper and more lax in their rules. In the late 1980s the numbers visiting Fort Lauderdale dropped dramatically from an estimated 350,000 to around 20,000. Students are fickle and destinations gain and lose popularity particularly if local laws are changed.
By the time of the 80s, Spring Break started to mature, becoming less about getting drunk and more about concerts and parties, visiting theme parks, taking part in sports and other activities like surfing, scuba diving and parasailing.
Each year more and more students are also looking at charity programmes helping people in the developing world.
In the 90s, MTV started broadcasting from all the major beach resorts bringing in big name groups like Run DMC to front their shows which in turn brought in corporate sponsorship.
Other destinations started to gain popularity, places like Panama City Beach in the Panhandle and further afield, South Padre Island in Texas with 34 miles of beaches and Palm Strings in California.
Drunken behaviour and general rowdiness is still an issue and in the USA you need to be 21 to legally drink alcohol in most states. One of the attractions of Mexico is that the legal drinking age is notionally 18 and with South Padre Island being only half an hour from the Mexican border, it is popular with the younger students.
With the advent of cheaper airfares and more affluence amongst the student population, international destinations like Cancun and Acapulco in Mexico and the Bahamas have become even more popular.
Spring Break typically lasts around 6 to 7 weeks and the start date varies each year being around 4 to 5 weeks before Easter. Most colleges have their spring breaks before Easter but a few are after.
For 2019, Spring Break runs from approximately February 16 to April 27. The Canadian colleges tend to break up first and the American colleges typically start the following week. Most Florida colleges will have their one week break between March 2 and 16 in 2019.
Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach (known as PCB) with its 27 miles of beautiful white sandy beaches was one of the most popular Spring Break destination with free shuttle buses to take you from the hotels to the nightclubs and bars.
Being further north, it is less distance to drive for most students but the weather is less predictable. Tour operators even operate buses to bring students down from the North East and Canada.
Panama City Beach has some of the world’s largest beach clubs, places like Harpoon Harry’s, Club La Vela (the largest club in the United States), Hammerhead Fred’s, Lattitudes, Sharky’s Restaurant & Beach Club and Spinnaker.
It is not over-developed, it is still reasonably priced and regulations were fairly relaxed. However after some bad incidents in 2015, laws have been tightened and alcohol is no longer allowed on the beach and clubs must stop selling alcohol by 2 a.m. This resulted in a big drop off in student numbers in 2016.
Daytona Beach is still an inexpensive choice and hence an important Spring Break destination despite the dramatic rise in popularity of Panama City Beach. The Daytona International Speedway and the Kennedy Space Center are all close by and Orlando and its many theme parks is only a day trip away.
One of Daytona’s claims to fame is the 23 miles of beach, most of which you can drive along in your car. Sitting watching the young students posing in their pickups as they cruise up and down the beach is an amusing experience. A few years ago, a mile long strip of beach in front of the historic Boardwalk was declared a vehicle-free zone but you can still drive and park on 16 miles of beach, tide permitting.
Being on the Atlantic coast, unlike the Gulf of Mexico, brings the opportunity to go surfing. Like all the Florida destinations, Daytona has its fair share of top class nightclubs including Baja Beach Club, 600 North, Razzles, Ocean Deck and Fat Tuesday.
Miami South Beach
Miami, and in particular South Beach, is an up and coming Spring Break destination with its vibrant culture and amazing nightlife and is popular with the more sophisticated party goers.
Miami is hard to beat when it comes to upmarket restaurants and nightclubs and being further south, the weather is even better.
Other Florida Destinations
Amongst the other Florida top spots is Jacksonville with its vibrant night scene, laid-back Key West, Hollywood Beach, St Pete Clearwater Beach and Naples.
Fort Lauderdale still attracts students though not in the same numbers of old.