The history of spring break goes back to 1936 when a swim coach from New York brought some of his swim team down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to practice at a warm pool during the winter. That proved such a good idea that the coach brought the whole team the following year. Seizing an opportunity in a post-depression economy, Fort Lauderdale quickly grew to be the original “spring break” capital of the world. Today, spring break travelers make life-long memories at destinations around the world. But the spring break options of today are an evolution of what has come before them, some of which were epic moments.
“Most of our lives, spring break has been portrayed as a fabled experience of near-utopian bacchanalia, community with fellow youth and warm sunny weather,” says CoolestSpringBreak, a website dedicated to preserving the history of fellow and future generations of spring breakers, both young and old. They ask, “… where does Spring Break, as a ritual of youth, come from?”
From the end of World War II until the 1980s, Fort Lauderdale was a notorious spring break destination in the United States for college students as was Daytona Beach, Panama City Beach and – well, you get it – warm places with beaches ruled as top spring break destinations.
Other states caught on and started promoting their destinations as spring break-friendly too, but Fort Lauderdale clearly had the lead, drawing as many as 20,000 students in the 1950s. That number grew to over 50,000 annual trekkers coming to Florida in the ’60s but then came the ’70s and along with them a very different scene.
Gone were the wholesome times associated with spring break-defining films like “Where The Boys Are” starring teen idol Connie Francis and the clean-cut songs of the Beach Boys.
Alcohol, a spring break staple, was mixed with drugs, which played a larger role in the festivities. The moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars to bring the hippie “free love” movement. Add college students, on a beach, with little supervision and the cocktail for epic spring break experiences had been mixed.Because of the shenanigans of the ’70s, the ’80s grew spring breaker numbers in Florida to over 350,000, overwhelming city services, taking all available hotel rooms, leaving many in shambles after occupancy and quickly becoming a difficult situation to deal with – but not for long.
The 1990s saw spring break go international in spite of nearly half a million spring breakers coming to Florida as high school students joined the fun. Young professionals began scheduling vacation time during spring break to re-live their college days before turning the ripe old age of 30.
As U.S. destinations tightened up enforcement of alcohol laws, spring break drinkers looked to Mexico, where the legal drinking age is “old enough to see over the bar” and “anything goes” is pretty much a way of life. Already a popular option with budget-minded travelers, Mexico’s all-inclusive resorts offered hotel rooms that held up to four people, included meals and hours of free cocktails throughout the day. Never mind the drug wars, Mexico is perfect for the spring breaker mentality.
Still today, spring break rules the beaches and ski slopes for a period of time each year as a new generation of spring breaker comes forth to create their own epic memories. Google “top spring break destination” today and results vary depending on who is rating them but thousands of hits indicate a whole lot of people are.
Throughout most of the last century, spring breakers did not have anything close to that search ability and relied on newspaper accounts and TV news reports, mostly when something bad happened, for information on where to go and what to do there by reading between the lines. “Students Arrested For Disorderly Contact,” a story might read then go on to say, “25 students were arrested in Florida when things got out of hand.”
Looking for a party place for spring break, the old school researcher needn’t read further in that story than “200,000 students converged on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale to celebrate spring break…” to know this was the place to go. Twenty-five arrested out of 200,000? Pretty good odds for a stage set for epic spring break adventures.
Last week, when Gadling was in town for Seatrade Miami, the SXSW of cruise travel, Victoria’s Secret models Sara Sampaio and Elsa Hosk were hosts for the Ultimate Spring Break Dance Party 2013 with DJ Irie and DJ Cassidy at the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach. Here is video of that event: