South Beach Spring Break 2011 is on fire- part one

This year in Florida, South Beach Spring Break is on fire as thousands of students take time off from school and descend on one of America’s most popular beaches. I was there this week and lived to tell about it. Follow along on this first part of the tale.

Flickr photo by Mumbojumbo22

Actually I was in town for a grown-up convention, Cruise Shipping Miami, one of the premiere events each year in the travel business which just happened to fall during spring break. More on that later.

The first two weeks of March traditionally bring the most action to Miami Beach in Florida, host to one of the biggest spring break celebrations in the world. This year was no exception and while crowds will dwindle as the month moves on, party people of all sizes, shapes and colors own the the streets, hotels, beaches and even parking garages.

I say spring-breakers “own the streets” but actually they own the sidewalks. The police own the streets and there are plenty of them on duty after a crazy spring break last year brought undercover cops this year.

“Tourists don’t come back after they see us taken over by brats from the mainland,” Frank Del Vecchio, an activist from the South Beach area told the Miami Herald. Locals who will be there long after spring-breakers have gone. They want the beach protected, trash controlled and behavior, specifically extreme cases of spring-break fever, addressed.

While an increased law enforcement presence seemed to eliminate most activities that would have resulted in a crime scene, pretty much everything else was allowed. Had I wished to buy any number of drugs, that would have been no problem. Drug-dealers on the streets of South Beach were operating at Jamaica-quality pestering level hawking everything from marijuana to Screaming Yellow Zombies, whatever those are.

Police searched coolers, some many times, coming up empty as beach party people learned to bury booze in the sand under a beach blanket or put it in their backpacks. Yes, just like on a cruise ship, there’s always a way to smuggle booze. I was proud of those kids, brought a little tear to my eye I must say.

Locals want it all under control but they also want money. In a struggle between “let’s keep the streets clean” and “we want money”, guess who came out on top?

Miami is set up to handle large crowds of people, this week was no exception and it was good to see a vibrant system operate at it’s peak of efficiency. Miami for spring break is near or at the top of everyone’s top-10 spring break list including where Miami Beach comes in at #2. Miami offers a lot of attractions including a world-class zoo, seaport, museum, convention center and more. Number one on most To-do-in-Miami lists is South Beach which is not far from that convention center and Lincoln Road mall, a dining and entertainment complex frequented by tourists and spring-breakers.

Flickr photo by prakash_UT

Over at the grown-up convention, suited travel professionals (well, except for this one guy from Gadling in cargo shorts being all quirky and irreverent as those Gadling people are) from all over the world also descended on Miami’s convention center for a week of what is promoted as “the world’s most important and largest annual meeting for the cruise industry”.

This was an entirely different group of people.

Top executives from major cruise lines told of a unified cruise industry promoting a safe vacation experience on one of their safe ships in safe waters that lead to safe destinations. About halfway through the first day the theme was clear: Our ships do not believe in and stay clear of pirates, earthquakes, tsunamis and the Frito Bandito.

But far from all about business, attendees seemed to make time for fun too as seen in this video of the typically-Miami party hosted by Porthole Cruise Magazine and held in a converted parking garage.

Tourism here is down too like the rest of the world. Local people I talked to were glad to have the business and happy to put up with the mess it brings. Emilio Rodriguez, a Miami cab driver, told me “In a couple weeks it will be like somebody turned off the faucet and it will be slow again…but right now? Life is good.”

Indeed, hotel rooms can be as hard to find as parking spaces. But for those that stayed at a South Beach hotel, walking was the order of the day anyway leaving stumbling to be the order of the night.

Spring Break deals: Fares up overall, best deals can be found to Florida, Europe

The folks over at Bing Travel have been studying up on 2011 Spring Break airfare, and we hate to break it to you, but they’ve found that the average airfare cost is up more than 10 percent over last year, to $489. But the airfare increase doesn’t have to stop the beach party. If you choose wisely, there are still plenty of Spring Break deals to be had.

Bing’s Spring Break Travel Forecast says that lower fares on flights to Florida (particularly Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa) can still be found. The average fare for Boston to Jacksonville is $233, and you can fly from San Francisco to Tampa for $300.

And while many overseas airfares have risen since last year, average airfares from several U.S. cities to Paris, Amsterdam and Rome have dropped as much as 13 percent over Spring Break season fares in 2010.

If you are just settling into spring break planning mode, here are some tips from Bing on finding the best spring break deals:

  • Be Flexible. Now we would never suggest skipping a day of classes, but, ahem, you will do better on airfare if you’re not trying to travel on weekend days like your Spring Break brethren. Monday to Monday or Tuesday to Tuesday fares will almost always be better. And if a school schedule isn’t determining when you vacation this spring, you will likely save money by going at the beginning of March or April rather than the middle of either month.
  • Use Online Tools. You can monitor your airfares and get notices when they drop on a certain route from a number of different online services. Bing’s Price Predictor shows you whether airfares on your chosen route and dates are rising or falling, to help you decide when to buy.
  • Be Aware of Hidden Fees. Be sure you know what you will be charged for checked baggage, overweight luggage, aisle or exit row seats before you hit the airport.

Bing is giving away five $100 travel stipends for 2011 spring break travel on Twitter. To enter, tweet @fareologist with where you’d like to go for spring break. Check out the contest’s official rules before entering.

[Image credit: Flickr user Dawn Huczek]