Spring Break 2011: Where to Go and Where to Avoid

Spring Break 2011

It's simple math: warm climate + cheap hotels = an optimum spring break location. And every March and April, beach towns around the U.S., Caribbean and Mexico that fit the equation are flooded with students looking to let off some steam. If an alcohol-fueled fest isn't your idea of fun, here's where to go -- and where to avoid.

Go: Negril, Jamaica
Less frenetic than its Montego Bay sister, Negril's West End is known for its chill, but fun environment. You can let (relatively) loose at all-inclusives like Breezes or Couples -- the Red Stripe and rum punch flow freely, but over intoxication is frowned upon. Or choose to kick back at a low-key resort like the Rockhouse Hotel, where the reggae is on rotation and the days are unplanned. Either way, there are different degrees of fun to be had, but all still deliver a healthy dose of island flavor.

Avoid: Nassau, Bahamas
The legal age for drinking and gambling is 18 on this island, inspiring reckless behavior for virgin Texas Hold'em players, who may find success with Lady Luck and find themselves flashing newfound cash. Crime rates have risen to record highs in the last few years, with more incidents against tourists than ever before. Increased complaints of muggings have been filed with Bahamian police and the government tourism board has acknowledged the problems. In November of 2009, 29 cruise ship passengers were robbed while on the island, creating an even greater need to exercise caution, even in paradise.

Go: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
This East Coast city was dubbed "Fort Liquordale" until 1985, when the mayor went on ABC's Good Morning America and told college students they were no longer welcome to come tear up the town. Now many areas of Fort Lauderdale draw an upscale crowd due to new hotels like the W Fort Lauderdale, trendy restaurants like Johnny V, and first-rate shopping on Las Olas Boulevard. And while there are still beach-bum spots along the ocean, the vibe has definitely changed for the better.

Avoid: Daytona Beach, Florida
When Fort Lauderdale officials put the kibosh on the decades-long, out-of-control Spring Break scene, the party moved four hours north to Daytona. The city quickly became a hit and has since been a constant newsmaker and cautionary tale, especially last year when six rapes were reported in one week. Plus, there are hotels that advertise rooms for "triples" and "quads," obviously courting a crowd uninterested in decent digs. And anywhere Girls Gone Wild producers like to hang out, we'd suggest bypassing.

Go: Riviera Maya, Mexico
Less than an hour south from Cancun, this newly developed area is beachy keen without trying too hard to compete with its party-hearty neighbor. Great for families and couples on vacation, there are plenty of resorts, both all-inclusive (Azul Sensatori) and a la carte (Fairmont Mayakoba) as well as smaller hotels like the affordable Deseo.

Avoid: Cancun, Mexico
Despite the government push to rid the city of its Spring Break image, accidents aplenty occur in this sunny spot, lending to its continuous bad rep. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, which is said to be rarely enforced. No doubt the relaxed rules have led to judgment laps in otherwise trustworthy teens. Cheap tequila is plentiful at debauchery encouraging establishments, which has led to violence. Last year, a 21-year old from New Jersey was beaten into a coma and found by a security guard near his hotel's pool.

Go: Maui, Hawaii
More laid back than Oahu's Waikiki Beach, Maui is an island that attracts a gentler group of travelers, especially in the coastal Kapalua and Lahaina areas. Here people are interested in authentic luaus and restaurants that serve innovative dishes with ingredients from local farms. Whale watching excursions are especially fun this time of year, and those intent on getting their first surf lesson have a wealth of areas to choose from including super laid-back Paia town. The granola crowd will feel at home as will young couples and easy-going families.

Avoid: Las Vegas, Nevada
MTV is celebrating 25 seasons of its Real World reality series by returning to Las Vegas for another show, this time at the Hard Rock Hotel. Coincidentally, the network will also host a 2011 Spring Break event at the Palms. If the televised antics are any measure, where teeny-bikini clad girls and obviously intoxicated gents gyrate on stages, imagine what goes on behind the camera. Those who are old enough to remember the first Real World in 1992 may want to stay away.

Go: Charleston, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach has long commanded (un)wanted attention from the Spring Break crowd, but the intrepid traveler should head to Charleston for a slice of Southern comfort. The pace here is decidedly slower, hijinks aren't tolerated, and the focus is generally on good food and fun. And quiet beaches are just 15 minutes from the historic city. Though the Atlantic Ocean might be too chilly for swimming this time of year, you can still spend the days walking the strands, collecting sand dollars, bike riding, and hanging out in peace. That's what we call a Spring Break.

Avoid: South Padre Island, Texas
Though relatively calm during other parts of the year, Spring Break seems to dramatically change SPI's mood. The city has issued repeat warnings to college students about the dangers of binge drinking (a study published by the Journal of American College Health reported that during spring break, the average male reported drinking 18 drinks per day and the average woman consumed 10). In 2010, a local resident flagged down police when a young drunk man entered her house while her two children were still sleeping in their beds. Another issue is the proximity to the drug-plagued Mexican border towns like Matamoros. A U.S. State Department warning discourages travel to those areas, which have been in the news for gang related violence, which has affected innocent bystanders.

Photo: eviemaedavid, Flickr

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