Fort Lauderdale's Spring Break: Pretty Palms and Pretty Loose
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The sun was out but the ocean was cresting with white caps and the palm trees blowing madly when I arrived in Fort Lauderdale yesterday afternoon. Poolside at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, families were sheltering from the wind and the only spring breakers I met refused to talk ("We're in the military, we'll get in trouble," they said). People were raising little yellow flags on their lounge chairs to summon drinks, and it was tempting to settle in and stay a while with a piña colada under all the pretty palms.
But I was in search of the scene, so I headed south, strolling the beach toward 17th Street and watching the kitesurfers cut their sails through the sky like exotic butterflies on speed. That's when I met three friends – Erin, Eryn and Kim – juniors at Indiana University who were all sporting Ray Ban wayfarers in varying colors and carrying green metallic Bud Light Lime bottles in their hands. They'd driven 18 hours from Indiana to Fort Lauderdale to take advantage of a free hotel stay Erin had hooked up, and it was their first spring break. "It's pretty crazy here," said Erin, a preppy art education major with pretty blonde locks. "We went to Off the Hookah last night. There was a girl working there who was shaking her booty right over guys' faces, then pouring shots into their mouths."
"I was over-stimulated," she said. "I didn't know which way to look."
The girls were keeping things pretty chill during the day and had found some good places to eat, like Sushi Rock Café on Las Olas and Dos Caminos, near the beach. The latter had great margaritas, they agreed.
A bit farther along, I spotted a group of four people with their bags and towels spread out in the sand around a wave-worn lobster trap, beers in brown bags at the ready. "It's for storing our shoes, our beer and for keeping tourists away," joked Jonathan Luszcz, a Rhode Islander, about the lobster trap. He was hanging out with a Croatian, Fijian and South African who had all linked up for Spring Break through a Facebook group.
The four were staying nearby at Martha's Crewhouse, where the cheap beds ($175 per person per week) are occupied by travelers, transients and those seeking work on Fort Lauderdale's famed yachting scene.
For Reiner Tourney, a boyishly handsome 23-year-old from George, South Africa, this was his first spring break, and the forwardness of American girls was top of mind. "American women are pretty loose, yeah?" he said, "It's not even a challenge, I want to chat up a chick, get to know her, learn her background, and they're just like wahhhhh," he says, spreading his knees open wide. "At Tap 42 that actually happened to me." Yes, said the group, that was the place to be for ladies night on Wednesdays, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Leilani Bennet, 33, from Fiji, was taking a break from communication studies at the University of Hawaii. "We have a beautiful place where I come from but you know, it's always like the grass is greener," she said.
"Here's there's the beach, downtown Las Olas," she said, referring to Fort Lauderdale's upscale retail and restaurant boulevard, "You can go to full on nightclubs or just a hole in the wall to play some pool."
I walked along AIA toward Las Olas, where at 5:30 p.m. crowds were pouring into the Elbo Room and a live band was playing a Spin Doctors cover. Sun-weathered homeless men with ratty backpacks held close took in the passing scene - gaggles of girls with Fat Tuesdays thermoses strutting past in bikinis and tongue-hanging-from-their-mouths college boys trying to make inroads.
Taylor and Stephanie, friends, from school in Boston, slurred through their tongue rings and flaunted their hot bikini bodies, booze pouring off their breath. "She's 23 so she's here to find a sugar daddy," said Taylor about her friend. "I'm from Orange County, California, and I just like how much cooler and friendlier people are here." They both erupted into a loud "woooohoooo," stumbling into each others arms and making all the boys in the immediate viewing area fantasize.
"If you're older than 26 don't even bother coming to Fort Lauderdale," said Stephanie, who told me my shorts were far too conservative for the scene.
The girls were fun but they weren't making a whole lot of sense, so I found a more coherent looking group nearby - four friends who'd made the 21-hour drive from the University of Northern Illinois. "We came for the sunshine and hot weather and naked people," said Mikey, who was on hiatus from his family consumer nutrition sciences and LGBT studies, "There are lots of hot shirtless guys."
Nearby, on the beach in front of the Drunken Taco (home of "ginormous margaritas" and over 250 types of tequila), a large group was taking down a display of flags that included the stars and stripes, the University of Western Illinois and Sigma Alpha Epsilon banners.
Drawn by their fellow frat brothers' display, a group of guys from Mississippi State University were winding down the day in a sea of beer cans in the sand, discussing whether to hit up Off the Hookah or a place they'd heard of called Cowboy's for the night's fun.
"We were in Miami but we didn't like it, it's like $45 to do anything down there," a friendly junior named Phil told me. "We went to South Beach and everyone's just kind of a jerk."
"Here's a lot more hospitable," agreed his friend, Matt, "and everyone's more our own age. Down there they were closer to 30."
"In Miami we were paying $20 to park for four hours, but we came up here, pulled into a parking lot and these kind of elderly people in their 40s or 50s just offered us their parking pass for the day," said Phil.
"Matt looked at me and was like 'I like this place so much better already,'" he said.
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