If David Letterman were to come out with a Top Ten List of spring break destinations, it wouldn’t contain many surprises.
All the destinations that have been popular in the years since Fort Lauderdale put the kibosh on the invasion of hedonistic hordes that peaked in 1985, when 350,000 spring breakers set beer-consumption records that still stand, continue to be popular this year, for the most part.
Cancun, Punta Cana, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Panama City Beach in Florida’s Panhandle top the destination list for students hopping on the spring break bandwagon and abandoning books for beach and beer.
Operators and resorts have responded accordingly.
In Panama City Beach, activities from concerts and beach parties to free pancake breakfasts and parades lure spring breakers, many of whom arrive by car rather than air.
More than a dozen hotels and motels along the beach offer substantial discounts, listed in a special website, www.pcbeachspringbreak.com.
“We expect a strong turnout this month, and businesses are very encouraged,” said Susan Estler, vice president of marketing for the Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.
In the islands, CheapCaribbean’s “Beach for Your Buck” deals offer discounts of up to 70% and are selling fast, a spokesman said.
But spring break is not just beach bashes and bikini contests anymore. Eco-adventure tourism is on the rise across all age markets, including among students.
The Puerto Plata region along the Dominican Republic’s north coast draws kite boarders and surfers to Cabarete’s Kite Beach and hikers to El Choco National Park during spring break, according to Magaly Toribio, marketing adviser for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism.
“We’ve got eight airports in the D.R., resorts for every budget, and we’re seeing a booking increase throughout the spring break period this year over last year,” she said.
Cancun officials expect more than 45,000 spring breakers this year, up from the 25,000-plus who partied there in 2012, according to tourism officials, who last week reported citywide occupancies of better than 90%.
Up and down Mexico’s Riviera Maya, resorts geared up for the monthlong invasion, which began in late February as campuses in the U.S. emptied out.
The tourist police, army troops and federal law enforcement agents also prepared, beefing up and adding patrols along Cancun’s hotel and bar zones as part of Operation Spring Breakers 2013.
Flyers were distributed at the major spring break hotels reminding students about good manners — don’t urinate in the streets, don’t use drugs or destroy property.
“Cancun has enlarged security measures to ensure that all visitors have a fun and safe holiday,” said Jesus Almaguer, CEO of the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have increased the number of lifeguards on duty, and other safety precautions have been implemented in the hotel zone and on public beaches,.
“The only thing our guests have to worry about is choosing between a trip to the Mayan ruins, taking a spa treatment or cooling off in the sea,” he said.
Spring break bookings to Mexico are up 28% over 2012 at StudentUniverse, a Massachusetts-based discount seller of student travel.
“There was less interest in travel to Mexico last year,” said Jessica Canary, manager of online marketing. “Our data also shows a 40% jump year over year for student travel to Europe, with London, Dublin and Paris the top choices.”
Travel within the U.S. remains popular because it’s easier and no passport is required, “but the trend shows increased travel outside the U.S. during spring break,” according to Canary.
Even so, the Western ski resorts are banking on a strong spring break season, bolstered by record snowfalls this winter.
Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado targets students with free on-mountain concerts, discounted lift tickets, competitions and accommodations during its month-long Spring Fever festival, which winds up April 14.
Sequester effects probably won’t have much impact on spring break travelers. Federal employees must be notified 30 days in advance before being furloughed, so the impact of the mandatory unpaid leave would not be felt before April 1, according to the FAA.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.