Post-secondary students don’t seem to be planning staycations for spring break. Bookings to popular beach destinations are strong, according to travel companies, and volunteering vacations continue to gain momentum. Here’s how students will be spending their break:
Cancun and Jamaica are top destinations for spring breakers, according to Patrick Evans of STA Travel. Some 30,000 revellers are expected to visit the beach spot in Mexico this year. The same number came to Cancun last year, according to Quintana Roo’s Tourism Office.
Also popular is Acapulco, Mexico, according to Chute. Acapulco has some of the hottest night clubs, and many are open all night, he said.
Scott Schechter, 22, a Boston University senior, said he was looking for that big-party atmosphere. “Generally, when I think of spring break, most of the nice spring break locations that aren’t trans-Atlantic would be in Mexico,” he said. “The idea of travelling outside the country makes it a little more exciting.”
Perhaps because of the economy, more students are choosing the Party Bus this year, said Evans. The bus departs from locations in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, to Mazatlan, Mexico. Prices for the seven-night trip (two nights on the bus), start at $300 US per person on www.StudentCity.com.
Besides Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos are the most popular international destinations for people booking through Travelocity, according to Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor. But she said both have slipped in overall popularity from last year, which suggests people are vacationing closer to home.
Panama City Beach, Fla., remains a top destination for the college crowd, according to Chute. Once again the beach hosts mtvU’s Spring Break party March 8-21. The beach’s north Florida location makes it accessible for road trips, he said.
Hotel bookings are strong, according to Dan Rowe, president and CEO of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. But he said it’s too early to determine if the economy has had a negative impact, so Panama City Beach is doing some aggressive marketing.
“In addition to college students, the month of April, we’re really gearing out activities and marketing to families,” he said.
The top three spring break destinations based on Travelocity bookings are Las Vegas, Orlando and South Florida. Las Vegas was No. 3 last year. Also making the top 10 this year was Washington, D.C. Travelocity does not separate bookings by families and students. In Vegas, average daily hotel rates are down 28 per cent, said Travelocity’s Brown. “So that combined with the fact that there are deals galore, free nights, two-for-one show tickets, Las Vegas is going to be more popular this year than last,” she said.
Also popular this year are South Beach in Miami and South Padre Island, Texas, according to Gibb.
Alternative spring break
It’s been more than three years since Katrina, but spring break volunteering is growing exponentially, according to Andrea Hutchinson, of Adventures in Travel Expo.
“We’re farther away from Katrina, but President Obama was just elected,” said Steven Roy Goodman, educational consultant. “There has been a real resurgence of a spirit of service.”
Intrepid Travel in Canada has set up almost 40 trips that are 100 per cent carbon offset, and volunteering trips have gained sales momentum in the past year, according to Christian Wolters, marketing manager.
The great thing about alternative spring breaks is students can solicit donations, said Goodman.
Anna Rice, 19, a sophomore at Northeastern, hit up friends and family members to help with the cost of her trip to New Orleans. She is going to be rebuilding an animal shelter.
“I didn’t have a lot of money and I wanted to go away for spring break,” she said. “It should be fun to do community service and I like animals.”
Jimmy Camacho, 26, a senior at San Diego State, will be working in Honduras to bring clean water access to a village. This is his second volunteer trip there.
About 40 students are going, and many of them are interested in the Peace Corps, he said.
“I think this program was attractive in that it’s only a week and not a two-year commitment,” he said. “It gives you work experience while allowing you to experience a new country and make a lot of new friends.”
Evans said Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are also drawing interest for volunteer opportunities.
Cruise lines in general do not market to college students, according to Heidi Allison-Shane, spokesperson for CruiseCompete.com. But that doesn’t stop college kids from setting sail. Chute said cruises to the Bahamas are popular this year. Spring breakers drive to Fort Lauderdale and take a Discovery cruise ship to Freeport, where they spend four nights.
Cameron Pittman, 21, a senior at Vanderbilt, said it’s tradition for the seniors in his fraternity to take a cruise.
About 25 of them are going to the Caribbean with Norwegian Cruise Line, departing from New Orleans. Other groups on campus are taking the same seven-day cruise, he said. Pittman has gone to Panama City Beach and Destin, Fla., for previous spring breaks, which he said were “kind of boring.” There’s more to do on a cruise, he said.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “Everybody can’t wait. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Saving on Caribbean vacations
Caribbean Travel and Life magazine’s March issue offers tips on how to save money on vacations in the islands:
• The region’s low-season begins in mid-April, when room rates start to sink. The lower prices last all the way to mid-December.
• Packages that include airfare, hotel and transfers can save a bundle, and an all-inclusive resort might be the right choice for those who would otherwise spend a lot on food and drinks.
• Signing up for email alerts from American Airlines, Air Jamaica and other carriers can alert people on airfare sales. Deals are often posted on Tuesdays, so make sure to check then to see what’s available.
• Consider coupons and other added value when figuring out your best bets. Sometimes hotels will give credits toward dining, spas and activities that make the nightly room rate a much better deal.
• Taking a room with a garden view rather than an ocean view can also cut your bill substantially.
• Other ways to save include staying in newly opened hotels, which often have introductory rates, and getting a group together and splitting the cost of a villa.