Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
The end of winter is almost on the horizon and it is that time of year once again when college students across the country are making the pilgrimage to Spring Break hot spots throughout the world. In the weeks building up to this time, gyms are packed with guys and girls trying to get rid of all the damage they did to their bodies over Christmas Vacation. Electric bills rise from the continuously running tanning beds, beer distributors prepare for a boost in sales, and pharmacies are fully prepared with stocked shelves of antibiotics.
It may seem to some people that the annual tradition was started by MTV in the ’80s. During this time, many youngsters were watching the televised parties and concerts occurring in Florida, dreaming of attending the mayhem once they got to college. MTV’s coverage makes it seem like they are responsible for the influx of people going to the Sunshine State during the first few weeks of March. However, most of our grandparents were doing the same when they were in college.
In the early 20th Century, people started to go down to Florida during Spring Break just to get an escape from the cold. The tradition continued until 1935, when the swimming team at Colgate University traveled down to Fort Lauderdale to train in a newly built pool. Word quickly spread across college campuses about how great a city Fort Lauderdale was for Northerners to visit. After World War II, when the amount of people attending college skyrocketed, it became an official Spring Break destination spot. This was the birth of “Fort Liquordale.”
An entrepreneurial guru named George Warren “Bob” Gill Jr. saw what was going on and accommodated the increase in demand for hotels in the surrounding area. He erected several hotels friendly to the young atmosphere and soon became known as the “Father of Fort Lauderdale Spring Break.”
The popularity of Fort Lauderdale was further escalated in 1960 with the release of the film Where the Boys Are. College students across the nation saw the limbo competitions and beach-dancing-a-gogo debauchery depicted in the film and soon wanted to get in on the action. Soon, traveling to this part of Florida became a right of passage and the popularity of spending one’s Spring Break there continued to grow until the mid ’80s.
After over forty years of alcohol-infused mayhem (resulting in over 370,000 attendees in 1985) locals and city officials had decided to pull the plug on the festivities. The combination of local ordinances that were put in place making it harder to drink in public, along with Reagan’s crackdown on the drinking age (raising it from 18 to 21), put the kibosh on Fort Liquordale and the kegs finally went dry. However, at this point, Spring Break had become ingrained in American society and the party spread to other parts of the nation.
Spring Break as we know and love it today. Photo by Appletkaa1.
If there’s a will, there’s a keg!
The numbers in Fort Lauderdale may have tremendously dwindled in the late ’80s but new, up-and-coming party spots had taken its place. College students began visiting Daytona Beach, Panama City Beach, South Padre Island, Fort Myers, and Lake Havasu. Many of these cities welcomed the young crowd purely for economic reasons: If you get enough kids armed with their parents’ credit cards in one place, it’ll make any market change from bear to bull.
Today, there are plenty of options for college students looking to get away during Spring Break. It has become popular to travel outside of the States to countries like Mexico and places in the Caribbean because of the assortment of travel packages that are available, not to mention the lower drinking age. There are also options for those who aren’t interested in participating in a weeklong alcohol binge. Organizations like The United Way and the Student Conservation Association offer alternative Spring Break programs, where students can spend their time volunteering.
For three generations now, Americans have been able to shed a couple of brain cells here and there in the pursuit of an awesome time. Fort Lauderdale was only the beginning of what would go on to become a nationwide phenomenon of booze and swimsuits. As long as there continues to be a healthy supply of young adults looking for a party, Spring Break will continue on, one beer bottle at a time.