SPRING BREAK - America’s Annual Binge Drinking PhenomenonBy George Nowak (Barefoot Man)
It's just past, for those of us who work in the hotel industry anywhere south of latitude 31 degrees north: that time of year when hordes of college students descend on the beaches of Mexico, Florida, Texas and even (in lesser numbers) Cayman. If you listen close you can hear it – Spring Break has it’s own distinctive resonance, much like the hum of a beach bar blender mixing sunscreen, margaritas, wet T-shirts and the “ka-ching” of a cash register. Ah, it’s the sound of spring.
No question, in the free-loving 70s, a time when ‘sunscreen’ was unheard of, Fort Lauderdale was the top springtime host to the fun and sun loving future doctors and lawyers of America. I recall playing music at a very seedy bar along Lauderdale’s stretch of coast in March of 1982 – it was a nasty scene. Loud mouth hooligans dancing, stumbling and puking in every corner. The glassy-eyed delinquents came in the bikini-clad female category as well as the young buck groupings. Most being so inebriated for the long weekend their modesty had been left in classrooms up north. By the mid 80’s business was booming and nearly 400,000 students were descending on “Fort Liquor-Dale” – as it was fondly called at the time. Through the regurgitation, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll there was that silver lining called ‘money’, lots of money, capital that students were contributing to south Florida’s economy.
Right around the same era Daytona Beach got in on the action, they wanted some of the dividends being shared 204 miles south in Lauderdale. To lure the merrymakers to their beachside town they went so far as offering free cigarettes to the teens and bus rides from collage to beach and back again. To further entice, Daytona booked some of the big names in rock n’ roll at the time, the likes of MC Hammer, Starship, Red Hot Chili Peppers – bands who were often sponsored by popular MTV. The timing couldn’t have been better for Daytona because Ft Lauderdale’s full time residents had had enough of the annual frenzy, so the Broward County Sherriff and Police started enforcing some strict party rules, which Daytona later duplicated:
- No possessing or displaying phony identification
- No open containers of alcohol in a public place
- No causing a drunken disturbance
- No fighting
- No public indecency – including no exposed “boobs”
- No bringing tents, tables or similar structures onto the beach
Perhaps the biggest NO-NO of them all was keeping booze off the beach. Too many rules for most intoxicated pranksters so the frolic moved to Panama City Beach, a small town attached to 27 miles of breath-taking powdery white sand on west Florida’s Panhandle. The 2010 population of around 12,000 permanent residents swelled to over 250,000 during Spring Break.
Soon the town became known as one of the most notoriously raucous Spring Break destinations in the world. Then in 2015 the chaos turned into a nightmare when a young coed was gang raped on their beach while hundreds stood around and watched. The incident became world-news and quickly the city council changed PCB's Spring Break forever by joining the ranks of Lauderdale and Daytona and banning consumption of alcohol on the beach during the month of March. The regulations considerably reduced the violence and mayhem of the annual event, however it has driven many away who started looking elsewhere, taking their money with them. Bars, restaurants, gift shops and hotels were not happy and threatened legal action against the city commissioners. Statistics show Spring-Breakers along with their dollars and daddy’s credit card are worth fighting for. The roughly 16 million students now in the United States spend a total of $208 billion each year, according to data from Harris Interactive, a market-research company, and 22 percent of that spending is on discretionary items like travel.
Though not totally idle, Lauderdale, Daytona and PCB still manage to draw their share of the annual Spring Break proceeds. Nevertheless many students (those that can afford it) are now traveling the extra miles to Jamaica, Mexico and the Bahamas where drinking rules are in place, yet often ignored. Cayman, with its reputation as being one of the more pricy destinations, gets its share of the young visitors during March and early April. Many however seem to be chaperoned by parents who own condos or time-shares on the island. Chaperoned Spring-Breakers? Maybe that’s a good thing for Cayman.