The History of Spring Break

By Sheila Barnard

It is that time again. The time that children count down to, college students save for, and parents worry about. Spring Break. From Florida to Texas to Disney World, we are going look at when spring break got started and how it evolved to what we know today.

Spring break is said to have started in the 1930’s when the Colgate University men’s swim team arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to practice in their new Olympic size pool. The pool attracted roughly 1500 swimmers throughout the 30’s. By the 50’s Fort Lauderdale was attracting around 20,000 people on what was then called Spring Vacation.

The big change came with the publication and subsequent movie release of the 1960 Glendon Swarthout novel Where the Boys Are.  The book and movie is about a group of girls who go to Fort Lauderdale for spring vacation. It started a wave of college students heading to Fort Lauderdale for their own Spring Break experience. By the early 80’s Fort Lauderdale was hosting between 250,000 and 350,000 college students for spring break. This largely angered the permanent residents of the Florida town. In 1985, in response to the damage done by the visiting students, the city passed laws restricting the parties. At the same time the United States passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act causing the drinking age to rise to 21. By 1989 the number of Spring Breakers in Fort Lauderdale fell to around 20,000.

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In the late 80’s South Padre Island, Texas became the next spring break destination. For the last 30 years they have had between 80,000 and 120,000 spring break visitors.

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In 1986, MTV launched it’s first Spring Break special from Daytona Beach, Florida. They have continued in different Spring Break locations ever since.  Broadcasting spring break parties helped highlight some of the dangerous behaviors of spring break including binge drinking and sexual excess. Because of this some universities started issuing “safe break bags” that included sunscreen and sexual assault manuals.

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Since the 90’s, Spring Break has mellowed some. Many cities have enacted strict laws for parties and visiting spring breakers. That combined with the economy has caused a drop in the previously massive spring break trips.

Panama City, Florida currently sees the biggest number of spring break visitors, with South Padre Island and Cancun coming in next. It is estimated that students will spend a billion dollars in Florida and Texas alone during spring break.

We are now seeing more family spring breaks. Schools generally have spring break in mid March. Destinations like Disney World see major crowds of people taking family vacations during spring break. Other popular family spring break destinations include Hawaii, Miami, Fl, and the Bahamas.

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While Spring Break has changed over the years, one thing remains the same. It is all about sun and fun.

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