Spring Break 2006: 10 Hot Spots

Well, it’s that time of year again: the annual migration to the surf, sand and sunshine of some beachy locale. Last year, I discussed how an adult can survive Spring Break, and like a ring from Tiffany, that advice is timeless. But if you are looking to make that annual migration this year, sit back, relax and see where the hot destinations are for Spring Break 2006.

How do I know that they’re hot? I asked more than 2,000 members of our Tripso forums a simple question — “Where do you want to go for Spring Break?” — and I got these top 10 picks. While some of them are definitely for the young at heart (a euphemism for the Party Hearty Crowd, hereafter abbreviated as “PHC”), others are geared to somewhat less raucous vacationers.

The envelope, please …

Number 10: The U.S. Virgin Islands

For a snapshot of the entire Caribbean, look to the three U.S. Virgin Islands. For bustling beaches, nightlife and great shopping, St. Thomas can’t be beat — it’s not the most distinctive island, but it’s a lot of fun. For unspoiled scenery and quiet surroundings, head to federally protected St. John, where coral reefs, hiking trails and many small resorts are an eco-tourist’s dream for rest and relaxation. Between the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas and the serenity of St. John lies St. Croix, a lovely island that does a good job balancing tourism, culture, history and nature in a wonderfully Caribbean way

Number 9: Nassau, The Bahamas

Well known for its sand, surf and gambling, Nassau also has some fantastic sightseeing and historic buildings. The capital of the Bahamas, Nassau is very much a modern city, so you will have to look past the hubbub (and past the cruise passengers who cram the island when the ships are in port) to appreciate its deep roots to the past and its Old World flavor. Everything takes a little longer here than you’re used to, too, but it’s worth it just to savor those beautiful turquoise waters.

Number 8: Key West (PHC)

What do Ernest Hemingway, Harry Truman and Jimmy Buffett have in common? Besides all singing in the shower, they were all unable to resist the allure of America’s southernmost city. Sit back and enjoy the relaxed pace, the whimsical architecture, the colorful history and the “Whatever” attitude of the locals. You can head off the island for snorkeling, diving or fishing — have you ever dived for lobster? Or you can just walk around Old Town and see the blend of cultures — a mix of Cuba (which lies just 90 miles to the south) and the Florida of yesteryear. Whatever you do, be sure to celebrate the end of each day when the sun begins to set.

Number 7: Las Vegas (PHC)

Some have called Las Vegas the Party Capital of the World, the city where no vice is verboten. It is a place where fantastic things are real and some other things are just illusions (I will bite my tongue here). The Strip is fascinating: a miniature New York, Paris and Venice; a battle of pirate ships; and world-class shopping all up and down the glitzy street. The city has shows of every variety and food for every palate prepared by just about every famous chef you can name. Gambling goes without saying; indeed, the tables and slots are the backbone of the economy. For many, the thrill of winning and losing makes the casinos the most exciting show in town. But mind you, there is a reason very few casinos go broke. You have been warned!

Number 6: Aruba

Despite the recent “boycott” (which failed), Aruba is still a hot destination for Spring Break. Its brisk trade winds have a way of changing everything — from the mangled divi-divi trees on the beaches, to the strangely sculpted monoliths in the center of the island, to the sunburned sun worshipers on the beach. Aruba has many high-rise resorts, great restaurants, flashy casinos and white-sand beaches. By day, there is some of the best windsurfing and water-skiing in the Caribbean; by night, there is excellent dining and gambling. Warm, blustery, and relatively dry, Aruba is a unique Caribbean destination.

Number 5: South Padre Island (PHC)

While South Padre Island has been the set for “Girls Gone Wild” and a few E! Channel “Wild On” segments, the destination is still a fantastic place to visit. Imagine a tropical island with miles of unspoiled beaches lying in the sun beside the sparkling Gulf of Mexico — this perfect vacation place is South Padre Island. Located at the tropical tip of Texas, it is a place where warm beaches, relaxing activities, and good lodging facilities come together. It’s a great solution for those family trips or, yes, for raucous Spring Breakers.

Number 4: Fort Lauderdale (PHC)

While the city has done a good job cleaning up its booze-‘n-babes image, Lauderdale is still a hot spot. Often called Little Venice, the city is a maze of waterways with restaurants and bars overlooking the canals. One of the city’s main drags is a river (the New River), so you can hop on a water bus and take in the sights. Las Olas Boulevard, the main street, is lined with fabulous boutiques and wonderful restaurants. For the party, head a few blocks east to the ocean and drop in almost any bar along Route A1A.

Number 3: Jamaica

Jamaica is emerald rain forests, glorious beaches, and waterfalls tumbling into cool, clear streams. Its legendary culture is found in its reggae music and in the people, who really want to make you feel welcome. You won’t ever forget the mass of competing taxi drivers swarming outside the crafts market in Montego Bay. Who wouldn’t want to go? Party in Montego Bay (Mo-Bay), Ocho Rios (Ochi) or Negril. For a calmer visit, look to Runaway Bay.

Number 2: Cancun (PHC)

With their crystal-clear waters and brilliant sunshine, it’s no wonder the beaches get top billing in Cancun. Sadly, this top Mexican resort is still reeling from Hurricane Wilma, which hit in late October. There has been some beach loss, but many hotels and attractions are doing their best to be open for the Spring Break crowd and are offering good rates. Cancun is a great destination under any circumstances, but add the budget break and you’ve got a great Spring Break.

And the number one Spring Break destination is …

Number 1: Riviera Maya

Fifteen years ago, the Riviera Maya was a sparsely populated stretch of Caribbean coastline with a bunch of Mayan ruins that attracted a handful of tourists from Cancun. Today it is the number one Spring Break destination for Tripso readers — the proverbial goose that has laid the golden egg. Extensive white-sand beaches, limestone caverns, underground rivers and freshwater pools called cenotes form the Riviera Maya’s main geographical features. Parts of its coastline are covered in mangrove swamps; other areas lie under low, scrubby forest. Offshore, a barrier reef stretches all the way to southern Belize, attracting scuba divers in all seasons. Resorts abound and offer the full complement of spas, golf, eco-tourism and, yes, cerveza!

So, there you have it. Tripso readers have again voiced their opinions, and they are pretty much on target with other polls and trends. As for me, I am on a New Orleans kick right now, and my Spring Break is going to kick off on Bourbon Street on February 17. If you can make it down, too, stop by the Cat’s Meow on Saturday, February 18, at 5 p.m. The bar will have just reopened and to celebrate, they’re offering a 3-for-1 deal — and I’m buying! Be sure to check on our Tripso forums for updates and photos!

Whether you travel down the road or across the globe, shrug off those winter blues and enjoy your Spring Break destination!

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