Photo: Mike Stocker / Sipa USA
Around the State
Spring break in Florida dates to 1936, when the Colgate University swimming team traveled from New York to practice in Fort Lauderdale’s Casino Pool, the state’s first Olympic-size pool. Other teams thought that was a good idea, too, and by 1938, more than 300 swimmers were training in Fort Lauderdale each spring. Word spread to more than just the swimmers, and by the 1950s more than 15,000 college students spent the break in Florida.
The 1960 film “Where the Boys Are,” a coming-of-age-story about four co-eds on spring break in Fort Lauderdale, took spring break to a new level. Starring George Hamilton and Connie Francis, the film “put Fort Lauderdale on the map,” says Stacy Ritter, a Broward County native and president and CEO of Visit Lauderdale. In those days, spring break was a fairly wholesome experience, says Ritter.
From the late 1970s through the1980s, eventually fueled by MTV programming that featured spring breakers going wild on the beach and at pool bars, spring break turned raucous. “That was my spring break time, when college kids sort of en masse descended on Fort Lauderdale and trashed the place,” Ritter says. “I went to Rollins College, and I would come home for spring break, but I would never stay with my parents. I wanted to stay on the beach with my friends. We’d stay in one of those tiny mom-and-pop hotels, which are no longer on the beach, for 50 bucks a night, and we’d cram 10 people in a room. So, I think it’s my generation that sort of made spring break unacceptable in Fort Lauderdale.”
Fort Lauderdale officials set about turning down the volume on spring break — from banning alcohol on the beach to placing barriers between the beach and A1A. But rising costs also played a role. Beach lodging became expensive. Ritter says today’s Fort Lauderdale spring breaker is more likely to stay at the Ritz-Carlton than the sort of place she stayed at 40 years ago. “The spring season has definitely evolved into something that’s aligned with Fort Lauderdale today, which is more upscale, more cosmopolitan, urban, edgy with an interesting vibe,” she says. “There’s no more nickel beers or belly flop contests and wet T-shirt competitions.”
The spring break scene has calmed down in Daytona Beach, as well. Now, many of the visitors are families and young people participating in the annual National Cheerleaders Association and National Dance Alliance Collegiate National Championships. Lori Campbell Baker, executive director Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the cheer-dance event is a central part of Daytona’s spring season. “In 2023, they’re going to have more than 400 teams from across the country competing,” Baker says. “The economic impact from last year’s event was around $35 million.”