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A Brief Spring Break History

Most of our lives, Spring Break has been portrayed as a fabled experience of near-utopian bacchanalia, community with fellow youth, and warm sunny weather.  But where does Spring Break, as a ritual of youth, come from?  While there are no definite points in history to mark the definitive start of Spring Break, this article looks at a number of factors, traditions, and influences that have combined to create the Spring Break experience we have come to know and celebrate today.

Spring Break History- The Psychological Effect

Just like the changing of the seasons from Winter to Spring gives new life to trees and plants, so do human beings experience an increase in energy.  This so-called "spring fever" is nearly universal according to psychologists.  Along with the rising of new growth in the forests and gardens, young people look to sunny beaches and warm waters to reinvigorate their lives through parties and debauchery with fellow party people.



Ancient Spring Break History

Bacchus with Wine GlassRecorded history traces a very primitive history of Spring Break all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The young men and women of these cultures, particularly those of suitable age for mating, welcomed the return of Spring, the season of fertility, in pagan rituals celebrating Dionysus (Greek)/ Bacchus (Roman), the god of wine.

Such rituals featured days of drinking and dancing until participants were in an altered consciousness, open to the irrational calls of the god of earthly pleasures. The advent of Christianity put a stop to such rituals, since the new, especially since followers of the singular God advocated spiritual fulfillment while denouncing more earthly desires.  Still, some believe the spirit of Dionysus/Bacchus lives on in today's youth- leading them to the experience we know today as Spring Break.

Traditionally, college Spring Break occurs somewhere between the first weekend in March and Easter Sunday in April.  Recently, however, Spring Break has started as early as late February and lasted until late April.  Most Spring Breaks last for one week.  College students today head to a handful of cities made popular among fellow Spring Breakers who look for the crowds and an mixture of affordable hotels or other housing and a numbers of bars and nightclubs the cater towards the college-age crowd. 

Spring Break has become a cottage industry to most of these "hot spot" towns with entire businesses designed around the goal of promoting the city and its amenities as welcome places for Spring Break revelry and debauchery.  The result is a massive annual draw-down of hundreds of thousands of college students looking to party and "see-and-be-seen" amongst their peers.  Spring Break History is now the stuff of legend.

Modern Spring Break History

The earliest notes of the tradition of Spring Break History in the United States go back to 1936.  The swim coach of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, brought some of his swim team down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to practice their sport at the Casino Pool.  The Casino Pool was the first Olympic-size swimming pool built in Florida.  The experience was so successful that the coach brought his entire team back down to the Casino Pool the following year to train again.

Fort Lauderdale saw an opportunity and hosted the first College Coaches' Swim Forum at the Casino Pool in 1938.  That same year, the famous Elbo Room opened in the Seabreeze Hotel.  Thus, the mixture of large numbers of college students, the beach, and alcohol had been set and the stage was set.

1950s Spring Break History- A Swimmingly Good Time

The tradition of college swimmers going down to Fort Lauderdale in late winter continued throughout World War II, despite travel restrictions.  By 1953, 15,000 students were making the regular trek down to the Casino Pool.  In 1954, an estimated crowd of 20,000 college students made their way to the Fort Lauderdale beach.

Time magazine first reported on the growing phenomenon in 1959.  In 1960, Fort Lauderdale firmly established itself as the national Spring Break headquarters with the release of the movie Where the Boys Are, starring Connie Francis.  In that movie, three young college women go to Fort Lauderdale looking for fun, adventure, and romance.  Despite its sanitized rendering of events at Spring Break, the movie promoted a beach vacation that directly appealed to young students.

1960s Spring Break History- A "Wholesome" Time

By 1961, 50,000 students were now making the annual trek to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break.  By the late 1960s, relatively near-by Daytona Beach began actively advertising itself as a Spring Break destination, trying to lure the tourist dollar away from Fort Lauderdale.  Their efforts worked, as 100,000 students make their way to Daytona Beach during the late 1960s.  Spring Break History had begun to shift.

1970s Spring Break History- An Altered State of Spring Break

While Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello may have also created a series of "wholesome" movies displaying a youthful beach culture, Spring Break, like all American institutions, experienced a significant change during the turbulent decade of the 1970s. Alcohol and other drugs played a larger role in the festivities, fraternization between the sexes took on some new dimensions in the hippie period of "free love," and the partying became raucous enough to cause significant damage to hotels, beaches, and other public property.   This caused some communities, including Fort Lauderdale, to begin questioning the desirability of attracting a Spring Break crowd to their town.

1980s Spring Break History- Rise of Daytona Beach

A crowded Daytona Beach for Spring BreakDespite a lackluster decade in the 1970s, the self-indulgent 1980s brought Spring Break into a nationwide college culture looking for hedonistic revelry and escape from the regular duties and rigors of life.  By 1983, the movie Spring Break, starring Tom Cruise and Shelly Long, was released- further promoting Spring Break as a collegiate rite of passage.  Spring Break History was about to reach the mammoth proportions it has today.


By 1985, Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale reached its peak- 350,000 students cramming into the city and swelling the occupancy of its every hotel.  But along with those numbers came an increasing problem with crime and strain on city services.  Fort Lauderdale responded by placing barricades between city streets and the beachfront and clamping down hard on hotel occupancy rules and alcohol laws.  Fort Lauderdale readily relinquished its role as Spring Break capitol to Daytona Beach.  The city that had started it all in the United States had slipped into Spring Break History.

1990s Spring Break History- Spring Break Goes International

Daytona Beach came to the height of its prominence as "the Spring Break destination" during the early 1990s.  By the mid-1990s, even Daytona Beach began to look for ways to manage rowdy crowds while not chasing away their tourist dollars.

By the late 1990s, Spring Break History was firmly planted within the college culture.  In addition to being a rite of Spring for college students, high school students looked for break destinations as did young professionals looking to re-liver their college-days.  As a result, Spring Break destinations became more varied and exotic, though several perennial "hot spots" had now emerged.  These included Panama City, Florida (hosting over a half-million Spring Breakers in 1997) and South Padre Island, Texas (hosting 130,000 visitors during Spring Break 1997).

International destinations also became attractive as the younger Spring Break crowd looked to places with a lower drinking age.  Cancun, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Jamaica all gained reputations as major Spring Break magnets with their lower (and usually unenforced) drinking ages, pristine beaches, and azure ocean waters.  Spring Break History was now going beyond the borders of the U.S.

Spring Break History of Today

Today Spring Break is as venerable as it ever was.  Hundreds of thousands of students make the annual trek to a more Southern latitude in search of all-night parties, sandy beaches, and lots of fellow college students.  While awareness of alcohol abuse has increased, and alcohol advertisements are more tame, there is still plenty of partying to be found at any major Spring Break hot spot.

Along with the rise of Spring Break has come the all-inclusive travel package.  Several tour companies now specialize in these packages.  Such packages usually feature quad-occupancy of a hotel room combined with opportunities for two meals a day and up to 50 hours of free drinks throughout the week.  Special theme parties and admissions are common place at bars and nightclubs that cater to Spring Break crowds.

Spring Break History continues to evolve.  In addition to the rise of new international destinations, domestic locations such as Lake Havasu, Arizona, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and snow vacations in Lake Tahoe and Utah have became "hot spots" in their own right.

In addition, those looking to avoid the debauchery of the traditional Spring Break are now looking for "alternative Spring Breaks."  These are usually week-long service projects that involve lots of manual labor and service to a needy community.  This is a new part of Spring Break History that continues to evolve.

To catch up on the very latest, why not check out our very own Spring Break Blog for all that's making news in the Spring Break Industry.

Spring Breaker Reviews

Have you written an even more extensive Spring Break History term paper?  We're always looking for more information to add to our Spring Break History Page.  If you have something to add, please submit your Spring Break History tips and pics here.

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