Image: spring breakers
Phil Coale  /  AP
Vacationers take part in an MTV dance contest last year during spring break activities in Panama City Beach, Fla.
updated 2/10/2009 10:43:41 AM ET 2009-02-10T15:43:41

College students don't seem to be planning staycations for spring break.

Bookings to popular beach destinations are strong, according to travel companies, and volunteering vacations continue to gain momentum.

"Typically the student business is more resilient to the economy because it's like a once-in-a-lifetime trip," said Jason Chute, director of operations for StudentCity.com. "A lot of times kids will go no matter what."

Here's how students will be spending their break.

International beaches
Cancun and Jamaica are top destinations for spring breakers, according to Patrick Evans of STA Travel. Some 30,000 revelers are expected to visit the beach spot in Mexico this year. The same number came to Cancun last year, according to Quintana Roo's Tourism Office.

Also popular is Acapulco, Mexico, according to Chute. Acapulco has some of the hottest night clubs, and many are open all night, he said.

Scott Schechter, 22, a Boston University senior, said he was looking for that big-party atmosphere. "Generally, when I think of spring break, most of the nice spring break locations that aren't trans-Atlantic would be in Mexico," he said. "The idea of traveling outside the country makes it a little more exciting."

Perhaps because of the economy, more students are choosing the Party Bus this year, said Evans. The bus departs from locations in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico to Mazatlan, Mexico. Prices for the seven-night trip (two nights on the bus), start at $300 per person on StudentCity.com.

Besides Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos are the most popular international destinations for people booking through Travelocity, according to Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor.

But she said both have slipped in overall popularity from last year, which suggests people are vacationing closer to home.

Adventure
Demand for trips to Asia and Australia is up, according to Atle Skalleberg of StudentUniverse.com. And France, Italy, Spain and U.K. also remain popular, he said.

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"The exchange rate is still not great for Americans, but it is a lot better and that seems to be enough," he said. "The other reason is we have had some pretty competitive pricing to Europe this year."

Also popular this spring break are ski trips to Colorado, said Debbie Gibb of the Student and Youth Travel Association.

Jennifer Rudolph, spokesperson for Colorado Ski Country USA, said resorts are offering more creative deals this year because of the economy. Colorado has also experienced near-record snow fall this season.

Domestic
Panama City Beach, Fla., remains a top destination for the college crowd, according to Chute. Once again the beach hosts mtvU's Spring Break party March 8-21. The beach's north Florida location makes it accessible for road trips, he said.

Hotel bookings are strong, according to Dan Rowe, president and CEO of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor's Bureau. But he said it's too early to determine if the economy has had a negative impact, so Panama City Beach is doing some aggressive marketing.

"In addition to college students, the month of April, we're really gearing out activities and marketing to families," he said.

The top three spring break destinations based on Travelocity bookings are Las Vegas, Orlando and South Florida. Las Vegas was No. 3 last year. Also making the top 10 this year was Washington, D.C. Travelocity does not separate bookings by families and students.

In Vegas, average daily hotel rates are down 28 percent, said Travelocity's Brown.

"So that combined with the fact that there are deals galore, free nights, two-for-one show tickets, Las Vegas is going to be more popular this year than last," she said.

Also popular this year are South Beach in Miami and South Padre Island, Texas, according to Gibb.

Alternative spring break
It's been more than three years since Katrina, but spring break volunteering is growing exponentially, according to Andrea Hutchinson, of Adventures in Travel Expo.

"We're farther away from Katrina, but President Obama was just elected," said Steven Roy Goodman, educational consultant. "There has been a real resurgence of a spirit of service."

Intrepid Travel in Canada has set up almost 40 trips that are 100 percent carbon offset, and volunteering trips have gained sales momentum in the past year, according to Christian Wolters, marketing manager.

The great thing about alternative spring breaks is students can solicit donations, said Goodman.

Anna Rice, 19, a sophomore at Northeastern, hit up friends and family members to help with the cost of her trip to New Orleans. She is going to be rebuilding an animal shelter.

"I didn't have a lot of money, and I wanted to go away for spring break," she said. "It should be fun to do community service, and I like animals."

Jimmy Camacho, 26, a senior at San Diego State, will be working in Honduras to bring clean water access to a village. This is his second volunteer trip there.

About 40 students are going, and many of them are interested in the Peace Corps, he said.

"I think this program was attractive in that it's only a week and not a two-year commitment," he said. "It gives you work experience while allowing you to experience a new country and make a lot of new friends."

Evans said Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are also drawing interest for volunteer opportunities.

Cruises
Cruise lines in general do not market to college students, according to Heidi Allison-Shane, spokesperson for CruiseCompete.com. But that doesn't stop college kids from setting sail.

Chute said cruises to the Bahamas are popular this year. Spring breakers drive to Fort Lauderdale and take a Discovery cruise ship to Freeport, where they spend four nights. Prices start at $400 per person on StudentCity.com.

Cameron Pittman, 21, a senior at Vanderbilt, said it's tradition for the seniors in his fraternity to take a cruise. About 25 of them are going to the Caribbean with Norwegian Cruise Line, departing from New Orleans. Other groups on campus are taking the same seven-day cruise, he said.

Pittman has gone to Panama City Beach and Destin, Fla., for previous spring breaks, which he said were "kind of boring." There's more to do on a cruise, he said.

"I can't wait," he said. "Everybody can't wait. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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