Spring break time is here, sounding the signal for some no-holds-barred vacationing — as such, we've concocted a list of the during this raucous time off. For many of us, this short break is an excuse to visit the world’s most salacious spots, where illicit activities, like underage drinking and access to red light districts, are more popular than sight-seeing. You'll find plenty of forbidden fruit on offer in a liberal European capital, a Thai island, and, closer to home, a Canadian city — a trio which, notwithstanding, is known to offer a good dose of culture, too. For those content with the spring break staples of beaches, bikinis, and beer, we’ve counted two homegrown beach cities that make the grade and, of course, a Caribbean and Mexican option. Rounding out our list are some unexpected spots, however, including something for do-gooders, a final ski getaway, and a desert-fringed lake in America’s Southwest. Party on!
Some come for the tulips, some come for the weed, but whatever’s on the vegetative agenda, visitors to freewheeling Amsterdam often find themselves mesmerized by the city’s free-thinking, live-and-let-live mantra. With a Dutch policy structured on controlling what it can’t efficiently outlaw, such illegalized American no-nos as marijuana (widely available in Amsterdam’s ubiquitous coffeeshops) or even prostitution (witness the notorious Red Light District) are permitted and regulated here. Additionally, the legal drinking age is 16 (and even that is rarely enforced), giving the under-21 crowd full access to the stellar nightlife scene and all its libations, in trendy cafés, cozy “brown” bars (neighborhood watering holes), and clubs highlighting top international DJs. For those preferring to steer clear of such illicit temptations, spring’s warm days in this Venice of the North are also tailor-made for strolling the 1,000+ bridges that span the city’s 160 canals — whether they lead you to a Van Gogh painting or to fulfill your hankering for a hashish-filled hookah or cold Heineken (the Dutch beer’s brewery is open for tours in town) is entirely up to you.
A growing favorite amongst spring breakers, the Dominican has become a hugely popular package destination that vies with Cancun in affordability and atmosphere. The second-largest country in the Caribbean (after Cuba), the Dominican has something for everyone seeking a little fun under the sun, from Vegas-style casinos, nightclubs, and all-inclusive resorts, to horseback riding, golf, surfing, diving, and hundreds of miles of white-sand beaches. Punta Cana, on the island's eastern coast, is the island's top draw, with the Caribbean's longest stretch of sand, while Puerto Plata, in the northwest, is a solid secondary consideration. Both are prime party spots and are also great for late-planners with a broad range of reasonably priced hotels that make a beer-budget trip a snap. Those with champagne tastes won't be disappointed either — there are more than a few swanky resorts and hotels to satisfy all needs.
Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005, and though thousands gave their money and time to the rebuilding efforts, the work is far from over. It will take years, and maybe decades, to rebuild and repair businesses, homes, and most importantly, lives in the Gulf. 38,000+ students spent last year’s spring break doing hands-on volunteer work in the region and beyond — whether you missed it last year or you just can’t stop doing for others, there are ample opportunities to spend spring break '08 making a difference. The United Way is a great place to start your research, as they are sending students between the ages of 18-24 from all over the country on ASB (Alternative spring break) this year to lend a hand. MTV is also in on the effort, ensuring that while you’re sure to make a difference on ASB ’08, there will be fun to be had as well.
While some of us are eagerly awaiting the return of spring flowers, others may be longing for one last hurrah on snow-powdered peaks — and we’re particularly keen on a last-minute spring break trip to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming. Visitors this year can partake of the Jackson Hole Mountain Festival March 21 through March 30 — a week of free-style skiing and snowboarding events, accompanied by live music acts. When you’re not on the slopes, you can saddle up and test your rodeo skills on the mechanical bull located just outside the ever popular Mangy Moose Saloon. Don’t forget to allow yourself a couple days of pampering at one of several Jackson Hole spas — it’s the perfect remedy for tired ski legs.
Originally developed as an alternative to popular Koh Samui and Phuket, the lush, beach-trimmed island of Koh Phangan, in the Gulf of Thailand, has since gained its own notoriety thanks to its monthly all-night beach parties, held on the Haad Rin peninsula in honor of the full moon. Indeed, the Full Moon Parties have become legendary, attracting as many as 10,000 moon-worshippers and party-goers to the two sandy stretches that frame the cape, to dance to trance and techno barefoot on the sand, glow-sticks in hand. Even if your travel dates don't coincide with the party, you can still create your own bit of hippie nirvana on this bit of sand by spending your days at New Age cafés, drinking cheap beer, having inexpensive massages, and tripping out. Come nightfall, crash on the beach or in a $5 bungalow — that is, if you come down at all.
While Las Vegas is an all-time spring break favorite, the Arizona desert destination of Lake Havasu, some three hours southeast of Sin City, is also gaining major partygoer appeal, thanks to its array of after-dark action, stunning scenery, and its main attraction, the eponymous lake itself. Nestled amid craggy mountain peaks alongside the Colorado River, and commonly referred to as the "personal watercraft capital of the world," Lake Havasu boasts over 400 miles of coastline and water sports galore — think fishing, skiing, kayaking, and boating (lots of boat and jetski rentals are also available for those of you without your own vessels). Havasu's on-land activities span from beach bumming, off-roading desert treks, and golfing, to horseback riding, hot-air ballooning, rock climbing, and biking. There’s plenty of nighttime action to keep spring breakers playing long after dark, too: Several clubs and bars boast killer views of the Colorado River and some even offer outdoor parties on the river itself.
The long, skinny island of Miami Beach — and specifically image-conscious South Miami Beach (that’s South Beach or SoBe in short hand), with its charming Art Deco District and sizzling dining and club scenes, has for the past decade reigned as one of America’s capitals of cool. It’s the kind of place where you might spot Cuban boat people washed up on Ocean Drive or a guy walking a leashed mountain lion on Lincoln Road. Sure there’s some pretty interesting and even cultural stuff to do out here, but it’s really all about “the scene” — by day, sun and sand amid scantily-clad, hard-bodied roller-bladers and volley-ballers, by night, dining and partying amid a mix of the rich, famous, and fabulous. For spring breakers, this sprawling, sexy, sun-splashed resort playground is the quintessential glamorama party capital: a posh combination of sun, sand, and hedonism.
While spring break has long signaled a south-of-the-border migration for some guaranteed Mexican mayhem, those with a nose for the north will find all of the essential ingredients for a bit of debauchery à la française just above the Canadian border. Of course, you’ll have to forego beaches and bikinis here, but with alcohol consumption and casino gambling (check out the chic Casino de Montréal) open to the 18-and-over crowd, scintillating nightlife (try Boulevard St-Laurent or Crescent Street for the best action), strip clubs galore, and a certain je ne sais quoi, Montréal’s appeal reels in its fair share of spring breakers all the same. A popular road-trip pilgrimage for East Coast collegians (it’s about 375 miles from Manhattan or 310 miles from Boston), bargains abound on everything from lap-dancing strippers to nightclub covers. For the more sophisticated spring breaker, there’s plenty to pique your interest, too: Check out the historic center of Vieux-Montréal, take in a view from the summit of Montreal’s emblematic Mont-Royal, or catch the last of ski season at several prime resorts within an hour’s drive.
While there are quite a few Mexico hot spots favored by spring breakers, no place other than Puerto Vallarta combines a raging nightlife scene with a colorful colonial village imbued with old-world ambience. Indeed, Puerto Vallarta's appeal is undeniable: The city proper, a fabled hillside hamlet, brims with muddled alleyways, red-tiled roofs, and balconies draped in bougainvillea. Miles of golden seafront, dotted with newer towns and resorts, stretch to its north and south, while the local color of an old Mexican fishing village mingles with modern upscale influences. The famed malecón — a waterfront boardwalk that stretches from the center of town towards the Hotel Zone — is dotted with shops, restaurants, cafés, bars, and street artists. The lively promenade is always hopping and perfect for grabbing a drink or a bite during the day and after sunset. Plus, come nightfall, you can revel in trendy lounges, rowdy pubs, surfside watering holes, and romantic taverns. Most of the worthy nightlife is located along a three-block stretch of Calle Ignatio L. Vallarta, on the south side of the river, where everything from mariachi music and sports bars to salsa clubs and discos is found.
Plenty of sun, beaches, and bars make San Diego the ultimate spring break spot. Mild spring weather is perfect for strolling downtown city streets, cruising the boardwalk at Mission Beach, hitting the surf, enjoying a few beers at one of the many outdoor beach bars, or spending the day at nearby SeaWorld. A happening club scene draws spring breakers to the Pacific Beach neighborhood, where dozens of bars are strung along Grand and Garnett avenues; downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter offers a cosmopolitan evening out; and hipsters flock to the W Hotel’s rooftop beach bar where ladies can cool their heels — sans stilettos — in wall-to-wall sand. But, if you and your crew would rather rage on the beach till dawn, you’re in luck, too, since most city sands have facilities to encourage bonfire booze-fests. Plus, with the Mexican border just down the road, you can continue the party south of the border, in Rosarito Beach, where a slightly less debaucherous scene prevails.
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