Though the world's beaches have cleared of spring breakers on late-winter vacations from the reaches of higher learning, the coasts are not clear.
That's because in recent years, the traditional March spring break has acted as the kickoff to a new student-travel season: the weeks preceding high school graduation. And these partiers show no signs of slowing down.
"In general, the student and youth market has the most continuous growth in the travel industry," says Debbie Gibb, associate executive director of the Michigan-based Student & Youth Travel Association.
So how to avoid the barrage of hard-partying, beer-carting, about-to-be graduates? Experts say that you might want to take a moment before you point, click and book.
High school- and college-age travelers want to disembark from a plane and disrobe on the beach within minutes. They tend to head to the most accessible places, like Cabo San Lucas in Mexico or Panama City in Florida. The latter is still the No. 1 break destination and an especially easy trek for Southern students who can drive there, according to Amanda Webb, spokeswoman for STA Travel, the world's largest student-travel association.
These areas afford the convenience kids are seeking: beachfront hotels and plenty of cabs to deliver them to even more plentiful bars. This is particularly alluring to younger students who can drink legally at age 18 in Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.
But "the really special places," says Terry McCabe, an islands specialist with Altour International, "you have to work a little harder to get to." So board the 747 with the senior-trippers—but leave them behind to fight for sand space as you prepare for an extra leg of the journey.
Just beyond the lights
"Obviously, Cancún has become a really big break destination," says Mike Thiel, founder and president of New Hampshire-based Hideaways International. "But that's not to say you can't fly in to Cancún and go to some little enclave to get you way away from the crowds."
Often these sanctuaries are mere miles from the hot spots—and just far enough to dissuade the high school crowd.
Villa Rolandi on Isla Mujeres, for example, is only six miles across the sea from the uninhibited undergrads. The resort's private yacht collects visitors in Cancún and delivers them to a dock amid a lush lagoon. Water plays a key role in activities offered at the resort, from diving at the world's second-longest barrier reef to ending the evening in your suite's private-balcony Jacuzzi, where the lights of Cancún sparkle—from a safe distance.
Another Mexican escape hardly likely to draw a rowdy crowd is the Tides Riviera, which uses no motorized vehicles or artificial light after nightfall. The adults-only resort blends into the surrounding jungle and features traditional Mayan-inspired treatments and activities, like the spa's temazcal steam bath and trips to the nearby ancient ruins.
Atmosphere and subtlety like this are key in student-free resorts—it's doubtful you'll see peddlers on these private beaches selling Coronas out of coolers.
Close to home
With the current state of the economy, crossing borders alone may keep you out of senior-trip territory; school-sponsored beachcombers will likely stay stateside.
Still, adults who prefer to stay local won't struggle to find an island oasis a stone's throw from the East Coast. Little Palm Island, 28 miles from Key West, Fla., could easily be mistaken for the South Seas; the resort's luxurious and very private bungalows are set on stilts and tucked into the surrounding flora. Arrival on the island is majestic; guests either fly in via seaplane or take a yacht that's more often than not escorted by dolphins.
Private islands like this are natural student repellents. "To get to really nice, secluded places," says Hideaways' Thiel, "you usually have to be prepared to take that boat trip over to an island. The party set don't want to do that."
Kamalame Cay, beyond U.S. borders but hardly distant, is another private-island option. A well-kept secret off Andros Island, the largest yet least frequently visited isle in the Bahamas, Kamalame boasts the country's only over-water spa. Head out on the "gin-clear" sea for a Zippy's Spiced Rum Wrap—just don't let the intoxicating scent trick you into reliving your college days with the kids in nearby Nassau.
If you're definitely not up for fun of the last-hurrah-before-heading-off-to-college variety, "the question you have to ask," continues Thiel, "is, 'How hard is it to get to?' Because the person who wants to step off the plane and be on the beach in 10 minutes is going to be putting up with crowds.
"And," he adds, "there's always something special about going to a place where the last step is arriving by boat."