Spring break has already begun for many of America's college students, but the biggest and most popular festivities are yet to come. While the year's most talked about spring break party might be in Cancun, millions of budget-minded students will prefer stateside destinations to avoid pricey airfare and minimize hotel costs with group discounts. Many of the best discounts for hotel packages have already been snapped up, but it's not too late to find affordable places to stay during spring break, especially when booking as a group. The following are five of the best spring break destinations on a budget.
Located just 50 miles northeast of Orlando and the site of the first MTV Spring Break special, the big draws for college students in Daytona Beach are the 23-mile-long beach, subtropical climate and discount travel packages. When tour operators first began advertising hotel packages in the city often described as the "Spring Break Capital of the World," some hotel packages were going for $89 for five nights and six days with group reservations. While many travel packages have gone up since the year began, many beachside hotels continue to offer discounts for the estimated 250,000 spring breakers expected to descend upon Daytona Beach. Among the most popular events scheduled this year include DJs spinning the best pop, rock and hip-hop music, wet bikini contests and hot body contests in the "party zone" near the Main Street Pier. Other great hot spots favored by college students during spring break include Razzle's Night Club, Ocean Deck Beach Club and the Oyster Pub. Students on a budget can enjoy cheap eats at places like the Earl Street Grill, Lost Lagoon Wings and Grill and South Turn Lounge and Restaurant.
Even though other American cities describe themselves as the "Spring Break Capital of the World," the party in Las Vegas lasts all year long. With a Las Vegas Strip full of resort hotels vying for the college student's dollar, individual and group rate bargains can still be had, even for last-minute planners, with the best bargains in downtown Vegas near the Fremont Street Experience. All major hotel pools re-open in time for spring break, including the pool at the Palms (past location of MTV's Spring Break mega-party), Beach Club at the Hard Rock Hotel (the "original pool party in Las Vegas") the Mandalay Bay's 11-acre beach, TAO Beach at the Venetian and the Beach Club at the Encore. If gigantic beach parties aren't enough, Vegas is also home to some of the world's best nightclubs, such as Lavo at the Palazzo, Pure at Caesars Palace, the Marquee at the Cosmopolitan, XS at the Encore, TAO at the Venetian and Hakkasan at the MGM Grand. For an inexpensive option, hotel employees are often seen talking to passersby and offering free passes inside major casinos. For more affordable drinking options, the V Bar during happy hour and "the ultra-dive bar" Rockhouse at the Venetian and Zingers across from the City Center are all good choices. Most every casino offers a food court for budget food, especially downtown, where visitors can enjoy a prime rib meal for under $10 at the Four Queens or cheap eats at Las Vegas Jerkys inside the Las Vegas Club and Casino.
With hundreds of thousands of college students living in the greater Los Angeles area, many of those may choose to go home during spring break or enjoy the region's popular beaches, including Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, made famous from the popular MTV television series. However, alcohol is prohibited on Southern California beaches, making it difficult to host an MTV-sized Spring Break party. Nevertheless, with so much to do in the one of the world's top entertainment centers, college students can find everything from a nice deal on hotels and cheap eats to a vibrant nightlife and world famous attractions, like the Grammy Museum at LA Live, Universal Studios and Disneyland, which all offer student discounts for admission. Among the top choices for LA nightclubs are Lure Nightclub, Boulevard3, the Mayan and AV Nightclub, along with longtime favorites Whiskey A-Go-Go, the Troubadour, the Roxy and the Viper Room. Cheap eats can be found just about anywhere in LA and among good bets are Tere's Mexican Grill on Melrose, Farmers Market near CBS Studio City, Shaka Shack in Santa Monica, Jersey Mike's near Sunset and Vine in Hollywood and Dreams Cafe and Bar on West Sunset.
Panama City is already primed to welcome endless legions of students to the popular seaside community within the Florida Panhandle. Easily one of the country's most affordable spring break destinations, Panama City relies heavily on student tourism, providing a huge boost to the local economy. Up to 500,000 college students are treated with a number of discount packages, many including airfare, hotel accommodations and entry into the largest spring break parties. With temperatures expected to be in the mid 70s and and equally warm waters, much of the action will be right on the beach overlooking Saint Andrew Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Visit Panama City Beach, Spinnaker's Paradise Grill, J Michael's Dockside Bar and Grill and Club La Vela, with a capacity of 7,000, the largest nightclub in the U.S. Club La Vela offers a Spring Break Card beginning at $40. Popular spots worth checking out for dining on a budget near Panama City Beach include Flamingo Joe's, Liza's Kitchen and Coram's. Smaller but more affordable drinking establishments near the beach include Foghorn's, World's Smallest Beach Bar and Patches Pub and Grill.
South Padre Island
One of the southernmost destinations in Texas, South Padre Island lives up to the reputation of "Everything's Big in Texas." Less than an hour's drive from Brownsville, students from throughout the Southwest and beyond flock to this resort spot known for the spectacular coastline, warm Gulf waters and beach parties. Since the beginning of the year, travel sites and hoteliers have been offering package deals for students coming from campuses like the University of Texas, Texas A&M, University of Oklahoma and the University of Kansas. Among the biggest upcoming events are UME (Ultimate Music Experience) at Schlitterbahn Beach Water Park, rappers Wiz Khalifa and Taylor Game at Clayton's Beach Bar, rapper MGK at South Party Island and Tequila Sunset with Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras parties and free beads every Tuesday through March. Top choices for cheap eats and drinks on the island are Padre Island Brewing Company, Laguna BOB Bar on Bay, Kelly's Irish Pub and Wanna-Wanna Beach Bar and Grill.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.
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