The history of spring break

From Fort Lauderdale swim meets to the rise of the all-inclusive

Today, all-inclusive vacation packages are all the rage.

The notorious, highly anticipated, and relatively new tradition of spring break (known as Reading Week at many Canadian schools) has become a symbol of North American university life.

For sleep-deprived, vitamin D-deficient university students facing midterms and low Canadian temperatures, this break never comes soon enough.

Though it may seem like nothing more than an academic tradition meant to thwart mass student burnout, the history behind this yearly phenomenon is far more colourful.

According to Time magazine, the origin of spring break can be traced back to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the 1930s. In 1936, one college coach decided to train his swim team in the city’s new Olympic-size swimming pool—the first one in Florida—which quickly lead to a nationwide tradition for college swimmers. After a swim forum was established two years later, swim teams gathered at this destination yearly, and soon, the time and place became equated with partying.

This tradition continued into the 1960s, and even inspired the 1960 coming-of-age film Where the Boys Are. The film follows four college girls’ spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale as the attempt to have fun-filled beach romances and engage in wild behaviour.

After that, Fort Lauderdale became widely characterized as a crazy and untameable wonderland for young people. By the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of inspired students were descending upon the city, causing trouble and gaining a bad reputation.

Predictably, after a particularly rowdy year and thousands of arrests in 1985, the city worked to shut spring break partying culture down. The municipality implemented anti-drinking laws and made a public announcement to warn students they were no longer welcome.

Despite this, the concept of spring break lived on and spread to other destinations eager to welcome an influx of happy, drunk, money-spending university students.

Spring break culture hit screens through the TV show MTV Spring Break in the 1990s and early 2000s, epitomizing teenage fantasies of sex, drinking, and partying in excess.

The program’s usual spectacle involved artists such as NSYNC and Destiny’s Child in short shorts and tight tank tops performing to crowds of screaming students, while women took their tops off. Activities included bikini contests, whipped cream fights and body-shaking competitions.

After almost decades of this hit MTV show on air, spring break has become synonymous with drinking, swimming, and sunshine.

The Canadian version of this holiday isn’t too different from its Florida origins: hazy, drink-filled, sunny days on the beach. For a typical Canadian university student, particularly in their final year of school, the break involves EDM, posting Instagram stories, and screaming while spraying beers in an attempt to get onto Canadian Party Life.

Warmer cities like Cancún and Panama City welcome this tide of students year after year. However, today, unlike back in Fort Lauderdale, students are now largely contained within all-inclusive resorts.

All-inclusive vacation packages—preferred by most student spring break vacationers—boast unlimited drinks, so-so food, and shared rooms. In some cases, transportation is even thrown into the package. It’s all about no-hassle, stress-free booking.

It’s a win for the students and a win for the cities: throwing students into an enclosed space is a clever solution to avoiding a Fort Lauderdale-type fiasco.

For many students, this week isn’t an opportunity for studying and re-energizing for the rest of semester. Instead, it’s a chance to laze by the beach or the pool with a cocktail in hand—an homage to the break’s Fort Lauderdale origins.

So, here’s to the Reading Week which, for many, involves no reading at all. And to all of you returning from the break, hopefully you got the relaxation you deserve.

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