Spring break, generally before and after Easter Sunday, is observed by a large majority of U.S. elementary, high, and college schools. Families with young children head for theme parks and other such attractions, while teens and college-age kids head off in bunches to a beach destination or cruise. A secondary break period, often called "Ski Week," leverages the Presidents Day holiday to extend to a week or two. Families and kids head for either the beach or the mountains.
If you have one or more student-age kids in your family, you're probably already aware of the dates their schools set spring break and ski week and you're maybe already planning what to do. I have nothing more to say to you in this column. Instead, I'm addressing the large number of you who don't have kids and don't have to worry about school schedules. And my take is that most of you will probably want to make sure you don't head for the same places the spring break families and kids do.
Although -- fortunately -- different schools observe different ski week and spring break dates, ski week concentrates around Presidents Day and spring break generally clusters the weeks before and after Easter. The folks at Your First Visit (yourfirstvisit.net), a leading guide to the Disney parks, compiled a useful tabulation of the dates when most kids are out of school:
-- Ski week is concentrated, with more than 90 percent of kids out of school on February 15, 16, and 17 (Presidents Day). Only around 20 percent are out February 14 and 18 to 23, with even fewer before or after.
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-- Spring break also shows a pronounced peak of more than 80 percent on April 10, 11, and 12 (Easter Sunday), the weekend when the pre-Easter and post-Easter periods overlap. But lots of kids are out April 4 to 9, and lots of others are out April 13 to 19. All in all, you're better off avoiding the entire April 4 to 19 period.
What's to avoid? Unless you're looking at the single weekend of February 15 through 17, other February dates should not pose much of a problem either at the beach or on the slope. Mardi Gras, February 25, may be a big deal in New Orleans, but it hardly matters as far as student-age populations around the country are concerned.
Spring break is another matter. If you enjoy mingling with -- or even joining -- raucous, rowdy, and often drunken teenagers, head for the popular break spots. Although the "in" spots may change a bit from year to year, you generally find spring breakers in the U.S. concentrated at beaches in South Florida, especially Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale, and Key West; the Florida panhandle around Panama City, and the Texas beaches from Galveston to Padre Island. Further afield, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, and Punta Cana have become famous (or notorious) spring break centers. Non-beach centers such as Las Vegas and Lake Havasu City also attract crowds. A big attraction for offshore destinations is that most beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico either have a minimum drinking age at 18 years or no minimum at all.
If you're longing for a relaxed time at sea, your worst nightmare is to get on a cruise overwhelmed by spring-breakers. In general, the kids choose relatively short trips on mass-market lines like Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean, to destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico. If you want to cruise during this time, to be safe, book through a travel agency and ask the agent to make sure any cruise you're considering hasn't been heavily booked for spring break.
If you still want to visit a beach center during spring break period, concentrate on centers farther down the Caribbean or Central America than Cancun, or head for Hawaii, which doesn't seem to get as much spring break traffic as other popular beaches. For a cruise, you won't find many spring breakers in the Mediterranean or on a Danube or Mississippi river cruise.