DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dana Wassum and Mary Jane Jackson brought their bikinis all the way from Maryland's Towson University to party and soak up spring break sun.
So far, they've been disappointed.
"I kind of thought it would be more crazy," the 21-year-old Wassum said. "Like wet T-shirt contests. We wanted to enter one but couldn't find any."
Three years after Daytona Beach stopped advertising aimed at pulling in the lucrative but sometimes rowdy spring break crowd, the number of students coming here has dropped from 400,000 to a trickle. MTV is no longer welcome to film its spring break shows in town and most of the parties that made the city one of the top national destinations age gone.
Daytona inherited the spring break traffic in the 1980s from Fort Lauderdale, where years of trashed hotels, fights and fatal balcony accidents persuaded officials there to get out of the college tourism business. The mayor went on national television to tell students they were no longer welcome.
After an advertising push lured them north, Daytona Beach was overwhelmed by raucous crowds and started to crack down on heavy partying in the 1990s. Bad behavior peaked again in 2002, with hoteliers complaining of heavy drinking and vandalism. Scores of high school girls were handcuffed and arrested for showing their breasts. Others drank until passing out in the street.
It has been steadily more sedate since. A few students still come, but officials don't even estimate their numbers.
"What happens inherently is when you do put controls on events and you're really clamping down on some of the excesses like alcohol consumption, I think the kids figure, 'Why worry about going somewhere and being arrested when I can go to the Caribbean or somewhere and not have to worry about those controls,"' said Tangela Boyd, spokeswoman for the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Boyd also noted that beachfront redevelopment is turning several old, cheaper motels into condos, further squeezing out cash-strapped breakers.
Further draining the party pool are increasingly popular "alternative spring break" options, like volunteering on the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast or building houses for the homeless. Spring break trips abroad, where alcohol consumption is less restricted for under-21 partiers, are also gaining in popularity.
Daytona and Fort Lauderdale aren't the first cities to decide the students were more trouble than they were worth. After Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., in 1988, he helped transform the resort town from a spring break mecca by banning cruising and thong bikinis.
As Daytona closes its doors to college students, they remain wide open for the increasingly gentrified crowds that attend NASCAR races and historically rowdy events like the motorcycle rally Bike Week. Both generate far more in local tourism dollars than spring break.
According to 2001 estimates, spring break brought in $196 million, compared with $561 million combined for the Daytona 500 and another race and $744 million for Bike Week and Biketoberfest.
Daytona Beach still makes top-10 lists of spring break hot spots, but much larger crowds flock to Panama City Beach on the Panhandle, which still hosts an estimated 350,000 students. Still more head to South Beach near Miami, in some circles this year's most buzzed-about hot spot.
Several of the sun-kissed, sandblasted old hotels along oceanfront Daytona's Atlantic Avenue still welcome breakers with marquee messages, and night clubs trumpeting free drinks fill up on weeknights. But without the big crowds and sponsored tents, and with police enforcing alcohol bans on the beach, the city carries a different air these days.
That was just fine with Reece Mabry, a 19-year-old student who came from Murray State in Kentucky. He was with a group of Christian guys and didn't plan to go wild anyway.
"The environment isn't what I expected. It's not what it was before," he said.
Stuart Troutman, a 21-year-old from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, said it was much more tame than his previous break in South Padre Island, Texas.
"In South Padre you have parties on the beach, like kegs, tugs-of-war, wrestling," he said by the pool at his beachfront motel. "There's more old people here than in South Padre."