Whether it’s a club that hugs a Caribbean beach or a bar that pulsates with rock music in Sin City, one thing is for sure: The party is on for spring break. With quick flights to these sun-dappled North American and Caribbean destinations — and with the knowledge that fruity drinks, craft beer and, yes, even bottles of wine are flowing — what are you waiting for?
Here are some spring break destinations where you’ll find the best parties.
1. Panama City Beach, Florida
There’s a reason “Girls Gone Wild” filmed numerous episodes in this Panhandle city: This is central ground for college students who are taking the edge off of their midterm studies. Condos and hotels line 27 miles of white-sand beachfront, including the No. 1-ranked beach by Dr. Beach, aka Dr. Stephen Leatherman, who has become America’s leading beach expert. Spring break kicks off each Saturday night at Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach with a luau party (grass skirts and coconut bras encouraged).
2. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Three celebrity rock stars operate bars in downtown Cabo: Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS run Rock & Brews, and Sammy Hagar of Van Halen runs Cabo Wabo Cantina. Book a room on the marina or downtown — not at one of the tony resorts up the highway — and all you have to do is stumble home. Nurse a hangover at Bahia Hotel & Beach Club’s Bar Esquina (popular with expats) with huevos rancheros or chilaquilles, and a “wake up” cocktail like a Mimosa or Bloody Caesar.
3. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
It’s hard not to like any Caribbean island with fruity drinks, but Punta Cana takes it to another level with Vegas-style shows at the year-old Coco Bongo. Sip a rum cocktail while viewing “Moulin Rouge” or an acrobatic show. Ditch the clubs and bars at the hotels and resorts and hop over to Drink Point, the “it club” along Bavaro Beach. It’s a hit with expats and it’s open until 5 a.m. Save more cash for the clubs by booking an all-inclusive at Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe, just up the road from Drink Point.
4. Las Vegas
The flights in and out of McCarran International Airport are cheap, and the hotel rates are just as low — even at the new The Linq Hotel (starting at $55 a night). Its 78,000-square-foot, 32-lane Brooklyn Bowl merges cocktails with bowling, and there’s a live-music venue. Drai’s, inside The Cromwell Boutique Hotel & Casino, is a beach club and a nightclub with acts like the electro-funk duo Chromeo and DJs with international cred. In an only-in-Vegas twist, visit a dayclub, such as Marquee at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. till sunset).
5. Miami Beach
For partiers who crave nostalgia, it doesn’t get any better than kicking back with drinks inside an art deco hotel along Ocean Drive in South Beach. Hotels in SoBe can be costly, but if your agenda is to party, book a room at the Miami Hostel (includes transportation to and from a different local club each night) or the new YVE Hotel in downtown Miami (as low as $169 a night in March).
6. Cancun, Mexico
Year after year, college students flee to Cancun — mainly because the drinking age is 18. Adults crave a Cancun getaway, too, especially at one of the dozens of all-inclusive beachfront hotels where you aren’t nickel-and-dimed for food and drink. Party to the tune of DJs as you work on your tan at Oasis Cancun, an all-inclusive (yes, including drinks) that’s the official site of many spring break beach contests. Or book a room at Krystal Cancun, convenient to many clubs in Punta Cancun. The JW Marriott offers poolside luxury when you need a well-deserved recovery period from your nightlife fiesta.
7. South Padre Island, Texas
Everything’s better in Texas, as the saying goes, and that includes South Padre Island’s spring break scene. Options to rent a house or condo — of which there are many — allow your group to spread out and not feel confined to a hotel room. Party promoters will host daily events (concerts and contests) at Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill, and you can amp up the adrenaline with a day trip (snorkeling, fishing or jet skiing) from Breakaway Cruises.
8. Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
Does recreational boating seem more up your alley? This city is a magnet for spring breakers and offers motel rates of well under $100 a night, including Havasu Sands Resort (with a pool) and Bridgewater Motel (wake up to views of the lake and London Bridge). It’s not uncommon to see boats docked at Bridgewater Channel and Copper Canyon, paired with rock music and plenty of beers. After sunset, partiers head to the bull riding and go-go girls at Kokomo.
9. New Orleans
The party doesn’t stop when Mardi Gras ends. Plenty of bars and clubs keep the light on for partiers in Crescent City. Among them is Vaughan’s, a cozy lounge on Dauphine Street in Bywater, with a Thursday night party featuring live jazz and only a $10-$15 cover (includes classic NoLa fare: red beans and rice). Retire to a historic boutique hotel like The Ambassador Hotel, snug in the Arts District near the French Quarter and under $179 on select dates in March and April.