FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla – Spring breakers in Florida’s oceanfront Fort Lauderdale said they were happy to have chosen the city over its southern neighbor, Miami Beach, where officials stepped in and ordered a curfew in response to violence breaking out in the midst of large crowds.
Hundreds of students attending schools in Maryland, Ohio, Florida and elsewhere packed the beach across from Las Olas Boulevard Friday, soaking in the sun, tossing footballs and sneaking in some day drinking.
Police keeping an eye on the scene were at ease, in stark contrast to their Miami Beach counterparts, who were faced with rambunctious crowds and a pair of shocking shootings in crowded areas last week.
"I think it’s not that surprising that that happened in Miami," one beachgoer, who identified himself only as Anthony, a physiology major at Florida State University in Tallahassee who is from Miami, told Fox News Digital. "It happens every day, stupid stuff like that."
So he chose not to go home during this year’s spring break, even though he said he still planned on driving down to Miami for a few nights of Music Week.
"Fort Lauderdale is a lot better than Miami when it comes to actually enjoying your time, because things might be a little cheaper here, there's a lot less people, and there's a lot less you have to worry about," he said.
Many of his peers on the sand said they had ruled out Miami Beach as a spring break destination well ahead of the curfew – with higher costs being their main concern.
Florida State communications major Esa Vignon said she was also staying in Fort Lauderdale while attending some of Miami Music Week.
"We’re staying in Fort Lauderdale because it’s cheaper," she said. "I feel like it’s less crowded, and probably less crazy."
Kyle, who studies environmental economics at the University of Maryland, said he was staying with a group of friends at a rented house about 2 miles from Las Olas Boulevard for the week. They had planned on going down to South Beach to check out the night life but changed their minds after the state of emergency.
"Plus cost is a factor, because we’re all broke and have no money," he said. "I think we did a very good job with our location choice, for sure."
Despite open containers of alcohol visible across the beach, the scene appeared calm and jovial, and police stationed nearby said the visitors were largely behaving themselves.
"We were just really looking for a place where there was going to be a lot of people our age and wasn't too expensive and really, it was just the perfect environment for us," said Grace, who studies communications at Towson University in Maryland. "So we thought Fort Lauderdale was going to be the perfect option for us. It’s been awesome."
She came down with a group of 10, and she said she’d seen dozens of other classmates in town.
Sabrina Johnson, who studies communications at Georgia Southern University, said like Miami, Fort Lauderdale has desirable beaches and weather – but "it’s a lot safer."
"It’s beautiful, 75 degrees, slight breeze, but the water is still warm," she said. "It's a little crowded, but it's chill. Everyone's just enjoying their peaceful time at the beach."
Fort Lauderdale police agreed, saying they’d made just 14 arrests in the month of March and few notable incidents.
In Miami Beach, about 30 miles south, city officials have arrested more than 600 people and confiscated more than 100 illegal firearms, according to police there. Many of the hotels, bars and restaurants are more expensive there – and many visitors included more mature guests who came for the Ultra music festival and other dance music events this week.
One 50-year-old man eating lunch at the Clevelander on Ocean Drive said he’d planned his trip a year in advance and flew in from Arizona to spend more than $800 a night at the waterfront hotel, only to learn of the curfew days before he arrived. He declined to give his name.
The spike in criminal activity reached a peak earlier this week when two shootings left five people injured on Sunday and Monday. A 19-year-old from nearby Hialeah was arrested while at least two other suspected gunman remain at large.
The shootings prompted a nightly midnight to 6 a.m. curfew from Thursday to Monday morning.
City police say more than half of the spring break arrests involved residents of the surrounding Miami-Dade County. The guns were seized from visitors who drove into the area, as opposed to spring breakers who traveled by plane, according to Mayor Dan Gelber.
One major criticism from Miami Beach business owners over the curfew has been that it came as a reactionary move late in the season, tamping down their business hours after two years of a coronavirus pandemic that began with lockdowns and discouraged many would-be travelers from leaving home, hurting businesses and tip-earning employees immensely.
David Wallack, who owns Mango's, a major restaurant and bar on Ocean Drive in South Beach, told Fox News Digital his revenue was down 66% on Thursday, the first night of the curfew. And Rick Silverberg, whose liquor store the Portofino Wine Bank, located on South Pointe Drive since 2003, must close at 6 p.m. under the curfew, said he expected to lose about $10,000 a night.
"It makes no sense to me that you can walk up to a bar anywhere you want and go up and down the amount of shots you want to pound and then go back outside, but I can't sell to a resident a bottle of wine that they want to have with dinner," he told Fox News Digital Friday, two days into the curfew.
In Fort Lauderdale, police publicized their safety guidelines and seasonal enforcement measures well in advance.