Fort Lauderdale used to court college spring breakers. Now the city would rather have families. An official tourism Web site, www.visitflorida.
com, says: "Students on spring break visit destinations all over the state, but the areas with the most spring break activities are Daytona Beach, Key West, Miami and Panama City Beach.''
In spite of a weak economy and rising gasoline prices, families and college students have started to arrive in the Tampa Bay area for spring break. This is a crucial season for the local tourism industry, almost as important as Christmas in the retail industry. It's also a good opportunity for locals to explore the Tampa Bay area. Spring break starts March 31 in Pinellas County public schools, and April 7 in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. So here are some ideas for you to get out and enjoy the fun and sun.
College students and families flock to Pinellas beaches. Jordan Gebler, 19, of New Port Richey and a student at the University of South Florida, enjoys Clearwater Beach last Monday with her son Isaiah Gebler, 2. "Our spring break is really mom and dad and a couple of children that are coming down on a school break. That's really the majority of it," says Russ Kimball, longtime general manager of the Sheraton Sand Key.
Condo-building mania has eliminated many of the old hotels that used to work nicely for spring break visits. During the past four years, Clearwater has lost 1,200 hotel rooms. However, some of the condo projects have failed to materialize.
One thing to stay away from: The "Girls Gone Wild" bus has been known to visit Clearwater Beach.
Some family-friendly things to do on spring break in the Tampa Bay area:
• Go for a long walk at Weedon Island, Brooker Creek Preserve, Hillsborough River State Park, Picnic Island or Lettuce Lake Park.
• Try canoeing or kayaking. Or just go looking for alligators.
• Stand outside a spring training game and catch balls that fly outside the park.
• Check out the Leepa-Rattner Museum in Tarpon Springs or n Big Cat Rescue in Hillsborough County.
• Go shelling.
• Spend $100 on a GPS and go geocaching (www.geocaching.com).
Sources: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, www.visitflorida.com, Times research