CLEARWATER BEACH — The hung-over rugby team sought a new hotel room.
Nothing fancy. Just enough space for five or so guys who, Tuesday night, had been kicked out of a Tampa La Quinta Inn for throwing far too loud a kegger.
A hotel manager had asked Indiana University student Austin Robbins, 22, six times: Could you guys keep it down? But the juniors and seniors, swilling Bud Select from red Solo cups, had invited girls.
"Wasn't going to happen," Robbins said of the manager's plea for quiet. "We're on spring break."
Wearing an American flag tank top and jean shorts, Robbins drove to Clearwater Beach on Wednesday, where his teammates tossed a rugby ball beside the shimmering water.
"We're definitely staying here tonight," he said. "Not sure where yet, though."
Hundreds of college students wearing neon hats, faux Ray Ban shades and backpacks stuffed with cold drinks dotted Clearwater Beach on Wednesday from Pier 60 to Shephard's Beach Resort, where a DJ spun rap-infused dance music.
March into April is spring break season, and Clearwater Beach, recently named the nation's best beach town by USA Today, is a hot destination for those seeking to shed reality in sunny Florida. Cars with foreign license plates clog the streets. Crowds form outside Hooters and Crabby Bill's seafood restaurant.
"People are out here all day drinking and dancing in the heat, and sometimes things get a little crazy," said Todd Ryan, assistant manager at Shephard's. "We have security on the property because things do happen."
Shephard's, like many waterside lodgings, stays almost constantly booked with college students, he said. Attractions at the hotel include "hot body" and booty-shaking contests.
"We're an entertainment complex," he said.
Sharon Mccloskey, an assistant manager at Wings on Poinsettia Avenue, said the surf shop stays packed with people buying Hello Kitty towels, beer bongs, tie-dyed fringed cover-ups — the bestseller list goes on.
"Anything neon goes really fast," she said. "Hats, T-shirts. You name it."
Karolyn Miller, a 20-year-old junior at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is staying with friends this week at her aunt's Clearwater house.
Sporting a strapless pink bikini, she threw a Frisbee on the beach Wednesday with people she met that morning. Miller, who studies tourism management, doesn't drink. She prefers to avoid alcohol-fueled parties.
"We're down here to have a good time and explore," she said. "We're making new friends and enjoying the weather. Back home was 30 degrees."
Under an orange and white umbrella nearby, about a dozen University of South Florida students sat on beach towels and sipped Bud Light.
Spenser Bahr, who gave his age as 23, drove from his parents' house in Zephyrhills with his friend "Big" Mike Avadikian, 22, blasting Sweet Home Alabama and Fat Bottom Girls.
They drank Jager. They drank Bud Light.
"I'm losing my abs," Avadikian said.
"I'm not," replied Bahr, hitting his stomach.
On the beach, they were far from their accounting and communications classes, far from the usual responsibilities. They planned to stay the night with three friends in a Howard Johnson Inn and Suites room. Drink more beer. Dance at Shephard's.
"And," Avadikian said, "meet some girls."
Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.