Mexico popular travel destination for U students

by Peter Frost

This spring break, large numbers of pale, college-aged Minnesotans will ditch their long underwear and migrate south to salt water, sandy beaches and above all, hot weather.
Packing suitcases with swimwear, beer money and Tylenol will be the easy part. Finding cheap flights, cool places to party and decent accommodations will be a little harder.
Whether it’s Cancun, Acapulco, Jamaica or a cruise in the South Pacific, plenty of sun and hard-core alcohol consumption is guaranteed with most packages.
Travel companies and tour groups say Mexico is one of the most popular and cost-efficient destinations for college students.
“This year we’re really pushing Mazatlan,” said Matt Scriven, a sales representative with Paradise Parties in Denver.
“It is the most affordable place to travel. You can stay at a five-star hotel in Mazatlan for the same price as a two-star in Cancun that’s a mile away from the sea,” he said.
For between $600 and $700, students can get round-trip airfare, seven nights stay in a three- to four-star hotel and a party package covering seven clubs in seven nights, all with an open bar.
Scriven describes Mazatlan as “Minneapolis, Mexico,” but says only about 150 University students are heading there.
Maybe a more appropriate vacation spot to be named after a Minnesotan city is Acapulco.
In the past three years, Tony Bianchi-Rossi estimates Bianchi-Rossi Tours sent an average of 500 University students on spring break to Mexico’s southwestern oasis.
This year more than 700 students from the University’s Twin Cities and Duluth campuses have signed up so far.
Acapulco is the tour company’s only spring-break destination and the most popular package-trip among University students.
The package, priced between $700 and $800 depending on hotel quality, features round-trip airfare and seven nights stay.
And like most other spring break trips, hard parties and free-flowing booze are expected.
The Acapulco trip, like Mazatlan, also includes a bar tour with free drinks and a stop at Alebrije, a club with enough room for 5,000 people, and a reputation for being the biggest indoor dancing and drinking emporium in the western hemisphere.

Can I buy the island?
In the name of practicality, Mexico group tours score big with students who don’t want to spend their life savings for sun poisoning and an alcohol-soaked week they’ll hardly remember.
But for those who want to lay down serious cash for an all-out, no-holds-barred vacation, students with their parents’ credit card to abuse can call their travel agent and pack their bags for a high-dollar adventure.
At American Express Travel Services in Minneapolis, agents topped a list of their most outrageous vacations with a $20,000 per person, 16-day trip on a small cruiser through the South Pacific.
For those looking to just go on spring break and never come back, a three-month cruise was suggested, not to the Caribbean — a commonplace destination by travel standards — but to Fiji, Tahiti, Australia, Malaysia, the Mediterranean Sea, or the coasts of Scandinavia or the Russian Federation.
The finer cruise lines mentioned for the trip were SeaBorn or Crystal Cruises. “They’re smaller boats, and the passenger-to-crew ratio is smaller so you feel more pampered,” one agent said.
A cruise with less pampering and less cost would be the $2,500 per person, per week Amazon riverboat cruise featuring jungle hikes, monkeys and pink dolphins. And with a small travel group of 19, it’s far more intimate than the beach mob scene in Mexico or Florida.
For less water but more wild animals, one agent named an African safari as her dream destination. “If you want the best of the best, you’d chose Abercrombie & Kent (guide service),” the agent said. “They’re very upscale, they use the best operators and they stay at some of the famous game reserves.”
With airfare, the trip runs $8,000 per person, not including a vaccination against malaria.
Lazy days
For spring breakers who aren’t independently wealthy, but who still want to get away from the typical spring-break mob scene and southern Mexico’s scorching heat, Jamaica might be the hot tip.
To occupy a leisurely day, there are caves, shanties and horse stables that draw spring-break crowds, though only a fraction the size of Mexico’s.
“We went to Acapulco last year, and we wanted something more relaxing,” said Josh Shulman, a CLA senior and a campus representative for Sunsplash Tours.
“We just wanted to go somewhere that has more than just sitting by a pool and getting drunk all day,” Shulman said.
Shulman might have the chance to take the trip for free, pending 15 people sign up with him.
Lauren Addy, a CLA junior and another campus representative for Sunsplash, has already earned her free trip and more.
Addy, who has sold 64 trips to University students, garnered another free vacation to Cancun in addition to her all-expenses paid spring-break trip. She also will receive an estimated $900 spending cash to blow in Jamaica.
“It’s a lot harder than people think,” Addy said. “Sure, if someone organizes a trip, people will go, but it’s a ton of work to gather everyone’s money and distribute all of the spring-break material yourself.”
Similar to the others, trips to Jamaica range from $700 to $800. A $745 package has been the best seller for Addy and Shulman, which includes airfare and all the amenities upon arrival.
Because Mazatlan, Acapulco, Jamaica and other popular places have limited availability, LTC travel consultant Fritz Jack recommends looking for a smaller-market travel destination — especially with fewer than two months to plan.
“A lot of our destinations are sold out for spring break,” Jack said. “It’s pretty tough trying to book hotel and air packages at this point.”
But there’s still hope: “Keep your eyes open to the Sunday Travel section and the Internet for affordable deals. And remember, it’s not too late to start planning for next year,” Jack reassured.

Peter Frost and Kane Loukas cover business and welcome comments at [email protected] and [email protected]