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Spring Break Destinations for Northeast Travelers

Catherine is an avid traveler and applies her experience in the environmental sciences to give a global view of travel domestic and abroad.

Female friends vacationing at a beach destination

Female friends vacationing at a beach destination

For spring break, there are many options for those that reside in the eastern portion of the US. The best destinations that I've traveled to from the New York area all have a few things in common: warm weather, convenience to travel to within the one-week break, and popular with spring break travelers looking for activities during their trip. I'll discuss the destinations that I've personally traveled to, the must-sees at each, and tips for your stays.

There are a plethora of beautiful beaches at destinations where you can also enjoy cultural activities, from Florida to the Caribbean to Central America. If you're anything like me, I'm never looking for just a beach bum vacation. There are times where just relaxing and sitting on the beach is warranted, such as perhaps your honeymoon, but I'm always looking for more in my travels. In my trips, I'm looking for rich culture, a fun nightlife, delicious cuisine and some adventure activities next to a beautiful beach. It was also important that the flights were short, relatively. Yes, there are plenty of destinations in Asia that are still on my bucket list but for spring break I needed somewhere no longer than a four-hour flight.

These destinations are both domestic and international so it's important to be aware of some new travel rules before you head out including the enhanced license requirement for those wanting to travel domestically without a passport. For me, I prefer to simply have a passport so you don't need to look up the rules of the destination you're traveling to or the airport you're flying out of. Plus, with Puerto Rico as a US Territory, it can sometimes be confusing to know what's needed to travel there.

Puerto Rico

From the culture, nightlife and food of Old San Juan to the beautiful beaches across the island to the tropical rainforest of El Yunque, this US territory has something for everyone. One of the more popular areas in Puerto Rico is a historic district called Old San Juan. This area has cobble stone streets lined by brightly painted homes, a vast coastal view given its location in a northwest triangle corner of the island, and some deliciously authentic Puerto Rican food in small cafes and restaurants in this area. When I last visited Old San Juan, I spent a majority of one of my days at the historical forts there. For a small fee, you can do a self-tour of the El Morro Fort, which was built to protect the islanders from enemies coming by sea. It provides some of the most breathtaking views of Old San Juan and nearby San Juan town since it's high atop the highest hill in Old San Juan. Be sure to bring your camera to this historical place that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

When you’re ready to check out the nightlife, head over to the towering hotel resorts along the beach coast in San Juan. You’ll find there many rooftop clubs and restaurants that have DJs hosting dance parties late into the night. And then during the day, these beaches in San Juan are popular with both locals and tourists alike. There’s also plenty of beachfront, outdoor eateries near there as well, for a quick drink before hitting the surf again. San Juan is also the place to stay for affordable accommodations, as compared to the more pricey Old San Juan area.

For a little bit of adventure, you can swim in a bioluminescent bay or visit a Rainforest that’s part of the US National Parks system. The Bio Bays in Puerto Rico are among only five like it in the entire world and tiny microorganisms in the water trigger the glow of the bays. You can visit these ecological parks on a kayak to experience them without harming the fragile ecosystem. You should go through a tour company to ensure your visit has the smallest eco-impact. El Yunque Rainforest is the place for your next adventure as it has plenty of opportunities for hiking and breathtaking views. Let’s also not forget the beautiful waterfalls in this mountainous area. This is the only tropical rainforest within the US National Parks system. Be sure to listen for and try to spot the tiny Coqui frog, the native frog to this island that has a very distinct call.

Old San Juan Coast, Puerto Rico

Old San Juan Coast, Puerto Rico

Orlando, Florida

Whenever Orlando, Florida, is suggested as a viable travel destination, it's met either with acceptance or rebuff, and very little in-between. This is because you can't think of Orlando without thinking of Walt Disney World, which seems to have a love or hate fandom. Other successful theme parks in the area include Universal Studios and SeaWorld Orlando. You might wonder why I'm suggesting Orlando as a spring break destination since there aren't any beaches here but this is a fantastic destination for adults and teens alike with plenty of poolside lounging. You also don't have to stay on property at the Walt Disney World Resort, if that doesn't seem appealing to you, but I would actually argue for it.

Some of the resorts on Disney World Resort property are popular with families but these resorts are some of the best in the world. I’ve stayed at the cheapest resort on property and some of the most deluxe on property, and there is definitely a difference in quality of stay. For Spring Breakers, I would recommend Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, where the resort sprawls along a lake waterfront turn-of-the-century themed boardwalk. It’s a cleaner Atlantic City alternative with warm weather all year-round. Your days can be spent at the theme parks, with two parks actually being within walking distance from this resort, and spend the night on the boardwalk with unique dining experiences and Boardwalk Entertainment. On the Boardwalk there’s an ESPN Club, a piano bar, and even a dance club, the Atlantic Dance Hall.

There is a more adult oriented area within Disney World as well close to great shopping, called the Disney Springs area. Near Disney Springs are some recognizable hotel chains as part of the Disney Springs Resort Hotels such as a Hilton, Wyndham, and Holiday Inn, and some of these hotels offer luxurious amenities such as large pools with a lazy river and spas on site. Let's also not forget about how you're conveniently close to great shopping of Disney Springs. And, if you’re so inclined, you can head over to the “Happiest Place on Earth”, just a short Disney Bus ride or Uber car ride away.

I’ll skip reviewing the parks themselves at Disney World, given the amount of information that’s already available on theme park information out there. I’ll just say that there are plenty of rides for adults, special after-hour events within the theme park, and 5-star dining options right inside the parks. Out of all the parks, Magic Kingdom is geared much more towards families with children, but Epcot, with their World Showcase drink-around-the-world challenges, can be much more adult-oriented. There are also often festivals happening at Epcot, such as the Food and Wine Festival, which again, have a much more mature crowd.

Once the high-speed train currently being built is finished in Florida, it’ll just be a hop, skip, and a jump to Miami directly from Orlando, from particularly the Disney Springs area. We're likely to see these Brightline stops in 2022. When the high-speed train stops are complete, I will be the first in line, due to its convenient trip times from the Orlando Airport, to Disney World, to Miami, and back. The Key West area is also a great side trip if you're in the Sunshine state, but the easiest way to get to Key West is via car. You'd need to rent a car in Miami and then travel about three hours by car to the Key West Islands area.

Key West is at the southern tail end of Florida and it's for someone looking for something more laid back. Key West is an interesting place and has a personality all its own. It feels more like the caribbean within this island chain and the locals agree, actually being quite infamous for trying to declare secession from the U.S. This protest started out as a serious one against US boarder patrol checkpoints that deterred some tourists and local residents. However, it's now seen more as a lighthearted jester and the 'Conch Republic' believes more in sun-and-fun than anything else. They are also overwhelmingly welcoming to tourists. Be prepared for beautiful beaches that give any island in the caribbean a run for its money.

Puerto Rico - Luquillo Beach

Puerto Rico - Luquillo Beach

The Bahamas

For paradise close to home - most islands that are part of the Bahamas are an average of 2 1/2 hours away by plane - visit any island of the Bahamas for a guaranteed relaxing and sunny destination spot. You can snorkel, scuba dive or Jet Ski during your spring break in this paradise. Visit Nassau, Bahamas for its beaches and downtown area: see the historic forts or shop for bargains along Bay Street, Nassau’s famous international shopping location. Picturesque, pastel pink-colored colonial-style government buildings, erected in the early 1800s by loyalists, border the stores on Bay Street. The nightlife there is hopping with more than half of the island’s population residing in the town of Nassau. They have a variety of live shows, dancing, and music, including a taste of live Junkanoo music—the Bahamian music of choice. The beautiful, white sand beaches of Nassau include, Junkanoo beach, Montagu beach, and Saunders beach.

For some water park fun, Atlantis can't be missed. It's a giant resort complex with a massive water park right on property with plenty of water slides, a wave pool and a lazy river, ofcourse. They also have an aquarium right in site. But don't be too distracted by the amenities and pools at this resort, as the Bahamas beach is just steps away. If you want to save in hotel room costs, you could also stay at a neighboring hotel and purchase day passes to the Atlantis resort and its waterpark. This could be a good option for college students not looking to splurge but still want to get in on the fun.

Mexico

On the highland valley of Mexico City, the nation’s capital, you can visit Aztec ruins at the Templo Mayor and see the most significant structure of ancient Tenochtitlan. You can also see the large round pyramid in Cuicuilco, which was buried by lava flow of the Xitle volcano more than 2,000 years ago. There you can see the pyramids of the Sun and Moon, two large structures located on the Calzada de los Muertos. In Puebla is Cholula where you’ll see the remains of what might be the largest pyramid in Mesoamerica, about 214 feet high. The top destinations for enjoying Mexico’s sunny beaches include Los Cabos, Acapulco, known for it beautiful bays, Cancun and the Mayan Riviera where lagoons, archaeological zones and world-class tourist resorts add to the stunning beach.

Tulum can be another great option for those that are interested in visiting Mayan ruins without traveling too far from the beach. You will find a sprawling layout of ruins and pyramids in this ancient city and it's along a cliff overlooking the beautiful beaches. All the resorts in the area will offer tours so there isn't much need to book anything ahead of time. It's quite easy to explore the park on your own, though, as they offer maps right at the entrance gate. Be sure to bring your walking shoes as this area is large, with uneven ground, and there's much to see.

New ID & Passport Travel Rules

When new Passport Laws passed back in 2007 that required those traveling by plane between the United States and Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region to present a passport or other valid travel document to re-enter the US, we thought that would be end of the stricter travel rules in a post-9/11 world. However there are now new laws that require atleast an enhanced license to travel by plane domestically.

The new passport laws were a part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). It’s a result of the Intelligence Reform and Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), requiring all travelers to present a passport or other document that confirms identity and citizenship when entering the U.S. Valid WHTI-compliant documents include passport cards or a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, enhanced driver's license, or proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. The Caribbean territories this passport law applied to include the Bahamas, Jamaica, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and Aruba. Previously, you simply needed a US drivers license to travel to and from the US from these neighboring territories.

Now, to even get on a plane to go from New York to Florida, you need a special license called an enhanced license. There's an extra cost at the DMV, but other than that it really isn't much work to get this. If you already have a passport, though, I would recommend just traveling with your passport when traveling domestically. It's a strong form of identification and if a secondary identification is ever needed, you can then use your driver's license. This just seems the easier route if you already own a passport. However, do ensure to check the latest information on these rules and the rules for where you're traveling to before planning any trip.

© 2013 Catherine Stolfi

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