Thursday, March 22, 2007

Heading out on vacation

Next week I will be entirely unplugged. I'll be thinking of you.

Such a deal!

I love travel deals. In my job, I see tons of them in press releases. I also have signed up with a host of e-mail newsletters, among them Smarter Travel, Luxury Link and Intrepid Express.

This sometimes costs me money. Once, when my husband and I were first dating, I saw an incredible deal for bareboat sailing charter in Tahiti. My voice mail to him sounded like this: "I have only one word for you. Tahiti!'' We even convinced another couple to go with us. I ended up hating the boat and wanting off on Day 2. The other couple was quite happy (I think it had to do with the bloody marys.)

We ended up married. They ended up divorced.

That notwithstanding, it's always worth letting your fancy get tickled by a great travel deal.

Here are a few that might get you off your couch:

Intrepid Travel offers well-priced trips that range from piloting your own narrow boat in England to the Galapagos, Asia and places between. The trips aren't posh, but a Miami friend who has taken them says they're comfortable and offer great value. One plus to the newsletter: It will alert you to sales and trip giveaways. This month's drawing: A trip to Tibet.

One current offer: 13-day hiking biking and rafting trip in Thailand (land only) for $910 per person, double occupancy, plus a local payment of about $275.

Barbados: From this week's press release stash: Liberty Travel is offering the Best of Barbados starting at $619 which includes seven nights hotel accommodations with your seventh night free, daily American breakfasts, a $200 air credit per person, round trip midweek air on American Airlines and round trip transfers. Contact your local Liberty Travel agent by calling 1-877-LIBERTY for more information. Note: You must book by April 21 for travel in May and June.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Florida finds

My recent tour of Florida Spring Break haunts is over. But like any good trip, my jaunt yielded a few finds worth sharing.

Avalon Waterfront Inns, Fort Lauderdale: Nothing fancy, but this older motel-style lodging feels fresh and friendly … and it's just across the street from the beach.

Trina, the upscale restaurant at The Atlantic hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach: Chic setting, warm staff and a drop-dead homemade ravioli with marscapone.

Captiva Island Inn, Captiva: This cheery B&B is a block from the beach, steps from the beloved Bubble Room restaurant and next to the Key Lime Bistro, which shares owners with the Inn.

South Seas Plantation, Captiva: It's back! Nearly 18 months after it was ravaged by Hurricane Charley, the resort is back on track. New owners and an ambitious renewal plan have resulted in updated facilities throughout the 300-plus acres. Alas, the lush canopy is missing … something only nature can restore.

Il Mulino, Orlando: The trendy NYC Italian eatery has opened at Disney in the Swan resort. Service is terrific, wine list interesting, ambience chic. My dinner was good but not brilliant, and my salad was badly over-salted. It's only been open a few weeks, though. (I prefer Todd English's bluezoo, next door at the Dolphin.)

Acapulco Inn: On Daytona Beach, this beachfront hotel offers free breakfast and a
comfortable upscale ambiance; efficiencies available.

Majestic Beach Towers: It's a shame that much of Panama City's beachfront is veiled by towers. That aside, the Majestic Beach offers upscale condo-suites with full-kitchen facilities and great views. Indoor and outdoor pools, too.

Friday, March 09, 2007

More from PCB

Jaimie Mazzola, 19, of Western Michigan Universit

Jaclyn Baublit, 21, Chelsea Paterson, 19, and Stephanie Brady, 20, from Eastern Michigan University.

Shane Cooper, 20, of Atlanta.

Amie Sankoh, 22, and Marquetta Williams, 23, from FAMU.

Emilio Rodriguez, 21, of Atlanta.

Spring Breakers Jamie Rogan, 18, Vinnie Athey, 19, Jerry Riendeau, 20, Andrew Hemby, 19 (who says he will one day run for U.S. president as a Republican) and Andrew Cannada, 18, all from Virginia Tech. All are spending Spring Break 2007 in Panama City Beach as part of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Adult Spring Breakers Maria and George Brown of Canada.



PCB: Spring Break Central

PANAMA CITY BEACH -- On Day Six, the final day of our Florida Spring Break Tour, we have finally come to the nexus of Spring Break as it was intended to be: A wild-and-wooly college party.

Only it’s not so wild. Oh, sure there’s plenty of beer around, and some harder liquor too. But by day, at least, the fun is limited to basketball, beach volleyball, whooping and hollering, a Hula-Hoop contest, football tosses, banana boat rides and, oh yeah, dumping bikini-clad girls in the oh-so-chilly surf.

We did see one group of kids stopped by a police car, sitting roadside surrounded by empty brew bottles. But the roads were surprisingly calm, and it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that rented motorbikes and scooters took to the roadway. Bob Warren, CEO of the local visitors bureau, said he wasn’t aware of any serious incidents or deaths this year.

For the most part, it was a bikinis, beer and beach scene. And for that, Spring Breakers can largely thank the Holiday Inn Sunspree. In the past decade, the hotel has invited corporate sponsors to provide activities, so kids have “something to do besides drink. It’s not beer bongs anymore. There’s a higher standard,’’ said Nicole Steinman, the hotel’s marketing manager.

The 1,500-plus kids who stay at the Holiday Inn each night – most for a week at a time – get toiletries provided by Gillette/Venus, and the girls can get their makeup done in the hotel lobby each evening. Breakers can compete in XBox tournaments compliments of Geico (winners can take home an iPod or DVD player). Or they can chat with staffers at the U.S. Army booth, which has a climbing tower and provides activities like a parachute ceremony. Music around the pool goes until 4 a.m, when the pool is closed for “the evening.’’

Even away from the controlled chaos of the Holiday Inn, the beach scene is relatively tame. More volleyball, a giant inflatable waterslide, country-western tunes, rap tunes, a National Guard stage.

Chelsea Paterson, 19, Jaclyn Baublit, 21, and Stephanie Brady, 20, from Eastern Michigan University, came because they’d heard Panama City Beach put on a good party. They weren’t disappointed. “It’s actually been better than I expected,’’ said Chelsea. “It’s kinds like Cancun, except you can eat the food.’’

Not everyone is partying. At the Majestic Beach Hotel, most rooms were booked by Campus Crusade for Christ, a manager said.

So, do the Crusaders have fun, even though they’re not drinking? “Absolutely. I’d say we have more fun – and we can remember it,’’ said member Andrew Hemby, 19, from Virginia Tech.

And what about non-Breakers? “It was too quiet before the kids got here,’’ said Maria Brown of Ontario, Canada, a retiree, who has been here since December with husband George. “I wish I had the chance to do this when I was young.’’

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More from Bike Week

Horned: Self-dubbed "horny guys'' Adam Minkley and uncle David Minkley on Main Street during Bike Week 2007 in Daytona Beach. Photo by Jane Wooldridge / staff.

Top: Cool bikes for sale at Arlen Ness Daytona, one of Bruce Rossmeyer's companies in Daytona Beach.

The Indian: Neila Benferhat sits atop a 1939 Indian motorcycle at the Bruce Rossmeyer's Destination Daytona Harley-Davidson mega dealership during Bike Week 2007.

Gecko's ride: Geico Insurance was one of several companies handing out paraphenalia to visitors at Bike Week. Here's the gecko's own bike.

On Main Street: Making the scene.

The bare truth: Somewhat bare bartender on Main Street.

"Beer'' tender: Marianna Marchenko, a regular bartender at the Saints and Sinner pub, mans a booth near Bruce Rossmeyer's Destination Daytona Harley-Davidson mega dealership.



On the Beach



FAR FROM THE BIKE WEEK MADNESS: A calm beach scene, shared by college spring breakers (from left) Brittany Lee, 23, Jordan Davis, 21, and Karis Maxwell, 26, students at Tennessee Technical University, on Daytona Beach.

Bike Week in Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH -- A few families romped on the wide hard sand, and even a few college Spring Breakers hung around, though tourism officials here discourage them. But this week, the real action comes from adult Spring Breakers with two wheels between their legs and (mostly) good-natured rabble rousing on their minds. For the 66th year, it’s Bike Week, and on Day Five of our Florida Spring Break tour, Daytona Beach was Hog wild.

You see the bikers on every roadway, at every restaurant and hotel – even the parking lot of the local Barnes & Noble. This is because there’s not a single center of action, but three, and the streets around town are filled with bikers moving from one to another. Some 500,000 bikers come during the 10-day fest, dropping in excess of $350 million, says Kevin Kilian of the area Chamber of Commerce.

It’s not all fun. Last year, 16 people died in the deadliest Bike Week ever. This year, four have died, reports the Daytona Beach News Journal. As you weave through traffic, you understand how easily things can go wrong.

Stop One was at legendary Harley-Davidson dealer Bruce Rossmeyer’s mega store north of town, at 109,000 square feet the world’s largest. The plaza around the shop become a street fair of beer, bands, barbecue, bikes and bike-stuff: everything from fringed leather saddle bags to airbrush paint jobs executed on the spot.

Both the bikes and those who ride them spanned as wide a range as you can imagine. Purple choppers, baby-blue retro models, wide-tired crotch rockets, yellow polka dotted roadsters. The people, too: Bikini-clad girls hawking beer, a burley leather vested man clutching a lap dog, moms with babies in strollers, a chic gray-haired couple who looked like they belong in a Scottsdale art gallery. Even a retired minister in a Buffalo Soldiers shirt, Ronnie McLaughlin, and his wife, Ardelia, from Greensboro, N.C., who said they’d been coming to Bike Week for seven years. The scene was amazingly polite – even genteel. At least at mid-day.

The set-up was much the same at the Daytona International Speedway, where vendors selling all things bike oriented stretch from one end of the parking lot to the other.

But by late afternoon, the center of insanity was Main Street, just blocks from the famous hard-packed sands where the region first earned the name, Birthplace of Speed. It’s the ultimate see-and-be-scene. Bikes are parked wheel-to-wheel for a dozen blocks along the sidewalk. Bikers and enthusiasts crowd barbecue stands, make-shift beer stalls, music stages and T-shirt shops where they’ll custom-design a shirt in your size in just minutes. More bikers cruise the street, gunning their engines as the crowds roar approval. There’s plenty of bare skin, and more promised as the night grows closer.

Jason Kolenc of Ohio was soaking up attention at his first-ever Bike Week, thanks to his biking buddy, “Buffy,’’ an honest-to-goodness bison head a Daytona bar owner had given him earlier in the week. Next to him were regulars Fred and Barbara Hale from New Hampshire, who have come since the 1970s. “There are more people, and it’s a younger, crazier crowd,’’ than in earlier years, she said. But still nice; you just avoid the troublemakers.

As if to prove the point, a guy roared up and asked if I’d like a ride. “No time. Working,’’ I told him. A good excuse … and true.



Top: Jason Kolenc of Ohio with "Buffy,'' a bison he got from a Daytona Beach bar owner.
Center: Ronnie and Ardelia McLaughlin of Greensboro, N.C., are attending Bike Week for the seventh year.
Bottom: Daytona's famous beach.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tell us your story

Tell us about a memorable Spring Break trip. Where did you go? What made it memorable? Click on Post a Comment, below.

More from Orlando


Top: Cousins Sky Bree Setzer, 8, of Cape Coral, and Billy Miller, 7, of Wellsboro, Penn., at Disney-MGM Studios.

Phil Wisniewski and daughter Olivia, 9, of Holland, Michigan, at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.

Canadian 11th graders Jackie Mancini, 16, Katelyn Kerr, 16, Jeffrey Leung, 17, Sebastien Berube, 17, and Eric Benwell, 17, from Montreal, at Universal Studios Orlando.

Kim Watts, 18, and Rachel Jackson, 19, both students at Georgia State University. Rear, Embree Moore, 19, a student at Clark Atlanta, hang out in the Back to the Future car at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.

Skipping school in Orlando

ORLANDO -- You don’t officially have to be on Spring Break to get a break from school -- not if you’re like Olivia Wisniewski, 9, of Holland, Mich., whose parents liberated her and her siblings for a family trip to Universal Studios.

“We’re avoiding the rush at Easter,’’ said her dad, Phil. “We thought the crowds might be too much then.’’

On Day Four of our Florida Spring Break Odyssey, we visited Theme Park Central, where we found some students legitimately out of class, and more than a few school skippers.

In the case of the Dallas family of Detroit, an early school break for some was the only way to get the entire family of 19 together, since the kids’ holidays didn’t all match.

Seventeen of the 19 – ranging in ages from 2 to 65 -- were at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. “Our parents brought us here when we were kids,” said Roderick Dallas, one of four adult siblings. They’ve been back a half-dozen times since their parents first brought them here in 1976, he said. This was the first visit since their father, Larry, died in 2002. Their mom, Clarissa, was on hand to carry on the tradition.

So where were the other two family members, 20-year-old college students? “They wanted to finance their own trips. The package they bought doesn’t let them come to the parks every day,’’ said Roderick.

The three parks we visited – Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, Disney-MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom – were busy but not packed, and the sometimes unbearably long waits for popular stops like Sci-Fi Dine in Theater at Disney-MGM and Dueling Dragons at Universal’s Islands of Adventure were actually reasonable.

Some students – like the lacrosse team from Westminster high school in Atlanta – were combining school activities with play. The group of 28 were splitting time between tournament games, practice, a service day at a local daycare center and time in the parks, they said.

But for some hard-working kids, the visit was all about having a good time. “I need to have some fun,’’ said Parker Hammon, 8, of Atlanta. “It’s been a big year for her,’’ said her mom, Kate Hammond Burch. “She’s learning that hard work can pay off.’’



Top: Lacrosse team players from The Westminister Schools in Atlanta, at Disney-MGM Studios: Alexandra Durkee, 15, Mary Beth Bird, 15, Caroline Davis, 15, Jordan Crofton, 16, , Elisabeth Powell, 15, and Laura LeBow, 16.

Bottom: The Dallas family of Detroit, at Disney's Magic Kingdom: From left: Cheryl Dallas, Clarissa Dallas Latonya Dallas, Seldina Dallas, Geneva James, Laurence Dallas, Andrea Ward, Roderick Dallas; front row, Laurence Dallas II, Jonathan Dallas, Satyra Dallas, Lashawn Dallas, Brandon Dallas, Alyssa Dallas, Ayanna Dallas. Missing: Bryan Dallas, who had wandered off for a snack.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More scenes from Sanibel, Captiva



Top: The new harbor-side pool at South Seas Plantation
Center: Jordan Whalen, 5, of Minnesota, picks out a safety vest for a kayaking trip on Sanibel.
Bottom: A few college kids on the Sanibel beach (yes, at night, they hit the clubs in Fort Myers): Megan Scollins, Angie Falzon, and Amanda Baker – all 19-year-olds from Michigan.

Shopping alert!

As many an X-chromosomer will tell you, it's not spring break if you haven't gone shopping.

The Sanibel-Captiva area offers two good outlet malls, plus a new design center.

Shopping alert! Many of the stores at the Miramar Outlets off I-75 are having a sale! (O.K., yes, I stopped in.)

Across the street is the newly opened International Design Center. It's a handsome center for designer furniture and finished like stone and wood, though not radically different from what you'd find at the Design Center in Dania. About 40 showrooms are currently open; the stores on the first floor are open for perusal, and a designer is on hand to help with your decorating needs.

Closer to Sanibel is the Tanger Outlet Mall, a pretty village-like place. I resisted. I'll count on you to check it out and let me know how it is.

Soothing Sanibel, Captiva

FLORIDA’S GULF COAST -- If you’re a South Floridian, you likely save a visit to Sanibel and Captiva for summer, when hotel rates are a bargain. But if you live in Minnesota, high season rates are just the price you pay for escaping two feet of snow.

For Natalie and Josh Ralph of Minneapolis, traveling with son Colin, 1 ½, and daughter Lucabella, 4 ½, the area’s low-key atmosphere was an added attraction. “It’s a bit quieter than other places in Florida,’’ said Natalie. “And of course, the Twins are here.’’ That would be the Minnesota Twins, whose Spring Training match against the L.A. Dodgers brought a baseball-loving crowd.

On Day Three of our Florida Spring Break Odyssey, we joined families, couples and permanent Spring Breakers – i.e, Snowbirds – in the village charms of Sanibel and Captiva islands.

Not that all was quiet. Dairy Queen was packed, bicycle paths were in full use, and the traffic on Periwinkle, Sanibel’s main drag, stretched for blocks. In this laid-back burgh where motorists stop for gopher tortoise crossings, nary a horn blasted, and drivers generously let their fellow motorists break across the stream to dodge into Ace Hardware. On Captiva, the quirky Bubble Room restaurant was, well, bubbling, and even on a 50-degree day, sunset drew a crowd at the Mucky Duck.

Two and a half years after Hurricane Charley smacked the area, both islands are pretty much back to normal, say tourism officials. Sanibel missed the worst of the storm and looks as if nothing happened. Captiva, which took a direct hit, is also back in action. Even South Seas Plantation – closed for 18 months post-storm – is nearly 100 percent, with renovated rooms, a smart new pool and new eateries. The tree canopy is gone, but with $140 million of improvements, if you haven’t been here before, you’d never know what was missing.

Of course, if you have visited the area before, one thing you’ll miss is Blind Pass. It’s still marked, and you can still park in the same public lots. But where the water once flowed between Sanibel and Captiva is now closed by land – a reshaping compliments of Hurricane Charley.

So is it’s beach still the best for shelling, as some have claimed? “No such thing as the best shelling beach,’’ said Bill Cassel, innkeeper at the cozy Captiva Island Inn. “It’s like the lottery. You find ‘em where you find ‘em.’’



Top: Max Humanik, "almost 4,'' of Boston; middle, the Bubble Room; bottom, Captiva beach.

Out with the college gang

OK, I admit it. I went out drinking with the college gang, Brian, Peter, Samantha and Lindsay. As the DD, I imbibed in club soda with a twist...and nothing more.

We left about 9 p.m. for Fort Lauderdale's Himmarshee district, home to such college-age hotspots as Art Bar, Coyote Ugly, Brick Rock Bar and Automatic Slim's. Though Brick Rock was promising $1 drinks, the gang opted for Automatic Slim's, a cool warehouse space where $10 was buying drinks all night on a Spring Break special.

It was ... dead. "First night we've been open for Spring Break. We're usually closed on Monday,'' the bar tender told us. "Doesn't get going until 11 or midnight.''

The disconnect: In Philly, where the kids go to school, bars close at 2 a.m., so everyone goes out early. In South Florida, where bars close late, the scene starts moving late.

Too late for me. I went back to the motel ... this Spring Break thing takes sleep!

Monday night sleep total: A full 8 hours.

Monday, March 05, 2007

More scenes from Lauderdale Beach


From top: 1 and 2, Fort Lauderdale Beach. 3, The Elbo Room. 4, local college students clockwise from top left: Chris Figueroa, 20; Bryce Goodman, 21; Jennifer Maldonado, 21; Crystal Moss, 21, and Amanda Wolz, 18.

Day Two: Lauderdale Beach

St. Joseph's University students Brian Randazzo, 22, Peter Stinson, 22, Samantha Baron, 21, and Lindsay Hillard, 21, knew Fort Lauderdale discourages Spring Break rowdiness these days. Which is part of why they came here from Philadelphia for their senior year break.

"We didn't really want a hotbed of partying," explained Lindsay. And at the Avalon Waterfront Inns on AIA, they certainly weren't going togetting it. On the pool deck, a baby cried on its mother's shoulder; a senior citizen lounged with a paperback novel.

On Day Two of our Florida Spring Break Odyssey, we discovered the Fort Lauderdale Beach touted by tourism officials: a place for everyone.

The down-with-raucousness approach has worked well from an economic standpoint. Twenty-five years ago, in the heyday of college Spring Break, Fort Lauderdale drew about 3.3 million total visitors per year. Now it draws about 10.3 million, say tourism officials. About 10,000 of those are college kids -- and judging by the crowd Monday, excessive rowdiness isn't a problem. I-pods have all but eliminated boom boxes, and the wildest thing going was a football toss.

"I like seeing the kids. I haven't seen any bad behavior," said adult Spring Breaker Glenna Forsythe of Coventry, R.I., who was spending a post-cruise day on the beach before heading north.

Still, some Lauderdale businesses court college Spring Breakers. Orlando students Giovana Faezy, 19, Ashland Roberts, 20, and Monica Carvalho, 20, were collecting promotional cards and brochures as they lay on the beach. Club fliers -- some printed on condoms -- promised free drinks, free shuttles and bare breasts. "Where the beautiful people come to get ugly," said one.

The beach crowd -- elders, gay men, families, college kids -- mirrored what has happened across the street, where old Lauderdale-style motels like Avalon Waterfront Inns and Beach Club Hotel sit block-by-block with the tony Atlantic Hotel, $1 million-plus condos of the St. Regis, then Hooters and Fat Tuesday and the once world-famous Elbo Room.

Like most things here, the Elbo Room is a goodly bit different from the days when Connie Francis and George Hamilton filmed Where the Boys Are in the 1960s. On this Monday afternoon, a crowd of about 50 listened to a guitarist singing Tom Petty's Freefallin'. Most were over 50, too; only a handful qualified as college aged.

Despite the obvious signs of age, the pony-tailed bouncer, who wouldn't give his name, checked every I.D. "I carded a guy in here the other day who was 92. Heck, I even carded my own wife. I don't care."


Above: Lindsay Hillard, 21, Samantha Baron, 21, Brian Randazzo, 22, Peter Stinson, 22, from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.

Spring Break sleep survey

OK, let's just put it out there: Nobody goes to Holiday Isle to sleep. It's a fun party place, and any expectation that you're going to get sleep before, say, midnight, is misguided.

But here's the deal: If you've got ANY Spring Breakers nearby -- say, next door -- you're not getting any sleep until much later.

So the Spring Break Tour Day One sleep tally was: A band, banging doors, giggling girls and a TV, resulting in just about five hours of sleep. Fine if you're on vacation....

I'm also doing a survey of the the price of virgin pina coladas (hey, I'm working.) At Holiday Isle, the price was .... $4. In Fort Lauderdale at the Elbo Room, the price is ... $4.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Scene at Holiday Isle

ISLAMORADA -- A reggae band is lulling the bathers around the Holiday Isle pool with Bob Marley’s classic, No woman, no cry. A few dance; others lounge languidly at the bar. But unlike a decade ago, when March would have meant raucous crowds and more than a few wet T-shirts, today’s visitors are as likely grandparents and young families as college Spring Breakers.

Here on Day One of our one-week dash around Florida’s fave Spring Break spots, we’re solidly into the family zone.

Derek and Monica Schindeler of Plantation met here in 1991, back when a Sunday afternoon meant packs of young, suntan-oiled bodies at the half-dozen plus bars of the Holiday Isle resort. Then, cars pulling in and out of the lots backed up traffic up and down the Overseas Highway; rumrunners fueled by Bacardi ruled.

Today, they bring their children, ages 3 and 6, for a family swim. “It’s a lot more family oriented,’’ said Monica. “Then, it was a more Spring Break atmosphere. It does seem to have mellowed a bit.’’

It’s likely to mellow more. By year’s end, Holiday Isle is slated to close, making way for 151 casually luxurious Grecian-style apartments in a new condo-hotel development, Ocanos. Already, a part of the beach is reserved for visitors to the sales center, decked with sophisticated lounges with plush, white cushions.

Wander the bars and the fishing boat dock here, and locals will tell you they aren’t convinced the condos will really happen. “We’ll see when we see,’’ says one long-time bar tender. Certainly Ocanos' plunge pools, Argentinian wood finishes and $1.2 million-plus price tags are a world away from a place T-shirts dub “a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.’’

For the few student Spring Breakers here, none of that seems to matter. “We wanted to come to the Keys. We found this on the Internet,’’ said Danielle Long, 21, at student at N.C. State University traveling with four friends from Fort Lauderdale to Key West. Holida Isle “is very relaxing, but there aren’t as many young people as we thought.''

Maybe they should have waited a week. Bikini contests slated for March 11, 18 and 25 bring a $1,000 prize.


Top: On the beach at Holiday Isle Resort in Islamorada.

Center: Derek and Monica Schindeler, of Plantation, and family.

Bottom: Spring Breakers from N.C.: From left, Lauren Jenkins, 20; Jessi Long, 18; Stacey King, 21; Danielle Long, 21; Ashley Brown, 21;

Spring break starts now!

Whether you're a school kid, a parent or a slightly crazed college student, Spring Break is an annual reminder that the year is hurtling past.

In Florida, it's also part of our cultural history. From railroad pioneer Henry Flagler to Connie Francis and the gang from the 1960 movie Where the Boys Are, Northerners have long escaped winter harshness for Florida's lulling sunshine. And though local public schools don't take time out until early April, a spin onto any traffic artery is proof that for many people Spring Break is now in full swing. (If you're the parent of a college-age kid, just look in your spare bedroom. It's likely full of school pals.)

We're going to check out the scene. No, we aren't coming to your guest room (count your blessings.) But we are heading around the state to check out fave spots for Spring Break vacations for all ages.

For the next six days, I'll be driving from the Florida Keys to the West Coast, on to the theme parks and Daytona Beach, and finally to Panama City Beach, where the traditional insanity of college Spring Break still draws close to 300,000 young adults (we use that term loosely). You can cheer me on, offer suggestions -- or cautions -- and post your own memories online here!