March 8, 2002

After terror, Cancun spring break still booms

                 CANCUN, Mexico (AP) -- Stages custom-built for wet T-shirt contests rise
                 from the beaches. DJs have been flown in from New York. Cancun is ready
                 for the biggest week of spring break, which kicks off Saturday.

                 While fears of terrorism and a troubled economy have kept many U.S. college
                 students from flying down to Mexico, there are still more than enough revelers to
                 sustain the mind-blowing ritual of sex, sun and shots.

                 The first wave of spring-breakers arrived last week to inaugurate the season.
                 Although hotel occupancy was down between 35 and 50 percent from the same
                 week last year, the partying was no less serious.

                 "Oh my God! You pound beer all day, every day. You go to the club and dance.
                 You have a different girl in your bed every night," said Jason Riebe, a 21-year-old
                 junior from John Carroll University in Cleveland.

                 "This is its own planet. Planet Cancun."

                 Few of the revelers said the September 11 terrorist attacks dampened their resolve
                 to party. Most said if anything, they increased their desire to live every day like it
                 was their last, and some even described their excesses as a patriotic duty.

                 "It's good to see people are still proud to come out and do spring break," said Eric
                 Lukens, a 22-year-old senior at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.
                 "I heard it's the craziest place on earth. And it is without a doubt."

                 With the help of MTV VJs and E! Entertainment Television specials, Cancun has
                 become king of spring break, and the only limit on its growth is a shortage of hotel
                 rooms. In numbers it ranks behind domestic getaways like South Padre Island,
                 Texas, and Panama City, Florida, but only because it's more expensive to get to.

                 "Over the last six or seven years, Cancun has become IT," said Kirk Riley,
                 president of, which offers charter packages to all major
                 spring break party spots. "Cancun is the foreign destination of choice, 10 to 1."

                 Last year an estimated 80,000 college students descended on Cancun in March.
                 This year's draw will be smaller, about 50,000, according to tourism operators and

                 "We were down at first around 70 percent, as was all the U.S. travel industry, but
                 we gradually started getting back up," Riley said. "Now, we're all about 35 percent

                 Cancun residents notice the difference, saying the traffic is lighter and the clubs
                 emptier than in previous years.

                 "I think they're afraid to leave their country, and I don't see them spending as much
                 money," said Ricardo Rivas, a waiter at the Coco Bongo disco.

                 But in the disco's writhing dance pit, Shawna Plunkett disagreed. The 21-year-old
                 junior at Michigan State University said the turnout was just fine, thank you.

                 "Every club we've been to has been packed," she said. "People aren't going to stop
                 going on spring break."

                 Certainly, Cancun remains a wild place. Young Americans fill dozens of bars every
                 night to drink, dance and watch a variety of contests, almost all of which involve
                 women getting naked.

                 "Three words: debauchery, drunkenness and nakedness," said Michael Vaul, a
                 23-year-old from Fort Collins, Colorado, who doesn't go to coll ege but thought he
                 deserved a spring break from his job at a local Kinko's.

                 The drinking age is 18, and is hardly enforced. Most clubs offer open bars with the
                 cover charge. For college kids who can't legally drink in the United States, the
                 attraction is obvious.

                 "You wake up at noon. You grab a couple of 40-ouncers and drink nonstop
                 Coronas on the beach," Reibe said. "Last night we had our last Corona at 7:45 a.m."

                 Grinding near him to techno music at the Dady'O disco was Brooke Linkous, a
                 19-year-old sophomore at Virginia Tech.

                 "I've been wasted for about 16 hours now," she said. "I heard it was crazy and
                 wild. It's all I expected and more. It's definitely the place to be if you like to party."

                 With all that alcohol, normally reserved college students leave all inhibitions at the
                 door. The mostly teen-age students jump atop bars to show their breasts to hooting
                 crowds, compete for prizes by showing their creativity in inventing sexual positions
                 and slide into strangers' beds.

                 "I've been to Panama City. Panama City's pretty crazy, but this place is wilder,"
                 said Daniel Kincheloe, a 23-year-old law student at the College of William and Mary
                 in Williamsburg, Virginia.

                 "We stick to one or two meals a day and get most of our calories from beer," he

                 Considering the nutritional implications of that diet, he quickly added: "But I'm
                 taking vitamins and stuff."

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.