Spring break! The only holiday that demands an exclamation point. For most of us, though, it’s rooted in a debaucherous past – a bygone distant college era. But does it really have to be erased? Though we’ve long since retired our day-glo crop tops (for the most part), that doesn’t mean we don’t still feel a pull to get away as winter draws to a close. After all, spring break didn’t originally have anything to do with being a student – the ancient Greeks and Romans saw the new season as a celebration of fertility, awakening (and loads of wine). So, we’re reclaiming it and dropping the exclamation point…
OLD SCHOOL Daytona Beach, Florida
NEW TAKE Miami, Florida
MTV’s very first Spring Break special took place on the beaches of Daytona Beach and some say the city has never been the same. Though Miami also got a taste of MTV-style madness, we still think Magic City is better suited for a sophisticated retreat today. You’re still in for a high-spirited time, mind, if you stay at Life House Little Havana: an art-deco mansion in the Cuban quarter. The hotel has a bar that serves cocktails mixed with herbs from its own rooftop garden, plus neighbourhood salsa clubs are just a short shimmy away. But if you do want to relax, there’s also a hammock in the courtyard with your name on it. Another boutique stay with Latin flair is Faena Hotel Miami Beach, where the restaurant is helmed by legendary South American barbecue-maestro Francis Mallmann.
OLD SCHOOL Las Vegas, Nevada
NEW TAKE Zion National Park, Utah
What happens in Zion National Park, stays in Zion National Park. At least that’s our updated spring break motto. Sure, Las Vegas is the place to be if you’re looking for gambling, clubbing and all-day drinking, but if you’re looking for a desert escape with a bit more, shall we say, subtlety, then set your sights about 250km northeast to Zion National Park. There, you’ll find Under Canvas Zion: a luxury-camping lodge built into Utah’s dramatic red-rock terrain. The tents are outfitted with ensuites, wood-burning stoves and king-size beds, and some even have a window cut into the ceiling for stargazing from the comfort of your sheets. The retreat’s season kicks off in March each year – perfect timing for a spring escape filled with hiking, horse-riding and dinner by lantern light. Yes, Sin City has a drive-thru wedding chapel with an Elvis lookalike as officiant, but Under Canvas Zion has 196 awe-inspiring acres ripe for exploration. You do the math.
OLD SCHOOL Cancun, Mexico
NEW TAKE Isla Holbox, Mexico
If ever there was a city made for freewheeling spring breakers, it’s Cancun – quite literally. After a hurricane demolished large portions of the Mexican resort town in 1988, city planners rebuilt it specifically as a spring-break destination (cue thousands of 20-year-olds decked in Señor Frog’s tank tops and all-you-can-drink neon wristbands). More discerning travellers should still head to the Yucatán Peninsula – famed for its white-sand beaches and calm Caribbean waters – but consider Isla Holbox instead. A car-free island just north of the Yucatán, bohemian Holbox feels entirely undiscovered. Stay at either CasaSandra or Casa las Tortugas, two boutique hotels where you’ll find beachfront rooms, palm-shaded pools and an inner peace that will never be disrupted by hordes of teens chanting, ‘chug!’
OLD SCHOOL South Padre Island, Texas
NEW TAKE San Antonio, Texas
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the beach bashes, which is why South Padre Island has been a significant student magnet for decades. In San Antonio, however, you’ll avoid the rowdy crowds and still get waterfront views, plus a small slice of Cuba. Hotel Havana, a historic 27-room stay that pays tribute to Cuba, sits directly on San Antonio’s famed River Walk. Have a look while you sip micheladas and indulge in chorizo con queso at Ocho, the hotel’s Latin-accented restaurant, set in a glass conservatory. While comparing navel piercings used to constitute ‘culture’, these days you can take part in the real deal at Artspace, a contemporary gallery just a seven-minute walk from the hotel. At night, when you settle into your terrace suite – with a king-size bed, antique furnishings, serape shawl-style robe and veranda that’s just for you (and maybe your closest travel companion) – you’ll be thankful you no longer rove in an unruly pack.
OLD SCHOOL Los Cabos, Mexico
NEW TAKE Los Cabos, Mexico
In a rare confluence of time, travel and tequila-fuelled adventure, Los Cabos is both old school and new, a place where youngsters still sow their wild oats, but equally, where sophisticated aesthetes sun their winter-weary bones. For a fresh take on Los Cabos, you have to know where to go, and you simply can’t go wrong with Hotel el Ganzo, an arts-centric stay, that’s the antithesis of the Mexican mega-resort. Here, you’re just as likely to bump into a painter, writer or filmmaker, as you are to a plate of sashimi at the poolside sushi bar. The hotel’s artist-in-residence programme means you can enjoy one-of-a-kind artwork in the hallways and your room, as well as an intimate concert on the roof. Similarly, it’s all about curation at One&Only Palmilla, where there’s cuisine by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and spa treatments by the award-winning French podiatrist Bastien Gonzalez. As you sink your teeth into juicy wagyu, then later have your hands and feet massaged in the same manner that Naomi Campbell and Gwyneth Paltrow prefer, you’ll almost certainly thank the Greek and Roman gods that your travel style has evolved.
The grown-up party continues at the rest of our North American hotels.