While some locals shudder at the thought of crowded beaches, and traffic jams; Okaloosa law enforcement and local businesses are well prepared for this years spring breakers.
“We are ahead of pace from last year,” said Allison Mellinger, General Manager of the Holiday Inn Express. “The first weekend and the last two weeks are the busiest right now.”
Mellinger explained that the first week of spring break bookings officially begin March 7, and the last week leads all the way into April.
“Spring break is a bit spread out this year,” Regional Marketing Director for Wyndham Vacation Rentals, Martin Owen told The Log. The spring break schedule for schools whose students are known to frequent Destin shows breaks spanning from March 1, to April 18; a much wider time span than 2013.
“The best thing about this year is that we get a long spring break, we get the whole month of April,” said Greg Fisher, CEO of TripShock.
“The last week of March last year was sold out, but this year we won’t have just one massive crowd like we did last year,” Fisher said. He said a majority of spring breakers came during that single week in 2013, causing one fat week, but lower sales for the rest of the spring.
Public information officer Michele Nicholson gave The Log a rundown of Okaloosa county law enforcement’s spring break preparations.
“Typically we’re busy during spring break but there’s a definite game plan,” Nicholson said.
“A lot of the businesses in Destin hire off duty deputies, and we have extra patrols on the beaches.”
Nicholson said that Okaloosa County typically fares better than Walton County in issues and arrests, and she is hopeful for this year to be a good season.
“The kids that come here for the most part are well behaved,” she said. “It’s underage drinking that is the main issue we encounter, and occasionally you’ll see some possessions of marijuana and shoplifting, but not a lot of felony arrests.”
While spring break is notoriously associated with college partiers, Owen explained that for Wyndham that is not the case.
“Our spring breakers are mostly families,” he said, noting that Wyndham restricts renters to a minimum age of 25 years old. Fisher also said he’s noticed a trend in families over single young adults during the spring season.
“Families are our target market,” he said, “I would say that it’s about 75 percent in favor of families.”
Nicholson was shocked to find out vacationer demographics given by local businesses. “That kind of surprises me,” she said. “From a law enforcement perspective, you won’t have the potential misdemeanors with families that you would with high school and college kids.”
Even though families claim the bulk of spring tourism, a few Destin businesses are taking advantage of the youthful crowd.
“We are really trying to do what the kids want to see this year,” said Fudpucker’s Entertainment Director, Tim Morinelli. “We are going to be doing teen nights … have live music, and try to get a beach atmosphere on the water, lots of cooler stuff,” he said.
Fisher also highlighted several discounted activity packages with the presentation of a valid college ID, but commented that college students are usually more spontaneous.
“Our spring breakers don’t really book in advance, they book on the fly. But families they’ll plan it out,” Fisher said.
To the locals that may find spring break daunting, Nicholson offers this advice, “Understand that we live in a gorgeous, popular tourist spot, and just be patient. If you see any suspicious things impaired drivers or reckless behavior, don’t hesitate to call the sheriff’s office.”
All in all, the consensus seems to be hopeful for this year’s spring break season. Mellinger told The Log that for her, repeat customers, and the long 2014 spring season are very promising, “I look for a really hopping spring break this year.”
Sheriff’s Office gears up
The Walton County Sheriff’s Office is holding a Spring Break 2014 kick-off meeting on Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. The meeting will be held at the South Walton Substation located on Highway 331 approximately ¼ mile north of Highway 98, just past the South Walton Visitor Center.
This meeting will be advising the community of existing laws and other changes for this year, and will cover what the Walton County Sheriff’s Office can do to assist with Spring Break traffic.
Who’s coming when for spring break 2014
This list, compiled by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, includes schools whose students are known to frequent the area during spring break.
Kennesaw State University, Ga.
University of Florida
Vanderbilt University, Tenn.
Rice University, Texas
Florida Institute of Technology
Columbus State University, Ga.
University of Central Florida
Loyola University, Ill.
University of South Alabama
Illinois State University
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
University of Miami, Fla.
U.S. Naval Academy, Md.
Northern Illinois State University, Ill.
Ball State University, Ind.
Texas A & M University
Emory University, Ga.
University of Mississippi
Auburn University, Ala.
University of West Florida
Mercer University, Ga.
University of Georgia
Indiana State University
Jackson Public Schools, Miss.
Mississippi State University
Jackson State University, Miss.
Tennessee Tech University
Fort Worth Independent School District, Texas
Mississippi State College
Florida State University
Eastern Illinois University
Hillsborough County Public Schools Tampa
University of Southern Indiana
Eastern Tennessee University
University of Memphis
Missouri State University
University of North Texas
Walton County, Fla.
State University of W. Georgia
University of Maryland
St. Louis Public Schools
Duval County, Jacksonville
Leon County, Tallahassee
University of Illinois, Springfield
Central Missouri State University
University of Tennessee
Indiana University, Bloomington
Southeast Missouri State University
Escambia County (Pensacola)
University of North Florida
Johns Hopkins University, Md.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
New York University
Houston Independent School District
Okaloosa County (Destin)
University of Alabama
University of Missouri St. Louis
Samford University, Ala.
University of Arkansas
Orange County, Orlando
Birmingham School District
Dothan School District
Huntsville School District
Nashville School District, Tenn.
Little Rock School District
Arkansas State University – Jonesboro
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Wayne Township School District, Ind.
Bay County, Panama City
Indianapolis Public Schools
Fayette County, Ky.
Jefferson County, Ky.
Jefferson County, Louisville, Ky.
Muscogee County, Columbus, Ga.
DeKalb County, Ga.
Fulton County, Ga.
Cincinnati Public Schools
Louisiana State University
Southeastern Louisiana University
East Baton Rouge Parish School System