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Then and Now, Greater Fort Lauderdale's New Rites of Spring:
From Drunken College Spring Breakers to Chic Visitors

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 8, 2010 - Fifty years ago Connie Francis, George Hamilton and a bevy of then young actors made a movie that would change Greater Fort Lauderdale for decades. "Where the Boys Are" was an American coming of age film shot in Fort Lauderdale that made the area synonymous with Spring Break, a tradition decidedly out of vogue today.

Spring Break began in the 1930's when the Colgate University swim team, (at the behest of a student's father who lived onFort Lauderdale beach), spent winter breaks training at the Olympic-sized Fort Lauderdale beachfront pool. City-sponsored swimmer's forums then spurred the start of college students descending on Fort Lauderdale in droves during the spring break season.

Most people's idea of "Spring Break" beach, bikinis, beer, and bacchanal ignited a tourism boom in Fort Lauderdale, which gradually ballooned into an eight-week drunken sprawl of 370,000 college students blowing off steam and leaving considerable wreckage behind. The city said 'enough' in 1985, forbidding alcohol on the beach and enforcing other ordinances with a strong police presence. No more MTV on the beach. No more college promotion funding. No more cruising A1A.

What followed 1985 was public and private sector investments of billions of dollars in new four- and five-star quality hotels and resorts, trend-setting restaurants, museums, entertainment and recreational facilities, beach renovation, airport and cruise port expansions and a 600,000-square foot Convention Center that has attracted a global roster of meetings, conventions and exhibitions.

The ambitious effort is visibly successful today with more than 10.6 million annual visitors with college student spring breakers now accounting for only about 10,000, a small part of the diverse visitor mix of families, couples, meeting attendees, GLBT and international visitors.

"We have spent the last 25 years growing and surpassing our colorful history of Spring Break past," said Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We took a collective breath back then, not sure of the future.  The most recent payoff is our first Five Diamond hotel on the same plot of land where wet T-shirt contests were once the main attraction. It is amazing to look at the new Fort Lauderdale Beach and see how far we have come."

In 1985, Spring Break visitors spent $110 million, with total visitor expenditures at $2.2 billion; in 2009 visitor spending was $8.5 billion. In 1969, Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL) handled 1 million passengers; in 2009, some 20 million travelers passed through FLL, now one of the fastest growing airports in the country. In 1960, some 57,014 passengers sailed on cruises from Port Everglades; in 2009 the total was more than 3 million.

The result is a transformation of Greater Fort Lauderdale into a year-round, casually chic warm weather playground as notable for its eclectic dining, nightlife, shopping and arts scene as for its Blue Wave beaches, boating and other recreational activities.

In the 1960's the vast majority of resorts and hotels in Greater Fort Lauderdale were independently and locally owned; today, the most important brands in the world can be found here, including W Hotels, Ritz-Carlton, Westin, Hyatt Regency, Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton and others.

The evolution of the downtown Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District includes the Museum of Art home to major touring exhibitions including King Tut, the Broward Center for Performing Arts host for top performing arts groups, and the Museum of Science and Discovery provides a major family attraction. 

Not far away, Sawgrass Mills has become the sixth largest shopping mall in the country, reflecting an eclectic shopping scene along with fashionable Las Olas Boulevard, with its boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs and the renovated Galleria mall with the addition of nightlife and dining to its complex just steps from Fort Lauderdale beach. 

These are just a few of the latest developments in the transformation of Greater Fort Lauderdale. For more information, visit

About Greater Fort Lauderdale
The new Greater Fort Lauderdale is a vibrant, "beach chic" destination offering more than 33,000 lodging accommodations at a variety of hotels, resorts, and Superior Small Lodgings, plus new high-end, luxury resorts and more to come. Nearly 11 million annual visitors enjoy Greater Fort Lauderdale's 23 miles of Blue Wave Beaches and eight charming beach communities, 300+ miles of inland waterways that run from the Intracoastal to the Everglades, more than 4,000 restaurants, top shopping, and a thriving arts and culture scene. For more information, contact the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 22-SUNNY or visit


Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Also See: Its Been 25 Years Since Fort Lauderdale Yanked the Spring Break Welcome Mat; Economic Slump Has Some Wondering if There Should be a New Welcome Mat / March 2009

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