Ah, spring break.
For many students, it seems like the best time of year. Visions of teal-blue oceans, warm sunshine and tall glasses filled with exotic drinks consume students’ thoughts during the last week of school. Going to class seems like such a waste of time during Tampa’s warm spring days.
Unfortunately for many students, the closest they’ll come to a tropical vacation will be selling margaritas at a local restaurant. This is something I know very well. I was once that bartender, serving drinks to all the lucky ones who were enjoying their freedom.
During my tenure at USF, I have only been able to enjoy one frivolous spring break. After months of planning, saving and shopping for vacation attire, my best friend and I were on our way to Cancun, a place famous for tequila shots, parties and MTV.
“Sex sells,” and there’s no place this is more evident than a tourist trap that specifically caters to underage Americans. While waiting in line to check into the hotel, the concierge handed us our first of many complimentary drinks. We spent our remaining seven days relaxing on the beach and partying in arena-sized nightclubs alongside thousands of our scantily-dressed peers.
Between the new Hooters that opened across from our hotel, the Jacuzzi parties that various clubs hosted and the droves of bartenders pouring tequila into eagerly awaiting throats, it was easy to see that this place was not concerned with giving anyone a bargain.
To some students, this may have seemed like an amazing trip, but I soon discovered that not all that glitters is gold.
Because so many promotional deals were going on, it was difficult finding restaurants that didn’t have a two-hour wait. Most clubs were even harder to get into – unless one was willing to shell out a couple hundred dollars more – and far more expensive than the travel agency had said.
The agency originally said meals would be free, which technically was true, but with several stipulations. First, patrons had to eat at particular restaurants during particular hours, which becomes a problem when there are hundreds of people from the same agency trying to eat at the same time.
Secondly, a one-drink minimum was imposed and a tip was encouraged. Finally, to receive the free meal, customers had to pick from an abbreviated menu. Typically, each restaurant had the same five items: a burger, taco, grilled chicken, house salad or small pasta dish.
Food was only the beginning when it came to surprise fees. The “free” entrance into clubs turned into a discounted one, and upon checkout, we were asked to pay nearly $100 in fees for gratuity and cleaning services.
The guide was also to be tipped, even though he was employed by our travel agency to do a job that consisted solely of riding on the shuttle with customers to and from the airport.
Being 20 years old at the time, I didn’t ask too many questions, so I paid the fee and enjoyed my days in the sun. After all, I wouldn’t have been able to legally drink at bars back in the United States, so I took advantage of it while I could.
One year later, I was back to the grind. I had a job commitment during that one blissful week, so three of my girlfriends and I took our party down to Bradenton for a couple days. Unlike the “typical” college spring break I had the previous year, I got to relax, save more than $1,300 and return to school Monday caught up on my sleep and homework.
This year, I plan to stick it out close to home again. A few days in Bradenton, a few at Ginnie Springs, a party here and there and plenty of rest and relaxation. After all, I can get sunburned without shelling out all sorts of dough.
Suzanne Parks is a senior majoring in English literature.