CANCUN, Mexico – The sugar-white sand beaches are back after being swept away by Hurricane Wilma five months ago. But there are no stages for wet T-shirt contests, and MTV won’t be hosting its spring break beach party.
Instead, the first wave of winter-weary college students who converged on Cancun found that construction workers nearly outnumbered revelers this week in Mexico’s spring break capital of beer and bikinis.
With nearly half its hotels still closed, Cancun has plunged down the list of destinations for spring breakers from the United States. The Caribbean resort fell from No. 2 last year to No. 8 this year for travelers booking trips through CheapTickets.com. Miami was the top destination.
Tourism officials say they expect about 25,000 visitors in Cancun this season, compared with 40,000 last year. Many spring breakers have moved farther south to the Maya Riviera or to Acapulco, the Pacific playground of the 1950s that has been steadily rising in popularity because of its all-night discos.
“Obviously it’s not going to be the same this year,” said Cancun Tourism Director Jesus Rossano.
Many of those who did make the trip found themselves sitting against a backdrop of lumber piles and cement blocks or next to pools lined with brown palms that appeared to have just gotten a buzz cut. Instead of blasting music, the sound of hammers pierced the air.
But while some of the hotels were clearly out of business for some time to come, others were fully functioning beyond their damaged facades. The Oasis hotel, popular with spring breakers, showed few signs of being hit by a major hurricane.
All, however, agreed Mexico’s party resort has slowed down a bit.
Stephanie Streit, who was sunbathing with Horras on the beach, said her friends who’d come the year before described a much wilder place.
” ‘Out of control’ was the term I heard most used,” said Streit, 22, a psychology major at the University of Northern Iowa. “But it’s pretty tame.”
The Mexican government hoped to use spring break as a way to show the world how the country’s prime resort had bounced back.
President Vicente Fox’s government poured $19 million into rebuilding the beaches, hiring a Belgian company that dredged sand from the ocean floor and dumped tons of it over rocks and concrete exposed by the hurricane.
Cheryl Scott, 45, said when she realized she was taking her 11-year-old son to Cancun during spring break, she feared it would be a disaster.
“You hear the ‘woo-hoo’ and the ‘yee-hah’ and you know where they’re coming from,” said Scott, who lives outside Fort Worth, Texas. “But it’s not been an issue at all. It’s safe, normal and he hasn’t seen anything I wouldn’t want him to see.”
“I’m not an old fuddy-duddy,” she added. “But this is my speed: My son is making sand castles and I’m drinking strawberry daiquiris.”