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5 top spring break spots for LI college students

Panama City Beach in Florida and South Padre Island in

Texas may be the top domestic spring break destinations nationally, but New York area collegians seem to prefer foreign locales.

"For New Yorkers, the top two destinations are Acapulco and Cancun," says Antony Chirichiello, a regional sales manager for Student City, an agency specializing in spring break travel. That assessment, plus Negril, Jamaica, was echoed by Russell Tabeles, a regional sales manager for STS Travel, another major student travel agency.

Those are big beach destinations - known for students' uninhibited behavior - that host hundreds of thousands of collegians every spring.

Apparently, they still will draw hordes of spring breakers this year despite an alert last month from the U.S. State Department that travel to Mexico can be risky, particularly in border towns. Spring breakers were warned that violence has increased recently, that they should avoid areas of prostitution and drug-dealing, and be aware that excessive alcohol consumption and unruly behavior can lead to serious problems with Mexican authorities (more details can be found at travel.state.gov ).

ALTERNATIVE GETAWAYS

While most breakers gravitate to the major coastal resorts, another kind of student vacation is making itself felt this year - a spurt in alternative spring breaks.

"We're seeing more students going to places where they can make a difference," says Debbie Gibb, associate executive director of the Student and Youth Travel Association. "They go to Costa Rica, work in the rain forest, then go to the beach. They go work in New Orleans, then party downtown."

Lindsey Ross, a 22-year-old senior English writing major at Long Island University's C.W. Post campus, is one of eight students going to Lafayette, La., on spring break to help build houses for those dispossessed in hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.

Here is a rundown of five spring break destinations popular with New York area collegians - plus a few alternatives for Long Islanders seeking fun, sun and sand in a less-hectic setting. (Package terms are subject to change without notice).

1. ACAPULCO

You'll find spring breakers mostly along the Costera, the main coastal road, which is lined with hotels, night clubs, bars and restaurants. Acapulco is famous for its night life, particularly its discos (dance clubs). These are big places with somewhat steep cover charges, but that usually includes drinks. Most famous is Palladium, capacity 2,500. Also popular: El Alebrije and Disco Beach.

CAUTIONS The U.S. State Department has issued a Travel Alert warning of increased drug-related murders, kidnappings and rapes, and advises spring breakers to take common-sense precautions. Other cautions: Don't drink tap water, only bottled. Don't drive. Use taxis and buses. Negotiate fares with cabdrivers. Be wary of beach shills, scam artists and ice. Expect long lines at popular clubs. Don't do or buy drugs.

PACKAGES STS Travel packages ($600-$2,000) include airfare, seven nights' lodging, transfers and some parties/ events. Options include meal plan ($59) and party packages ($200-$250 provides admission to clubs, free drinks).

2. CANCUN

Action in Cancun, an enormous spring break destination, centers on the Hotel Zone and its beaches and clubs. Carlos 'n' Charlie's and Señor Frog's are two of the most popular restaurants/clubs in Cancun. La Boom and Coco Bongo are also hot spots.

CAUTIONS Same as for Acapulco.

PACKAGES At the all-inclusive hotel Oasis Cancun, a Student City one-week package runs $1,582, quad occupancy, including airfare from New York, airport transfers, meals, drinks, events and parties every night. STA offers a four-night package at the Grand Royal Lagoon starting at $699 a person, quad occupancy, that includes airfare, transfers, taxes and a party wristband for free drinks and discounts.

3. PANAMA CITY BEACH

This spring break mega-city, with 27 miles of white-sand beaches, hosts 200,000 breakers in March's two busiest weeks. It's the headquarters for mtvU and its multiple beach parties, games, giveaways and live performances.

Major venues are the Boardwalk Beach Resort, Spinnakers, Club La Vela, Sharkey's, Holiday Inn Sunspree and Origins. La Vela claims to be the biggest night club in America.

PACKAGES Student City package including seven nights in hotel and bus transportation to and from Panama City starts at $634. Origins has a five-night package priced at $159 a person for seven nights (based on five in a room), with parties, meal discounts and two-hour happy hour daily. At the Boardwalk resort, headquarters for MTV, Springbreakrooms.com offers a seven-night MTV Village rate of $399 a person including the "Ultimate Party Package."

4. SOUTH PADRE ISLAND

Much of the action in this giant spring break venue on Texas Gulf coast takes place on Coca Cola Beach, where there's a stage, 50,000-watt sound system and daily events. Top night spots are Louie's Backyard, Tequila Frogs and Club Chaos.

CAUTIONS Drinking age is 21. The Mexican border is just 25 miles away, but the U.S. State Department warns that travel to border towns can be dangerous.

PACKAGES Inertia Tours has an $850-a-person package in a beachfront condo for four, six or eight persons that includes round-trip air from New York or Newark, airport transfers in South Padre, and two dine-around restaurant meals. STA Travel has a lodging package at the Bahia Mar Resort from $239 a person, quad occupancy.

5. NEGRIL

Action centers around the Legends Beach Resort and Risky Business on Seven-Mile Beach. Lots of reggae. Risky Business is a favorite night spot, along with Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, and down at West End, Rick's Cafe is a longtime crowd- pleaser.

CAUTIONS Do not venture away from the resorts. Don't do or buy ganja (marijuana), which is peddled openly here. Wear your swimsuit unless signs say swimsuits are optional.

PACKAGES A four-night Paradise Parties deal at the Traveler Beach Resort, including round-trip air from New York, transfers, nightly parties and two meals a day, starts at $869.

INFORMATION

U.S. State Department warnings: travel.state.gov/travel

Click on International Travel Information, then both on Spring Break in Mexico and on Travel Warnings.

Student City , 888-777-4642, studentcity.com

STA Travel , 800-781-4040, statravel.com

STS Travel , 800-648-4849, ststravel.com

Inertia Tours , 800-417-0559, inertiatours.com

Paradise Parties , 877-467-2723, paradiseparties.com

Spring Break Rooms , 888-782-9722, springbreakrooms.com

SYTA , 800-509-7982, syta.com

NON-STUDENT BREAKS

While you'll find some college-age spring breakers in just about every warm weather locale, there are plenty of places where adult couples and families can enjoy a few spring days without being exposed to constant beery youths, wet T-shirt contests and and the like. Here are a couple:

FORT MYERS BEACH, FLA.

Miles of beaches, extraordinary shelling and hiking and canoeing in wildlife preserves here and on Sanibel Island are some of the family activities.

PACKAGE EXAMPLE A seven-night Play the Resort package at the Outrigger Beach Resort runs $149- $250 a night, including nightly $15 credit at the resort's Dockside Cafe or Tiki Bar. Valid April 1-30 (800-749-3131, outrigger fmb.com). Many rentable beachfront condos also are reasonably priced options for families.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.

This coastal city has loads of attractions that appeal to children, as well as dozens of golf courses. Says the city's Kimberly Miles, "We cater mainly to families."

PACKAGE EXAMPLE Beach Colony Resort has two-night packages starting at $130 that include a one-bedroom oceanfront suite and two tickets to local attractions, valid March 6-May 2 (800-222-2141, beachcolony.com ).

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