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Sun, surf and safety attract students looking for a spot to spend their spring vacation

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    dennis oda / 2009

    The rock at Waimea Bay is a gathering place during spring break, crowded with people who line up to jump off it into the ocean below.

College students have been set free from classrooms and are hitting the beaches, stores, restaurants and clubs of Oahu instead of hitting the books. The rest of us? Well, we can always follow along, admiring the good times and trying to keep our envy in check.

Approximately 22,000 students from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Cha­mi­nade University and Hawaii Pacific University are on a weeklong spring break, and collegians from mainland and international universities will take their midterm vacations sometime during the month or in April.

Hawaii’s tourism bureau doesn’t keep specific data on college-age travelers during those weeks, but there’s a noticeable bump in visitor traffic in the spring, said Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau Senior Director Chris Kam.

Honolulu ranked fourth as a spring break destination in a 2010 survey by travel website, behind New York; Cancun, Mexico; and top choice Las Vegas.

Molly Schau and best friend Jessica Orseno, both 22-year-old seniors at the University of Iowa, came to Waikiki last week for their spring break. Schau said the whole idea was to bond, relax on the beach and enjoy Hawaii’s beauty. It was their second visit here.

"We were thinking of some other places to go, but Mexico was currently out of the question and we knew that we enjoyed Hono­lulu before," said Schau in an e-mail. "It’s gorgeous and relaxing, and that’s just what we wanted."

Schau and her friend used frequent-flier miles to get flights, which meant they were able to set money aside for activities, food and drinks. They weren’t looking for a wild party, Schau said, but definitely enjoyed some cocktails. They also explored Hono­lulu’s restaurant scene.

Determined college students who do their research can find ways to keep costs down when it comes to finding a place to stay in the islands.

Typically, four students might share a room at a lower-priced hotel on Kuhio Avenue. And several youth hostels clustered around Lemon Road offer accommodations for as low as about $20 per night.

The Central Y near Ala Moana Center offers single or double rooms starting at about $40 to $60 a day. Y spokes­woman Susan Naka­mura said college students from the mainland show up every year during spring break.

The cost of airfare is the biggest hurdle keeping mainland college students from coming to Hono­lulu for spring break, said Matthew Dela­ney, owner of Swat Marketing, which arranges group travel packages for college students at Waikiki was a mecca for college students a few years ago, but as room rates hit more than $200 a night, a Hawaii vacation became less attractive to the budget-minded travelers, he said. However, drug-related violence in Mexico, a popular spring break destination, is scaring off many sun- and party-seeking students, enhancing Hawaii’s image as a safer choice.

At the Polynesian Hostel Beach Club, manager Shelly Ham said that while most of her guests in the past year have been from places like Australia, Brazil and Europe, the hostel is seeing more college students from the U.S. who opt not to go abroad. She said most are seeking adventure, such as scuba diving, kayaking and surfing, as well as night life and the beach.

Hawaii students aren’t that different, though they might have their own spring break preferences.

UH junior Jesus Thomas says he tries to stay out of Waikiki. Instead, he’ll probably hit places like the Loft nightclub in Chinatown, he said.

"It’s casual," he said. "It’s, like, you know more people there, so it’s more fun."

The biology and psychology major also plans to surf at Sandy Beach and hike Olo­mana and Koko Crater, and will head home to Kihei, Maui, for a few days, bringing mainland friends to see the Hale­akala sunrise.

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