Florida's Hostels Give Students a Spring Break

Izon is a Canadian travel journalist covering youth budget routes.

A block-long pink stucco at 1438 Washington Ave.--the one-time hangout of gangster Al Capone--is serving as a popular youth hostel.

The Clay Hotel, two blocks from the ocean in the heart of Miami Beach's restored Art Deco district, is particularly favored by students on spring break.

Others head for beach-front motels, and for those traveling solo, facilities such as the Miami Youth Hostel provide shared-room accommodations for men and women for $10 (plus tax) per person a night. Some charge an extra $1 or $2 to rent a sheet for sleeping bags. Some offer rooms for couples at slightly higher rates. They also provide kitchens and common rooms.

Here are some of the things that you may--or may not--like about Florida hostels:

--Representatives of Ft. Lauderdale's tourism industry are not encouraging the spring break crowd to visit their area this year, but Ft. Lauderdale is where the young traveler will find one of the nicest youth hostels in the state. The 36-bed hostel is in a former motel, two blocks from the beach at 2839 Vistamar St. It has a swimming pool, a barbecue and an interesting collection of neighbors who hang out in the trees over the back yard.

The property backs onto a nature reserve that was once used as a location for Tarzan films. Small spider monkeys, descendants of the film "extras," still romp in the trees.

International Youth Hostel Federation members can stay five days, non-members three. This hostel offers a work-exchange program. After the third day the hostel offers work around the hostel for several hours in the morning in exchange for a night's free lodging.

--Daytona Beach is now the most popular area for the spring-break crowd. Throngs of young visitors descend on the area from early March until mid-April. Daytona's youth hostel is a block from the beach at 104 S. Atlantic Ave. Call (904) 258-6937.

When I first visited the privately owned facility several years ago I thought it was in a good location, but wished some money would be spent sprucing up the inside with a fresh coat of paint and clean carpets. It hasn't changed. Neither has my opinion.

Its staff offers water-ski lessons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at a private lake seven miles away. Cost is from $12, lunch included.

--There's an attractive lake-front hostel in the center of Orlando. Plantation Manor--227 N. Eola Drive, (407) 843-8888--was converted from a retirement home into a youth hostel two years ago. It's a 25-minute drive from the Walt Disney complex, and the hostel provides round-trip shuttle-bus transportation for $10. A Kennedy Space Center tour is $20 round trip, entrance fee included.

The hostel is within walking distance of the popular Church Street Station entertainment complex. This is one of the few Florida hostels that imposes a curfew, varying from midnight to 2 a.m. depending on the season.

--A small portion of the spring-break crowd has discovered the Clearwater Beach area on Florida's west coast the past two years. For solo visitors the closest youth facilities are the two hostels operating in downtown St. Petersburg.

The Detroit Hotel--215 Central Ave., (813) 822-4095--is the oldest hotel in the city. It's still in a transition period, going from hotel to hostel. Rooms are being renovated and the halls are still dingy. The lobby is a mix of young visitors, rental bikes and guests who have lived in the building for up to 30 years sitting in a circle watching television. The rooms have beds, not bunks, and there are no curfews.

Around the corner at the historic McCarthy Hotel--326 1st Ave. N., (813) 822-4141--the annex has been converted into a 32-bed youth hostel. The lobby is bright and cheerful and the white wicker chairs are filled with the hotel's senior residents. There is an 11 p.m. curfew for hostel guests.

Both hostels are a 40-minute bus ride from popular beach areas, but they are within a block of evening entertainment and about three blocks from Tampa Bay, five blocks from Al Lang Field (where the St. Louis Cardinals conduct spring training), eight blocks from the Salvador Dali Museum and 10 blocks from the popular North Shore swimming and sports complex.

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