Heading south of the border

Steamboat's 'Blues Break' means annual pilgrimage begins

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— Marsha Sanford expects to see plenty of braids and tans when students return from next week's "Blues Break."

Unlike many Steamboat residents, Sanford, who is the office manager at Soda Creek Elementary School, won't be heading somewhere warm this week. But she will be leaving the Yampa Valley.

"I'm going to Maine, because that's where my daughter and granddaughter live, and they got snowed in and couldn't fly out for Christmas," she said.

The Steamboat Springs School District's annual mid-winter break, better known as Blues Break, provides teachers and students a week off from school to break up the long period in between the holiday break and spring break. For many in Steamboat, Blues Break is time to escape the winter and head somewhere tropical.

Steamboat Springs Middle School office manager Karen Myers is heading to North Carolina to visit relatives, but she recalls previous Blues Breaks trips to Mexico during which she recognized some familiar faces.

"It's funny," Myers said. "I can remember in past years when I go to Mexico and see everybody from here."

Local travel agent Ryan Fleming, who works for The Travel Center At Steamboat, often asks his clients, "Wouldn't you rather have an ice-cold beverage on the beach instead of an ice-cold start to your morning?"

He said many of the Blues Break trips he has scheduled are to Las Vegas and Mexico. Popular Mexico destinations include Puerto Vallarta and Cancun.

"One of the most popular places is actually south of Cancun at Riviera Maya, and the reason for that is Riviera Maya has absolutely spectacular beaches," Fleming said. "It is also more secluded than the typical Cancun party-it-up atmosphere."

All-inclusive resorts such as Crown Paradise Club appeal to families because they offer activities for all ages.

"They have a rock climbing wall and a waterslide," Fleming said. "And they actually have children's programs so mom and dad can play golf all day."

For couples without children, Las Vegas has been the prevalent "runaway getaway" because of cheap airfares out of Denver International Airport.

Las Vegas and Mexico are consistently the prime destinations for Steamboat Springs locals every year, Fleming said.

"A lot of people are going for relaxation and to have the same experience they have been catering to people all winter long."

Julie Rabbitt, owner and manager of Steamboat Reservations and Travel, has been sending people farther south than Mexico for this Blues Break.

"People overall are getting tired of Mexico because they have done it so many times," she said. "The hot spots are Belize and Costa Rica, which is as fairly accessible as Mexico."

These locations offer more than just warm sand between your toes.

"Costa Rica's got the monkeys and more jungle, and is a bit more exotic than Mexico," Rabbitt said. "Plus, an active volcano is there and, of course, the beach."

Belize has the same amenities but also is a diving destination.

But for some residents, being allowed out of the country could be their biggest problem.

"The passports are a big deal," Rabbitt said. "According to the post office, there is a huge backup, and people who have paid big bucks for an expedited passport didn't get it. There's a lot of panicky people out there."

With the wealth of experienced travelers in Steamboat, don't expect any canceled vacations.

"Steamboat is a traveling community," she said. "And there are some big-time traveling families who take their kids all over the world to experience these places."

- To reach Allison Plean, call 871-4204

or e-mail aplean@steamboatpilot.com

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