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.
"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.
"It's not near as nice as I expected," said MacKenzie Horras, 22, a student at the University of Northern Iowa.
But while some of the hotels were clearly out of business for some time to come, others were fully functioning beyond their damaged facades.
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.
With winds reaching 150 mph, Wilma roared ashore Oct. 21, then stalled over Cancun for nearly 40 hours. It toppled trees, demolished homes and left much of the city of 700,000 under brown, foul-smelling flood waters.
Rebuilding began almost immediately and continues around the clock, especially in the hotel zone.