Spring Breakers beware of potential risks during travel

Tainted booze still flows at tropical resorts

More than half of college students plan to hit the road this spring break with destinations such as Las Vegas, Nevada; Cancun, Mexico; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, according to the Chicago Tribune. With CU Denver’s spring break officially starting on March 19, there’s no doubt that many students will be trading in homework, papers, and midterms for an affordable getaway to a beach somewhere in the US or neighboring tropical country.

Photo courtesy of New York Daily News

Spring break trips are usually filled with sand, sun, music, and most iconically, booze. There’s nothing wrong with letting loose after half a semester filled with stress from balancing school and work. College students have heard the typical rules of taking precaution with alcohol; but, many students have not heard about the frightening news of tainted booze that’s been occurring in resorts and tropical countries.

“I haven’t heard of this before,” Joel Cruz, a Sophomore with a major in Urban Planning, said. “It’s really unfair that resorts keep having this happen. It’s like they don’t entirely care if the booze they purchase is bad because the tourists will be gone in a week anyway. It doesn’t surprise me though because spring break is probably one of their busiest times of the year and they want to make as much money as possible. I wouldn’t even want to take that risk.” 

With a little research, it’s easy to find a plethora of articles ranging from Journal Sentinel Online to blogs and news articles, all voicing the same warning. “US State Department warns college students against spring break in Mexico,” is Fox News’ headline that echoes the concerns of many other news sources.

The first big report was posted on JS Online with a story that occurred in January 2017. A Wisconsin family, the McGowans, went to Playa de Carmen, an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. As the family was excited to be away from the brutal Wisconsin winter, the two college students, Austin and Abbey, went down to the pool bar to relax and have some drinks before the family dinner that night. The parents were upstairs waiting for their kids to meet with them before dinner. They never came. After checking the bar pool and not finding them, Mr. and Mrs. McGowan went to the front desk to ask where their kids were. Looking quite flustered, the desk manager informed them that their kids were found unconscious and face down in the pool. They were taken to the hospital. In utter shock, the parents rushed to the hospital to find their son, Austin, with a severe concussion and their daughter, Abbey, unresponsive and in a coma.

They were transferred to a hospital in Florida where Abbey was pronounced brain dead. Later, toxicology reports showed that Austin’s blood alcohol level was 0.26, more than three times the Wisconsin limit to be impaired. Abbey’s blood alcohol content was 0.25. JS Online continues, stating that “At 130 pounds, she would have to drink about seven shots in one hour to have a level that high.”

Through their grief, the McGowans tried to get Mexico’s police involved to interview the hotel staff and guests at Playa de Carmen. They did not obtain evidence that was of any help. The family then made a blog, asking other tourists if anyone had a similar experience of drinking tainted alcohol. A couple responded to them. The husband and wife had a handful of drinks, blacked out and woke up uncontrollably vomiting.

“TripAdvisor is giving a false image of what experiences these resorts have given to customers. I’ve been to Cancun before, it was fine,” Stephen Jefferson, a senior in International Studies said. “It was what you expected it would be. I worry that these terrible resort experiences will ruin the rest of Mexico’s image, which is what TripAdvisor is helping to do. I’m disgusted that a website like TripAdvisor would delete comments just to help their business. This is people’s lives that are in danger.”

After following the McGowans’ story, the Journal Sentinel reported receiving more than 30 reports of similar experiences with alcohol after drinking only limited amounts. The State Department released a statement in December  that said they’ve received 12 reports of American visitors who have gotten sick or blacked out. JS Online reported, “The blackouts have happened to men and women, young and old, to singles and to couples, according to interviews with travelers and family members whose loved ones died or were injured at the resorts, as well as hospital records, ambulance receipts, hotel correspondence, and other documents.”

Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has been seeking answers in the  case of the 20-year-old Wisconsin woman. “As much as 43 percent of all alcohol consumed in Mexico is illegal,” Johnson said.

Once the t started investigating all of these uneasy stories, TripAdvisor was uncovered for deleting critical reviews where vacationers were warning others about their terrible experiences at resorts. JS Online got word from a recent reviewer of a Mexican resort. Wendy Avery-Swanson of Phoenix described how she blacked out from drinking a small amount of alcohol from a swim-up bar. Her comment was removed from TripAdvisor’s website. “To me it’s like censoring. It wasn’t heresay, as TripAdvisor claimed, it actually happened to me,” said Swanson. 

CU Denver students are shocked that they never heard of problems with alcohol in resorts before. Adam Gremp, a CU Denver senior majoring in Geography shares his worries, “I’ve been to Mexico quite a few times, resorts included. The alcohol just flows at resorts, so it would be hard to say just don’t drink when it’s all included. I just want to say the cheesy saying that there are so many other fun things to do other than drink. But if I’m on vacation and paid for an all-inclusive resort, I would want to drink.”

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