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 number two last year to number eight 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. Many spring breakers have moved farther south to the Maya Riviera or to Acapulco, the Pacific playground of the 1950s that has been steadily rising in popularity because of its all-night discos.
''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. Instead of blasting music, the sound of hammers pierced the air.
''It's not near as nice as I expected," said MacKenzie Horras, 22, an elementary education student at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. ''Some of the pools are dirty or don't have water."
But while some hotels were clearly out of business for some time to come, others were fully functioning beyond their damaged facades. The Oasis hotel, popular with spring breakers, showed few signs of being hit by a major hurricane.
Everyone, however, agreed Mexico's party resort has slowed down a bit.
Stephanie Streit, who was sunbathing with Horras on the beach, said her friends who'd come the year before described a much wilder place.
''Out of control was the term I heard most used," said Streit, 22, a psychology major at the University of Northern Iowa. ''But it's pretty tame."
The Mexican government hoped to use spring break as a way to show the world how the country's prime resort had bounced back.
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.
With winds reaching 150 miles per hour, 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 continues around the clock, especially in the hotel zone, a 15-mile spit of coast where glamorous resorts line the Caribbean on one side and posh shops and smaller lodges face a lagoon on the other.
Despite the changes, many students said Wilma did not ruin their vacations.
''Looking at the ocean all day is a lot better than staring at a cornfield," said Ben Hansen, a 22-year-old University of Nebraska at Lincoln student.