One bachelorette getaway doesn’t fit all any more than one wedding dress does, so we’ve identified five approaches: a night out, pampering at the spa, food and wine, an outdoor adventure, and a beachhouse rental. Throw in a few personal touches, and you’re set for a fab weekend devoted to you and your posse.
by Lisbeth Levine
PAMPERING AT THE SPA
Nothing tames pre-wedding tension like a weekend devoted to buffing, polishing, and exfoliating—with a little deep breathing thrown in, too. Before booking, start by mulling over the atmosphere you want. If you like having the freedom to let loose, a Zen meditation center isn’t going to be your cup of (green) tea.
For most groups of girlfriends, resort spas will be a better bet than destination spas since they appeal to a wider array of budgets and don’t limit food choices or alcohol. Browse spafinder.com and check specific spas’ websites to see which features they emphasize, what type of food they serve, and whether they cater to groups.
Consult with the spa director before booking to make sure the staff can accommodate the size of your party. If the spa has two nail techs and eight women want mani-pedis at the same time, it’s not going to add up to a blissful experience.
Be sure there’s a common place for everyone to hang out, whether it’s a large spa suite, a relaxation room, or a pool area, and that there are enough diversions—steam rooms, whirlpools, yoga classes—to make a day of it, even if some women only opt for a pedicure. (Remember that spa services are pricey; massages can easily top $100.)
As an alternative to going to a spa, you can have the spa come to you, at least in some cities. Set yourselves up in your hotel’s suite or a conference room, and a mobile spa company will bring everything needed. Check out beautyoncall.com or ask the concierge for recommendations. The advantages: You’re all together in one room, you can plug in your own playlist, order your favorite foods, and uncork whatever suits your mood.
Something Extra Before heading out on the town, have a mehndi party where you get adorned with temporary henna tattoos, like Elizabeth Hurley did for her Indian wedding. You may be able to find a local service through a spa or hotel concierge, or by searching on partypop.com.
FOOD AND WINE
While California’s Sonoma and Napa valleys are prime territory for a wine weekend, you can also sip and swirl your way through parts of Texas, northern Michigan, and other places you’d never expect. Browse wineries in all 50 states at catchwine.com, and check localwineevents.com for special events and festivals.
Hire a driver to take you to wine tastings—it’s safer, and you get the benefit of the party atmosphere that comes with sharing a shuttle. When planning tastings, research prices (most wineries charge for tastings), hours, and whether reservations are needed.
Another approach to food and wine is to pick a meaningful place—like your college town if several of you went to school together—and eat and drink your way through your old haunts. If you’re a diehard foodie, choose a major restaurant capital and start making reservations from your wish list. Opentable.com simplifies the reservation process and earns you redeemable points for future meals.
Prix fixe or tasting menus are often a good value, can extend a dinner over a few decadent hours, and make it easy to divide up the bill. If you’re planning such an elaborate dinner, go for lighter fare like tapas or small plates at lunch.
After dinner, head for a late-night spot with a particular specialty like craft cocktails, the kind made with fresh-squeezed juices and liquors infused with herbs or fruit. San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, New York City’s Pegu Club, and Chicago’s Butterfly Social Club, which uses organic ingredients, keep cocktail culture swinging. Ethel’s Chocolate Lounges, which are located in Illinois and Nevada; South Bend Chocolate Company with locations in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio; and New York City’s ChikaLicious are examples of the recent desserts-only trend.
All this indulgence may leave you yearning for some daytime exercise; a culinary walking tour of an ethnic neighborhood or a visit to a farmers market will do the trick—and yield edible souvenirs to take home. Other activities might include a break for afternoon tea or a cooking class.
In Chicago, Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith of the Hearty Boys, who host a show on the Food Network, will teach you the secrets of cooking like a TV chef and record the session so that you leave with a DVD of the experience.
Something Extra Visit a paint-your-own pottery studio like Color Me Mine where you can decorate a platter or a few serving dishes for the bride. It will give her a way to remember the bachelorette weekend when serving meals in her new home.
WILD NIGHT OUT
If your weekend’s all about debauchery, set the vibe by booking a hip hotel with a scene, and a pool with lounging beds and a DJ (W Hotels are a classic example). Look into what kind of nightlife a destination has to offer and whether it fits your style: are you into bar hopping, karaoke dives, sophisticated cocktail lounges, comp-friendly casinos, or pulsing mega-clubs?
If you’re hitting the clubs, enlist the services of your hotel concierge to get on door lists, or book a night-on-the-town package through a service like bacheloretteexperts.com. You’ll feel like rock stars when they lift the velvet ropes and beckon you in. (Packages vary, but often include admission, a certain number of drinks, and even limo services, and start at around $70 per person.)
Think through how you’re going to get around; one popular approach is to splurge on a limo so that no one has to drive. This works best in cities like Miami where there’s a cruising scene, and in others (Atlanta, L.A.) that are sprawling or short on cabs. Reconsider for, say, New York City, where cabs are easy to hail 24/7. And remember that a limo’s hourly rate could wind up forcing you to choose between cutting a raging night short or going over budget.
Leave plenty of time for sleeping in the next morning, and make the pool your daytime headquarters so that everyone has a place to congregate; even better, rent a private poolside cabana. Consider fending off that hangover with mimosas at a rollicking drag-show brunch—in place of the classic strip-club outing. And if you get restless, you can inject some healthy competition into the weekend by bowling at an alley with a retro vibe like Lucky Strike Lanes.
Something Extra Sign up for a private pole-dancing or striptease class (not to worry, there’s no nudity). You’ll get some good laughs even as you learn some new moves. Find classes at bachelorettepartyfun.com and sfactor.com, the site for Sheila Kelly’s S Factor studios.
If the outdoors is your favorite place to be, the first step is zeroing in on an adventure that can be enjoyed by all. Assess the abilities and general fitness of the women in your group. Rule out any activities like scuba diving that require certification or specific skills. If any of the women are pregnant, ask them about their limitations.
Putting together this type of trip involves researching outfitters as well as accommodations (outdoortrips.info lists outfitters by activity). Adventure Bachelorette Party runs about 30 different weekend trips and creates a custom Web page for each group to handle RSVPs and payments. You can also look for all-inclusive programs at places like Club Getaway in Kent, Conn., where you can go mountain biking, try out a zip line, and explore caves, all before happy hour.
One way to make the trip more enticing is to pick an activity that none of your friends have tried before, whether it’s surfing in southern Oregon or horseback riding in the Grand Tetons. Our story 11 Ways to Try Something New has details on outfitters that specialize in women-only trips.
Not everyone has the same definition of roughing it, so reward those who are venturing out of their comfort zone by staying in lodging with down pillows and nice-smelling soap. Camping is even a possibility now that glamping (if you guessed “glamorous camping,” you’re right) has penetrated the wilderness at places like Sequoia High Sierra Camp in central California. And don’t forget to record the adventure.
Something Extra When you’re in the backcountry, there’s a decent chance you’re near mud baths or hot springs—just what you need to restore your aching muscles. And if you’re not close enough to indulge at one of these outdoor spas, send everyone back to their rooms with their own Dead Sea mineral mud mask from Ahava.
Sand, surf, and a setup that allows you to make your own mojitos are just a few of the draws of a weekend at a beach. If there’s no beachhouse in your extended circle of family and friends that you can tap for the weekend, try an online vacation rental service like zonder.com, rentalo.com, and homeaway.com. All have search features that let you choose everything from the number of bedrooms to particular amenities.
Dive in by determining what’s most important to you. For the house: Is there a private pool or hot tub? How many bedrooms and bathrooms will you need? For a group of women, assume that no one wants to share beds and figure on one bathroom for every four people. For the location: Keep in mind you’ll need a break from the sun, and zero in on communities where you can walk to shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars, or join a lively boardwalk scene.
Beachhouses in high season are generally rented by the week, so you’ll find a better selection of weekend rentals in shoulder season (May or September in Cape May, N.J., or April in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, for example). Locales with lots of housing stock also work well for a weekend rental; you may not be able to find a weekend rental in Martha’s Vineyard in July, but you probably can nab a lovely place in Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head, S.C.
Work out how you’re going to handle chores like cooking and cleaning ahead of time. Many rental services build in a cleaning fee or let you add a cleaning service for an additional charge. If none of you are inclined to spend time in the kitchen, look into hiring a personal chef or assign a team to breakfast, another to lunch, and agree to eat dinners out.
Have some activities like beach volleyball and Frisbee on standby for those who can’t sit still and, in case the weather doesn’t comply, be ready with board games, a poker set, or guilty-pleasure movies and popcorn.
Something Extra Hire a yoga instructor to lead a group class on the beach. There’s nothing like doing sun salutations in the sand while facing the wild blue yonder. Call a local yoga studio or try yogafinder.com.
Lisbeth Levine is co-author of The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day (Workman Publishing), available in mid-April.