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New bachelorette parties are breaking tradition

These days, brides-to-be who decide that the stereotypical bachelorette party — dinner, drinks, embarrassing “adult entertainment” — just doesn’t suit their style are turning to  spas, winery tours and cooking lessons for their one last hurrah with friends before they walk down the aisle.
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When wedding planner Ivy Robinson of Charlotte, NC, spent five days in New Orleans for her bachelorette party, she thought her friends had struck upon a novel idea. Now, just two and a half years later, she’s amazed that sophisticated affairs like hers are becoming the norm among the brides she works with. “Bachelorette parties have evolved beyond just going out on the town,” she says. “There’s a huge trend to be elaborate — they’re like a pre-honeymoon without the groom!”

Ann Donlon enjoyed just such a respite from her hectic pre-wedding life in San Francisco by having a four-night bachelorette party with seven of her best friends at Amansala Resort’s all-inclusive Bikini Boot Camp in Mexico. The name sounds a little more intense — and spartan —than the reality: an eco-chic retreat combining delicious meals, yoga and cardio classes, massages, thatched cabanas and plenty of time for bonding. “We’re all really close and wanted to escape for a while,” says Ann. “And we’re all kind of neurotic about health and exercise!”

These days, brides-to-be who decide that the stereotypical bachelorette party — dinner, drinks, embarrassing “adult entertainment” — just doesn’t suit their style aren’t forgoing the chance to spend some quality time with their best friends before giving up their single status. They simply plan (or request) an event that better reflects their taste. Oenophiles sip their way through winery tours, fashionistas design purses at DIY studios and, yes, fitness enthusiasts seek out holistic hideaways.

Turning the bachelorette party into a fun but edifying affair is gaining popularity with many brides, especially among one circle of friends in New York City. Jocelynn Hyde Cheng wanted to tie her love of the ocean into her bachelorette weekend last June, and the Surf Diva school in La Jolla, CA, was the perfect solution. “Only two girls had ever surfed before,” says Jocelynn, “so some were a little intimidated. But everyone loved it!” All the women were treated by Jocelynn to welcome bags full of treats like boy-shorts with surfboard appliqués, lip balm, sunscreen and other goodies that would come in handy during their private surfing lessons with female instructors (also Jocelynn’s treat). “My friends insisted on taking care of everything —the hotel, the car and dinner Saturday night—but when you’re making people travel for this and the wedding, which was in Vancouver ... I wanted to surprise them.”

At the party was bridesmaid Natasha Zaizeff, who was getting married a few months later. “You get to the age where you start going to a lot of bachelorettes,” she says. “It’s fun to do something more than just go to dinner or a karaoke bar.”

So nine of her friends rented a studio in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood and split the cost of hiring three professional (and, yes, male) dancers to tutor them. Decked out in frilly skirts, fishnet stockings, beads and bangles, the revelers eventually “coerced” their young instructors to move on with them to dinner at a Cuban hot spot in SoHo. After a rousing game of truth or dare on their way to an after-dinner salsa club, a second, unplanned dance lesson continued into the wee hours. “Hopefully we’re creating a trend,” says Natasha of parties like hers and Jocelynn’s. In fact, another friend’s bachelorette evening soon after included a striptease lesson at the Penthouse Executive Club, followed by dinner and dancing.

While sharing a collective lesson seems to be gaining steam, there’s another bachelorette event whose popularity is at an all-time high: a pilgrimage to the traditional domain of the bachelor party, Las Vegas. Bethany Pearson knew her best friend, Dianne Wulfsberg, wanted to party Vegas-style last May, so she began planning the weekend trip from Santa Barbara, CA, several months ahead of time with the help of the entertainment company Vegas Hotspots. Friday night included a private room at Ice, a dance club, with Saturday spent lounging at a private poolside cabana at the MGM Grand hotel, where the bride was presented with an embroidered “bride-to-be” skirt. That night, the 11 girls all dressed in black and gave Dianne an outfit to wear: an all-white ensemble (so she’d stand out as the guest of honor). Later, at an intimate dinner of Hawaiian-fusion cuisine, Dianne’s mother and her mother’s friends joined the group in toasting the bride. “It was very touching,” says Bethany. “It was much more meaningful to have Dianne’s mom there.” After the meal, the women proceeded to a skybox at the Chippendale’s theater, ending the weekend with a humorous but tasteful show. “It was such a fun and amazing weekend,” Dianne remembers. “I thanked each girl individually when I found out that they all paid almost $500, not including their flight and some meals.”

Of course, some brides do prefer to pamper themselves closer to home. “She’s just not the partying type,” says Colleen Syron about her cousin Janine LaPine, for whom Colleen planned a surprise bachelorette party in Chicago last September. “And her maid of honor was her 18-year-old sister.” So Colleen hired the company mobileSPA to create an elegant at-home affair, with pedicures, facials and catered drinks and appetizers that all 13 ladies were excited about. The company customized everything based on Janine’s preferences (supplied by Colleen), even creating a signature pink “Janini-tini” raspberry cocktail, inspired by the bride’s favorite color and flavor.

A massage therapist herself, Andrea Lohman of Northport, NY, knew that spending time at a spa was one thing she did not want for her bachelorette party. Instead, Andrea and her pals hired Marc Weiss, the multitalented "DJ Chef," who’s been featured on Food Network and MTV, to spin tunes and host a festive cooking lesson at a friend’s home. “He brings his DJ equipment and all the food, so it’s pretty unique,” explains Andrea. She and Weiss had chosen a tropical theme for the night, so the ladies enjoyed margaritas while he played island and reggae music; then they all headed to the kitchen to prepare the meal: coconut-crusted chicken, salad with mango dressing, and chocolate-Kahlua-banana bread pudding. “It was a party atmosphere,” says Andrea, “but it was more of an intimate setting, so it was a wonderful way to catch up with my friends — people still talk about it.”

Katie Tuttle of San Rafael, CA, was also amazed at the lengths to which her close friends went for her bachelorette party in Lake Tahoe. Her matron of honor, Michelle Ghilotti Mandel, planned the perfect vintage ’50s theme weekend, and really got creative: elaborately decorating the rented vacation home in pink and black, and stocking it with period records and candy, personalized cups and napkins, and written messages from all the girls who could not attend. Michelle even created handmade invitations. (It was a talent she soon parlayed into a successful couture invitation business, Ghilotti Ink.) Katie was treated to a manicure and massage on Saturday before all the women, decked out in coordinating pink monogrammed shirts, boarded a party bus to the famed restaurant Garwoods, on the lake’s north shore. Gambling and dancing at nearby casinos and nightclubs rounded out the night.

When Katie woke up early Sunday morning, she sat on the deck writing thank-yous. "I wanted my friends to know right then how special it had been and how much I appreciated it," she says. “They really made me feel like an honored guest and took into account what I like for every detail.” Then, she laughs, “I saved everything and scrapbooked it all!”

This content originally appeared in Elegant Bride magazine. For more wedding tips, visit