Before he got married last August, Brian Altounian celebrated with a two-night trip to Las Vegas with 10 friends. But he skipped Scores and instead headed for the Palms Casino, where he and his pals smoked cigars, sipped good wine and dined at Craftsteak.
"I wanted my bachelor party to be about bonding with my friends in a way that I normally can't because we're all so busy," says Altounian, 43, a Los Angeles-based entertainment executive. "I wasn't interested in seeing any strippers, because I've done this already and can now afford to do something a little different."
Altounian's experience illustrates the changing nature of bachelor parties. A night with semi-dressed women hasn't completely gone to the wayside, but today's parties are classed-up long weekends that increasingly focus on male bonding over female gaping.
"Bachelor parties are moving away from the stereotype of just going to strip clubs," says Rudi Steele, owner of the Dallas-based Virtuoso travel luxury firm Rudi Steele Travel, who custom-plans luxury stag weekends. "Guys getting married today want their party to be more about spending time with their friends."
A survey conducted in January by I-Volution, a Los Angeles-based Internet company that owns the e-commerce site , found that 50 percent of men getting married this year are moving away from the standard bachelor party of hiring exotic dancers and are embracing activities like golfing, gambling or other outdoor pursuits.
This, travel experts say, is because they have more disposable income than generations of grooms before them.
"The guys who have extra money today want a luxurious experience as their stag weekend," says Chaka Fattah Jr., founder and managing partner of American Royalty, a members-only, Philadelphia-based luxury travel service. "And they're willing to spend several thousand dollars to create that experience."
In November of last year, for example, he planned a $200,000 six-day trip to London for a prominent real-estate developer and his friends — all in their early 30s. The groom chartered a Boeing business jet for 18 of his friends. The flight from New York to London alone cost $125,000. The group stayed in suites at the Mandarin Oriental and spent their time dining at fancy restaurants like the Fat Duck and partying at nightclubs. They also visited an upscale strip club called Rififi Club in Mayfair on several occasions.
"Strip clubs aren't out," he says. "It's just that there is less of a focus on them."
Upscale hotels around the world are recognizing the trend toward luxury stag weekends and are stepping up to create bachelor party packages to meet the demand.
Two months ago, the El San Juan Hotel & Casino in Puerto Rico, for example, started offering an for grooms-to-be. For $1,000 per person per night, guys get to take part in activities like a half-day of kite boarding, a private cigar rolling lesson with a take-home box of private-label cigars and a private Tequila-tasting class with Puerto Rico's only tequila sommelier. Their party is also assigned a personal casino host for as long as they stay. The hotel is built right on Isla Verde Beach and has 382-rooms with tiled floors and LCD televisions.
But boys will be boys, and few soon-to-be-wed men can resist Vegas. "The availability to have a good time there is huge," says Michael Lasky, president of I-Volution.
Amenities such as poolside poker and Jean Georges-prepared meals have made casinos the hottest game around.
Guys opting for the by Sky Lofts at MGM are immersed in luxury. Parties of six are picked up from the airport in a Maybach 62 and stay in a Bang & Olufsen-outfitted three-bedroom loft with a bar stocked with their favorite spirits and a butler at the ready. Also included are a 16-course meal at the French boite Joel Robuchon (with a $2,000 credit for drinks), a steak dinner cooked by the chefs at Craftsteak, a table with bottle service at the celebrity hangout Tabu Ultra Lounge and VIP tickets to Cirque de Soleil's "Ka." The price for living it up in style? $33,000 for a two-night stay.
But going away for a stag weekend doesn't necessarily mean buying a pre-set package. Most properties, like Sky Lofts, can customize a package based on your interests.
If you're a golf lover, for instance, you and your buddies can head to the in Straffan, Ireland. This 1830 estate has two Arnold Palmer-designed courses and hosted the Ryder Cup in September 2006. You can fine-tune your swing by taking a 50-minute golf lesson with one of the on-site pros for $110, or play a round of 18 holes for $500. To soothe those stiff muscles, spend $190 for an hour-long sports massage at the spa. You're not out of luck if you don't play golf — other activities include clay pigeon shooting, horseback riding and fly fishing in the River Liffey. The 69 rooms at this property are individually decorated with wood furniture and silks.
Are go-go dancers still in the picture? Sure. They just have to make room on center stage for plenty of golf, gambling, tequila tasting and gourmet eating.