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Bachelor parties turning into vacations

The bachelor party is a much-cherished rite of passage, albeit one that's undergone a considerable makeover. While some immediately think of strip clubs and casinos, more of today's best men are lining up different fetes for the groom-to-be.
As the sun sets, a Florida Keys bonefish guide, right, points his angler to a bonefish on fly tackle off Islamorada in the Florida Keys.Bob Krist / Florida Keys News Bure
/ Source: Forbes

In ancient Greece, when a comrade was set to marry, Spartan men gathered for a night of toasts and dining to celebrate. More than 2,000 years later, the bachelor party is still a much-cherished rite of passage, albeit one that's undergone a considerable makeover. While some immediately think of strip clubs and casinos, more of today's best men are lining up different fetes for the groom-to-be. Today, men are planning elaborate destination parties that don't include exotic dancers and slot machines.

According to the most recent U.S. census, Americans are staying single for nearly five more years than their parents did. The average man walks down the aisle when he's 27.1-years-old; a quarter century ago, he would've been 23.2-years-old. (For women, it's 25.8 and 20.8, respectively.) This may explain why bachelor parties are changing, says Jake Schraufnagel, publisher of Today's Groom. "As the groom and his friends get older, they can afford a memorable weekend getaway for a bachelor party … Having more disposable income is a huge deciding factor in the bachelor party festivities."

Older grooms-to-be may also have different priorities than their younger counterparts. "A younger groom may have younger attendees who are single themselves with no wife to answer to at the end of the bachelor party," says Schraufnagel. "Guys are using the bachelor party as a reunion and a great opportunity to introduce new friends of the groom's to old friends from the past." The focus, then, shifts from a night at the strip club to a weekend to remember with the guys.

That's not to say that the traditional Las Vegas blowout is a thing of the past. "Vegas is still king," says Schraufnagel. But more best men are arranging whitewater rafting trips, golf weekends and other extreme vacations.

It's been 40 years since the Florida Keys were a counterculture hotbed. Today, you're more likely to find Midwestern tourists with fanny packs than hippies in Volkswagen vans. Best men are advised to take their fellow groomsmen to the six islands that comprise Islamorada for a weekend of fishing. Ambitious anglers can go for the "Keys grand slam" — bonefish, tarpon and permit, known as tough fighting fish. Rather try your hand offshore? With the Gulf Stream a few miles offshore, billfish and wahoo opportunities are just a short boat ride away.

If your gang likes to hunt, but you don't want to sit in a tree stand with the boys, consider a Louisiana gator hunt. The night before the hunt, guides lay hooks baited with rotting chicken carcasses dangling a foot over the water. The next morning, you and the guides head out in airboats to check the lines that were set the night before. When the guide notices a missing hook, he starts hand-lining the hooked gator in — and it's up to you to deliver the kill shot—by rifle, pistol, bow or even knife. Most outfitters also offer cleaning and meat prep services, so you can ship off for a night in the French Quarter knowing that a freezer full of alligator steaks will be waiting when you get home.

If airboats and alligators aren't enough thrill, pack up the boys, get your shots and go on a big-game safari in South Africa. Todd J. Rathner is CEO of T. Jeffrey Safari Co., which has been offering hunting trips to the continent for the last four years. He says their Eastern Cape trip is an excellent choice for a group of guys to do a bachelor party, "especially if they are looking for really top-notch accommodations."

After arriving in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, participants will pursue the country's varied game, including ostrich, zebra and wildebeest. Looking for an even more Hemingway-esque experience? T. Jeffrey will take your party deep into the bush for a custom safari. Says Rathner, "For those adrenaline junkies who are seeking the ultimate hunting experience and want to pit themselves against an extremely worthy and dangerous adversary, we can arrange custom safaris for Cape buffalo, leopard [and] lion."

If bloodlust isn't the groom's idea of a bachelor party blowout, consider a surf trip in Panama. Still under most tourists' radar, yet regularly rated one of the safest countries in Central America, Panama is a surfer's paradise. It may be the only country in the world where you can surf both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans in the same day; and because it’s relatively tourist-free, you and your crew won't be fighting for waves.

Moro Negrito Surf Camp is a good choice for the complete package. Says Steve Thompson, one of the camp's owners, many of the best spots are off Panama's many islands. But "most local surfers and 'shoe-string budget' surfers do not want to rent a boat and pay for gasoline. They want to pull up at a surf break on the mainland and surf." The camp has access to breaks for all experience levels, and offers lessons for the beginners in your group. In between sets, kayak, snorkel or just kick back in a hammock.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's ice climbing. Grab your ice axe, crampons and ropes — and hook up with one of Iceland's many guides who know how to conquer the glaciers that cover 11 percent of this small island nation. Routes are available for all ability levels, but beware of Icelandic understatement when choosing your climbs. While Icelanders grade their routes using the same scale as climbers in the States, routes tend to be rated lower than comparable pitches in the U.S. When you've had your fill of scaling waterfalls, there's always a party going on in Reykjavík, the lively capital.

Regardless of which high-octane getaway you choose, the best advice is: Start planning now. "With so many schedules to coordinate," says Jake Schraufnagel, "you need… three to four months in advance if you are planning to travel." And when it comes to adjusting your plans to make everyone happy, do what's best for the groom first — and then think about the group.

If you pull it off, pat yourself on the back. You will have given the groom-to-be a sendoff from bachelorhood that's more memorable than another predictably inebriated night in Tijuana or Las Vegas.