Mending a broken heart with clubs, cabarets and machine guns
By SARAH FIRSHEIN
In October 2015, Ariel Khawaja travelled to Cozumel, Mexico, to say “I do” before a group of 55 wedding guests.
Three years later, she corralled her two best friends to stand beside her in Las Vegas as she said two other magic words: “I don’t.”
Anchoring the trip around a Drake concert, the 28-year-old, who works in real estate, filled her week with gambling, clubbing at the ritzy 1 OAK, partying poolside at Wet Republic — a day club at the MGM Grand — and otherwise recharging.
“Las Vegas is fun all the time, but when you’re there for your divorce, you’re really free,” says Khawaja, who lives in Houston. “When you’re there celebrating such a big change, you live in the moment and you’re not worried about what happened yesterday. I didn’t pay to have a pity party — I wanted to relax and enjoy time with my friends after the hell I had been through.”
If the Hangover film franchise cemented Las Vegas’ reputation as the ultimate bachelor-party town, Khawaja and other fun-loving travellers are helping establish it as the opposite: The perfect destination for a divorce party. Often an exultant multiday escapade, these vacations celebrate — not mourn — the ending of a marriage. And in a city versed in over-the-top hospitality, venues are finding creative ways to help divorced men and women embrace their new relationship status.
Just Another Milestone Trip
Although the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) doesn’t actively track divorce-party figures, it also doesn’t shy away from the issue, and seasoned Vegas hospitality vets have seen the festivities firsthand.
Adam Clough first heard about the concept 10 years ago, but says it’s taken off more recently. He once helped a guest fete his divorce in the company of his former groomsmen.
“People started telling us that they want a fresh start,” says Clough, the ED of social sales and concierge operations for MGM Resorts, which has 12 properties along the Strip. “At first we thought, ‘Well this is different. But people come to Vegas for celebrations, so in a way it makes sense.’”
Preferring the moniker “girls’ trip” or “friends’ trip”, Julie Banning, a travel advisor at the Virtuoso-affiliated Embark, has seen the trend rising in the past year or so.
“Lately, we’ve seen a lot of people finding any excuse to travel,” says Banning, who’s planned several such friends’ trips, mostly for straight women. “It used to be that you go on your honeymoon. Now, you go on a mini-moon before you go on your honeymoon. This is like one of those milestone trips — like, ‘OK, guess I’m going to take my divorce trip now.’”
Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties Grow Up
A few years ago, when Las Vegas native Bri Steck was deciding what to call her then-fled-gling concierge company — which organises dining, nightlife and entertainment itineraries for tourists ready to get their party on — she purposely avoided the word “bachelorette”. To meet the rising demand for divorce parties, now about 10% of her business, she went with Vegas Girls Night Out (VGNO).
“I know bachelorettes get crazy, but it’s only to an extent because they’re getting ready to spend the rest of their life with somebody,” Steck says. “When you’re having a divorce party, you don’t have to worry about anybody else. There’s no guilt there. There’s nobody to answer to at home.”
Banning says a group of friends celebrating a divorce might be a bit older — and more financially solvent — than a gaggle of future bridesmaids. That means cocktails at an exclusive speak-easy instead of Jell-O shots, and shelling out for capacious accommodations instead of cramming 10 people into a single hotel room.
“These ladies are established,” she says. “They’ve been around the block. They’re not wearing the penis hats. They’re not wearing matching T-shirts. You can have some debauchery, but then you can go back to your beautiful suite.”
What Happens (Only) in Vegas
While there was a time when a trip to Sin City might’ve involved posting up at a smoky poker table for an entire afternoon, today, visitors embrace a more diverse range of activities. According to the 2018 Las Vegas Visitor Profile Study, just released by the LVCVA, although 74% of visitors gambled while in town, two-thirds (67%) did so for two hours or less per day. That leaves plenty of time for endeavours like seeing a show, a choice favoured by nearly six in 10 visitors.
Or, as someone once told MGM’s Clough: “I want to do good things during the day and bad things at night.”
Some venues have fully embraced their only-in-Vegas-ness by marketing specifically to the divorce-party crowd. For instance, the Just Divorced package (US$499/RM2,061) at Machine Guns Vegas, a self-described “luxury gun range”, encourages divorcées to take a machine gun to their wedding dress and marriage certificate while wearing a black “Just Divorced” sash.
But often it’s just Las Vegas itself that’s enough, no official divorce-party label needed. Banning’s clients have embraced activities that their husbands might have pooh-poohed, including a Grand Canyon-from-above helicopter excursion (“Her husband was like, ‘That’s a waste of time, it’s too touristy’”), top-notch seats to Jennifer Lopez, and private meet-and-greets with Britney Spears.
Not surprisingly, mending shreds of a broken heart with barely any shred of clothing is a popular option as well.
VGNO’s divorce-party clients especially appreciate the VIP seating at Thunder From Down Under — say, around the very tables the oiled-up Aussies-in-thongs dance on. Steck’s husband co-owns the all-male revue.
At Chippendales, the Divorcé Play (from US$149 a person), often booked not by the divorcée herself but by a close friend, pulls some of the all-male revue’s signature perks — limo transfer, VIP seating and shoutouts from the stage — into a tidy package that hits the zeitgeist head-on.
Strip clubs are also a popular choice. “Your spirits will be insanely lifted by the time you leave,” jokes Lindsay Feldman, the director of brand marketing for Crazy Horse 3, an upscale gentlemen’s club that’s hosted high-profile celebrity divorce parties (on back-to-back nights, no less) for Colt Johnson and Larissa Dos Santos Lima, the formerly married stars of TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé, as well as actress and media personality Courtney Stodden.
Custom details — a Colt-shaped piñata for Lima; a cleaved-in-half, three-tiered wedding cake depicting the bride kicking off the groom for Stodden — underscored an empowerment theme.
“Divorces are obviously very sensitive, but they’re also symbolic of freedom, and these parties are about the ‘power divorce’.” Feldman says. “They’re about making everybody really happy and excited. They’re about celebrating in a dynamic atmosphere with people who love you.”
The confident, sexed-up atmosphere drives home another unalienable truth: Las Vegas is one of the best places on Earth to be single.
“There aren’t a lot of other places in the world where it doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re going to get hit on, and somebody’s going to make you feel special,” says Banning, the travel advisor. “And that’s therapeutic, because you come back from the trip and you’re like, ‘I may be divorced, but I’ve got this.’” — Bloomberg