It's not every day that you have carte blanche to celebrate the final days of your single life with your best girls by your side. So whether you're a first-time bride-to-be or getting ready to embark on your second (or third or fourth) foray into the realm of married people, never underestimate the ritualistic importance of the bachelorette bash.
While they vary in decadence and debauchery, bachelorette rites play out in countries around the world. A "hens' night" in England or Australia usually involves copious drinking, an obligatory pub crawl and inane party games, much like the American version. In Morocco, women gather at the bride-to-be's home to sip sugary mint tea, eat sweets and stencil their hands and feet with intricate henna designs. And in France, the name for a bachelorette party -- enterrement de vie de jeune fille -- translates to "funeral of the life of the young girl." But rest assured that wherever and however you plan to celebrate, there's nothing morose about ushering out one phase of life and welcoming another when a fabulous fete with your favorite friends is on the agenda.
With so many destinations to paint red, the only difficulty comes in deciding where to head. Here are a few ideas for where to gather the girls.
New York, New York
The quintessential American bachelorette party destination, the Big Apple offers every obligatory diversion for guaranteeing a good time with your best ladies -- world-class shopping, spas, nightlife, restaurants (and, yes, male revues, too). For a "Sex in the City"-style soiree, check into the super stylish Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District, where the heated rooftop pool is open year-round and you're just a few Manolo Blahnik-clad steps from some of the city's edgiest nightlife and shopping. Truth be told, however, you won't need to leave the hotel to have a high time. By day, G-Spa, the hotel's spa, is a hip Japanese-minimalist spot for facials, pedicures and massages, complete with steam rooms and hydro pools. After dark, the spa's red-glass treatment rooms get transformed into private alcoves for sipping cocktails and scoping the beautiful people, and the hydro pools, covered with glass, morph into liquid-illusion dance floors.
South Beach, Miami, Florida
On any given weekend night, you'll see gaggles of newly bronzed ladies sauntering down Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive to celebrate those precious pre-lifetime-commitment moments in one of America's most legendary locales for letting loose. Bachelorette gatherings in South Beach offer all the essential shopping (hit Lincoln Road for big brands as well as funky vintage finds), partying and nightlife elements -- with the added appeal of beach time mixed in. Many hotels offer packages for bachelorette groups. The Catalina Hotel & Beach Club -- a super hip and surprisingly affordable art deco hotel on Collins Avenue -- touts a "Style the Last Mile" bachelorette package, whereby special room rates include manis, pedis and group massages for your entourage, VIP club passes and nightly martini rounds during the hotel's happy hour. Be sure to book your flights back home as late as possible on Sunday so you can have a last hurrah at the oceanfront club Nikki Beach, where SoBe's no-rest-for-the-wicked set dance with their toes in the sand from midday till long past midnight.
Charleston, South Carolina
If your ideal bachelorette party is more about classy dining and nightlife than hog-wild hurrahs, pass on Atlanta and opt to round up the ladies for a low-key weekend of Southern comforts in Charleston instead. The city's natural beauty and built-in grace make it one of America's top-ranked wedding destinations. But there's a lot for a crew of close friends to like about quality time together here, too. Consider renting a beach house for the weekend on Sullivan's Island or Folly Beach, with forays into nearby Charleston for shopping and dining. You can spend an afternoon checking out the eclectic boutiques on Upper King Street, or book into a cooking class at Maverick Southern Kitchens to learn the secrets of Lowcountry cuisine. For dinner out, 39 Rue de Jean feels like a foray into a Parisian brasserie and hits the perfect note of fun-loving ambience and elegance. Charleston nightlife is rife with wine bars, too, with DJs adding to the sipping on Friday and Saturday nights at McCrady's and a perpetually stylish scene at the Social Wine Bar and Restaurant.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Why leave Sin City to your husband-to-be and his raucous retinue? Las Vegas offers just as much hedonism for bachelorettes as it does for bachelors. And you can tailor your experience to be as toned-down or amped-up as you'd like. First thing to know -- plan for 2 nights, max. Spending any longer on party patrol in Vegas, even with your best girls, is like bingeing on chocolate and paying a dear price when bikini season rolls around. The options are literally endless when it comes to cutting loose. Will you join countless other shrieking bachelorette bevies to ogle Justin Timberlake wannabes at Chippendales? Or opt to learn some stripper-inspired moves of your own with a group pole-dance lesson at StudiOhm? Among the hottest clubs to put on your party-hopping agenda are Pure, LAX and Tryst. And pencil in some morning-after rehab with a spate of steam-room and massage action at the Spa Mandalay at Mandalay Bay.
A party scene that goes off every night of the week, great outlet shopping, world-class spas and the diversion of Disney, Universal and SeaWorld (check out the latter's newly opened water park, Aquatica) lend Orlando big bachelorette party appeal. Get away from the family crowds by basing yourself in downtown Orlando at the swank Grand Bohemian Hotel, a stone's throw from scores of tourist-free bars like Sky 60 (for a cool rooftop scene) or The Beacon, where South Beach meets Central Florida. If you prefer to have your fun out at the parks, party like a rock star by booking into Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, where free boat shuttles are your designated driver to CityWalk's always-on clubbing, live-music and dining scene. Portofino Bay Hotel, also at Universal, has one of Orlando's premier pools. And if a spa outing is among your plans, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub inside Gaylord Palms Hotel offers one of the most decadent venues in the country.