Boys Gone Wild: Male-Only Vacations Are In

By Greg Morago
The Hartford Courant

When fellow travelers saw Larry Meadows and his buddies on vacation, they assumed they all worked together. Wrong. Or that they were all friends from the same town. Wrong. Or that they were in some special club. Wrong again.

“I’d tell them we’re on a `mancation,’” Meadows said jokingly. “That kind of clicked with people.”

A lot of people.

Without realizing it, Meadows and his friends – Bill, Paul and Chris, who have taken a yearly vacation together, just the boys, since 2002 – have been part of a growing trend in the travel industry toward getaways for guys. Meadows, who lives in Tampa, Florida, likes to think he and his fellow mancationers coined the term (they registered the site to share their vacation stories and help others plan their own mancations), which is now a buzzword in the travel business.

In just a few short years, the male-bonding vacation has morphed from predictable bachelor-party fare to more adventuresome outings centered on golfing, fine dining, extreme sports, wine appreciation and even spa treatments. One could argue that the concept of hunting and fishing trips for just the boys is hardly new. But when was the last time you heard groups of guys waxing ecstatic about their adventures in parasailing, snorkeling, rafting or even cooking together?

The days of guys’ spending their leisure time in sweats, drinking beer and watching TV for days on end (however luxurious that might sound to some folks) is over. Yesterday’s vacation sloths are today’s intrepid mancation studs.

“Within the past two years, we’ve seen a lot of growth in mancations,” said Erin Zoklowski, the director of sales and marketing at Catalina Hotel & Beach Club in Miami’s South Beach. “Yes, we have the typical bachelor-party groups that come down, but we also have groups of guys who want the full treatment that women’s vacations have traditionally had. They’re getting picked up in a limo; they’re getting planned, scheduled trips. They want to do everything in style.”

Zoklowski’s boutique hotel has organized mancation excursions such as deep-sea fishing, Everglades tours on airboats and group parasailing. And like traditional women-only outings, there’s a touch of finesse about the new mancations, including cocktail parties, fine dining and such poolside pampering as massages or pedicures.

Jason Baker, the head concierge at Wynn Las Vegas resort, couldn’t agree more.

“For the longest time, men came home from work, had their meal, sat down in front of the TV and that was it. Meanwhile, the wives were getting out and having these vacations with the girlfriends. Now guys are saying, ‘I want a part of that,’” Baker said.

That “part” has grown up in the past five years, he said. “I’ve certainly seen an increase in gentlemen escaping the wives and the children and getting from behind the remote control,” Baker said. “A lot of them come here just to escape – from everything.”

They’re escaping with kayaking trips down the Colorado River, skydiving and race-track driving lessons, all of which Baker and his staff are only too happy to organize for mancationers. “Most of them just want to escape from the daily rigmarole.”

Indeed, the genesis for this new interest in boys-only vacations comes from the popularity of all-girl getaways. As men have grown more accustomed to and accepting of spa indulgences, they have started seeking out more of the creature comforts that women have demanded on their vacations. In 2004, about 25 percent of all spa business was cornered by men; today as much as 40 percent of resort and destination spa business comes from men, said Susie Ellis, president of Spa Finder Inc.

“Clearly, we’re seeing a lot more men at spas. The stigma that this is a female thing only has really changed,” Ellis said. “Why? Men have gone to spas and have told more men. And the spas themselves have made it more man-friendly. They have more treatments that are geared specifically for men as opposed to women’s treatments with men’s name on it.”

There’s a trend toward men-only spas – club-like environments where men can get shaves, play pool, have a drink, take a steam and unwind in their own luxurious man caves. The man-sloth may be alive and well, but he’s also got a deep-cleansing pore refiner drying on his face.

According to a market research survey of more than 3,500 online users conducted for I’m in!, a website that coordinates and creates gender-specific trips and events, 34 percent of male respondents reported taking at least one guy trip a year, and 67 percent said they take two or more such trips a year. The majority of these mancationers are married guys.

Just like Meadows. He and his buddies, who traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this year, are planning their 2007 getaway, which will be centered on white-water rafting. Why do they do it? There are a lot of reasons, Meadows said. There’s the concept of challenging each other, whether it be golf or rock climbing, encouraging each other and completing a task.

And then there’s the fun. Guy fun.

“You want to go out with your family and do things, but you also want to get out with your friends,” he said. “Guys are a little more Neanderthal. If guys are given the opportunity for a long weekend, they want to go out and play with their pals. For five days, you get to get away from your everyday responsibilities and get to be a kid again. You get to tell the same stupid jokes every year.”

What’s not stupid is how much effort the spa and travel industry is putting into the growth segment of mancations. Ellis said destination spas and hotels are creating programs for men that go beyond the obvious activities. There are programs for men that emphasize yoga, offer boxing training, fight obesity with a boot-camp-like regimen, sharpen culinary skills and target sexual reawakening. There are programs for spiritual healing.

“The term metrosexual is been there and done that. Now, one of the new terms is metrospiritual,” Ellis said. “They’re going beyond grooming for something that feeds your spirit and feeds your soul. Spas do that very well.”

You probably won’t find Meadows & Co. aligning their chakras, though. Their mancations usually involve beer and not shaving for a few days.

“In Phoenix we stayed in a hotel having a 10-year reunion of what appeared to be an all-girls school,” Meadows said, adding with a winking tone: “We were really bummed about that.”

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