Register For Free
Local hot-air balloon and desert Jeep tour outfitters are crawling with groups of women belting out Katy Perry songs and only occasionally throwing up.
Credit…Cassidy Araiza for The New York Times
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On a recent Friday afternoon, at a $5 million mansion turned short-term rental property just outside Scottsdale city limits, God’s perfection revealed itself as elements of the natural and synthetic world collided at Marissa Sklar’s bachelorette party.
The clear blue infinity pool sparkled. The baby pink letter balloons arranged to read “Sayonara Sklar” stayed aloft despite the fact that it was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The desert flora in the distance provided what everyone agreed was a pretty decent Instagram backdrop. At approximately 3:30 p.m., one of two cabana boys who had been hired at a rate of $500 for two hours poured champagne directly into a bridesmaid’s open mouth.
Fourteen women had come to the house, in neighboring Paradise Valley, Ariz., to celebrate Ms. Sklar. A 29-year-old account executive from Hoboken, N.J., she would be marrying a nice guy named Andrew Levine, also 29, in three weeks. Most in her party had never been to Arizona before, let alone Scottsdale. But they took to their environs like ducks to pristine water, splashing around on the pool deck of their rental home — $7,300 for three nights — in what has swiftly become a bachelorette-party capital of the West, if not the entire country.
As her cousins, sister and favorite college roommate played flip cup with the shirtless cabana boys, Ms. Sklar explained that she originally wanted to travel to Las Vegas for the event. But the logistics proved to be too complicated, given the size of her group, and other possible locations had to be axed from the list, too.
“I mean, I’ve been on a few bachelorettes so far,” said Ms. Sklar, who was wearing a white one-piece swimsuit, oversize sunglasses that said “BRIDE” on the frames and a bedazzled white cowgirl hat. “We’ve done, like, Nashville; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Newport, Rhode Island. You know, I didn’t want to repeat anything.”
Scottsdale kept popping up on her Instagram feed as a popular bachelorette-party destination. “Everyone was talking about how amazing the nightlife is and the restaurants and the shopping,” she said. “And so I was like, ‘Let’s do Scottsdale!’”
Lately, thousands of other brides have said the same thing, prompting a wave of young, female tourism to the city. Chase Kennedy, a cabana boy at Ms. Sklar’s party, said the company he works for — called Cabana Boys — had booked as many as 30 bachelorette events in one weekend. “It’s just been getting crazy,” said Mr. Kennedy, 25, whose job includes managing the schedules of 35 other freelance cabana boys.
During peak bachelorette party season — which is roughly from Presidents’ Day weekend in February through the summer solstice in June — the restaurants and nightclubs in Scottsdale’s one-square-mile Old Town neighborhood are crawling with groups of women wearing matching tank tops emblazoned with slogans like “Scottsdale Before the Veil.” On a recent weekend in May, those women had come from points across the country; most were white, and all seemingly had money to burn on three-day blowouts complete with pool parties, bottle service and excursions to the desert.
“It’s not slowing down, even into the summer,” said Meghan Alfonso, 37, who owns Girl About Town, an events company in Scottsdale that specializes in bachelorette parties. In the hottest months, the only outdoor activities she has retired are picnic events “because the girls couldn’t even touch the plates.”
“But they’re still coming!” Ms. Alfonso added.
Scottsdale, an affluent suburb of Phoenix, the country’s fifth-largest city, was founded in the late 1880s by Winfield Scott, a U.S. Army chaplain. In 1951, it was incorporated as a municipality with the motto “The West’s Most Western Town.”
In recent years, it has attracted visitors with a median age of 53, said Laura McMurchie, the vice president for communications at Experience Scottsdale, a company contracted by the city and Paradise Valley to draw tourists to the area. About half of all visitors are corporate workers attending company retreats, she added, and half are “leisure travelers,” including retirees, golf enthusiasts and families.
The bachelorettes started coming around four years ago, according to Ms. McMurchie, 52, who noted that Experience Scottsdale, at least, created no campaigns to attract them. By 2021, the city had ranked as the second-most-popular bachelorette destination in the country, according to data compiled by Bach, an app that helps users plan and book bachelorette parties. More popular than mainstays like Las Vegas, Miami, and Palm Springs, Calif., Scottsdale was second only to Nashville, the breakout bachelorette star of the 2010s.
The app’s data showed that, in 2021, users held more than 3,600 bachelorette parties in Scottsdale, compared with around 13,000 in Nashville, said Mike Petrakis, 31, the founder and chief executive of Bach. This year, its data shows more than 11,600 parties are being planned in Scottsdale, compared with 30,000 in Nashville. If that growth rate continues in Scottsdale, Mr. Petrakis said, it has the potential to surpass Nashville in bookings. And on a recent May weekend, more than one bachelorette party attendee declared that Scottsdale is “the new Nashville.”
Robert Mayer, 35, the owner of Arizona Party Bike, said its location in Scottsdale started booking a record number of bachelorette parties in the summer of 2020. Brides were looking for a place to celebrate without pandemic restrictions, he added. Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, a Republican, never enacted a statewide mask mandate and reopened restaurants for indoor dining in May 2020. In Maricopa County, which includes Scottsdale, about 1,200 new Covid cases are currently being reported per day.
Mr. Mayer’s company, which is featured on Bach, leads tours of Old Town on trolley-size pedal bars, charging up to $499 (plus the cost of alcohol) for private two-hour tours for up to 15 people. His clientele is currently 75 percent women, with a median age of 28, he said. Local hot-air balloon and desert Jeep tour outfitters are also now crawling with groups of 20-something women belting out Katy Perry songs and only occasionally throwing up.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the influx has already led to disturbances. On a Saturday in May at the Arizona Party Bike depot in Old Town, Lacy Gray, 27, a company guide, had to explain the rules of the road to a bachelorette party from South Dakota after its members, sporting candy-colored wigs, took their seats at a neon pink pedal bar.
One instruction? No requests to play “‘WAP,’ specifically,” Ms. Gray said. (The song was proactively banned, Mr. Mayer added, after it drew looks from “unhappy” pedestrians.)
Starting at 8 a.m. most Thursday mornings during peak bachelorette season, a highly efficient group of party elves employed by Girl About Town and other events companies sneak into many of the city’s rental properties to prepare the spaces for arriving groups.
Among them is Scottsdale Bachelorette, which Casey Hohman, 35, started as a side gig in 2018. By last summer, demand for his planning and decorating services had grown so much that Mr. Hohman, who lives in Phoenix, quit his day job at Yelp to focus on his own company full time. Since February, Scottsdale Bachelorette, which is also featured on the Bach app, has been booked by roughly 20 groups each week, he said, adding that brides or their maids of honor are already contacting him about dates in 2023.
For $100, clients can schedule a one-time itinerary consultation with Mr. Hohman during which he will advise on activities that they can do at home (private chefs, cocktail-making classes) and in town (party buses). On his company’s website, groups can book a range of services, including cabana boys, D.J.s and private fitness classes, from vendors who pay Scottsdale Bachelorette 10 percent of any booking fee. Mr. Hohman will also direct interested parties to “preferred” rental properties; their hosts will often let him and his crew arrive early to set up, and he will pay a host 10 percent commission for referring a visiting group to his company.
Decorating packages offered by Scottsdale Bachelorette can cost from $550 to $850. On the pricier end, they include themed décor, tablescapes and pool floats. The most popular theme right now is “Disco Cowgirl,” which includes a cow-print photo backdrop with a neon “Giddy Up” sign, a display of hot pink, silver and cow-print balloons, paper signage that reads “Last Hoe Down” and “Bride’s Last Ride,” as well as pool floats, disco-ball cups and so-called hangover recovery kits for each guest that contain electrolyte packets, Advil, a makeup wipe and a Ring Pop.
For an extra $100, the company will stock the refrigerator and pantry of a rental property with brides’ requests: frozen pizzas, bagels and cream cheese, fruit platters and, invariably, lots and lots of hard seltzers. “Alcohol is the priority,” Jordan Claire, 25, the company’s client experience manager, said as she artfully arranged cans in a fridge. “We get the alcohol in, and then we worry about the food.”
Taking into account travel and lodging costs, decorating services and activities, as well as food and alcohol, Mr. Hohman estimated that among his clients, the average cost per person “has got to be pushing $2,000.”
The bachelorettes he works with “probably tend to spend more” on their parties in general, he added. “If they have the money to travel to a city, they probably have the money to spend on these other things, otherwise they would have done something a lot more low-key.”
On a Thursday in May, Mr. Hohman and his team decorated 10 rental houses for incoming bachelorette parties, with 10 more setups scheduled for the following day. Moving from place to place, they worked with military-style precision, spending less than 30 minutes on each setup. One employee seemed to be responsible solely for blowing up pool floats, while another specialized in anchoring the balloon displays to the photo backdrops, painstakingly passing a lint roller over individual balloons.
One of the most startling elements of the properties Mr. Hohman and his team visited was the number of beds in each. Some bedrooms had three full-size beds lined up in rows, others had two sets of triple bunk beds and one primary suite contained a bed that appeared to be larger than even a California king, with space for about six women to sleep comfortably. In one house, off the laundry room, there was a room with six twin mattresses on the floor.
Cameron Cooper, a 28-year-old bride from Dallas who works in influencer marketing, said she and her 10 friends were not bothered by the sleeping arrangements at their rental. Two rooms had king-size beds, a third had two queen-size beds and a fourth contained two sets of bunk beds. Just five minutes from Old Town, the home, which cost the group $2,800 for three nights, also featured a game room with a Ping-Pong table, a backyard pool and a desert-inspired mural featuring the phrase “Just Stay Scottsdale.”
According to AirDNA, a data and analytics firm that tracks the short-term rental industry, the city of Scottsdale currently has more than 6,200 short-term rental units available to book on Airbnb and VRBO, up from 5,400 in December. A majority of those units, around 95 percent, are entire homes, while the rest are private rooms.
Some year-round residents are less than thrilled about the uptick in rental properties. After receiving complaints about noise and large parties, city officials last year formed a working group to tackle the issue and the Scottsdale Police Department said it would create a new patrol unit dedicated exclusively to responding to grievances about short-term rentals. But officers are not typically called to break up bachelorette parties, said Richard Slavin, an assistant chief in the department, who noted that most complaints are made about events with hundreds of guests.
“The bachelorette party thing, obviously we love that,” Chief Slavin said. “We love knowing that we’re the place that people want to come and especially celebrate such a momentous occasion.”
As well appointed as a rental property may be, most bachelorette parties, of course, involve leaving the house. Ms. Cooper, the bride from Dallas, planned a detailed itinerary for her group of 11 before landing in Scottsdale. It included a 4:30 a.m. hot-air balloon ride followed by a boozy picnic ($197 per person), a desert Jeep tour ($125 per person), brunch at a Hamptons-themed restaurant called the Montauk and a “wig night” out at nightclubs in Old Town.
There were many, many more groups like hers. At their 1 p.m. Jeep tour on a Saturday, Ms. Cooper’s gaggle was joined by three other bachelorette parties, whose members had come to Scottsdale from coasts east (Connecticut) and west (Orange County, Calif.), as well as places in between (Pittsburgh). Before each group piled into identical open-air vehicles, their members listened intently to guides’ warnings about rattlesnakes and heat stroke.
Another stop on Ms. Cooper’s itinerary was Wine Girl, a 1,200-square-foot wine bar in Old Town, where chalkboard signs outside set the mood before guests even enter. “I love drunk me but I literally do not trust her,” read one.
The bar, which is featured on the Bach website, offers wine on tap (as well as tequila shots), has wooden swings hung in front of a “Wine Girl” logo (yet another Instagrammable setup) and features a wall of merchandise that includes naughty wine-themed items (a jersey with the number 69 that says “wine me, dine me” on the front) along with sequined earrings and clutches adorned with words like “Bride” and “Wifey.”
When Ms. Cooper and her crew arrived at 7 p.m. on a Friday, wearing coordinating wigs and temporary tattoos featuring the face of her 27-year-old fiancé, Garret Higgins, the four long tables inside were filled with groups of similarly outfitted women. Trevor Johnston and Amy Mason, an engaged couple who live in Scottsdale, opened Wine Girl in 2020 and said they now serve 70 to 80 bachelorette parties every Thursday to Sunday in peak season, with reservation requests already coming in for 2023.
That was not exactly the plan.
“We knew with this aesthetic and obviously the name Wine Girl, we knew it would be female heavy,” Mr. Johnston, 38, said. “But this is … this is, like, obnoxious, right?”
“In a good way!” Ms. Mason, 32, chimed in, grinning. “In a good way.”
Ms. Cooper, for her part, was not deterred by the excess of other brides around her. After a pregame at Wine Girl, her party walked over to El Hefe, one of the nightclubs in Old Town, where she had secured a table with bottle service by chatting up a promoter on Twitter. By 10 p.m., every other bottle-service table was occupied by another bride and 10 to 15 of her closest friends.
Before the night was over, Ms. Cooper magnanimously offered the bride at the table next to her a shot of vodka. They toasted to each other and drank them down.
The worst fear of many business owners who have started or pivoted their companies to cater to bachelorette parties is that one day, the brides may stop coming.
“I really hope it doesn’t, like, plateau,” said Ms. Alfonso, the owner of Girl About Town.
Anticipating that interest in Scottsdale may wane, she and other local entrepreneurs have begun to expand their businesses. Ms. Alfonso now offers planning and decorating services in New Orleans and Denver. Mr. Hohman recently started a new operation in Palm Springs, and Wine Girl’s owners are opening a location in California’s Napa Valley, hoping to attract the same kind of clientele.
Mr. Petrakis of Bach said Savannah, Ga., is his “sleeper pick” for the next hot bachelorette party destination, noting that bookings there are “growing fast year over year” on the app. “Savannah is really welcoming to bachelorette parties,” he added, citing the city’s lax open-container laws as a draw.
But at least one bride said she was not over Scottsdale. On a Sunday afternoon, after all the Disco Cowgirl decorations had been taken down and some of her pals had headed to the airport, Ms. Cooper reflected on her weekend over a Truly strawberry-lemonade hard seltzer by the pool at her rental.
Strangers had already been reaching out to her on Instagram to ask about her experience. “They’re like, ‘Please tell me everything you did, everything you love, any recommendation!’” Ms. Cooper said.
“I would definitely come back,” she added, noting that her friend Holly, who had come to Scottsdale for Ms. Cooper’s bachelorette party, had recently become engaged. “She’s like, ‘Can we please come here for my bachelorette?’”
An earlier version of this article described incorrectly the founder of Scottsdale, Winfield Scott. While Mr. Scott was an Army chaplain, he was not the same Winfield Scott who was commanding general of the U.S. Army and who ran for president.
How we handle corrections