In October 2015, Ariel Khawaja traveled to Cozumel to say, “I do,” before a group of 55 wedding guests.
Three years after that destination wedding in Mexico, she and her two best friends traveled for a different destination celebration — to stand beside her in Las Vegas as she said, “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 the Wet Republic day club, 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's reputation as the ultimate bachelor-party town, Khawaja and other fun-loving travelers 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.
Although the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority 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, the executive director of social sales and concierge operations for MGM Resorts, which has 12 properties along the Las Vegas Strip, first heard about the concept 10 years ago but says it's taken off more recently.
"People started telling us that they want a fresh start," Clough says. "At first we thought, ‘Well this is different.’ But people come to Vegas for celebrations, and people come for devastating events, so in a way it makes sense."
Preferring the moniker girls' trip or friends' trip, Julie Banning, a travel adviser at Embark, has seen the trend rise in the past year or so.
"Lately we've seen a lot of people finding any excuse to travel," says Banning, who has planned several such friends' trips. "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.' "
A few years ago, when Las Vegas native Bri Steck was deciding what to call her then-fledgling concierge company — which organizes 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 percent 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 spacious 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."
While there was a time when a trip to Las Vegas might have involved posting up at a smoky poker table for an entire afternoon, today visitors embrace a more diverse range of activities. In 2018, according to the Convention and Visitors Authority, 74 percent of visitors gambled while in town but two-thirds did so for two hours or less per day; 60 percent of visitors attended a show.
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 ($499) at Machine Guns Vegas, a self-described "luxury gun range," encourages women to take a machine gun to their wedding dress and marriage certificate while wearing a black "Just Divorced" sash.
Steck says that some of her divorce-party clients especially appreciate the VIP seating at Thunder From Down Under, including around the tables the oiled-up Aussies-in-thongs dance on. (Steck's husband co-owns the all-male revue.)
At Chippendales, the Divorcé Play (from $149 a person) includes some of the all-male revue's signature perks -- limo transfer, VIP seating, and shoutouts from the stage.