Marika Robert goes on a Bachelor Party

A pretty girl’s memoir of pleasure: nine inexpensive days in Jamaica that had almost everything, including one bachelor for every six bachelor girls

May 16 1964

Marika Robert goes on a Bachelor Party

A pretty girl’s memoir of pleasure: nine inexpensive days in Jamaica that had almost everything, including one bachelor for every six bachelor girls

May 16 1964

Marika Robert goes on a Bachelor Party

A pretty girl’s memoir of pleasure: nine inexpensive days in Jamaica that had almost everything, including one bachelor for every six bachelor girls

LAST WINTER in a Toronto travel agent’s office I happened to see a folder advertising Bachelor Parties. It showed colorful pictures of young men and women strolling happily (in pairs) on the streets of Mexico, smiling at each other in a café on the Champs Elysées, or gazing into each other’s eyes at a luau in Hawaii. In one of the pictures there was this dashing young bachelor looking warmly at a girl in a white dress with a bouquet of white flowers in her hand. I thought she looked like a bride and couldn't help sensing a hidden symbolism in the picture. With so many bachelors around who could tell what the future might bring?

Well, 1 had been planning to take a winter vacation this year, and what more promising way to do it than to join a Bachelor Party in Jamaica? It cost $195 (I learn that this year it’s gone up to $268), plus the air fare from Canada, for nine days and eight nights. For this I was to get single rooms in the best hotels in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Kingston, breakfast and dinner, transportation on the island, all tips taken care of, and cocktail parties, swizzle parties, rum parties and supper shows — something for every evening. It sounded like one long party; wonderful.

On the plane to Montego Bay 1 read my folder; it told me that every year more than four thousand single people choose this type of vacation, and it stressed one advantage in particular: No hotel-lobby sitting for Bachelor Partygoers. Though I had never thought of sitting in hotel lobbies on my previous trips l suddenly became terribly happy that I now belonged among those fortunates who would be entertained by fun-loving bachelors on sun-drenched beaches and in candlelit nightclubs instead of having to sit alone in some gloomy lobby.

At Montego Bay Airport I found a pleasant-looking Jamaican waiting for me — our “experienced guide,” Ronald. “Welcome to the Gramercy Tour,” Ronald said, picking up my suitcase. “We don't like to call it Bachelor Party. Some

people feel squeamish about it, makes them think of lonely hearts.” He drove me to the Casa Montego hotel, big and modern, where he thrust my luggage into the hands of a bellboy and asked me to be at the poolside at 6.30 to meet the other tour members at a welcome swizzle party. The bellboy seemed surprised when I didn’t tip him.

“Doesn’t Bachelor Party, I mean Gramercy Tours, take care of this?” I asked.

He shook his head. So I gave him a quarter and decided to take up the matter with Ronald.

At 6.30 sharp I was down at the pool looking for the fun-loving bachelors. Several guests were lounging around including a few sailors in white who drank rum punches but they didn't look as if they belonged to a guided tour.

“Here, here,” I heard Ronald's voice behind my back. “Here we are.” I turned around and there they were: fourteen girls and one bachelor. The bachelor looked a little lost, understandably.

“His name is Joseph,” one of the girls whispered in my ear. “He is a salesman but he’s already taken. He belongs to Louise, that small brunette beside him. They met on a Bachelor Party last year and decided to join one together this winter. Isn't this romantic?”

';lt sounds just crazy to me,” said another girl. “1 mean, if they’ve already found each other what are they doing on a Bachelor Party? Why didn’t .the two of them just

come to Jamaica on their own?”

“It’s cheaper for Joseph this way,” the first girl explained. “See, he doesn’t have to pay for Louise. Bachelor Parties are wonderful for men. They can have female company from morning till night without any additional expense.”

This made sense. But why, then, weren’t there more bachelors around?

Several of these girls had been on Bachelor Parties before and they explained that men were always scarce if not completely missing. “I once took a Bachelor Cruise on the Caribbean,” somebody remarked. “Boy, you were lucky if you could have a glance at the captain.”

“We prefer to have more women,” Ronald told me, confidentially. “Men always complain — about their food, their room, everything. But mainly about the girls on the tour. A few weeks ago I had six men on a tour, four of them from Canada. They kept nagging me to introduce them to Jamaican girls. With eighteen women in the group!”

A waiter approached and motioned us to a long, conspicuous table where we all sat down and were served a rum drink each: fifteen women and Joseph the bachelor. I wondered how he felt? How I felt you can imagine. The curious stares from the other hotel guests around the pool didn't help much.

The stares followed us as we were

shown to dinner in a garden with illuminated palms, accompanied by a show of Jamaican songs and dances. Around ten o’clock Ronald proclaimed that the night was still young, for Bachelor Partygoers anyway. “It is the evening activities that make a Bachelor Party,” he declared, quoting the slogan that appears on every page of the folder. “Now we will discover Montego Bay’s night life.”

He hailed a few cabs and took us to a small bar that was completely empty until we filled it to the brim. Two waiters began to move back all the tables scattered around the floor, and we all settled in a giant-horseshoe formation, facing each other. Postcards bearing the name of the place were distributed and then for the following two hours we discussed the three subjects we seemed to be discussing, almost exclusively, throughout the trip: I. Who is from where and was it snowing there when she left? 2. How does this Bachelor Parly compare with other Bachelor Parties? and 3. What’s the best place in Jamaica for buying duty-free liquor and perfume? At twelve Ronald collected the money for the drinks and the cab fare (not included) and took us home.

We spent three days in Montego Bay, four in Ocho Rios and one in Kingston, living on what Ronald called a “balanced diet of sightseeing and leisure time.” Compared to other guided tours I’ve taken we had a comfortable routine. We didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn but could sleep in most of the mornings, have a nap in the afternoon and sometimes even swim and tan for an hour or two.

Jamaica is not a place of palaces and shrines but whatever there is to be seen we saw. We inspected sugar cane, coffee beans, castor-oil plants and giant ferns. We saw banana boats loading under the stars and coconuts drying in the sun. Relentlessly Ronald drove us from one “exclusive” hotel to another, dropping names of Hollywood celebrities who had enjoyed their pink beaches and aquamarine water and other facilities for some continued on page 30

continued from page 24

"What does a girl like you do on a tour?" he asked in a tone suggesting the utmost depravity

sixty-five or eighty-five dollars a day.

The highlight, to me, was rafting on the Rio Grande, a picturesque, wide, dark green river. We sat on small rafts in the sun with box lunches on our laps, a floating caravan, while barefoot Jamaican raftsmen entertained us with jokes and songs. We also had sailboat races and once we climbed a waterfall, which was great fun and quite hard to do. 1 don’t think we girls could have made it on our own but Gramcrcy gallantly provided two strong Negroes who practically dragged us up the slippery rocks.

And we did see a few bachelors — from a distance. They were sitting on the beaches or around the pools of our hotels and would have been quite easy to get to know if we hadn't belonged to a Bachelor Party. Meeting people is a casual affair in Jamaica, as in most summer resorts, but how many men are there who would like to embark on a conversation with fifteen strange women?

Whenever 1 happened to be alone somewhere for a while (and the same of course was true of the other girls) an unsuspecting male would usually approach me to chat or to suggest a drink or a swim. But when he found out that I belonged to the Bachelor Party he would become discouraged and suspicious. ‘‘What does a girl like you do on such a tour?” he would ask in a tone suggesting utmost desperation and depravity.

In Ocho Rios one of the girls met a young executive from New York. He seemed to be quite interested in her. For two days he had all his meals with the group and even came along on our sight-seeing trips, though he had seen Jamaica before. On the third evening, however, he said he was getting claustrophobia from being surrounded by so many women, and asked her to go dancing with him, alone. She said she couldn’t because the group was going to see the phosphorescent lagoon, and Ronald had

said this was a must. So he came with us and squeezed into the boat where we all sat in the moonlit night with little sticks in our hand which we poked around in the water to see phosphorescent stripes caused by the movement of little fish. We did this for about an hour and then pails of water were brought into the boat and for another forty minutes or so we poked around in those.

The young executive endured all this heroically and then he came with us on our usual nightcap tour where he helped to discuss the snow in the U. S. and the duty-free liquor in Jamaica. But the next morning on the beach he sat with a strange blonde, and after that we never saw him again.

Meanwhile several latecomers had joined the group. We now had nineteen women and three men. The second bachelor, a draftsman named Larry, paired up with a pretty secretary from Buffalo. They were both in their early twenties and behaved according to the pictures in the folder. They were always together, holding hands and smiling at each other. Then one day Larry appeared alone at breakfast and the group began to speculate. One girl heard him inquiring at the desk about a room for a Miss Simpson from New Jersey. It turned out that Larry’s girl at home had found out about his joining a Bachelor Party and the news made her take the first plane to Jamaica. From then on Larry sat apart from the group, holding hands with Miss Simpson.

Our third bachelor was a camera bug who spent most of his time searching for subjects to photograph. During the day he combed the beaches for girls in bikinis whom he asked to pose for him. At night he took snaps of limbo dancers and racing crabs for his album. This was the third Bachelor Party he had joined; I wondered why. When I asked him, he said he likes them. It’s carefree travel and if perchance he does feel the need of company it’s right there.

Most of the girls in our group worked in offices, all over the U. S. Two were from Canada. Some were prettier than others but as a rule they were nice, easy-going and fun-loving. Most of them said the Bachelor-Party arrangement suited them better than

traveling alone or with another girl.

It meant security, they said, a sense of belonging. You were surrounded by familiar faces, you didn't have to walk into a dining room alone. You didn't have to worry what to do with yourself the next day; it was all laid out. And there was Daddy Ronald to answer questions and make all the decisions. He was expected to decide what we should wear, what we should eat, what sun lotion we should use and on which street corner we should buy our bananas and straw' hats. When after five days, completely exhausted, he slipped away for a few hours to visit his family everybody felt lost and blamed him terribly.

Our manless state didn't bother the girls but the Jamaicans attached to our hotels seemed very much concerned. "That bunch of females,” they called us, and pity sat in their eyes whenever we passed them. Waiters, lifeguards, desk clerks occasionally offered their services as dance partners for a night, driven, one might have thought, by patriotic motives more than anything else, though they did expect their drinks to be paid for. "What kind of memories will you take home from the island,” a swimming instructor said to me sadly, “if you always sit with that bunch of females?'’

“I spent some days dancing with Nora”

Since many of our activities were designed for pairs (two for a raft, two for a sailboat) in lieu of bachelors the girls paired up with each other. My partner, Nora, was a court stenographer from Iowa. She did push-ups at the pool before breakfast. Later in the day, when dancing lessons w'ere given on the beach at different times for the guests of different hotels, Nora insisted on taking all the lessons and dragged me with her. So 1 spent part of my days dancing with Nora. She wanted to continue at night on the dance floor — to practise our new steps. When I refused she danced partncrless on the floor or between the tables.

Nora’s main complaint was that there weren’t enough activities arranged for the group, an opinion many of the girls shared. If there weren’t at least two tours a day they felt let down. They were bothered, too — and so was 1 — when we found out that most of our sight-seeing was not included in the original price of the Bachelor Party. Every morning Ronald would appear and tell us about the activities laid out for the day and then collect $3.50 or $4.50 per person for each. If somebody didn't want to go he took it as a personal offense.

This was particularly true in the evenings. We did get a swizzle or rum punch before dinner as promised. These were usually free for the other hotel guests as well. We also had some entertainment with our dinner. But Ronald, an avid nightclub fan, didn't think this was enough night life to make a Bachelor Party. He would suggest other night spots — “a must ' — which of course meant additional expense. Nor did he believe in having two meals in a row in the hotel where we stayed. He would proudly announce that he had managed to book

us for dinner into another hotel for a mere two or three dollars extra which was well w'orth paying for seeing one more Jamaican dining room (his words).

Then there w'ere the tips. The tour literature had said tips were included in the tour price, and indeed they are on some Bachelor Parties. They weren’t on this one. When 1 think hack on my vacation in Jamaica the first picture that comes to my mind is always a long table full of women

searching for change in purses and pockets, borrowing it from their neighbors, counting and recounting the small piles of coins beside each plate and reaching over the table to change dollar bills into quarters.

It was a nuisance, and we ritually complained about it for fifteen minutes after every meal. The same ritual took place in cars and boats and hotel lobbies at arrival and departure time. "How much do we tip?” nineteen women would ask Ronald. Ronald

would name a sum which we would consider too high and then either give it anyway and feel sore or give less and make Ronald feel sore.

Yet in spite of all this 1 must say 1 had fun. For most of the time I felt as if I were in boarding school. We would assemble in each others’ rooms, sit on trunks and pillows on the floor and pass around our purchases. We would exchange clothes, advice on avoiding freckles, and new tricks for putting on a swim cap with-

out messing up one’s hair. Some of the things we did which I might not have thought of doing on my own were enjoyable. It was also fun to discuss them afterwards with the group and exchange our observations and experiences.

If a friend asked me whether or not I’d recommend a Bachelor-Party tour I’d hesitate to answer. A bargain it is not, hut it does have advantages.

It is a comfortable way to travel, with no worries about luggage, tickets, reservations, with some but not strenuous sight-seeing, and a good chance to see a great number of night spots. For anyone who finds it hard to make friends and is seeking instant company of his own age (and own sex in the case of girls) a Bachelor Party can be just fine. But if you want to meet a bachelor, stay away. ★