Nashville, Tennessee (CNN) — It’s 11 a.m. and already hot as blazes when Ray Smitherman’s truck pulls into the parking lot behind the bar.
The truck — er, party barge — has been outfitted to look like a boat. Cushioned benches line the periphery of the truck bed, and there’s enough space for a gaggle of women plus their accoutrements.
A group of friends, their bare arms weighted down with six packs, bottles of liquor and other party favors, are ready to get this shindig started.
Groups of women from all over the country — and the world — choose Nashville as the place of the bride-to-be’s last hurrah.
The business started with one limousine and has morphed into a fleet of five vehicles that are available for booking for two-hour stints anytime from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
After giving a brief rundown of what’s on deck (they’ll go through midtown and downtown where the main bar scene lives, and they’ll learn a little bit about Nashville along the way), Smitherman hits the gas, and the girls commence drinking.
The bachelorette party — called a hen do in the UK — is ostensibly for the bride-to-be, but more often than not, it’s just an excuse for friends to party.
Nashville is largely considered the country’s number one bachelorette party destination.
Las Vegas has long held the mythical bachelorette capital crown, but Nashville insiders — and all of the women planning parties in said city — say Vegas is losing its sheen.
Party-goers are flocking to Tennessee in droves, and local business owners are into it.
“Statistically, we now host a greater volume of bachelorette parties than Las Vegas does. Las Vegas does more money each year in bachelor and bachelorette parties,” Budden says, aware of the way the price deferential has given his hometown a leg up, and not mad about it.
It’s likely that Nashville’s accessible price point is a contributing factor to the rising scene, but it’s not the only reason the Southern city’s bachelorette scene is thriving.
Nashville is all about openness and having a good time with everyone else around you, according to Budden who sees a distinct lack of exclusivity.
Nashville, accessible and friendly, oozes southern charm and is a prime party destination.
Broadway, the city’s music center, is where most bachelorettes will wind up at some point during the weekend. This is where they’ll find the city’s honky tonk bars, described by Budden as “epic scale, large, live music venue,” a conducive environment for just kicking back and having fun with friends and maybe even some locals too.
Make no mistake though: Having a bachelorette party in Nashville can be as quirky and eclectic as the bride-to-be and her pals wish.
The Nashville Party Barge and the river cruise offerings are a vehicle, literally, for getting exposed to Nashville’s myriad offerings. If you think it, Budden’s team can probably make it happen. From strip-tease lessons to gun range shoots to pig roasts, Nashville is here for it.
While mileage varies from group to group, with some girls donning kitschy T-shirts or similar versions of the same dress in any color but white — that’s reserved for the bride-to-be, of course — there’s one constant: Getting ready to go out.
For many of Nashville’s bachelorettes, primping is best left in the capable hands of others.
Getting pampered via a blowout and maybe a manicure (and don’t forget about the free Champagne) is a Nashville bachelorette party essential.
(The free Champagne probably doesn’t hurt either.)
The salon specializes in blowouts and other pampering mainstays such as manicures and professional makeup application; the latter is especially helpful for surviving the incredulous humidity.
The salon has its regulars (some women who never do their own hair, in fact, Embry whispers), and then it has its bachelorettes.
“We get a lot of people from Michigan and Ohio, New York. We obviously get a lot from out in L.A., Texas. We have a lot of Canadians, also, that come here. There was just a group in here from Connecticut. Really all over,” Embry says, ticking off a growing list of places.
Budden’s groups have been more international: They worked with two parties from Australia last summer, and Smitherman says his bachelorettes come from all over the world — Denmark, Brazil, Germany. In high season, from about March 1 through the end of October, Smitherman’s barge requests outnumber barge operators.
This is Nashville
You might bump into a country music star, but you won’t be mowed down by paparazzi. Cowboy boots and cut-offs are absolutely acceptable attire for a night on the town.
The vibe from tourists and locals alike is welcoming. It’s a friendly town, says Embry. “It feels really local and you can walk around, and feel safe down on Broadway.”
The best Nashville experience may be the first one, according to Smitherman.
“We’ve had some crazy parties…” he says, trailing off, not sure how much he should share.
He doesn’t have to say it, but the unspoken words linger in the air anyway: What happens in Nashville stays in Nashville.