Is "Cougar Cruise" the Start of a New Travel Trend?

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For some, the idea of a cruise full of mature ladies with a taste for younger men would have them jumping ship and swimming for shore; for others, it's merely the latest development in singles travel.


By Sally Walker Davies

As the maiden voyage of the International Cougar Cruise returned to port on December 7th, following a three-night voyage from San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico, one thing became clear, there's more than a healthy interest in this kind of thing from both cougars and cubs-the term for the fresh-faced guys these women of a certain age like to date.


"We probably doubled our expectations," says René Ramirez, a sales associate for Singles Travel Company, which sponsored the Cougar Cruise aboard the Carnival Elation along with the Society of Single Professionals.


Ramirez is quick to point out that the cruise wasn't being sold as a hook-up on the high seas, but a typical singles trip targeted at a certain group focused on having fun and meeting friends. "There were a tad more men than women, which is unusual for most [singles] trips. Our group was fun-loving and very positive."


The Carnival Elation has a six-story atrium, three pools and an adults-only deck area with hot tubs where cubs can show off their assets, while the ship's spa is a must for cougars keeping the years at bay with regular pampering. For nightlife, there's the Jekyll & Hyde dance club, Casablanca Casino and numerous restaurants, but Singles Travel Company also organized specific activities for their clients, including Jacuzzi parties and karaoke.


Rich Gosse, the mastermind behind the Cougar Cruise and founder of the Society of Single Professionals and its websites, thepartyhotline.com and cougarevents.com, says 300 singles, of varying decades, took part. "It was beyond our wildest dreams. I've never seen such excitement in the concept of younger men and older women."


He has become something of a media celebrity in the wake of the cruise; as we spoke, he was waiting for a satellite truck to arrive for a live interview with an Australian television show.


Gosse is certainly an expert in his field-he's been organizing singles parties and events for 30 years. And his wife, whom he describes as a former cougar before they met and married (he's older), was the so-called den mother on the trip (Gosse didn't set sail with the purring cougars and eager cubs).


"I think there's a possibility for these cruises to become just as common as trips for seniors or for 20- to 30-year-olds," says Ramirez, whose California-based company offers various age-focused vacations for singles.


Ramirez adds that the Carnival Elation cruise goers were a group of professionals and retirees ranging in age from 20s to 80s; a healthy cross-section indicating that rather than being as temporary as a hot flash, cougar-focused cruises and weekends could very well be a hot new trend in travel.


But no matter how it's presented to the public-note A-list cougars and cubs like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher or Madonna and her latest squeeze, Brazilian-model boyfriend Jesus Luz-there is still a stigma attached to an older woman with a young man on her arm.


Two agents we contacted said that while they would absolutely book clients on such a trip if the request were made, they wouldn't promote cougar packages to their customers. And Carnival Cruise Lines, which was not a sponsor or organizer of the Cougar Cruise, says it won't be booking any similar groups in the future.


"A California-based travel agent blocked a small amount of group space on one of our regular voyages and began marketing it as a 'Cougar Cruise'," says Jennifer de la Cruz, director of public relations for Carnival. "My understanding is that the group sailed without any issues, however Carnival does not intend to allow any future groups to be booked or marketed on our ships under this theme."


Despite any initial adverse reaction, Gosse remains upbeat about the venture, given the success of the first Cougar Cruise. A cougar-themed resort in Mexico is already in the works, and he is currently in talks with another line for the second annual International Cougar Cruise. There is also an Australian Cougar Cruise planned for 2010 as well as a variety of conventions being organized in cities across the globe, including Chicago, Canada, the U.K. and Australia.


"Cubs have suddenly discovered how attractive older women are, it's like they never knew it before," says Gosse. Well, unless that cougar happened to be Demi Moore or Madonna, of course.

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