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A Night to Remember

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Everybody's seen her: the giddy girl in tiara and veil, downing shots at the bar, getting wedding-night advice from strangers, stuffing tips into strippers' G-strings and generally going wild before the day she says "I do." The classic bachelorette bash may not be the most wholesome image of the bride-to-be, but for many, it's a rite of passage that, at least symbolically, separates the women from the girls.

Not every bachelorette party is an exercise in raunchy behavior, however, and there are ways to celebrate that won't find an audience on YouTube the next morning or a hangover that doesn't let go. One local bride, Emily Prillaman Athens, who tied the knot in December, says her bachelorette party was special and memorable because the friends who planned it took her personality into consideration.

"I'm a game person," she says, "and I didn't know they were going to plan games, but it was really funny to see who didn't know much about our

relationship" when they played a customized version of Jeopardy. Another hit, The Newlywed Game, was all about Emily and her fiancé, Arthur. In it, two teams of guests competed to see who could best predict the bride and groom's answers.

After the games, a party bus arrived to take the 21 guests downtown for drinks and dinner. After more libations at another bar, "we got silly and danced on the bus on the way home," she recalls. Everyone stayed for a sleepover and breakfast the next morning. And because the party was scheduled three weeks before the big day, there was plenty of time for the bridesmaids, guests and especially the bride to let go for a night of fun without the last-minute rush before the ceremony.

Other brides choose to celebrate with the girls at their favorite spa, where everyone gets the VIP treatment and the luxury of massages and facials. There's also the destination bachelorette party to a nearby inn, resort or campground, or to a more exotic locale such as Las Vegas, Miami or New York. Sometimes the girls return to a special spot, like their alma mater, beach house or other sentimental journey, or go to a favorite restaurant for dinner and dessert. The bride's personality and hostesses' budget should be the determining factors in how, and where, to celebrate.

Most hostesses like to dress the bride in some kind of regalia for the event. Emily Athens wore a cheetah-print hat and a custom bride-to-be T-shirt that everyone signed with words of marital wisdom. Sometimes guests decide to dress in the same color or wear flashy accessories like feather boas to designate the night as something out-of-the-ordinary.

Mementos and party favors, such as candles, wines or chocolates with personalized labels, suit the occasion in a way that risqué novelties might not. Gifts for the bride can include lingerie or bedroom-themed accessories, but some hostesses make the occasion a gift-free zone, because most guests have already attended bridal showers and still have wedding gifts to give.

The point is to share time with the bride's favorite girlfriends and to laugh at the crazy, sentimental rituals that are more than ever a festive and personal part of today's wedding culture.



What to Consider



● Personality and taste. Is she fun-loving and crazy, or reserved and proper? Let the bride's personality guide the night's events.

● Planners. Brides should leave the details and the surprises to her friends, trusting they'll make the right decision.

● Scheduling. Consider throwing the party weeks before the wedding. No one wants a tired, hungover bride right before the big day.

● Affordability. Don't soak the guests. Bridesmaids are shelling out plenty for dresses, shower and wedding gifts, travel and entertaining.

● Customization. Games tailored to the bride and groom sometimes surprise even their closest friends.

● Getting around. Hire transportation if you're indulging.

● Image. With cameras and video recorders in every pocketbook these days, it's best to play it safe and behave accordingly. -- D.T.



Stumped? Start Here:



1) Girls' Camping Weekend. Consider cabins at one of Virginia's state parks. Close to home are Pocahontas State Park, with boating, hiking, bicycling and horseback trails, and primitive cabins; Chippokes Plantation State Park, across the James River from Jamestown, with an antebellum mansion, swimming pool and three rental cottages; and Westmoreland State Park on the Northern Neck, with birding trails, water sports and rental cabins. Call state parks information and reservations at (800) 933-7275 or visit www.dcr.virginia.gov.



2) Karaoke Party, Really! They pop up at many of the area's watering holes, so why not join one? Everyone can have a shot at the mic. Some favorite spots include karaoke nights at Mekong on West Broad Street, Element Lounge in Shockoe Bottom and Sticky Rice in the Fan.



3) Go Private. Try booking a room all to yourself. It can be done in advance at many Richmond restaurants, who will often help you tailor menus to the event, whether it's tapas and a Spanish wine dinner, a Vietnamese buffet or a French bistro spread.

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