Jan. 12, 2010 — -- It looks like there will be no more love on the high seas for cougars, or at least on Carnival cruises.
Last month, nearly 300 "cougars" -- older women who prefer young, virile men -- and their "cubs" sailed away on a three-night Mexican cruise out of California aboard the 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation. The event was promoted as the world's first cougar cruise.
"When people go on a cruise, all of their inhibitions go overboard. If you want to meet somebody of the opposite sex, this is the best way to do it," Rich Gosse, chairman of the Society of Single Professionals, which came up with the trip idea along with the Singles Travel Co. said at the time.
But now it appears that the cougars and cubs are going to need a new Love Boat.
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When the group tried to book another Carnival trip, the cruise company said no. Carnival said it didn't have any problems with the Cougar Cruise group but has chosen to discontinue such "theme" bookings.
But cougars and cubs fear not, the organizers have already scheduled two other cruises on different cruise lines. First on May 16, there will be a seven-night cruise to the Mexican Riviera on Royal Caribbean International's Mariner of the Seas. Then on Dec. 3 Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky will set sail on a three-night cruise to the Bahamas.
"Carnival has done a great deal to distance themselves from being considered Spring Break USA," Stewart Chiron, a Miami cruise expert and chief executive of CruiseGuy.com, told ABC News. "They want a fun, family experience on board and this type of business and the negative attention that they got as a result of it was disruptive. They are not going to have any problem filling their cruise lines without this business."
Travel agents will often sell a block of rooms on a ship for a themed cruise. For instance, next month the Bellamy Brothers are hosting a 7-night country music Caribbean cruise. But that isn't likely to be as controversial.
The Rise of the Cougars
The term cougar has risen from relative obscurity at the turn of the century to become an accepted, though much parodied, lifestyle choice for many, described by Urbandictionary.com as: "An older woman, typically early thirties to mid-forties, who has abandoned traditional rules of romantic engagement and taken as her mission the seduction of as many game young men as she can possibly handle."
"These cougar women tend to look younger and feel younger and have higher energy than most women their own age," Gosse said. "They just can't date men their own age. The men can't keep up with them. The men they date that are their own age: all they want to do is sit on a sofa and watch TV."
Enter the Cougar Cruise: three nights at sea with a stop in Mexico and maybe that chance and a December-May romance.
The entire cougar experience happened over just a quick weekend. The cruise left San Diego Friday afternoon, went to Ensenada, Mexico, and was back in California by 8 a.m. Monday morning.
Each night during the weekend there were coordinated cougar-cub singles events, dancing and plenty of drinks to go around. There's even a "singles social director" to ensure that this cruise does become a true "Love Boat," Mrs. Robinson-style.
"It's like they say in Las Vegas: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Same thing on a cruise boat," Grosse said. "People don't have their bosses, their neighbors, their co-workers and their family looking over their shoulder. They can let the inner child out on a cruise."
Miss Cougar America Hits the Open Seas
Gloria Navarro is 42, divorced and into younger guys. She was the "guest of honor" for this cruise, and honor she was given after being named Miss Cougar America at the National Cougar Convention this past August. Gosse is also that event's organizer. Navarro, a California practice management consultant who focuses on dental practice, went on the cruise to dance, eat, hang out by the pool and of course meet some "cubs."
"I'm proud to represent a new breed of woman who are strong, independent, successful and just looking for somebody who is going to be a little more exciting than your average 40-and-up man," Navarro told ABC News.
So what makes these cubs so appealing?
Navarro said they have a sense of adventure and have fewer issues than older men.
"I always say: Men are the same at every age whether they're in their 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s. They just accumulate more baggage along the way," she said. "For myself, I believe that the cougar-cub relationship is one of mutual understanding and respect."
And why are the cubs attracted to the cougars, usually women in their 40s and 50s?
"The younger men get the advantage of being with an experienced woman, who according to the cubs, know what they want. "There's no game playing," Gosse said.
Navarro met a cub shortly after getting divorced two years ago, and "I've never looked back," she said. Right now, she is casually dating a 37-year-old who is "a little older than my typical cub." But she's open to meeting someone else on the cruise.
Ken Heit is director of sales for World Wide Cruises, American Express affiliated travel agency that has specialized in cruises for more than 20 years.
He said that while he has heard of singles cruises before, he had not seen any other cougar cruises. But it doesn't surprise him. There are niche cruises for music groups, art groups, churches -- even nudists.
Cruises Hurt by Recession
Like the rest of the travel industry, the cruise business has been hurt by the recession. Ships aren't going out to sea empty, but cruise companies have had to severely cut prices to fill rooms.
Heit said the cougar cruise is "an usual concept," but added that a hip is a logical place to have such an event.
"It's a closed environment. There's no place to run or to hide," Heit said. "It's easy to meet people. It's kind of conducive for people to meet. It's not like at a hotel where you can say, 'I'm tired of this. I'm driving away.' There's no place for you to go. You're on a ship."
Just not Carnival ships anymore.