Updated February 20, 2020
Cougar-cub uber couple Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher divorced in 2013. A few seasons after the sitcom "Cougar Town" premiered in 2009, the screenwriters had 40-something star Courteney Cox dating men closer to her own age.
So maybe it's no surprise that the "cougar cruise" -- cruises where older women would be paired with eligible younger men -- has sailed into the sunset. After several years of putting together the event, organizers with the International Cougar Cruise finally canceled sailings in 2014, due to lack of interest.
But during its heady, if short-lived, heyday in 2009, the Cougar Cruise was a publicity bonanza. International media responded. Producers of reality shows called. Inquiries from potential cruisers (including a number of would-be cubs with pumped-up egos who were under the mistaken assumption they'd be hosted by cougars with all expenses paid) flooded in.
"It's like everything else," says Ann Thomas, former owner of Singles Travel Company, which organized six such cruises. "Eventually, (interest) dies down. But the first one was phenomenal. I had to hire another full-time staff person just to handle the calls. It was a million-dollar (publicity) hit. Then it just all kind of fizzled."
In case you've somehow escaped this sobriquet, the term "cougar" can be given to a woman in her 40s on up who prefers to date younger men. (The male equivalent of a "cougar" would be called a "man.") A classic cub is a cougar's junior by 20 years or so.
The brainstorm for the first Cougar Cruise came from Rich Gosse, a San Francisco Bay-area events promoter and founder of the Society of Single Professionals, billed as the world's largest nonprofit singles organization. In the summer of 2009, he convened a National Cougar Convention in Palo Alto, California. In subsequent years, he replicated the event 20 or so times from Canada to Australia.
Gosse partnered with Thomas, whose Singles Travel Company regularly organized singles' cruises, to set the concept afloat in December 2009.
"At the time, it was the hottest thing in town," he says. "Now it's old hat. But the media attention was just unbelievable."
Not everyone was so enamored with cougar cruising, however. The first Cougar Cruise attracted almost 300 participants aboard Carnival's Elation for a three-night jaunt between San Diego and Ensenada, Mexico. But Carnival declined to offer space for a second Cougar Cruise.
"They got a lot of phone calls (and) a lot of negative feedback that they didn't deserve," Thomas recalls.
Instead, the second Cougar Cruise sailed aboard Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas in 2010 on a seven-night Mexican Riviera itinerary. It attracted fewer takers --20 or so cougars and 25 cubs -- likely because of the greater time and cost commitment, Thomas surmises.
I sailed with the cougar pack that year (strictly as a trained observer) on assignment. Cubs ranged from a 42-year-old salesman who told me, "Like wine, (women) get better with age," and a plain-spoken Jersey guy, 31, who didn't mince words when he declared he was there to "hook up. Period. And I don't want to hear any of this, 'I've never done this before,' B.S., either."
On the cougar side of the equation was a 45-year-old IT consultant who told me, "It's not like I need to prey on younger men. Younger men are just less complicated." A 53-year-old factory worker said she felt more comfortable with men in their 20s, and figured it was refreshing for those men "to meet someone who doesn't care where they work or how much they make." The oldest cougar, a recently divorced 72-year-old, said she figured she'd meet like-minded women "who have a little spunk."
From the get-go, there was some grousing among the cubs about the lack of "Demi-ness" on the part of the cougars. One of the more snarly cougars retorted that the cubs weren't exactly overwhelming in their Ashton-ness, either. After a day at sea, she quipped that her aspirations for the cruise had shifted. She just hoped to disembark with the names of a good plumber, drywaller and electrician.
The week wasn't without drama: A naked food fight (among cubs) that elicited a warning from management, and feuding cabin mates (also cubs) whose acrimony warranted intervention by security.
And yes, there were reportedly a few hook-ups.
But from where I sat, this group was a lot like any other seeking companionship with like-minded travelers -- someone to join on shore excursions, dine with and cheer on in shipboard contests.
The final International Cougar Cruise set sail in 2013 with about 100 cougars and cubs.
Thomas sold Singles Travel Company in January. The new co-owner, Mimi Cassidy, says they still get several Cougar Cruise-related queries weekly, including "funny calls from young men describing their looks and saying they'd be great candidates for a hosted cruise," she says.
In the end, though, Singles Travel Company isn't a match-making service. It's a group travel company for solo travelers. "We get people on tours who are happily married, but they just want to go it alone with a group," Cassidy adds.
On the other hand, if there were a surge in demand for another Cougar Cruise?
"We're not ruling it out," she says.