Nude Resorts on a Winning Streak

A 'Flesh Look' at America's $400 Million Au Natural Vacation Business


July 11, 2006 —  There's never been a better time to skinny dip, play tennis au natural, or Jet Ski in the raw. It's "Nude Recreation Week" and America's fast-growing network of 260 clothing-optional resorts offer an ever-expanding list of outdoor activities for nudists.

Since 1992, the $400 million nude vacationing industry has tripled in size. There are now clothing-optional hotels and time-share condos in nearly every major tourist destination, nude cruises, and in-the-buff charter flights that won't let you fly by the seat of your pants.

"I think Americans are waking up to the peace and serenity that comes with taking off your clothing. For one thing, nobody has a pocket for a cell phone or beeper," says Carolyn Hawkins of the American Association for Nude Recreation, which boasts more than 50,000 dues-paying members.

"In a room of naked people, you don't know who's a judge, and who's a secretary. It's really leaving all those distractions that divide people behind."

Founded in 1931 as the American Sunbathing Association, the AANR once largely consisted of humble campgrounds where visitors could commune with nature in their birthday suits.

But these days, nude recreation has gone mainstream. A premiere destination like Paradise Lakes, near Tampa, Fla, welcomes 80,000 guests a year. A hotel and 340 luxary condo units lace the 72-acre resort, which features five tennis courts, three heated pools, a spa, two restaurants and several boutiques.

At the nearby Caliente Resort & Spa — one of the newer players in Florida's burgeoning nude torism market — guests are paying $300 a night to stay at its Mediterranean-style villas.

Internationally, these clubs are competing against the ultra luxurious Hidden Beach in Riviera Maya, Mexico, which features "Swim-up Suites." In these $400-to-$600-a-night accomodations, guests can jump from the balcony into a man-made river that snakes through the resort and feeds into a massive pool, which, of course, has bar service.

But if Hidden Beach seems like nothing more than an erotic waterpark, consider that most of the guests are more than 35 years old, and focused on premium services like beachside yoga, elegant dining and spa service.

The majority of nude resorts actually cater to families. In fact, nudism is hardly a young person's endeavor. More than 80 percent of the AANR's membership is 35 years old or older. "Older people are more likely to accept the sagging, flabby imperfections … in themselves and others," Hawkins says.

Whatever Floats Your Boat

While the cruise industry has seen a surge in business in recent years, Bare Necessities of Austin, Texas, has found a niche in booking entire vessels for those who want to experience the Caribbean (and other locales) in nothing more than deck shoes and sunscreen.

Of course, you'll need clothing to disembark at ports, and you'll need to put on something for formal dining. Over the past 15 years, Bare Necessities has booked 38 cruises on various cruise lines, serving more than 40,000 buck naked travelers.

If you'd rather fly naked, companies like Castaway Travel in Austin inaugurated a special charter service two years ago, sending 172 travelers who couldn't pack any lighter from Miami to Cancun in a Boeing 727, leaving extra space for film crews documenting the historic flight.

Palm Springs Crosses the Nude Bridge

These days, nearly every city is tripping over itself to attract tourists. And Palm Springs, Calif., hasn't ignored the value of travelers who don't even have pockets to carry their wallets.

Two years ago, the city kicked in $185,000 to help construct the world's first "Nude Bridge" — a $500,000 140-foot pedestrian crossing with canvas screens to accommodate the fast-growing Desert Shadows — a Mediterranean-style resort that includes a 33-room hotel, 59 one- and two-bedroom villas, 17 condos, four pools, a gym, putting green, and spa.

It seems that Desert Shadows guests were causing gridlock when they'd cross a local road to get from one side of the resort to the other. The Nude Bridge might not yet be for Palm Springs what the Golden Gate is for San Francisco, but the city did mark the event with an elaborate ribbon cutting ceremony, where city leaders talked of the hotel's rich history.

The Desert Shadows was built on land where Errol Flynn and Doris Day once owned hotels. Flynn's property is now the nude tennis court, where players wear Velcro belts around their waist, to hold extra tennis balls.

Buck Wolf is an entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.