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The New York Times  

April 27, 2008

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Worries

Correction Appended

WHEN Larry Massa says he likes to travel light, he means it. No need for a jacket and tie at dinner, a pristine set of tennis whites when he hits the court, or even a bathrobe to wear when heading from his hotel room to the pool or the spa.

For when Mr. Massa, 74, a retired Navy commander and computer science engineer from Virginia Beach, and his wife, Darlene, go on vacation, they do it in the nude. “If you haven’t tried it, there’s no way I can tell you what a fun thing it is, what an added dimension to a vacation it can be” said Mr. Massa, who has been taking “clothing-optional” vacations since 2001 and whose most recent trip was to an all-nude resort in Mexico. “I’ll never forget the day,” said Mr. Massa, recalling the couple’s first nudist vacation at a Caribbean resort. “The place was full. We went to the far end of the pool and Dar said, ‘I’m going to take my top off.’ I thought I’m not going to wear these stupid swim trunks in the pool. So I jumped in naked. She looked down at me and dropped her bottoms and we never looked back.”

To many, the mention of a nudist resort conjures up images of isolated beach colonies with volleyball courts, hippie-style gatherings in a secluded campground or R.V. parks tucked away in the woods for vacationers who still talk reverently about the Summer of Love.

And while those kinds of offerings still exist for Mr. Massa and his fellow naturists, as they prefer to be called, the real boom in nude vacations is coming at the high end of the business, as upscale hotels and resorts, and even some luxury cruise lines, have begun to see the economic potential in the no-clothes crowd — particularly those who want to shed their clothes but not their pampered lifestyles.

The $300-a-person all-inclusive Hidden Beach Resort, a nude-only luxury hotel that opened in 2003 along Mexico’s popular Mayan Riviera, greets guests with Champagne upon arrival. Rose petals are tossed on the beds at turndown, and beach butlers hand out towels and reading materials to guests relaxing in the nude, while they themselves walk around in discreet uniforms of buttoned-down shirts and khaki pants.

Sea Mountain Inn, a two-year old nude resort and spa in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., with room rates ranging from $269 to $900 a night, features Asian-influenced rooms with Egyptian bed linens, flat-screen TVs and natural mineral water pumped into the shower. The upscale Occidental Grand Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands has set aside entire blocks of rooms exclusively for nude guests. And several mainstream hotels, including Caesar’s Palace and the Mirage in Las Vegas, have introduced topless pools in the past couple of years.

Even in the vacation home market, a new clothing-optional condo-resort, Mira Vista in Marana, Ariz., is selling more than a hundred two-bedroom condominiums, priced from $244,500.

In 2007, nude recreation represented a $440 million industry — up from $400 million in 2001 and $200 million in 1992 — and it’s still growing, says the American Association for Nude Recreation, which promotes au natural vacations as “nakations.” According to the association, roughly 20 percent of members have a median household income of $106,000, drive luxury cars and spend $3,000 or more on travel.

The types of nude vacations have expanded too. Vacationers can now roll out a mat at all-nude yoga retreats, share banana bread with other guests at all-nude bed-and-breakfasts, gear up for nude mountain biking in California’s High Desert and saunter around the decks of cruise ships chartered specifically for clothing-free travel. In Germany, a travel operator has arranged for an all-nude charter flight this summer to take customers to a clothing-optional retreat in the Baltics. The naturists will take off and land fully clothed, but shed their clothes once airborne. (Flight attendants and crew will, however, keep their uniforms on.), an online spa search engine, recently created a separate category for “nudist spa vacations” after noticing an increase in searches for the term. Since November, searches on for such trips have averaged about 720 a month — beating out “pet-friendly spas” (284) and “waxing services” (298).

“It’s no longer just a grass-roots, nuts-and-sweets kind of thing,” said Nancy Tiemann, president of Bare Necessities, which specializes in nude travel and is offering a seven-day Greek cruise in September, along with four others in 2008 and 2009. Four months ago, Ms. Teimann’s company began selling an all-nude 2010 Hawaiian cruise on Celebrity Cruise Line’s Constellation, a 2,000-passenger ship. Already, about 90 percent of the ship is booked.

When the company, which she owns with her husband, Tom, began chartering small ships for all-nude cruises in the early 90s, she said many mainstream cruise operators dismissed them as a joke. “Now,” Ms. Tiemann said, with perhaps a touch of hyperbole, “they’re trampling each other to get our business.”

Most nude vacationers say that what they enjoy most is liberation from the typical pretenses of society. “When you don’t have any clothes on, you don’t know if someone’s a judge or a doctor, or a lawyer or a mechanic,” said Larry Massa. “You are what you are.”

Nude recreation, of course, goes back at least to the ancient Greeks, who competed in the Olympics sans clothing, and later, in the United States, both Benjamin Franklin and Henry David Thoreau lauded the benefits of nude nature walks, or “air baths.”

But it wasn’t until the dawn of the 20th century when nudism became organized in America, according to the American Association for Nude Recreation. Kurt Barthel, a German immigrant, is acknowledged as the founder of American nudism. On Labor Day of 1929 he led a small group of individuals to picnic in the buff in upstate New York and organized the first official nudist club, called the American League for Physical Culture, where nudists paid dues to gather to swim, socialize and relax in the nude.

Today, America’s increasing obsession with health and wellness may be contributing to the rise of clothing-optional vacations. “Americans have moralized healthy bodies,” said Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, who has studied moral emotion and judgment. He added that “a case could be made that people are traveling to these places to be pure for moral reasons — to achieve harmony in nature.” It’s really a form of self-expression, he added, that dates back to Walt Whitman and John Muir, as well as Thoreau, all of whom advocated being as true to yourself as possible. “The truest you can be is taking off those clothes,” he said.

Suzann Zane, a 26-year-old bartender from Baltimore, decided to try her first nude vacation this year — a weekend getaway in January to the Avalon Resort in Paw Paw, W. Va. — partly because of her interest in getting back to nature. “I consider myself a minimalist,” said Ms. Zane. “With this big societal push for becoming green, we need to kind of get back to our roots and I thought maybe this would be a good way.” The first clue that this would be a different kind of vacation came on the drive up the long winding road to Avalon. The first sign Ms. Zane said she spotted was one that posted the speed limit at 7 m.p.h. The second announced, “Beyond this point you will encounter nudity.”

When Susan Sullivan, 42, from New Jersey, visited her first nudist resort last year with her boyfriend, John Sheilds, 55, she said she had to warm up to the idea of disrobing in front of strangers by draping a towel over her body when she first went outdoors. But after a short while, she too lost any inhibitions. “You come to the realization you’re looking at those people, you’re not staring at people. They’re not staring at you.”

SpaFinder’s chief executive, Pete Ellis, theorizes that the increase of spas at resorts has influenced the growing acceptance of nudity. After all, disrobing for a massage has become a routine vacation ritual for many travelers. Even the staid Canyon Ranch Resort in Tucson, Ariz., has nude sunbathing decks off both the women’s and men’s locker rooms with an unlimited supply of sunscreen.

Warm-weather resorts from Palm Springs to Miami Beach to the Caribbean say they are seeing (and turning a blind eye to) more topless sunbathing at their pools and beaches as the strength of the euro brings more Europeans, and their more relaxed attitude toward nudity, on vacations to this country.

So many European guests were sunbathing topless on the beach at Starfish Trelawny, an all-inclusive family resort in Jamaica, that the resort put up a bamboo fence at the eastern end of its beach a few years ago to keep conservative guests happy and teenage boys from gawking. And Shan Kanagasingham, the general manager at The Tides, in South Beach, recalls her first stay at the hotel when she got the job about a year ago. “When I checked in for the first time to the Tides — and I’m not making this up — I opened the window and looked out, and all I saw was this sea of breasts and people walking around in G-strings.”

The spa at the Parker Palms Springs, which opened about two years ago, offers separate men’s and women’s areas each with pools and relaxation areas, all of which can be used in the nude. “And trust me, they are,” said Marisa Zafran, the hotel’s spokeswoman.

To make sure the experience doesn’t turn voyeuristic — or into a free love free-for-all, some resorts turn away single men. And most make it clear what the resort offers and what it doesn’t. “We make sure they understand it’s not a sexual kind of place,” said Tom Mulhall, who owns the Terra Cotta Inn in Palm Springs, with his wife, Mary Clare.

And while nude resorts say they don’t pressure guests to strip, guests are expected to be mostly naked for most of their stay. “We allow for the clothing optional until they feel comfortable with their own body and are willing to be nude in public,” said Dave Landman, co-owner of Mira Vista Resort near Tucson. “If someone we get is never nude I go over and say, “why are you here?’”

No matter how popular and upscale nude resorts become, one social convention is unlikely to change: Nudity and family vacations don’t always mix.

Just ask the Massas. They simply can’t convince their children, all in their late 40s, to join them on their two or three trips a year.

On vacation at the Couples Negril resort in Jamaica, which has a nude beach in addition to what she refers to as a “prude” beach, Ms. Massa said she casually mentioned to her son and daughter-in-law that she was going to check out the nude side.

“Mom,” replied her son, “I don’t want to see you naked.”


The American Association for Nude Recreation ( defines a nakation as: “1. A clothes-free interlude from one’s customary duties, as for recreation or rest; a holiday. 2. The part of your vacation you’ll brag to friends about.” Here are some of the growing nakation options.

NUDE RESORTS: Roughly an hour south of Cancún, Mexico, the all-inclusive Hidden Beach Resort offers 42 oceanfront suites with Champagne upon arrival and special touches like rose petals tossed on the bed at turndown. In addition to the pool, beach and hot tub, au natural amenities include nude dining, nude bars and a nude disco (888-754-3907; Rates begin at $215 per person a night based on two people sharing an oceanfront junior suite.

The Sea Mountain Inn in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., is a so-called nude lifestyle resort with an emphasis on “upscale adults only pleasures.” Rooms start at $269 a night and offer Asian décor, Egyptian bed linens and mineral water pumped into the showers. No single men allowed (877-928-2827;

In Spain’s Canary Islands, the all-inclusive Occidental Grand Fuerteventura has 38 rooms set aside exclusively for nude guests. The rooms share an au natural swimming pool and Jacuzzi and start at $67 euros a person a night, or about $108 at $1.61 to the euro (34-928-873-600;

NUDE CRUISES: Bare Necessities Tour and Travel is offering several naked cruises including a nearly sold-out week-long sailing in February 2009 to ports in Florida, Jamaica and Mexico. Passengers must board and disembark fully clothed and dress for dinner in the dining room. Prices start at $1,949 for a cabin with a balcony on the upper deck (800-743-0405,

Castaways Travel is selling a sail down the Danube in the nude, from Budapest to Vienna to Nuremberg, July 20 to 27, on a 75-cabin river boat. Rates from $2,199 to $2,799 a person (800-470-2020,

NUDE FLIGHT: A German travel company, OssiUrlaub, is offering an all-nude flight from Erfurt, Germany, to the Baltic Sea resort of Usedom in July. Note to non-German speakers: ask for Sandra. Cost: 499 euros a person(49-361-6006-520;

MICHELLE HIGGINS writes the Practical Traveler column for the Travel section.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 11, 2008
An article on April 27 about high-end vacations for nudists referred incorrectly to Larry Massa, a retired Naval commander and computer science engineer from Virginia Beach, and his fellow nudists. They call themselves naturists — not naturalists.

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