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 Massa, 74, a retired Navy commander and computer science engineer from Virginia Beach, Virginia, 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 Larry 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 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 RV 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 Massa and his fellow naturalists, 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 US$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, California, with room rates ranging from US$269 to US$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, Arizona, is selling more than a hundred two-bedroom condominiums, priced from US$244,500.
Last year, nude recreation represented a US$440 million industry — up from US$400 million in 2001 and US$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 US$106,000, drive luxury cars and spend US$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 naturalists will take off and land fully clothed, but shed their clothes once airborne. (Flight attendants and crew will, however, keep their uniforms on.)