Sunday, September 18, 2005

Buff Cruising

Posted on Sun, Sep. 18, 2005

Cruising in the nude

For nudists, these voyages are hard to top

BY PETE WILLIAMSSpecial to The Herald

Not long after the Carnival cruise ship Legend departed from Port Everglades, out of sight of onlookers, the 2,150 passengers aboard settled into the familiar routine of tropical sunbathing, socializing and consuming tropical drinks.

But unlike Carnival's regularly-scheduled cruises, few people lounging poolside on the Lido deck on this February journey were wearing pants or shoes -- or much more than sunglasses and sunscreen.

As steel drum music played, two dozen nudists patiently stood in line for a poolside buffet. A few ventured into the casino, having already lost their shirts. Others enjoyed the spa, which with nudity not an issue dispensed with the usual distinctions between men's and women's facilities.

This isn't your typical cruise, though it's hardly one-of-a-kind. Since 1991, Bare Necessities Tour & Travel, which chartered the Legend, has taken more than 20,000 nudists on tours around the Caribbean, Europe, Tahiti and Australia.

In February, Bare Necessities will take over the Costa Mediterranea for a week-long ''La Dolce Vita'' tour from Port Everglades to St. Kitts, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. It will be the 15th annual Bare Necessities midwinter cruise and, with more than 2,000 passengers expected, one of the largest.

''Demand seems to grow each year,'' says Nancy Tiemann, co-owner of the Austin, Texas-based Bare Necessities. ``I'm not sure what the ceiling is at this point.''

Four years ago, Tiemann thought she was being ambitious by booking the 1,490-passenger Carnival Jubilee out of Tampa, but the cruise sold out quickly. After a second trip on the Jubilee in 2002, Bare Necessities booked 2,052 passengers on the Carnival Ecstasy out of Los Angeles in 2003.

Bare Necessities chartered ships out of South Florida regularly in the 1990s, but with the Port of Tampa expanding its cruise operations, Bare Necessities shifted to Tampa Bay in 1999, in part to cater to the seven nudist resorts located in Pasco County alone.

South Florida, of course, is a popular destination for nudists, especially Europeans looking to enjoy South Beach, where women can go topless. Haulover Beach, in Bal Harbour, is one of the nation's largest nude beaches. Three of the 275-member nudist clubs of the American Association for Nude Recreation are located in South Florida.

''It makes sense to leave from South Florida,'' Tiemann says. ``Not only do we have a lot of cruise regulars living there, but many passengers from out of town plan to spend a few days in Miami or Fort Lauderdale before and after the cruise.''

Passengers must remain dressed until the Costa Mediterranea is out of port. Though some leave most of their clothes at home, others pack as usual, leaving swimsuits behind. Passengers must dress in the dining room and whenever the boat approaches ports.

The La Dolce Vita tour is one of two cruises Bare Necessities has on tap in the next year. There's a two-week tour (April 1-15, 2006) aboard Holland America's Windstar out of Costa Rica. Ports include Panama, Curacao, Venezuela and Grenada. Plenty of cabins aboard the 160-passenger, sailing ship.



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