Monday, April 03, 2006

The Only Way to Cruise...if You Can

Finally, the naked truth about nude cruises
Spud Hilton

Sunday, April 2, 2006

There are words that, when combined, have the power to create far more questions that answers, and not many are more intriguing than the phrase "nude cruise."

Having heard for years about voyages large and small populated entirely by folks wearing nothing more than SPF-4,000 sunscreen, I wanted to find out more -- purely in the interest of thorough journalism, of course.

Imagine the benefits: no calculating outfits based on formal nights; no using the expensive laundry service on board; packing everything for a weeklong vacation in a fanny pack (so to speak).

Instead of booking a trip (nixed by both boss and wife), I called Nancy Tiemann. Fifteen years ago, she and her husband, Tom, started Bare Necessities, the only travel company that charters entire ships for "the nudist populous." Their Austin, Texas, company just finished its 38th cruise -- a 2,200-passenger trip on a Costa Cruise Line ship -- with a total of more than 40,000 passengers carried, all of them happily buck naked.

The Tiemanns -- she was a banker, he was an attorney -- stumbled one day onto a nude beach by accident and, as Nancy puts it, "by the end of the day, I didn't have a bathing suit on." They looked for upscale nudist opportunities and, finding none, started Bare Necessities, although getting the cruise lines to return their calls was a struggle.

"It took about two years to float our first ship," said Nancy. "Now we've got three cruise lines looking for our business next year."

They have since quit their day jobs.

What follows, based on a recent conversation with Nancy Tiemann, is a brief primer titled "Ten Things You Probably Wondered About Nude Cruises."

-- Who goes?

Bare Necessities says it has customers who are actors, bus drivers, Fortune 500 CEOs, soccer moms, doctors, teachers, priests and at least one Canadian Supreme Court justice. The fact that everyone is naked, however, is "a real equalizer." The average age hovers between 45 and 55, and 98 percent of them are married or otherwise attached.

-- Are they naked all the time?

Passengers can choose to be nude anywhere -- in the pool, at the blackjack table, while singing karaoke -- with the exception of the formal dining room, where clothes are required, but that can be as little as a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. (Ship officials raise the temperature on board for nude groups.) Passengers also have to be covered when the ship pulls into ports, mostly because local authorities have to board to clear the ship.

-- Is the furniture covered?

Basic nudist etiquette is that you always sit on something, typically a towel. The cruise line happily provides the towels.

-- Is the crew naked?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions, Tiemann said. In almost all cases, the answer is no. Bare Necessities meets with ship crews in advance to address questions and concerns.

"Initially they are shocked," said Tiemann. "Their biggest concern is where they're not supposed to look. We tell them that it's a wonderful exercise in making eye contact."

-- Is there a cruise video?

No. Because of privacy concerns, the company is very particular about photos and video.

-- What are the biggest concerns of first-time passengers?

Woman ask about safety and want to know that it isn't a sex cruise. Said Tiemann: "Woman usually have more questions. Men are raring to go."

While passengers are naked, it isn't about sex. Another rule of nudist etiquette: Don't do anything outside your cabin that you would do outside your home. Men do ask, however, what happens if they get, er, ahem, aroused. Tiemann said in 15 years she's never seen it happen, but that if it does, simply use the handy towel.

-- Without pockets, where to people keep their key cards?

Maybe it's better if we leave some things to the imagination.

For more information on Bare Necessities cruises, call (800) 743-0405 or go to

Spud Hilton is deputy editor of Travel. To comment, e-mail


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