On a recent European cruise, my wife and I were seated in the formal dining room with two lovely older English couples. As the dinner progressed, the wine flowed, and we all relaxed with each other, the other gentlemen removed their suit jackets. I, however, did not.
“Aren’t you going to take off your jacket?” my wife whispered to me. “It is a little warm in here.”
“Absolutely not,” I huffed. “It’s called a dinner jacket, for God’s sake.” To this day, my wife gleefully tells the story of the time I “out-stuffed two old Brits.“
Long story short, I may not be the best candidate to go on an all-nude cruise.
Still, the number of people discovering the seafaring joys of cruising while wearing nothing but a smile (and maybe a captain’s hat, if they’re feeling nautical) is growing. According to the American Association for Nude Recreation, about 30,000 people a year board these clothing-optional cruises.
Blue skies, clear water, and your bare bottom; “clothing-optional” cruises are taking off. (Photo: Bare Necessities Tour and Travel)
"What people realize and experience once they’re in a socially nude situation on a cruise with two or three thousand people is that [nude cruisers] are really comfortable in their own skin,” says Nancy Tiemann of Bare Necessities Tour and Travel, a travel agency that specializes in chartering all-nude cruises aboard major cruise line ships. “We’ve sailed on just about every major cruise line.”
That’s all great. But I can honestly say that even after all the cruises I’ve taken, it never once occurred to me that such a thing as nude cruises existed; my closest encounter with nude cruising was Kate Winslet’s painting scene in Titanic (not a bad introduction at all, by the way). But upon learning of its existence, I had a million questions for Nancy and other adult-themed cruisers about sailing aboard the S.S. Full Monty. Do you ever get self-conscious? What does the crew think about it?
And what do cruise ships do about all those naked people sitting bare-assed on the furniture?
Fortunately, people willing to walk around naked among 3,000 also-naked strangers tend not to shy away from delicate questions. So some adults-only cruisers gave Yahoo Travel the naked truth about letting it all hang out on the open seas. Here are the Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Nude Cruising.
1. Yes, you can be naked everywhere on board … almost
How does a sombrero fit into the nudist dress code? (Photo: Bare Necessities Tour and Travel)
Not all naked cruises on the same. But on Nancy’s Bare Necessities charters, “all-nude” means just that. “Once we get into international waters, they get on the intercom and let us know that we’ve cleared international waters and we can now be naked,” Nancy says. “You can be nude anywhere aboard our cruise ship charters.” That includes the pool deck, the atrium, the casino. There are two very big exceptions on Nancy’s cruises: the formal dining room and specialty dining areas. The self-serve dining areas, however, are still clothing optional.
2. About that naked sitting thing…
If on a future cruise you should discover that the ship you’re about to board just hosted a naked cruise in its last excursion, this should make you feel better: Naked cruisers are barred from sitting on anything without a towel. “The cruise line is very good about placing towels in different areas around the ship,” Nancy says.
3 No, it’s not about sex…
Nude doesn’t always mean sexy time. (Photo: Bare Necessities Tour and Travel)
OK, if you have thousands of naked people walking around naked in the middle of the ocean, there’s gonna be wild and craziness afoot, right? The answer might surprise you. “So many people have preconceived notions that social nudism has to do with a sexually charged atmosphere,” Nancy says. “And that’s not what we’re all about.” Bare Necessities bans overt sexual activity outside of staterooms as well as fetish wear and “excessive genital jewelry.”
“Bare Necessities is geared toward social nudism,” says Nancy. “That’s not to say we don’t have fun. It’s just that it’s not a sexually charged atmosphere.”
4. (Unless it is about sex)
Certain cruises attract some nontraditional couples. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Bliss Cruise, another cruise chartering company, is often lumped into the "nude cruise” genre. And while passengers aboard Bliss cruises do enjoy various states of public undress, this cruise has some big differences from companies like Bare Necessities: Bliss is “couples only,” and it is very much a “sexually charged” atmosphere.
“Ours is more what we consider an adult playground or an alternative lifestyle cruise that appeals to a varied clientele,“ says Joe Giantonio, a Bliss Cruise partner and owner of Topless Travel. "We welcome folks that label themselves as swingers. We welcome nudists. We welcome ‘fet life.’” For the uninitiated, “fet life” refers to people who are into fetishes. “That doesn’t mean licking toes,” Joe points out. “That means people who dress up in latex and costumes and things like that.”
Imagine seeing someone wear this outfit during the muster drill. Wonder what it’d look like with a life jacket… (Photo: Thinkstock)
In some ways, Bliss is even more strict than more traditional nude cruises. While nudist-themed cruises like Bare Necessities allow nudity throughout pretty much the entire ship, Joe says Bliss allows full public nudity only at the pool areas and open sun decks. Women are allowed to go topless in the nightclubs.
But there are parts of the ship where anything goes — and they do mean anything. “We have designated private play areas for people that are interested in indulging in intimate sexual contact with their partner — they have to be in there with their partner — either with each other or experimenting with someone else,” Joe says.
So if you should hit it off with that really cool couple you’re seated with at dinner, you have the option of exchanging a lot more than email addresses.
5. The cruise lines are cool with it
Celebrity is just one of the cruise lines that host nude and/or “alternative lifestyle” cruises. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
It may be surprising that major cruise lines, many of which promote family-friendly atmospheres, eagerly host these nude cruise charters. Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, and Holland America have all hosted these chartered trips (yes, these adult-themed cruise organizers charter entire cruise ships, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally running into the nudist section during that annual vacation with your in-laws).
“As you can well imagine, it was not an easy convince in the beginning,” Nancy says of her early attempts to convince cruise ships to allow her to charter nude cruises. Her number one challenge: “Convincing them first and foremost that it wasn’t a prank call,“ she says, laughing, describing the initial reaction as, “’You wanna do what on my ship?!?’”
It took some convincing and a few years of some well-attended cruises before cruise lines saw the perks of such charters. Now, Nancy says the major cruise lines are calling her to arrange these trips. “We bring to the cruise ship a full complement of over-21, drinking age, gambling age passengers,” she says. “That means money to them.”
6. The crew’s cool with it, too
This guy could be working your next nude cruise. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Convincing the cruise lines to allow all-nude cruises is one thing. Bringing aboard crew members, many of whom hail from socially conservative countries, is quite another. Nancy says cruise lines don’t have special elite teams of crew members to staff their nude cruises. “The crew is the crew that was on the week before [our cruise] and will be on the week after,“ she says.
Instead, Nancy says the cruise lines’ human resources departments train crew members on how to deal with naked cruisers (imagine getting a look at that HR pamphlet: "Help: Everybody’s Naked!”). “The cruise lines do a really good job of preparing the crew,” Nancy says. “Many times we’ll go on the ship ahead of time and let them meet us so they can see that we don’t have an eye in the middle of our forehead and we’re not weird."
Nancy says once the crew actually experiences how low-key and pleasant her nude cruises tend to be, they spread the word for her. "They usually prepare [the other crew members]. They’ll say, 'Oh, don’t worry. I’ve sailed with these people before. They’re really fun loving, low-key, and laid back.’ And I think they’ve learned we’re pretty good tippers!”
7. There is an etiquette
Break the rules aboard a nude cruise, and you could find yourself left in port. (Photo: American Association for Nude Recreation)
In order for everyone to feel comfortable cruising naked, many of these types of adult cruises have very strict rules and codes of conduct. No pictures. No touching without consent. And no sexy time in public areas. Joe Giantonio says Bliss Cruise has its own security personnel: “Ex-military, firemen, police … they basically walk around to make sure nobody’s doing anything salacious.” The penalty for violating rules on these cruises is pretty strict: They’ll boot you off the ship at the next port of call. They’ll probably let you get dressed first.
8. No kids
If the “no clothes” thing makes it hard for you to imagine going on an adult-themed cruise, try thinking about the “no-tantrums-in-the-dining-hall” thing. (Photo: Thinkstock)
While the various nude and “alternative lifestyle” cruises may have some differences, they have one thing in common: They are refreshingly child-free. “Not that we hate kids,” Joe says of his Bliss cruisers, who are mostly married couples ranging in age from late-30s to mid-50s. “They wanna get away from the hassles and mundane drudgery of taking care of kids.” Nancy says her passengers tend to balk when someone tries to bring children onboard. “People didn’t like it,” she says. “This was their getaway from 'Mom Mode.’”
9. I’m sold! What do I bring?
Well, you should wear something during your cruise… (Photo: Thinkstock)
One great thing about going on a nude cruise: “It’s far less challenging to pack,” says Nancy. But number one on her Must-Pack list: extra sunscreen. Remember, you’re naked, so you’re not just sunning your arms and back. You’ll need to practically bathe in the stuff. “As wise as I’ve gotten over the last 25 years, I will still always have that one little spot on the back of my neck or on my shoulders where I’ll miss that sunscreen,” says Nancy. She says an epic sunburn is often the result.
Another item she recommend you bring: a sweater. Cruise ship interiors can get pretty cold, even though cruise lines try to up the ship’s temperature a few degrees before each nude cruise in anticipation of naked passengers. “It takes a good day to get that baby warmed up,” Nancy says.
As for what clothing and supplies are needed for Bliss Cruise — well, use your imaginations.
10. They’re very welcoming environments
Cruise naked with someone and you have a friend for life! (Photo: Bare Necessities Tour and Travel)
Yes, going on these kinds of cruises can be scary, but these adult-themed cruises tend to be very welcoming environments, especially for newbies (the American Association for Nude Recreation says roughly 30 percent of nude cruisers are first-timers). “Don’t be intimidated,” says Joe. “Think of it as spring break for reserved, sane, refined fortysomethings.”
Nancy believes the absence of physical barriers like clothing often leads nude cruisers to shed their social barriers as well, leading to more emotionally intimate and lasting connections. “You’ll make friendships that will last your lifetime,” she says. “It’s not unusual for me to see somebody on one of my cruises that I saw 25 years ago. They’re now celebrating their 40th anniversary, or their retirement, or their first grandchild or something like that. And that’s very rewarding to me.”
By many accounts, nude and otherwise adults-only cruises are a judgment-free vacation alternative for adventurous vacationers. “We take things a little less seriously,” says Nancy. “I guess that comes with being naked.” And with having a “no jacket required” policy.
Check out our original adventure travel series, A Broad Abroad.