Why Everyone Should Consider Taking a Nudist Cruise

illustration of nudist cruise
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Poker chips are spread across a table occupied by a group of men and women clutching cards close to their chests. A woman outside lounges on the deck of a boat as another woman stands over her, giving a massage in the sun. Later that night, music pumps out of speakers near the bar. People all around are dancing and drinking.

It's your typical all-inclusive cruise -- only aboard this ship, everyone is naked.

Nudist cruises are non-sexual vacation experiences where everyone just happens to be in the buff. Bare Necessities out of Texas has been offering nudist cruises for the last 26 years, chartering luxury ocean liners and traversing the globe from Singapore to Alaska and everywhere in between.

The biggest party is the Big Nude Boat, held once a year with 2,000 to 3,000 guests: a 10-day excursion with themed events like Nudapalooza, FantaSea Fest, and Naked Man, a nudist take on Burning Man. It’s the only large-scale cruising operation of its kind in the United States.

While other companies encourage sex acts at nude events, Big Nude Boat owner Nancy Tiemann stresses that Bare Necessities cruises do not have sexually charged atmospheres. The majority of passengers on Tiemann's boats are in committed relationships and simply enjoy living -- or playing tourists to -- a clothing-free lifestyle.

Nudity is a great equalizer

"When you're without your clothing, you don't have that barrier that says you make this kind of money,” Tiemann said. "It's a real equalizer. It really levels the playing field. We buy into a lot of the Madison Ave stuff and it’s nice to be free of that and feel comfortable in our own skin."

Passenger Brooke Morton, who's been on four nudist cruises, said the experience was transformative, even going so far as to say they’re the best thing she’s ever done for herself.

"Prior to the cruise," Morton said, "I would say I was disconnected from my body, so to speak. I wasn't fully enjoying the sensory experience of being in my own skin. On the cruise, I loved feeling the sun on my whole body and I couldn't get enough skinny dipping. I found a new love for my body -- so much so, that when I came back, I took up jogging, which I hadn't done regularly in years. I've dropped maybe 15lbs since the cruise and kept them off."

Being naked encourages self-love -- not group love

That body comfort is the biggest aspect of Bare Necessities' cruise culture. Less than 5% of the guests are first-time social nudists, but even so: anyone who feels uncomfortable being naked is encouraged to put on their clothes at any time (as long as they aren't ogling the other guests). If it feels more comfortable to be nude, then let it all hang out.

"I like to swim in the nude, I like to walk the beach in the nude, but you wouldn't catch me playing tennis in the nude," Tiemann said. "It's just not 'pretty' nude to me. Other people play tennis in the nude. We encourage people to be nude whenever it's comfortable for them."

But Tiemann is quick to point out the company can't control what happens behind closed doors -- and offers a positive vote for the sensual experience of being in the nude with someone you care about.

"There's nothing like being at sea and feeling the sun and air on your skin," she said. "It's not a sexually charged atmosphere, but hopefully a walk down a deserted beach with someone you really care about will end in something better than a bingo game."

All the passengers must go through a vetting process to get on the boat in the first place, so Tiemann said there haven't been any sex-focused or jealousy issues in the past. A quick required phone call before the cruise and to book the trip effectively weeds out anyone looking for a swingers party. And while shirking the restrictions of clothing, the cruise staff has some rules that everyone must abide by -- or risk getting kicked off at one of the ports. Towels always go down before you sit; clothing is always required while entering or in a port; formal dinners are clothed (although casualwear is welcome); no fetishwear, excessive genital jewelry, or drugs; no soliciting for sex; and no taking photos or video without consent. Boat staff is required to be clothed at all times. Absolutely no sexual activity is allowed on deck or in public areas.

"I have never had sex on a cruise," Morton said, "nor do I intend to, unless it's with someone I am in a relationship with prior to the cruise. My goal is to sun my ass cheeks, swim naked, and dance a bit on deck under the full moon with my full moon enjoying the open air as well."

Bare Necessities
Courtesy of Bare Necessities

Nudist cruises challenge perceptions

Even though the cruises are a freeing and laid-back experience, the rules are definitely enforced. There's a (true) legend that travels around the boat on each trip, telling of a disrespectful woman who refused to get dressed as the ship was pulling into port. Tiemann wasn't having it; once the woman put her clothes on, she and her husband were dropped off at the port and the cruise sailed away without them. There haven't been any problems since -- although a whisper of someone getting kicked off can be heard through the decks, forewarning everyone to be on their best behavior.

In line with that mindset, Tiemann is helping lead a charge with these cruises against the way nudity is perceived in the United States -- where, for many people, nakedness instantly means sex.

"The way our society looks at nudity, it has to be objectifying," she said. "I think that's changing a little bit, but we haven't done our work well enough yet."

For now, though, the nudist community continues to live an under-the-radar, carefree, clothes-free lifestyle.

"Nudists are the happiest people on the planet!" Morton said. "I've been to $1,500-a-night hotels, and those are the people you might think are really loving life. Nope. It's nudists. They are smiley in the elevator and in the lunch line for noodle bowls. They don't complain. They're a group of folks who don't often get the chance to be together, and they just seem so grateful. It's a refreshing attitude to be around."

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter: @jenniferbillock.