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Florida - justifiably known as the sunshine state
An article written for the British Naturism magazine - 1996 & 1997.
November '96 we explored the Atlantic coast of Florida - March '97 we tried the Gulf coast. Overall feelings - we are seriously looking to buy a home over there !
It was when we were investigating naturist destinations on the internet that it first hit us. There were 20 nudist clubs listed in Florida - ( http://www.fanr.com/clubs.html - at time of writing now lists 21). Having only been to Club Paradise and Lake Como a few times and enjoyed the hospitality, the weather and the shopping, we decided to explore a little more thoroughly than just these two.
Of the twenty-one 'on the net', seven are non-landed, beach groups. Fifteen are 'landed' and eleven of these are listed in the current INF Guide. Sign of the times I suppose. The net can cope with changes hourly; books like the INF Guide take a year to prepare and are updated every two years, so they are always one to three years out of date.
Flying to Florida is not expensive and there are bargains to be had if you shop around. Orlando airport is in touristy central Florida and convenient for Disney, etc.. Cypress Cove is just 30 minutes away, the east and west coasts are an hour or two easy driving. Miami airport was where they had some problems a few years ago but that has been stamped on. Haulover nudist beach plays host to hundreds of naturists, especially at weekends. There are even a couple of hotels where they allow nude sunbathing at their rooftop pool area. From Miami you can go up the coast with three clubs before you get to NASA (and Playalinda nudist beach) at Cape Canaveral and one club just past there. Drive south and you are soon on the Florida Keys. From Tampa airport on the west coast, you have a choice of seven clubs within an hours drive.
A car is essential. Not just useful or convenient. Fortunately hiring a car is cheap and the process of obtaining one is very efficient. For considerably less than it would cost to rent a very small and basic car in the UK,, we had the American idea of an average car, with air-conditioning, automatic transmission, cruise control and power everything - of course. Don't worry about them being gas guzzlers because they are not. Anyway, petrol costs about 78p a gallon but they were upset because until recently petrol cost only 65p per gallon . . . then I told them how much we pay in the UK.
We flew out of a miserable drizzly november day into Miami's humid 80° F. We did have a moments panic that we might have been hijacked to Cuba but no, the plethora of signs in Spanish just reflects the high percentage of Hispanics in this part of the state.
Seminole is the nearest club, just half an hour north of the airport but as they were unable to book visitors in after 5 pm, (which was a bit too close to our landing time) we went to the next club - Sunsport. We liked the club and especially the people. They made an effort to make us feel welcome by ensuring we were fed and watered before introducing us to some members and other visitors. We stayed in a 'recreational vehicle' (RV - something like the combination of a single-deck bus and a caravan) which had seen better days but was adequate with a large comfortable bed, galley-kitchen and tiny toilet/shower.
It was only when we dragged ourselves away from here and went to other clubs that we realised how much better things could be. Especially better value for money. What really miffed me was that they charge $15 ground fees per day or part thereof extra to the accommodation cost. They are the only club, apart from Paradise Lakes, that does this and it is a higher ground fee than even they charge.
Sunnier Palms is just one mile west of the interstate highway. (Half a mile east is a 'factory outlet plaza' for the bargain hunters). This is a small club with a big heart. They didn't have a restaurant but members turn up with donations of food which they prepare and give to anyone around. While booking in there, we had freshly barbecued hot dogs thrust upon us. On saying our farewells two days later, we were told we couldn't leave until we had helped them reduce the mountain of fresh doughnuts they had just received. Visitors are accommodated in a brick built, air-conditioned bungalow. There are three double bedrooms plus (shared) kitchen and bathroom.
Sunny Sands occupies a delightful site where Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks used to have a discreet hideaway / lovenest. The current owner used to be the manager at Cypress Cove and many of the staff have come from other clubs. This means that you are in good hands at this delightful location. Accommodation is in brand spanking new ('96) prefabricated house, with air-conditioning, kitchen, bathroom, tv, etc..
On our way to Cypress Cove, we passed through Orlando and Kissimmee. This, because of Disney, EPCOT, Universal Studios, et al, is the most tourist oriented part of Florida we have seen. Memories of arrow straight roads ploughing through forests of signs, mostly inviting you to treat your taste buds to any culture you can think of - even topless. This was also the most expensive part of Florida we saw.
Cypress Cove has a large residential area not shown on the map they give you. This is worth noting as we unintentionally spent some time amongst their leafy lanes. Can you imagine suddenly realising that you are wandering around naked and quite lost in what appears to be a very pleasant bit of suburbia? Its only when you spot some lucky residents - also naked - washing the car on their drive, that you are reassured that you haven't somehow wandered out the back door into the land of the 'clothes compulsive'.
Compared with other large naturist resorts, Cypress Cove has best achieved the balance between being commercially efficient and a comfortable clothes-free environment.. If you have a family, this is a resort where you can all enjoy yourselves. The theme parks are close-by, NASA is an hour away or cruise International Drive and 'shop till you drop'.
Our last night, before flying back to the UK, we spent at Seminole. It is very simple, basic and economical. The main advantage was being able to lay around the pool in the sun all day, knowing that we were just half an hour from the airport. Had enough sun? - well why not spend some of the day at the local Native American reservation.
The simplest and fastest way to get to the area where most of the clubs are congregated is this: Take the courtesy bus from the terminal building to the Alamo car rental site. Having secured your car, turn right at the exit from the Alamo site, along the service road to traffic lights at the duel carriageway. Turn left onto Veterans Highway and keep going to the very end - the US41. Turn left and shortly you will be in Land O'Lakes. When the railway crosses the road, look left and there is Club Paradise; or next junction turn left and shortly there is Lake Como; or keep going on the US41 and in 4 miles you have the turning to the Island Group / Eden Park; another mile or so and you are at Caliente and Riverboat right next to each other. There are another couple of clubs near here but we haven't visited them yet.
All seven clubs are in Pasco county, within an hour of Tampa airport. When asked why there was such a collection of nudist clubs the reply from the Pasco County Commission was "Nudism is a non-polluting industry; there is less crime per capita in a nudist resort than outside of it; they build their own roads and are largely self-policing. They are good neighbours and bring business into the community." Isn't it good to know we are recognised with such rational but positive strokes.
Starting with Club Paradise: A large and very commercially run club. A community where some people live in very comfortable condos and architect designed homes. There is a certain insularity. Also the lack of trees gives it a 'harder' edge than many may appreciate. There used to be an element of 'swingers' but the threat of AIDS and advancing years has meant that the wife-swapping and sexual olympics have faded into obscurity. The lingerie disco at Club Fred is still a good evenings entertainment.
Next door neighbour, Lake Como has recently been taken over by the residents and members. Included in their plans to rejuvenate the club is a much needed remodelling of the motel rooms where visitors usually stay. In contrast to the slick outfit next door, Como is very homely and the residents make an effort to welcome visitors. The Como equivalent of the Paradise 'swim-up bar' is the 'Butt Hut' - a small wooden building on the beach, screened against the bugs and with a sand floor, so no problems about spilled drinks or broken bones when you fall off your bar-stool.
On to the Island Group, a couple of miles up US41. One of the smallest clubs but lacking none of the facilities. Eden Properties, run by members Stanley Ruddock and family, have bought several parcels of land around the club and are building six beautiful cottages on them. Much thought and planning have evidently gone into this environment to make it something really special. We booked just two nights and, like others before us, stayed over a week. Try it and you will see why.
Another couple of miles up the US41 and Caliente appears. Well at least the signs do, as when we were there, they had only just put all the finance into place and were about to make a start on what they promise to be serious competition for Paradise.
Adjoining Caliente is the very much more laid back Riverboat. Whilst the age range for members is full spectrum, this club harbours echoes of the 'flower power era' and specialises in providing a venue for some of the more esoteric minorities. For example, if you follow the way of Wicca, you can be assured of meeting 'sky-clad' friends here for all the major celebrations; Three live bands will be providing loud music for a NudeStock during one summer weekend - bring your instrument or voice for free admission!; and of course - being America - there is a classic and vintage vehicle rally. Most visitors bring their own RVs or camp as there is currently only one B&B facility (complete with water bed) in the owners home.
A summary of the costs and my opinions has been supplied to Clive Beck - holiday adviser for N America - in a table format. When you write to him for advice, be sure to ask for a copy.
Sue & Lawrence Thorington-Jones 1997
Resort Price for one night Accomodations Comments My Star Rating Florida - East Coast Clubs - listed from North to South Sunny Sands $71.25 Spanking new mobile homes with bedroom, bath, kitchen and lounge well worth a visit beautiful location * * * * Cypress Cove $103.23 De Luxe apartment lives up to its reputation as a prime resort - friendly too. * * * * * Sunnier Palms $39.42 3 bedrooms available in bungalow - share bathroom and kitchen smallest but friendliest and best value for money - perhaps because its run by members not professionals * * * Sunsport $49.50 + $15 ground fee per day or part day Old RV with galley and shower/toilet Rustic over-priced. charged 3 days ground fees for two nights stay - 1 night = $49.50 +2x$15= $79.50 2 nights=$99.00 +3x$15=$135.00 * * Seminole $43.60 clean bedroom Rustic nearest to Miami and airport * * Florida - West Coast Clubs Caliente planned to compete with Paradise Lakes and Cypress Cove starting construction on 100+ acre site soon? Due to be in operation late '97 / '98 Island Group / Eden Park $101.65 6x beautiful cottages; (2x brand new, 2x almost ready, 2x at foundations - 3/97) small (3.5 acre) club with all facilities * * * * Lake Como $40.66 motel rooms - to be remodelled '96 (Club just been bought out by members) very friendly atmosphere this club started us thinking about retiring to Florida * * * Paradise Lakes $89.24 $121.34 well serviced but simple hotel rooms - all pool-side so can be noisy day & night OR rent a condo De luxe - but clothes optional rather than nudist and some unusual interpretations of 'naturism' - especially at Club Fred disco no children * * * * * Riverboat $62.06 B & B suite in owners home - complete with waterbed full facilities in this 16 acre site : Focus on 10 - 350 people camping for Pan, bar-b-q, Nudestock,, custom car, massage, etc. Fun events * * *
Prices quoted were prices paid 'per room' for a couple. Most clubs offer deals such as seven nights for the price of six. Comments and prices relevant to our visits in nov '96 and march '97. Things might change.
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