ORLANDO, Fla. – Hans Stein is 86 years old and – except for tennis shoes – naked as the day he was born.
Fit and looking much younger than his years, he has a simple explanation: “It’s the nudist lifestyle!”
Stein and his wife, 81-year old Lisa, are part of a cadre of longtime members at Cypress Cove, a nudist resort near Kissimmee, Fla., celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Like the Steins – who are German-born Canadians – a number of members are foreign-born, and they use words such as “prudish” to describe American attitudes toward nudity.
“It is a family affair where you can do things with your entire family,” Lisa says, noting they’ve had their children, grandchildren and even their little great-grandchild to the resort. They first came to Cypress Cove in 1964, the year it opened.
The resort (not a colony – “ants live in colonies” is the nudist’s retort) is on its third generation of family ownership. Ted Hadley, 42, has taken over in recent years from parents Dean and Barbara. Dean’s parents, the late Jim and Lyda “Pete” Hadley, bought about 260 acres near Kissimmee in 1962 and opened Cypress Cove in 1964.
At that time, the area “was all orange groves and Overstreet property,” Barbara Hadley said, referring to a pioneering ranching family. “All that’s gone now. And now we have a traffic light at our entrance and a Lowe’s across the street.”
In the years between, the resort has grown along with the region. What was once a small campground is today a resort with 80 developed acres, including 225 mobile-home sites, five hotel buildings with 84 rooms and room for 110 RV campsites.
The first thing you notice as a visitor, of course, is the naked people.
Everywhere, there are naked people. Naked people on the tennis courts, naked people on the chip-and-putt golf course, naked people in the pool, naked people by the lake, naked people on bikes and naked people walking all over the resort.
And everywhere is the smell of sunscreen. After all, nudists, perhaps more than most, recognize the importance of protecting themselves from the sun’s rays.
All the public nudity is jarring at first to a “textile” – as nudists refer to non-nudists – but soon it doesn’t seem all that surprising. Eventually, it’s the people with clothes who seem out of place.
To the Hadleys and their guests, being a nudist is not about exhibitionism or lewdness, but freedom, stress relief and acceptance.
“When they realize just how incredibly judgment-free the environment is, it’s like a veil is lifted,” Ted Hadley said of new visitors. “Someone who’s spent their whole life worrying how they look in clothes can now be accepted with no clothes at all. That can be a life-changing experience.”
The crowd at the resort on a recent weekday skews toward retirement age. Many visitors at this time of year are snowbirds, the Hadleys said. The median age comes down during the summer months, but there are still a lot of empty-nesters.
“When the nest is empty, mom and dad are free to go where they like,” Dean Hadley said. “And fortunately for us, a lot of them like to come here.”
The success of the Cove led the American Association of Nude Recreation, a national advocacy group, to relocate its headquarters to Kissimmee. And Bare Necessities, which books vacations for nudists, set up shop in town 25 years ago.
Bare Necessities owner Nancy Tiemann has seen explosive growth in her business during that time.
“The nudist niche-travel segment is a half-a-billion-dollar a year industry,” Tiemann said. “Those are pretty darn good numbers for a small niche market.”
Tiemann books nude cruises for 3,000 passengers per voyage, ranging in age from 20-somethings to 80-somethings, she said.
Offering cruises on lines such as Celebrity and Holland America is a far cry from years past when nudists went out of the way to isolate themselves, Tiemann said.
“Social nude recreation is no longer something that’s down a dirt road behind a junkyard fence,” she said. “It’s a growing trend in this country as we begin to loosen up a little bit.”
The folks at Cypress Cove say they’ve long felt welcome in the area, because founder Jim Hadley made sure to introduce himself to the sheriff and other community leaders before the resort opened to explain what it was all about.
Through the years, there has been the occasional effort to paint Cypress Cove as some kind of threat to the community, “but they never gained any traction,” Dean Hadley said.
These days, the resort hosts an annual Chamber of Commerce event, and one resident ran as a Republican for County Commission in 2012.
The resort will be celebrating its half-century milestone all year long. Upcoming events include an anniversary weekend celebration in April, a free open house in July and the annual “Nude-a-Palooza” in November, with live bands and proceeds benefiting breast-cancer causes.
At 50, there’s no sign Cypress Cove is slowing down. The resort is built out, so the focus has shifted in recent years to remodeling and upgrading guest rooms and the pool bar.
Bob Poplar, 80, has been a member for 43 years and a resident for 33. He can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“There’s a lot going on,” he said. “It’s fun, and it gets better all the time.”