Space Coast motel goes nude in desperate attempt to survive post-Shuttle economy crash

screengrab: Fawlty Towers Resort website

Cocoa Beach is a Florida town where the economy was for decades buoyed by the NASA Space Shuttle program. Astronauts, aerospace contractors, service workers, and their families all made their way to communities like this one along the "space coast," near Kennedy Space Center.

I traveled to Cocoa Beach a few times last year with Miles O'Brien, Kate Tobin, and the SpaceFlightNow crew, for the final shuttle launches. Press and fans swooped in around those launches like migratory birds. Everyone in town—donut shops, cigar stores, restaurants, strip bars, and, of course, hotels—everyone depended on the space industry for their livelihoods.

But now, the shuttle program is gone. Property values and many of those small locally-owned businesses have tanked. It's a huge bummer. There are big-picture ways to tell this story, but sometimes, smaller stories tell it best.

So here's one: the owner of a garish, hot pink motel along the Cocoa Beach strip called Fawlty Towers (after the excellent British comedy series starring John Cleese) is relaunching the joint as a nudist resort.

I remember driving by this place with Miles and his crew, snickering at the name and the paint job, and wondering if we'd encounter Basil, Sybil, Polly, or Manuel if we stopped in.

From the Fawlty Towers Resort website update:

Our culture and values at Fawlty Towers shall remain the same, creating a warm and friendly environment, based on very simple principles. As of May 2012 we will promote family oriented nudism, which shall be wholesome and non-sexual. Single males must qualify to visit according to our singles policy. ( Please call ahead) All members of AANR or other nudist clubs or organizations are always welcome. If you choose to visit Fawlty Towers you are accepting these core principles and are agreeing to abide by them.

We offer a private, relaxing, safe, non-threatening, non-sexual, clothing optional environment where our guest can relax and feel comfortable.

This being socially-conservative Florida, not everyone is happy about that plan. Snip from WFTV report:

"Young people surf on that beach. What kind of a message is that sending them? It's inappropriate," said Merritt Island resident Jeannette Smith.

Some of the more prudish locals are exploring legal options.

But for now: the clothing is off, and bookings are up.

Full coverage (heh) of this story in the news: Brevard Times, Florida Today, Orlando TV, Reuters, Central Florida News 13.

(Though it's hard for me to believe, I know that some of you reading this blog post will not have seen the television series after which this motel is named. You should take care of that.)


  1. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.  It is quite upsetting that some young uns have never seen Fawlty Towers.  

    1.  Fawlty Towers: 
      A Barracuda Fillet Fry & Quint Trollop

      (I’m not nearly as good with anagrams as the show was, but I try damn it)

  2. “Young people surf on that beach. What kind of a message is that sending them?”

    I believe the phrase you’re looking for is “hang loose.”

  3. #1 reason urban naturist locations fail = Skid marks.

    #2 = G’wan and check yourself in the full length, okay. See, not bad. Okay. Now, bend over and pick up a piece of paper from the floor while taking a swig from a can of Coca-Cola or similar poison. How’s it look now? Now from behind, try it again. Yeah.

    I’m okay with my body but I appreciate the function and fashion of clothing esp underwear.
    My caveat, I believe we should each have fewer clothes, at least most of us in North America.

    1. May I ask if you’ve ever been to a naturist location? Most of the people at the ones I’ve been to know to wipe their asses.

      Also, if you go to a family-oriented locale to look at other people’s nether regions then you’re either some kind of perv or you’re completely missing the point.

      1. Most you say? Oh well then. Yeah I have, parents took me until I began begging off at 12yrs old. 

        The outdoor, nature bound naturalist sites weren’t too awful, Hippie Hollow was the preferred spot for my parents for convenience sake. 

        I bet some pervs are among you, but whether you are or not or whether you go to look or not you can’t avoid looking, thereby is your pointed insult as blunted as I hope you are when you wander around these places.

        1. Then maybe I’ve just been lucky, or perhaps your folks took you to hygenically-challenged resorts. Either way, it’s not for everyone. Which is fine by me.

    1. Reading your brainstorming post and the unscrollable column to the right, here’s an idea for a slogan that maybe the hotel should consider:

      “Demolish Serious Culture”.

      Then should Boing Boing consider organizing nude weekend retreats there?

      1. Except for the pool, there’s not much to do there. If I’m going to get naked in a crowd, I want more options. A pool. A beach. Some gardens. 

        1. How about a perennial favorite, the nude vodka ice bar?

          But I agree, beach, garden and pool is the (ahem) bare minimum.  The jackpot would be a combination of beach and garden, figuring out a way to place big shade trees on the sand, that would be amazing.

    2. There is an “I Dream Of Jeannie Ave” just down the road.  

      I’ve driven past the place in this story; never been there.  But I remember the old British TV show so the name always gave me a chuckle. 

  4. Was just down there on a futile hunt for some dark place for nighttime stargazing. 

    There’s a huge stealth “pond” or “body of water” which is a Google map dead zone — right by the Brevard County Community College, off Michigan. (Old Superfund site?)
    The “water” on the satellite photos is much smaller than on the maps. But to bring it back to the main subject: mosquitoes, so, while I like nude leisure, I’ll pass.

  5. Every tourist area in FL is in a sharp decline.   While the end of the shuttle program did not help the area, the area was dying long before it ended.   You can find desperate empty hotels everywhere in FL.  I drive past 20 of them within 10 miles of Disney everyday.

    1. Every tourist area in FL is in a sharp decline.

      Losing their shirts, as it were.

      1. Exactly – It might also have something to do with the fact that air travel these days is about as pleasant as a dry rectal exam. 

        “Let’s take the whole family to Disney after an X-ray machine and groin-gropes for everyone!”

      1. Cocoa Beach is huge with locals. In fact I vacation there 3-4 times a year so if anything they are shielded a bit from what’s happening elsewhere.

        If anything the problem happened when the state and local governments gave huge incentives to the big attractions. This was great for awhile but slowly places like Disney realized “Hey if we build smaller attractions on our own property we can keep people hostage on our property”. Why have people leave Disney to play miniature golf, let’s just build 3 miniature golf courses on property. So they take away jobs from people who live in the area and then staff their property with underpaid and uninsured “interns”

        This put all the small independently owned operations on the strips out of business. These empty dead attractions drove things even further down.

        Cocoas problem is not the end of the shuttle program, their problem is the Cruise Line passengers no longer stay on the coast they get bused to Disney.

        Just drive on the Beach Line, you see nothing but tourist buses full of people getting bused to Disney.

        It’s not a coincidence that one of the worst most depressed and crime ridden areas in FL is a mile south of Disney.

        It was once this gorgeous fun tourist area, now everything is empty and abandoned.

    2. Except Miami Beach has hotel occupancies that matches its 2008 historical peak and exceeds 10-year average.   Miami Dade County has both occupancy and revenue exceeding historical average.  Even though room rates are below peak, South Fl hotel bed tax collections are at record high because there are more rooms.

      So you can’t really generalize about “every tourist area in FL”  based on Central FL.  Different demand drivers, different markets. 

  6. And it’s ugly? I spent a week in Melbourne, FL last month on business, abt 20 miles south of the area in question. Sprawly, strip-mally, overdeveloped, no sidewalks,  miles to the closest amenities, etc.

    I went down thinking A1A would be all Pacific Coast Highway-ey, and I’d get a nice drive in one early evening, but no dice. It would be tragic except that these folks made their bed, as far as I’m concerned. FWIW, the oceanfront hotel I stayed at seemed quite buzzing with activity. Maybe the desolation starts 20 feet back from the shoreline?

    1. Melbourne and Cocoa Beach (and for that matter, Cocoa and Cocoa Beach) are practically night and day apart.  My parents lived there for 17 years and I visited frequently.   They even knew the British ex-pat who ran Fawlty Towers, though I suspect his relatives run it now.  It’s a really nice town with lots of luxury condos, while Melbourne…isn’t.

      A lot of the tourist trade was dedicated to a few venues: the original Ron Jon Surf Shop, Space Coast tourism and stop-overs on the way to the cruise ships.  I remember standing out on the beach in the late 80s, watching a rare night-time shuttle launch (which was AWESOME).

      1. I imagine that many people are pretty disappointed when they go to their first nude resort.

        1. Not me, I was quite fascinated to find myself naked in public.

          But then again, it was Zipolite, Oaxaca, back in the early nineties, quite an incredible accidental destination to find myself in, after three bus rides totaling about thirty hours, in the midst of an adventure with my girlfriend!

  7. To give a bit of backstory, since I know locals in Cocoa, the economy is in decline there b/c of the NASA closures . That is demonstrated by the housing market, but slightly counterbalanced by the cruise ships. The proof of this is if you look at the local news cycle and how primary education is declining in the area from literally rocket scientist standards to much less b/c of funding etc. Moreover this story is interesting specifically b/c it is right near Ron Johns Surf Shop and the main beach going area where spring break specials are usually filmed or bike week occurs, (yes I am sure there is a “girls gone wild” joke there somewhere).

    Melbourne isn’t really Cocoa, btw. Generally the setup of “strip malls” and hotels cater to large random influxes of people, long strips of beach (compared to other states), and that the “sidewalk” is the beach. Moreover the dependency on the car as transport usually has to do with the inability of tourists to handle the heat without being near the water. A/C is the main  reason why the southern states have grown in population.

  8. I am utterly shocked and appalled.  I am almost stunned to the point of silence.  This is a complete outrage.  I cannot believe some people have not seen Fawlty Towers!!!

  9. Florida has been tawdry, run-down, tasteless and generally awful for many decades now. On the plus side, there are occasional hurricanes.

Comments are closed.