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Trip report: Paradise Lakes and Caliente Tampa
      #1346121 - 05/20/11 09:16 AM (

I visited Paradise Lakes and Caliente with a group of three people both last weekend and back in April. As usual, I'll start with things that changed between my fall trips and these and then make some general comments.

Neither resort changed much. Caliente had a second pole on the dance floor last month, but it was removed by last weekend. Karaoke was the usual time last month, but started at 6 PM on Saturday last time. You can now reserve a booth in the club for $25. There were a new set of rules posted for the area with the conversation pool and hot tub that wasn't there last month. Most were as expected, but people under 21 are no longer allowed there. I understand the reason for not wanting younger children in the hot tub (though not older ones), but the conversation pool seems ideal for younger children to warm up in without getting too hot, so not allowing them there seems peculiar.

Let me digress because there were some questions raised in the past as to whether children are still permitted at Caliente. There seems to be a trend recently for resorts to "stealthily" change their policy on children, making the change and notifying some people, but not everybody. Perhaps this is to avoid the stigma that banning children has (though this doesn't make much sense for Caliente: they want to be viewed as a swinger's resort) or perhaps to make it easier to change it back later; it's unclear. Caliente (and Paradise Lakes) never allowed children in the recreation area before 9 PM, but did earlier. There was a rumor they banned all children (a homeowner there who I know said he never got notice of it, but thought they did), but this new sign obviously implies children are allowed elsewhere. I see few children there and saw none last month, but did see one Sunday, so it's not clear what's going on: if you want to bring children, I'd suggest calling to ask.

The only physical change at Paradise Lakes was a continued degradation of the old pool area. Nothing previously broken (the pool heater, hot tub, and water fountains) has been fixed and now the soap dispensers at the showers there have been removed. The club is now open on Thursdays (but still closed Wednesdays) and there's karaoke at the Key West Bar at 7 PM on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. They've abandoned the new swim-up bar that was built last year. The major change was that the couple (Jay and Amy) who were hired to manage it about a year ago were fired early last month over allegations of "fiscal impropriety". No replacement has been hired: John will be managing the resort himself for a while. They had a drink special called the "bin Laden martini: two shots and a splash". Neither planned construction, the new building at Caliente or the expansion of the main building at Paradise Lakes, shows any sign of happening.

My friends viewed Paradise Lakes as somewhat "run down". The old pool area is unmaintained, the security gate that keeps cars out of the property was broken on both of my trips (though I'm told was working in between). Except for those, nothing else is "broken", but the place sort of looks like Desert Shadows did before it became Desert Sun. There was also a sense that Paradise Lakes is trying to be something that it isn't. The price and menu at their restaurant are made to look like an elegant restaurant, but it isn't close to that. The quality is more like a diner or an IHOP and we think they'd do a lot better if they had a menu and pricing to match that. Also, their club will never be like Caliente's and they should abandon the idea of VIP booths (putting them back in the restaurant, where they've been missed) and go back to normal seating there. It may even be better to put sand or sawdust on the floor of the club and go to a much more casual environment.

Both times we were there, we saw more people at both places than in the fall. However, when we looked in at the club at Paradise Lakes after getting back from Caliente on Saturday, we saw almost nobody there and it wasn't that late (11:30). Since this is supposed to be their busy day, that's not a good sign. But, in general, I'm no longer as concerned about the medium-term survival of either resort as I was before since they do seem to be getting enough people.

Despite Caliente's big push to trying to bring in swinger's groups, the perception of both of my friends on my last trip was that the environment at the club at Paradise Lakes seemed more sexual than Caliente. However, by the time we left the club at Caliente on our Saturday last month (around midnight, on a day when was sponsoring the event), things were starting to feel more sexual.

As is common in any venue, both resorts have men who treat women inappropriately and many of the water vollyball players at Paradise Lakes are quite sexist. One man was following my friends around on the dance floor at Caliente on Saturday, but one of the homeowners saw it, had Security throw the guy out and made it clear to my friends that such behavior is not permitted. My friends found it a very safe environment, despite being the only two fully nude women on the dance floor.

Last month, there were more nude people at the club at Paradise Lakes than I'd seen before (there were none this month, but the club was pretty empty when we were there). We also saw more at Caliente than usual last month, but not this month. We were there this time on "Skinny Dip Sundae", when they allow people who aren't nude in the pool. We were last there on Sunday in the fall and saw almost no people who weren't nude. This time, we saw many more non-nude people. It was still a small minority, and not enough to bother veteran nudists, but pretty much everywhere you looked, you saw somebody who wasn't nude and I think it was enough that if a reluctant first-timer came, they might not be comfortable being nude. So I don't recommend Sundays for first-timers. The pricing was interesting: four people (one man and three women) on Saturday were a total of $150 for the day but three of us on Sunday were only $30 for the day.

I've been going to Paradise Lakes for 22 years. In my opinion, despite the changes in marketing aimed at attracting swingers, the degree of sexuality present there hasn't changed appreciably over that time. The major change (and one for the worse, in my opinion) has been the elimination of many of the opportunities in the resort and a focus on alcohol sales. Many of my friends used to to enjoy taking canoes and pedal boats out into the lake and you can't do that anymore. And if you choose to sit by that pool, which has the most natural surroundings, it's not heated in the winter, the hot tub is closed, and there are no services (e.g., water or food). Also, the club is closed when there isn't a crowd, which makes sense when you think of a "hot club", but if you're staying there, it's nice to have a club where you can just hang out without a "mob scene". There also used to be some local bands that would perform and don't anymore.

My sense is that Paradise Lakes has tried over the years to compete with Caliente by trying to offer the same things that Caliente had. I think that's been a mistake and has been why they've been having trouble. The abandonment of the old pool area is causing problems in renting units nearby (that's one of the reasons I decided not to buy L10, which I'd previously been considering). I think if they accepted their position on the "elegance" scale and went back to the sorts of traditional activities they had, they might be able to attract more people to stay longer periods of time and get back into being more of a hotel than a bar. The two recreations areas mean they can both attract people who want the drinking/party atmosphere of one and the more natural water activity setting of the other.

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