The world's first "size-friendly" resort

Cramped airplanes and flimsy seats are frustrations that even the most seasoned travelers find hard to endure, but to the plus-sized vacationer, they're nightmares.

Enter Freedom Paradise, the world's first "size-friendly" resort. The 112-room hotel, which opened with much fanfare last summer on Mexico's Riviera Maya, was created expressly for the estimated 64 percent of Americans who are obese (with a body mass index of 30 or more) or overweight. The resort's sturdy, armless furniture, ladderless pools, and ample bathrooms were all designed with larger bodies in mind. Perhaps most significant, its staff has been trained by psychologists to look guests in the eye rather than staring at their physiques.

Despite such a strong market, Freedom Paradise is off to a slow start. This is a difficult economic climate in which to open a new hotel, especially one that caters to a group that has traditionally been reluctant to travel. According to Allen Steadham, director of the Austin, Texas-based International Size Acceptance Association, many plus-sized people are accustomed to traveling for work, but not for leisure. In the past, options designed for the overweight traveler have been slim: weight-loss vacations and fitness camps. Though Freedom Paradise offers fitness classes, the focus is on strength training and self-acceptance, not weight loss. "Freedom Paradise is about relaxing and feeling comfortable," explains co-founder Jurriaan Klink.

Freedom Paradise may herald a new era of plus-sized travel. Already, Klink and his partner Julio César Rincón plan to open other size-friendly resorts. At BBW (Big Beautiful Women) Travel in Maine, founded in June, travel agent Jo-Ellen Hodgkins advises overweight vacationers on how to avoid being charged for two airplane seats and how to find the most accommodating cruise lines. Kelly Bliss, Freedom Paradise's healthy-living coordinator, is hoping to introduce her specialized fitness routines at other resorts. Miriam Berg, president of the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination, is optimistic. She says, "Entrepreneurs are finally catching on to the fact that people come in all shapes and sizes."