Living at the legendary Playboy Mansion in California, becoming big-time models and being the girlfriends of Hugh Hefner has been a blast, even more so than Karissa and Kristina Shannon could have imagined.
Yet the 19-year-old twins admit they sometimes get a little homesick.
In particular, the onetime Clearwater residents miss Clearwater Beach, Ybor City's nightlife, their favorite radio station (WLLD-FM 98.7), their friends, and of course, their family.
"We try as much as we can to visit," Kristina Shannon said in a phone interview this week.
Every time they do, they're a little more famous.
A year ago, the striking sisters were WingHouse servers. Today, they're Playboy magazine's Playmates of the Month for the July/August 2009 double issue, currently on newsstands.
They'll be featured during the upcoming season of the E! hit The Girls Next Door, a reality show that will chronicle their lives with the man known worldwide simply as "Hef."
"I love Playboy," Karissa Shannon said. "I think Playboy's classy. Being in the same issue with Kristina is cool. It's a great experience for us."
Born in Ann Arbor, Mich., Karissa and Kristina moved to a home on Clearwater Beach when they were 1. As teens, they attended Largo High for a while but also were homeschooled.
The sisters worked at WingHouses in Largo and St. Petersburg, and enjoyed outdoor activities such as riding water scooters and parasailing.
The twins' odyssey into their new world started in August when they visited California for a photo shoot after being chosen as finalists for Playboy's 55th Playmate Search. During the trip, they caught Hefner's attention and began dating the 83-year-old shortly thereafter.
They moved into his mansion in October.
"He's fun," Kristina Shannon said. "He's nice, really laid-back. He's all about having fun. Everyone gets along with him. He's very, very smart."
Shortly after making the move, the sisters found themselves in the news again when TMZ.com reported that they had been charged with battery earlier in the year after a skirmish at a Clearwater party. Both pleaded no contest and received probation.
The sisters, who are difficult to tell apart (the only noticeable difference is a beauty mark on Karissa's neck), often dress alike. They wore matching tennis skirts and sailor caps for their 10-page pictorial, shot at the mansion.
"We loved to do our pictorial together because it's twice as hot," Kristina Shannon said, laughing.
The twins say their family and friends have been supportive. Their 13-year-old sister, Rebecca, looks up to them, their grandmother, Annette, was thrilled, and their father, Patrick, is a longtime Playboy fan.
The sisters are not the first Playmates with Tampa Bay roots (the exact number with local ties isn't known). In 2007, Spencer Scott, who was born in St. Petersburg, was a Playmate. Clearwater-born Raquel Gibson was a Playmate two years earlier.
The twins say they're enjoying life in Southern California, but they plan to visit home in August. And who knows, they just might convince their boyfriend to come along for the ride.
"We're trying," Kristina Shannon said.
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4156.