Since snowbirding season is still in full swing, we bring you another snowbirding post. This time, Marty and Patsy Martin from Napkin Dreams tell us about snowbirding from a family perspective and give advice to other RVing parents trying to navigate their way through snowbirding season. We have several great blog posts coming up, including a post about the junior ranger program mentioned in this post.
When the average 40 year old thinks of RVing in Arizona in the winter, he probably conjures up thoughts of retirement and the golden years. You know, traveling around to the south with a little bitty dog and plenty of free time. That would be the normal picture.
Our family has never chosen the normal route.
We didn’t want to wait for our retirement years to travel this great country. We wanted to make memories with our kids. We wanted to enhance their education by living history and experiencing science. We wanted to enjoy traveling today because there are no guarantees for tomorrow. So with the ability to work from anywhere, we loaded up our newly christened RV Howard, laid out a rough travel plan and headed out on a two year adventure with our five boys and python snake.
That’s right, five boys, dad, mom and a snake in a 32-foot recreational vehicle! Some may call us loony, but we actually like each other and like being together, so it’s working out pretty good four months into the venture. Naturally part of the plan was spending the winter months in the warm states and the summer months up north. This fall went fairly smooth as we visited Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas. The campgrounds and parks were quiet during the weekdays and full of activity during the weekends.
Then we moved a little farther south and hit snowbird time and territory. We have spent the last two months in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. All in all we have had a very positive experience mingling with the retired set. There have been some pitfalls but numerous good points of RVing during the height of Snowbird season. And I think it is safe to say that, for the most part, we have enjoyed it. But we have had to make a few adjustments.
First the challenges: The biggest challenge is finding an RV park that accepts children.
Actually many parks say 55+, so even my wife and I don’t fit the criteria. And often, it is hard to identify the parks that only accept seniors. There is nothing more embarrassing than driving into a park, registering, and then be told we can’t stay once they find out we have children. Some areas are far more difficult to find RV parks that accept families than others. By far the most difficult locality to find a place to stay that we have encountered is the Phoenix and Tucson areas. We found southeast Texas parks to be very inclusive of families. In fact, we didn’t find any RV parks that had a problem with children. It was a little surprising to us to find ourselves having such a hard time in New Mexico and even worse in Arizona.
Now I understand why some parks and also their patrons want this type of exclusivity. There has been a time or two when we have been parked next to a pile of obnoxious kids who were loud, bullies, destructive or in short just plain and simple problem children. Most families do a good job of keeping their kids in hand, but the frightful few hurt the rest of us. Of course even the best behaved kids can have bad days and melt downs, so I could never guarantee that my own five wouldn’t be disruptive in these quiet little RV parks. So far though, we have had no complaints!
In light of this issue we have boondocked in a few places, but this leads to another issue. Several places along the road we have found Wal-Marts that posted signs reading “No overnight parking.” I wonder if this is because of pressure from local RV parks? So what is a family to do? Unwelcome in the RV park and at Wal-Mart? Research has been our answer. For this internet access is a must. We have been able to find family-friendly RV parks in most major towns after a lot of research on websites.
Our second challenge – cost.
Many parks that can easily fill up during snowbird season, do not accept the half-priced club we belong to, so we have paid quite a bit more in staying at these parks then we were accustomed too. I suppose if we had decided to winter up in the north we wouldn’t have this problem, but aren’t willing to make quite that much of a concession for a saving a few bucks.
Our third small challenge (which hasn’t been a big deal for us) is dining out.
When staying in Branson, at the beginning of our adventure, we spoke with a nice retired gentleman who gave us some helpful hints. One of his hints involved the “Blue Hairs” as he called his flock. “When you are in Mesa and other such points this winter, wait to go out to dinner until about 6:30. Us "Blue Hairs" like to eat at 4:00 pm and you’ll never get a seat for a big family until later.” Since we don’t frequent restaurants all that often this hasn’t proved to be a huge issue for us. But it is definitely something to think about when you are planning to eat out.
Now, the benefits of RVing during the winter season are almost as numerous as the challenges.
Benefit - Our kids seem to find foster grandparents everywhere
We have thoroughly enjoyed hobnobbing with the snowbirds. The biggest benefit is that our kids seem to find foster grandparents everywhere. While we were in Corpus Christi over Christmas, our kids were fussed over and even given special gifts.
On Christmas Eve we all went to a Christmas Karaoke being held at the RV Park’s Community Hall. All of our kids were asked to come up front and sing along with the microphones. Then they were given roaring applause and hugs from the retirees in attendance. Even our teenager enjoyed the attention and gave some bows, hamming it up as usual.
One of the retired couples told our boys that if they were really good on Christmas Eve, Santa could make it snow sand dollars. It was with wonder-filled eyes that our sons opened the blinds on Christmas morning and found sand dollars hanging all over our tented dining area outside the RV. Those sand dollars are now a cherished Christmas ornament and will probably be a memory that we will re-tell every year throughout our son’s lives.
Our children are always greeting and meeting the four-legged “children” of the snowbirds, which is usually fun for both ends of the generational spectrum! Even on tours and sites, the retirees have been very friendly and effusive in their attention to our kids, making them feel welcome and special.
Benefit - Offseason travel leads to relative lack of crowds
One of the other benefits of visiting sites like the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi or Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico during offseason is the relative lack of crowds. It’s been wonderful to roam around sites like these and be able to learn about them without crowds pushing and jostling each other to get a better view. There are even fewer crowds at activities like the junior ranger programs and swimming at the beach! Most of the park rangers at national parks have given our kids an amazing amount of personal attention, answering all their questions and sharing their knowledge with our kids. In fact, we have tried to make sure that we take our sons to most of these places when other families have their children in school.
Benefit - Escaping cold weather reports
Of course, the biggest benefit of RVing in the south during Snowbird season is that we can sit back and smile as we listen to all the reports of cold weather, snowstorms and icy roads. It’s quite possible that our senior southern travelers have understood this all along. Once again, we find ourselves learning from our elders.
The last time my husband and I spent a winter in Florida, we toggled between workamping and sightseeing. After we managed a pumpkin lot in South Florida for a couple of weeks, we spent some downtime lounging around an RV resort near Orlando. Then we headed back south for a month to manage a Christmas tree sales lot and wrapped up our Florida trip with an extended stay on the Gulf Coast. It was a great way to spend the winter because there was so much to see and do. With an abundance of sunshine, palm trees, activities and beautiful beaches, it’s pretty obvious why this state is a favorite among the Snowbird crowd. Whether you choose the Gulf Coast, the East Coast, or anywhere in between, there is no shortage of ideal locations to park your rig.
So, just where do you go once you hit the Sunshine State? It all depends on your RVing style. Looking for a ritzy crowd? You might like an upscale RV resort on the west coast in Naples. Love more of a laid back style? Check out the RV parks situated on the Gulf Coast in Florida’s panhandle. Nature lovers will enjoy one of the 50 glorious Florida State parks that have a campground. One such gem is Sebastian Inlet State Park located on Florida’s east coast about 15 miles south of Melbourne Beach. If wasting away in Margaritaville sounds more your speed, then make a beeline for the Florida Keys. And if entertainment options galore are what you seek, then check out the area surrounding Walt Disney World Resort. One of my favorite Florida RV resorts is located nearby. Encore’s Lake Magic RV Resort in Clermont has super spacious sites, two pools, tennis courts, and a clubhouse; just to name a few of the amenities. It’s proximity to my favorite amusement park seals the deal.
In fact, most of my favorite RV parks can be found within the Encore RV resort family and they are located all over the state of Florida. Their parks are full of amenities and many planned activities as well. Just visit their website, www.rvonthego.com, to find great daily and weekly specials at many of their resorts.
Guest Blogger Erin Lehn Floresca is the RV editor at BellaOnline.com. Visit rv.bellaonline.com for more information.
Miami - Miami Everglades Campground
"This park is great for quite, shade trees, walking, riding bikes, nice people, paved roads, pool and close to everything you need."
"Nice and quiet, friendly, well structured, shady places under trees.. One of the best places I have seen yet." Read more.
Naples - Lake San Marino RV Resort
"We found this park an absolute delight with many very friendly RV'ers. Tons of activities within the park, and a great location to get to shopping, restaurants, beach, etc." Read more.
Key Largo - Kings Kamp
"Beach access and beautiful mornings and evenings on the docks. Very helpful staff. I will stay again." Read more.
Bahia Honda Key - Bahia Honda State Park
"The most uplifting and amazing thing about the entire experience? The kids never complained once and still talk about their awesome camping trip." Read more.
Saint Augustine - Anastasia State Park
"This was a beautiful park: clean and very well maintained... Every site seemed to offer enough privacy and space, and there was a friendly, neighborly vibe. Within 10 minutes from the historic part of town, this park is ideally situated. From what I learned of other options in the area, this is definately the best place to stay."
"There are 2 sections to the park; we stayed in the Coquina loop, which is very shady and has secluded campsites. It is just a short walk to the ocean. There are sites very close to the ocean. The other loop is very open with only palm trees for 'shade'... We loved it here." Read more.
Orlando - Moss Park
"A charming natural oasis; hard to believe you are so close to Orlando's theme park mecca." Read more.
Clermont - Encore Lake Magic RV Resort
"The landscaping in the park is gorgeous, there are many amenities like tennis, swimming pools, clubhouse, etc. Each of the sites is wide and has enough lawn surrounding the sites to give lots of privacy." Read more.
Winter Garden - Winter Garden RV Resort
"The resort is one mile from one of the best bike trails in Florida and some of the best restaurants in the area. Two pools, a small fitness center, and a cypress-lined pond full of water fowl are resort highlights... Safe, friendly, and comfortable." Read more.
Sorrento - Wekiva Falls Resort
"Clean, friendly and the kids loved it!" Read more.
Ocala - Ocala RV Camp Resort
"This RV Park was nice ... Everyone was pleasant ... even the homeless dude that knocked on the door asking for money and stayed for dinner was nice." Read more.
Ocala Sun RV Resort
"Everyone was very friendly and accommodating... The laundry and showers are all newly renovated as is the recreation hall. There is always lots to do from bingo, cards, holiday meals, Saturday night entertainment and pool aerobics." Read more.
Tampa - Bay Bayou RV Resort
"This park was amazingly nice with security, ponds and a large enclosed dog run." Read more.
Arcadia - Riverside RV Resort
"Riverside RV Resort is one of the finest campgrounds for Snowbirds in Florida. The management, winter guests, employees, and activities are outstanding." Read more.
"It is new and all facilities are current and well maintained. Having Marina sites is interesting and the shoreside sites give a great view of the intercoastal waterway. We found this to be a very nice resort. We would go back." Read more.
Fort Myers Beach - Red Coconut RV Resort on the Beach
"Very nice beach front site with very clean washrooms and showers."
"Friendly staff and everything is in good shape. Not the cheapest campground but worth the money, only downside is that Wifi is not free of charge." Read more.
Destin - Destin RV Online
"Great tropical setting with extra large rear patios." Read more.
snowbird (noun): one who travels to warm climates for the winter
Everyone pays attention to the weather. Some go to the trouble to complain when it's bad. Like birds, some folks even migrate, spending summer wherever they call 'home' and moving south to better weather in winter.
Not many are willing to travel constantly in search of only the finest weather.
I can't help myself. I hate the heat. Um, and the cold.
Being born in Wisconsin, it's not that I can't deal with cold. Twice during my first 10 years we dealt with a temperature of -42F. For those of you keeping score, that's only -41C, since the two scales merge at -40. On any scale, it's cold.
Heat? I've coped with heat. Seven years of the dry heat of Sacramento, reaching 115 some summers, and 110 nearly all of them. But then, that's a dry heat, as everyone seems to love to say. I also endured seven years of Texas heat; days of 110 degrees and, literally, 100% humidity. The air is holding as much moisture as it possibly can; if there were any more moisture it would have to take a rain check. If you don't have air conditioning, you lay around gasping like you're a fish. Which, considering the air's water content, might not be a bad idea.
Humans spend an enormous amount of time and money creating living spaces to protect us from extreme weather. During our seven years in Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento, we dealt with months where we were sealed up in the house to prevent the furniture from melting. I've watched folks in colder places huddle by the fire, praying for summer.
Those months in the airtight chambers of our house drove Best Beloved and I mad. We love air; space; light; room to move. More specifically, we love fresh air at a temperature fit for breathing. We love light that gently warms, not fiercely scorches.
We like a roof over our head, but otherwise, we'd sorta like living outdoors. We're determined to be where the weather invites rather than punishes.
Some of you will now point out that we used to live in San Diego, and we left. Doesn't southern California have perfect weather all the time?
Well, no; it doesn't. San Diegans all know about 'June gloom'; the marine layer of clouds that hangs like a pall over the coastal plain for the early summer. You can go days without seeing the sun. It doesn't rain; that would damage San Diego's status as a desert. (Note: the largest desert in the world is not the Sahara, as many believe, but the Great Southwestern Desert of the United States; start from the southwest corner and expand, oh, a lot; it's all desert, with less than 10" of rainfall a year, and in some years, no measurable rainfall at all.)
If you average San Diego's temperatures year 'round, it's not bad. But we don't live by averages, we live day by day. Knowing that the humid 87-degree day in August is balanced by the cold wet 53-degree spring day doesn't improve either of them.
No, I want great weather, outdoor weather, writing-in-a-lawn-chair weather all the time.
So, we're nomads.
Best Beloved and I packed up our Little One and our laptops and took to the road, working as unpaid house sitters, staying with friends, working anywhere there's an internet connection. We're not RVers; we're just nomads. We don't take our home with us; we find a new one as often as necessary.
House sitting means we go where someone is taking a vacation. When we first discussed it, folks suggested we'd be getting the worst weather all the time, since vacations tend to be time away from the bad weather. (Some new friends who live in Wisconsin take a week in Hawaii or California every winter just to break the frigid monotony.)
Yes, you might expect that we'd be settling for the worst weather wherever we house sit, while our hosts are off basking in perfection.
That's not how I roll. When I make a plan, I shoot for the moon. I'll settle for landing in the stars, but I don't aim for almost what I want.
I mentioned the heat in Sacramento; August is excruciating. Vancouver, BC, Canada, on the other hand, tends toward 73 degrees, which is not bad at all (and 40 degrees lower than Sacramento.)
Guess where we spent August this year? Three weeks in a gorgeous restored Victorian in a suburb of Vancouver, away from the heat of Sacramento.
We're hoping to spend two months of summer in Albuquerque, up in the foothills. A little warmer than perfect, but certainly not Texas or Sacramento. We'll be spending January and February in Phoenix, Arizona. We are not likely to either overheat or freeze.
We spent a month in Quebec, just east of Montreal, this fall. Glorious fall colors, brisk but beautiful weather. It snowed one night. We threw snow balls. It had the decency to melt away like a happy dream before we had to drive that afternoon, which we did on dry clear roads.
It takes adjusting, and we don't always hit it right. Our latest visit with my Mom was nearly a weather faux pas. The last three days it snowed, and the temperature dropped to preposterous single-digit numbers. Though Sioux Falls, South Dakota was next on our itinerary, we bagged it and headed south to Kansas City. Though the wind blew like a freight train all the way across Kansas to Denver, the sun was warm and pleasant. In the past couple weeks, we've rarely had weather requiring either shorts or heavy jackets. I aim to keep it that way.
I'm writing this in San Diego. The day we arrived, it was 87 degrees. Then it was 73 degrees. Today, it's supposed to be 62 degrees. Tomorrow, it's supposed to rain.
I can't wait to get out of this perfect (on average) weather for someplace, well, less average.
Joel D Canfield is a business author who, with his Best Beloved Sue, trains virtual workers to turn their existing skills into truly portable businesses. When they're done seeing the rest of the world they plan to settle in the west of Ireland, where, like Solla Sollew, the weather is Goldilocks-approved year 'round.
RVParking.com Picks for Locations Mentioned in this Post
Sacramento West/Old Town KOA, West Sacramento CA
"Nice enough park just outside the city limits." Read more.
Enchanted Trails RV Park & Trading Post, Albuquerque, NM
"Not a bad place to stay if you don't mind being near the freeway and 8miles from downtown. Management is friendly, sites are level and the facilities are clean (although the hot tub was broken when we visited)." Read more.
Phoenix-Metro RV Park, Phoenix, AZ
"Small park...great customer service...very friendly...nice outdoor pool and hot tub...nice and clean restrooms/showers and laundry facilities." Read more.
Pioneer RV Park, Phoenix, AZ
"With over 500 sites, most are seasonal and/or monthly but they have many that are dedicated to the daily and weekly rentals that are level, long pull through sites for the every size rig. A very accommodating and friendly staff. Nice size laundry facilities and restrooms/showers that are kept very clean. The activity center has something going on all the time and so many things to do, you could never get bored around here." Read more.
Once a year the Southwest Desert undergoes a magical transformation. The hot, forbidding oven of summer fades away and morphs like a butterfly into a balmy, inviting and almost weather-perfect destination. Endless days of sun, dry air, moderate temperatures and lots of open space make it an irresistible draw for snowbirds and RVers looking to escape the frozen North. With over 55 million acres of gorgeous desert stretching from California to Arizona there’s something for everyone here, from resort-style camping to laid-back parks and alternative “boondocking” (camping on public land without hook-ups).
In Arizona, Mesa, Quartzsite and Yuma are the big favorites. Yuma is tucked in the far Southwest corner of the State and offers some of Arizona’s warmest weather, averaging in the mid 70’s in winter. It has over 60 RV resorts, several popular boondocking locations (including the gorgeous Imperial Dam which spills into CA) combined with a plethora of outdoor, cultural and community activities. Further North, Quartzsite is an iconic boondocking location which transforms from a dusty desert town of only a few thousand in summer to a teeming mass of hundreds of thousands RVers in winter complete with swap meets, gem shows and crafts. For $180 and a self-sufficient attitude you can stay up to 7-months in the LTVA (Long-term Visitor Area), quite the deal. A step further East the Mesa and Apache Junction areas welcome over 300,000 winter visitors and cater to RVers looking for both good winter weather and city amenities. In-between there are plenty of other beautiful spots from the red rocks of Sedona in the North to the low desert of Fort Mohave in the East.
Moving over to California opens up hundreds of additional RV locations. For resort-style camping snowbirds flock to the popular desert towns of the Coachella Valley including Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Indio, Thousand Palms, Rancho Mirage, and La Quinta. Beautifully located in desert valley, surrounded by mountains and bounded by the gorgeous Joshua Tree on one side and ritzy Palm Springs on the other this is a place where you can play a game of golf on a world-class course in the morning, soak in a mineral hot-tub in the afternoon and go out for a night on the town all in the same day. Further West and with a more rural feel, Hemet in the San Jacinto Valley is another popular snowbird location with multiple RV resorts. And finally, for the hard-core boondockers “The Slabs” in Niland (Mojave Desert) is an ex-military base turned free RV parking destination and location of the famous Salvation Mountain.
Overall the southwestern desert is a place of many faces, and snowbirds flock to all of them. Prices in winter can vary anywhere from $700/month in a ritzy RV resort to absolutely free in The Slabs with every possibility in-between and the season stretches from late October until the desert flowers bloom in April. If you like dry, warm weather almost nowhere else compares and with all that space, you can really spread your snowbird wings and fly.
Desert Hot Springs
Sam’s Family Spa: This is a quirky little park just a little out of town with the bonus of 4 on-site hot mineral baths. It’s not fancy, but is a great location to explore the area and come homefor a warm soak. Good monthly rates. http://www.samsfamilyspa.com/
What Other Reviewers Say
"It's definately a desert environment (not like Palm Springs, with an absurd display of grass), but Sam's does a really great job with their mineral spring baths and swimming pool area. The central area is beautifully landscaped with palm trees, grassy picnic areas, and a pond stocked with fish and lots of birds." Read more
The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Club – For those looking for a bit of luxury in the desert this is the place to be. Full amenities, pool, mineral spas and even wine tasting in the cute little desert town of Borrego Springs.. http://www.springsatborrego.com/
Boondocking in BLM land – If you’re looking for the “classic” Quartzite experience join the hundreds of thousands of boondockers that flock to BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land each year. In LVTA (Long-Term Visitor Area) spots such as La Posa and Tyson Wash you can camp for extended periods for a very small fee. On non-LVTA BLM land youcan camp for 14-days at a time for free.
Cocopah RV and Golf Resort – For those looking for a first class parkthis is the place to be. Located right next to a golf course with gorgeous views of the mountains and even a 2.5 acre dog-run on site. http://www.cocopahrv.com/
Boondocking in BLM land – For those seeking a more natural and“out there” experience there are several popular BLM sites in Yuma.Imperial Dam and Pilot Knob are both LVTA areas where youcan camp for extended periods for a very small fee.
Other RVParking.com Picks
Towerpoint RV Resort - "Activities were abundant and the pools were absolutely great... If we were to ever settle down, which we do not ever plan to, but if we ever did, this would be one of our top choices to settle in." Read more.
Cotton Lane RV Resort - "This may end up being our new park to stay while in the Phoenix area…it is owned by the same owners as the Pioneer RV Park that we usually stay at but this one is located much closer to PIR." Read More.
Ridgeview RV Resort - "The people were very friendly, both the workers and the guests and it looked as if their rules were enforced, we never seen a dog without a leash and owners were picking up after them."
"The staff is extremely accomodating and very helpful." Read more.
Lake Havasu City
Pioneer RV Park - "With over 500 sites, most are seasonal and/or monthly but they have many that are dedicated to the daily and weekly rentals that are level, long pull through sites for the every size rig. A very accommodating and friendly staff. Nice size laundry facilities and restrooms/showers that are kept very clean. The activity center has something going on all the time and so many things to do, you could never get bored around here." Read more.
Agave Gulch FamCamp - "Very clean park, new updated bathrooms, a little street noise in the early morning by the spots backing up to the gate that opens at 5:30am, but not too bad... Activities planned, great gym & indoor lap pool. Sites were level - on rocks, easy hookups, plenty of room not to make you feel too cramped. No cable tv, wifi is good." Read more.
Colorado River Oasis RV Resort - "Doing our laundry was the best we have done…a lounge area where we were able to watch the Busch Race and I was able to work on a puzzle…time just flew by doing our wash." Read more.
Spirit Mountain RV Park "Huge sites…nice and clean restrooms/showers with nice layout with shower door locks…Laundromat was located right on premises…car wash next door with stalls big enough for RV’s" Read more.
Desert Hot Springs
South Lake Tahoe
Campground by the Lake - "The spots are pretty large, but there is little distinction between the sites. The bathrooms were well maintained. The onsite hosts were super friendly and helpful." Read more.
Nina Fussing is a blogger, writer of tales, animal lover, outdoor enthusiast and photographer. Together with her hubby they both left stressful jobs in the semiconductor industry for the dream of becoming full-time RVers and leading an alternative life. Join them in their travels with RV tips and tales at http://wheelingit.wordpress.com/.