Christmas Year-Round at This Florida RV Park
Snowbird Mary Ellen Barrett has friends up North who don’t believe she spends Christmas in Christmas.
“People haven’t heard of Christmas,” Mary Ellen said. “But we just explain what it is, where it is. It’s interesting.”
For three years in a row, Mary Ellen, her husband, Chuck, and their dog, a pug named Tallulah, have left their snow-covered home in Rochester, N.H., to spend the winter at the Christmas RV Park in the community of Christmas, Fla., about 25 miles east of downtown Orlando, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Set off East Colonial Drive, the Christmas RV Park is the winter home to hundreds of RV enthusiasts — mostly Northerners — who want a quiet, convenient and most of all, warm place to escape the snow.
“Christmas RV Park…Where It’s Always Tropical,” the sign outside the park reads.
And in a community where a decorated evergreen greets visitors and the spirit of the season is celebrated year-round, the RV park fits right in.
Palm-tree-lined streets are named Cupid Lane, Comet Row and Candy Cane Lane. Campers play bingo at Holly Hall and watch football at Miracle Hall. Santa Claus knick-knacks stand prominently in the RV park’s office window. A maintenance shed is called Santa’s Workshop, and the horseshoe pits are at Sugar Plum Circle.
“The novelty is that we’re in the town of Christmas,” park manager Linda Clark said. “And that’s what makes it special. Just to be able to come to a place that is different from any other place around the United States.”
Celebrating the season
Like most Florida snowbirds, those who stay at the Christmas RV Park begin arriving in early December and stay until March or April. Many are retired and in their late 60s or early 70s. Most return every year.
But Clark said the Christmas theme probably isn’t what keeps campers coming back. It’s the clean bathrooms, kind staff, “down-home” atmosphere and Florida’s weather, she said.
For the past five years, the Mantells — Bill, 78, and Beverley, 75 — have hauled their Airstream trailer 1,400 miles from their home in Renfrew, Ontario, to Christmas. They try to get out of Canada before the first snowfall.
“It’s no fun pulling the rig in the snow,” Beverley said.
Each year, when the Mantells arrive in Christmas, they set up their home-away-from-home and decorate the silver-colored trailer with Christmas lights.
The Barretts, who leave their RV at the park year-round, never take their decorations down.
“In Christmas, it’s always Christmas,” Mary Ellen Barrett said. “Three-hundred and sixty-five days a year.”
But no one at the RV park does Christmas like the Staggs of Shawnee, Kan.
Ed, 69, and Pam, 68, are known throughout the park for their colorful and over-the-top holiday decorations. They hang decorations from their RV’s awnings and cover a palm tree with lights, a tradition they picked up after spending a few years in Florida.
“I can’t get any more in the spirit,” Pam Stagg said.
No snow to slow them down
While their Northern friends may be stuck shoveling snow, the residents of the Christmas RV Park stay active throughout their stay.
“We don’t stop,” Mary Ellen Barrett said.
They play cards, shuffleboard and horseshoes. They take day trips to the Kennedy Space Center, the Fort Christmas Historical Park and Walt Disney World. Hiking, reading and crafting are daily activities.
In December, residents make wreaths and help build the float for the community’s annual Christmas parade. This year’s float is a gingerbread house decorated with lollipops and the words “Merry Christmas from Christmas RV Park” written in candy cane script.
The campers throw a Christmas party and gift exchange a week before the holiday, and many leave the park on Christmas Day to celebrate with nearby family members or to find dinner.
“We try to find a place that’s open because I don’t want to cook,” Beverley Mantell said.
For Sebago, Maine, residents John and Donna LaFleur, who arrived earlier this month, spending the winter in Florida is a time to see old friends.
“We can’t wait to get down here,” John said.
And come springtime, the LaFleurs can’t wait to get back to Maine. Summer in Christmas, they said, seems unbearable.
“It’s too darn hot,” John said.