On Campgrounds: Snowbirds Arriving in Sunbelt Parks
Desert Vista RV Resort in Mesa, Ariz., can look forward to a very busy winter.
"We're 100% booked starting in November," said manager Andrea Saia of the age 55-plus park with 62 pads, who reported that occupancy won't begin to decline until around Easter.
In a mixed-use residential/commercial area of Mesa, the park gets a large number of Canadian customers drawn to Mesa primarily for the weather.
Saia noted a trend "to some degree" that due to higher fuel costs, more RVers are leaving their units on-site rather than taking them back on the road and returning when it's convenient.
"About a third of our people are here year-round," she said. "They may not be here the whole time, but their RV occupies the space year-round."
RVers at Grants/Cibola Sands KOA in Grants, N.M., don't have to cook if they don't want to. Dinner can be delivered to their door.
"I stole the idea from another KOA," admitted a laughing Suzanne Waite, who owns the 47-site park built in the late-1970s with her husband, Keith. "They come in, order their dinner, I cook it and take it to their site."
And the menu isn't your fast-food fare, featuring items such as roasted turkey, pork chops, chicken and smoked meats and freshly baked pie. "Hamburgers and hotdogs don't go," she said. " We tried that the first year. Nobody wanted those. They wanted real food."
The park on I-40 has been affiliated with KOA since the Waites bought it eight years ago and despite the novelty of having a full-service kitchen, Grants/Cibola Sands hasn't had the best season in what Suzanne Waite says is the "left-hand side of nowhere."
"We are an overnight, long-haul park," she said. "There are fewer people on the road. Other parks up and down I-40 tell me it's been the same. The RVers just are not out there."
In early October, however, RVers attending the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque about an hour away filled Grants/Cibola Sands KOA.
In Naples, Fla., a third generation of family – Janet Nebus and her sister, Ivey Jean Nebus – are planning the themed parties that will be the hallmark of the 2012 snowbird season at Rock Creek RV Resort.
"We are trimming all the trees and getting all the sites cleaned up, and we are repainting and fixing things up," said Janet Nebus.
The 237-site park is known for its parties such as the Roaring ’20s party with a dinner mystery planned for January. "The place will be decorated to the hilt and when you step into the park, you are in 1920," said Janet Nebus.
A Halloween Weenie roast was held in October and a Valentines Day affair with a Las Vegas theme and a Mardi Gras celebration with the crowning of a king and queen are also being planned.
A few snowbirds started to arrive in October, Nebus said, but business was slow last year. "You can tell there's been a recession," she said. We weren't full last year. This year? I don't know. Our regular people are coming, but we're waiting to see how things shape up."
Uncertainty about its future because of a planned highway widening is hampering Camp Journey's End RV Park in Ocean Springs, Miss., which last year also lost business because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Highway 57 is slated to be made into a four-lane highway and the state plans to take half the park," said Manager Sherry Kennedy. "But now they tell us they don't plan to take possession until December 2012, and because of the state's budget problems, they might not take it at all. If they do, we don't know yet whether operating only half the park will work."
As a result, the park no longer advertises in the nation's two largest campground directories – Woodall's and Trailer Life. "It's kind of sad," she said. "This is a wonderful park and I've got all of this in the back of my mind."
Nonetheless, a week before "Cruisin' the Coast," in mid-October – billed by organizers as "America's Largest Block Party" – the Camp Journey's End had only three vacant sites. "That is wonderful for us," Kennedy said.
The park also attracts visitors to "The Shed," a nationally known "barbecue & blues joint" adjacent to the park. "We get visitors who just come to Ocean Springs for the restaurant. They stay overnight," she said.
Snowbirds started arriving in October at Forest Lake RV Resort in Zephryhills, Fla., a 274-site park about 45 miles west of Orlando.
"We are sprucing things up for a busy season," said manager Diane Bludworth, who reported that reservations for the winter season are well ahead of last year.
"Last February, we were 92% full," she said. "We already are at 92%. We've only got 15 more sites to fill up."
The heavily treed park features a country setting with large two-way paved interior roads, a manmade fishing lake and is about an hour from Disney World.