Truth in Advertising

Don Cohen Don Cohen  |  02.21.2015

Something’s been bugging me for a while.  It’s a word that is so casually overused in the RV world that it has become laughingly meaningless.  And that word is — resort.  In the last couple of years we’ve criss-crossed America and stayed in dozens of commercial and state campgrounds.  We have actively sought out high quality properties to stay at and, when I count the ones that I would truly call a resort, I can’t even use up all the fingers on both hands.

Just like hotels, there are various levels of price and quality that scale from Motel 6’s to Four Seasons.  We are fortunate that our travel budget allows for a week here and there at a top RV property.  But, even though our credit card is willing, the quality options are very, very limited.

And what do we consider to be “resort quality.”  It starts with the kind of pool, exercise and club facilities that you would expect in a good Marriott or Hyatt.  Sites are wider; landscaping is well manicured; laundry facilities are bright, clean and with plenty of machines; and the staff is fully professional.

There are a few that almost hit that level of quality.  Three that we stayed in last summer come to mind:  Seven Feathers RV Resort in  Canyonville, OR, Cariboo Burnaby RV Park, just outside of Vancouver, BC and Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone, MT.  These are excellent parks that are a bit more expensive than their competitors, but very comfortable to stay at.

Just like a great hotel, or exotic resort, what we’re looking for is a place that immediately rings the “l’d like to stay here for a few weeks bell,” the moment you pull in.  The circle of true resort parks is a tiny one and it gets even smaller if you have a 5th wheel or Class C, as the topmost resorts in the country only allow Class A motorhomes that are at least 30 feet long and 10 years or newer.  I do get the exclusivity restriction part of it.  It’s sort of like men having to wear jackets in the club for dinner.

There is one park operator, Sunland Resorts, that has parks in California, Michigan, and Florida that really operates several of their larger parks as true resorts.  We are quite fond of their Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert, California.  And as we recently came up from the Florida Keys (high resort prices, but typical of not coming close to living up to the true spirit of the “R” word) on our way to a middling park in Orlando, we made it a point to spend a night at Sunland’s Silver Palms RV Resort in Okeechobee, Florida.

Here’s what a true RV RESORT experience looks like.  It starts with the ability to make an on-line reservation.  This is something I would say about 95% of RV parks don’t do.  I make dinner reservations in moments on my phone, and can have an Uber car at the curb in just a couple of taps. I can book a flight, car and hotel on Expedia in less than five minutes.  But make a reservation at an RV park?  That’s pretty much a 5-10 minute call with the whole recitation of address, phone number, and credit card vitals.  It’s so. . .1970’s.

Silver Palms has a very good web site that not only allows you to book and pay for a site, but it displays a photo of the exact site you’re booking.  This also makes check-in a breeze.

To Silver Palms’ credit, as with most of Sunland’s properties, they accept Class-C and 5th Wheel RV’s, but that sense of resort exclusivity really kicks in as you enter through a large electronic keypad controlled gate.

SP GatesBefore you pull or back into your site, the modern power pylon will have been pre-checked that is operating correctly and the water faucet hookup run for a few moments to clear any sediment.  It’s almost like RV turndown service.

SP EllipseThe site is large and level with a clean and generously sized picnic pad.  And there’s plenty of room so that your slideout(s) aren’t just a few feet away from your neighbors.

At this point I’ll let some pictures do the talking.  You can easily see the difference in the quality of the sites and amenities.

SP Tennis

SP Pools

SP Clubhouse

SP Journey FountainAs I said earlier, we’re fortunate that our travel budget can be occasionally increased if we’re in a pampering mood, but that’s not to say that there are plenty of times where we’ve happily been guests at Walmart parking lots and truck stops.  And there are many times when we’ve needed a full hook-up that a nondescript park is perfect.  However, when you want to treat yourself for a few days or a few weeks of luxury, we’ve found that true resorts, like Sunland’s Silver Palms RV Resort are often priced no more than $30 a night above the significantly inferior parks in the area.

To their credit the KOA system has rolled out a branding system that identifies their parks as Journey, Holiday and Resort.  In the marketing business there’s a term called “brand promise.”  And with brand promise, aligning customer’s expectations to their actual experience is a key determiner of satisfaction.  KOA has wisely done this with their three categories which immediately form an expectation level in a customer’s mind.  And to those thousands of RV parks who use the word resort, saying it, doesn’t make it true.  Think about it.  Your guests certainly are.


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2 Comments

  1. David Nirenberg Posted on 03.23.2015

    Don,
    I read your article with interest since I recently purchased a Class C View RV and have only taken one or two mid size trips visiting my daughter . Never having experienced the procedures along with how to judge the park I had called , it was a real eye opener ! First,my route took me through the East coast of Florida from Ft Lauderdale to Southern Ga. I called several RV parks along the way using a current RV phone book ? I needed to locate a park that accepted small dogs ( two) and a class C RV.
    My first surprise was the manner in which I was to check in ? I would be arriving around 8:00 PM and was given my lot # and then was told to stop by in the morning to settle my fee before departing .
    Never having been to a RV park ( but having been a boat owner and having docked at many marinas I was somewhat familiar with the procedures to hooking up etc.) the problem was locating my space , then trying to understand the etiquette for positioning my RV .
    The ” Resort ” was not what I thought it would be like considering the description listed in my RV phone book , yes I found a ” Gate” which I drove through onto gravel roads that had more turns and twists then several politicians I have met over the years , but the biggest problem was the lack of lighting to help me find my site.
    After parking and locating my flashlight to assist me in plugging into the correct electrical outlet , finding the water and sewer hook ups I discovered how important it is to make sure that the ground under you was firm ! Mine was more similar to being in the swampy part of the Everglades as my new RV seemed to have found a mini sink hole on the front far side . Now I had to reposition my RV after locating better holding earth ?
    Needless to say after straying out trying to find the part of my resort that contained the clean restrooms , the laundry I gave up after one look and headed back to my home , shut and bolted the doors and slept .
    The following morning I was able to find my way to the cash register while searching for the free coffee advertised as I checked out with the cashier who must have had a worse night then mine !
    I found this to be the norm throughout my first traveling experience and it reminded me of the condition years ago in the boating industry until it sunk into the business owners heads that if the industry were to survive everyone needed to up their game or find a new way to make a living!

  2. Michael Wagner Posted on 02.25.2015

    Agree we stayed there in early February for a week. found it by default called several other resorts and they were full. was a little skeptical when they had plenty of availability but exceeded our expectations.