The motorhome lifestyle comes in a lot of different flavors.
Most of our experience has been on-the-go, traveling, sightseeing and most often, boondocking or dry camping far off the beaten path and away from civilization.
But there is another way to enjoy your motorhome by experiencing motorhome resort communities meant for longer stays and offering luxury, peaceful surroundings and so many social activities that we had trouble taking it all in.
Jennifer and I have had the opportunity to check them out in the form of two very different Florida RV resorts.
Both are part of the Sunland RV Resorts group, which operate high end RV resorts in Florida, California and northern Michigan.
Our first spot was the Naples Motorcoach Resort in Naples, FL. Naples is the crown jewel of Southwest Florida, a Gulf of Mexico coastal town known for upscale dining and shopping, designer golf courses, awesome boating and fishing and the best weather in a state that is built around tourism and sunny skies.
It seems like it is always 10 to 20 degrees warmer in Naples than most other places in the Sunshine State and in late February, when we visited a couple of years ago, the 83 degree temperatures we enjoyed in Naples provided a most welcome thaw.
We did a lot of exploring while there, visiting the Everglades, nearby Marco Island and the Isles of Capri for fishing and a couple of fun restaurants along fashionable Fifth Avenue South.
But it was the motorcoach resort itself that most surprised us. This sure was no campground, at least of the type we had experienced before.
It is a five star gated community with beautiful, spacious lots, lush landscaping, a large manmade lake with a lighted fountain, three swimming pools, a full fitness center, a deluxe clubhouse with free breakfasts each morning and numerous activities for guests and owners every day.
We were surrounded by snowbirds. Most of our neighbors were either seasonal renters or had purchased a lot for their motorcoach. Back when we visited in 2014, the basic lot sells for $99,000. Lakefront and the best locations are over $150,000. There were also rental spots available. They started at about $85 a night. Many spots cost as much or more than a four star hotel room does in many places.
The resort only allows Type A motorhomes, though we were given a special media exemption to stay a few days in our Type B Roadtrek.
Everyone was amazingly nice and polite to us, though there were several double takes when people saw that a Class B had been allowed in. But no one complained to us. And as we got to know the other RVers – the clubhouse has numerous meet and greet events, parties, receptions, games and social gatherings – we realized that these people are having a ball.
We used to think that Class A folks just sat, while Class B owners did stuff. The people we met were not sitters.
The majority were there for the winter season, arriving back in November or December, departing for their northern homes at the end of March or early April. But because they towed vehicles – Jeeps and small trucks seemed to be the most popular – they were able to range far and wide from the resort.
They were hikers, bikers, golfers, fishers and – thanks to a creek that leads to the extensive canal system around the area – boaters.
From Naples, we drove northeast about 100 miles or so to the northern shore of Lake Okeechobee and another Sunland property – the Silver Palms RV Resort.
I didn’t know what to expect when I pulled into Okeechobee, FL but I can definitely say that I didn’t expect it to remind me of West Texas, right down to the city calling itself ”Cow Town.” But this is a western style town in the middle of the sunshine state, it’s dry and windy and surrounded by wide open spaces and lots and lots of cows.
Rodeos are a big deal here and the name of the best local restaurant tells you what the local culture revolves around. It’s simply called “The Cowboy.”
In July, they have a big cattle drive – right down main streets of town. There are rodeos all year around.
There are a couple of older RV parks in the Okeechobee area, and a KOA Resort park right across the street, but the Silver Palms caters to owners who buy a lot as well as renters. Overnight rentals start with a 40 by 70 foot spot on the grass with a concrete pad for $35 a night. Silver Palms is a master planned, gated community. Lot ownership started in 2014 at $55,000 and ran
to $80,000, depending on size and location. An aggressive expansion was underway to give the place well over 300 lots and a major footprint on the local economy, which has been clearly struggling, as evidenced by lots of shuttered businesses. There’s also a paucity of the traditional Florida tourist places like fancy restaurants and bistros and upscale shopping.
Okeechobee, with a population of just under 6,000, is located smack in the middle of south Florida, about equal distance from both coasts and hard up against the shoreline of Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida and the seventh largest in the United States. But locals stress another claim to fame about “The Lake,” as everyone around her refers to it. It is the largest freshwater lake completely within the borders of a single one of the lower 48 states.
This is country out here and if touristy hustle and bustle is what you seek, better head elsewhere.
If, however, you are looking to slow down, chill out, warm up and enjoy an area where the attraction is fresh air and lots of social activities with your RVing neighbors, this may be your diamond in the rough.
What the town may lack in activities, the RV resort more than made up for in planned parties, events and gatherings around the swimming pool, clubhouse and members lounge area. On the week we were there, there was an old car show on Sunday, Margarita Monday – with free drinks and nachos from 2-4PM, a Mardis Gras parade and potluck party with free hurricanes on Tuesday and a boat tour of the lake on Wednesday. There were also poolside lunches three days a week and a big Saturday night dinner party.
And every day, starting early in the morning and going till dark, there are pickleball games. Pickleball, a racquet sport which combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis and is played on outdoor courts, is reputed to be the fastest growing sport on America. The folks here take their pickleball very seriously but are always glad to explain it to a newcomer and offer newbie tips.
These people may like to party. But they are also pretty fit.
There are water exercise classes, line dancing lessons, a fitness center and fishing around several manmade lakes that are stocked with largemouth bass, some reputed to be in the 10 pound range.
The RVs include everything but trailers and popups. There are Type A, B, and C motorhomes as well as lots of Fifth Wheels. The more deluxe lots have pavers and owners can decorate them how they like. Many have installed tiki huts and small cabanas that hold washer and dryers or are an extra sleeping room for guests. A lot of the residents also have their own golf carts. Some have scooters. Everyone seems to ride a bike, which they use to drive to the community trash container, located at a remote end of the resort.
We hung out at the pool on the days we were there. One morning, I borrowed a bike and rode a dozen miles or so along the Florida Trail, also known as the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. Built atop the 35-foot high dike that surrounds the lake and protects the nearby community from flooding, this trail runs for over 110 miles. It’s pancake flat and offers beautiful views of the lake and surrounding wetlands.
The Okeechobee weather is usually among the warmest in Florida. Because of the flat ranch land around here, there is almost always a breeze. During our visit the first part of March, the daily temperatures were in the low eighties every day.
We found the town and area to be unlike any other place we’ve visited in Florida. It’s a great spot to relax. The residents I got to know during our stay here said they never intended to end up here but that the quieter pace of life and the friendliness of the people at Silver Palms kept them coming back, year after year.
Occupancy of the resort seemed pretty close to 90% or so, hence the expansion project. The whole complex is extremely well maintained and the rest rooms and showers are spotless.
I have to say, our experience in these two RV resorts was a delight. It introduced us to still another side of RVing and convinced us again that the motorhome lifestyle offers something for everyone.