Naples, Florida is the crown jewel of Southwest Florida, a west gulf coast 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's always 10 to 20 degrees warmer here than most other places in the Sunshine State.
Our destination for this trip was the Naples Motorcoach Resort on US 41 just east of Collier Boulevard. Highway 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail, leads to the Everglades, just a couple miles down the road. Collier Boulevard south leads to the Isles of Capri and Marco Island, for boating and fishing. This is a Class A resort only, We stayed there in our Class B under a special media exemption because we were doing some reporting about the place.
So we were living in a B in a Class A world.
But it gave me a chance to see what all the fuss was about Class A RVing and to realize that as much as we B owners criticize A owners for looking down their noses at their Class B cousins, I also was guilty of reverse discrimination, thinking, wrongly, that those in Class As were not really RVers at all. More on that later.
We love the Naples area. We had been there many times before. When our kids were young, we rented condos on Marco Island for many years. And Jennifer and I have stayed in condos at Naples, too. But this was our first trip there in our RV.
The attractions in the area are many.
According to the Naples Historical Society, the area was long the hunting and fishing grounds of the home of the Caloosa Indians. It wasn't until the 1860's that the first white settlers, Roger Gordon and Joe Wiggins, arrived in the area. A river and two inlets still bear their names.
Throughout the 1870's and '80's, magazine and newspaper stories telling of the area's mild climate and abundant fish and game likened it to the sunny Italian peninsula. The name Naples caught on when promoters described the bay as “surpassing the bay in Naples, Italy.”
In 1887, a group of wealthy Kentuckians, led by Walter N. Haldeman, owner of the Louisville Courier-Journal, purchased virtually the entire town of Naples. One of the first improvements Haldeman and the Naples Company made was to build a pier 600 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. The unusual “T” shape allowed large ships to dock easily. Despite being destroyed and rebuilt three times, the pier's “T” shape remains.
Naples quickly gained a reputation as a winter resort. Social life revolved around the Naples Hotel, which played host to celebrities such as Rose Cleveland, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr, and Gary Cooper. As the town of Naples went up, so did the price of property. The cost of a beachfront lot soon reached $125.
In 1911, Barron G. Collier, who had made his fortune in streetcar advertising, visited nearby Useppa Island. He was so taken with the area that he bought over a million acres of untouched swampland – including most of Naples. Collier believed that Florida's west coast could enjoy the same boom that the east coast was experiencing in the 1920's; but first it was necessary to bring in road and railroads.
Based on Collier's promise to help build the Tamiami Trail, in 1923 the state legislature created Collier County, of which Naples is the county seat. Collier spent more than $1 million of his own money to construct the Tamiami Trail, which opened in 1926 as the only paved highway linking the state's two largest cities – Tampa and Miami.
Collier died before he could see his dream come true, but come true it did. Today, Naples enjoys unparalleled prosperity. And the area's unrivaled sport fishing, hunting, boating, sun bathing, and beach combing attract people today just as it did a century ago.
Downtown Naples is known for impressive shops and sidewalk cafes, chic bistros and gourmet delis that serve up lunch, snacks and pastries. Fine and casual dining options are available at the restaurants located on Naples' fashionable Fifth Avenue South, Third Street South, and Bayfront. Dress well if you are heading downtown. This is high end, sophisticated shopping and the tourists here are well-heeled and look it.
Parking downtown is hard to find for an automobile, even harder for a Class B RV.
One must visit place is the historic Naples Pier, located on the Gulf of Mexico at the West end of 12th Avenue South. On-street parking is supplemented by a parking lot one block East, with additional parking at beach ends on the avenues to the north and south. It's easier to park a car here, but still challenging to find space for a small RV.
The Naples Pier is a favorite location for sightseers and fishermen with plenty of space to cast a line. It features restrooms, a concession stand with a covered eating area and beach supplies. Fishing from the pier does not require a fishing license, as the City of Naples has purchased a bulk fishing license for the pier. The beach at the pier also features volleyball nets, and is one of the best places to catch a spectacular Naples sunset.
If fishing is your thing, you will want a license. I bought a seven day out of state license for $37.
My brother-in-law is a snowbird and keeps a boat at the Isles of Capri Marina, at the southern end of Collier Boulevard. The Isles of Capri are adjacent to Marco Island and 20 minutes from Naples' downtown. It is a waterfront community with canals and mangrove islands and backwater kayak trails that lead to the Marco River and the gulf. On it's northern side it is surrounded by the the wetlands that are part of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Sanctuary.
From the Isles of Capri Marina, we boated around the islands to the river and then out to the gulf where we anchored on a spit of sand and spent two great days fishing. In these waters where the river dumps into the gulf are all sorts of salt water fish, including shark, speckled trout, redfish, amberjack and, later in the summer, snook, tarpon and big game fish. Our target for this trip was one of the tastiest: Sheephead.
We caught them on almost every other cast, most over the 12 inch keeper limit.
We used our Roadtrek eTrek to drive all around Naples, the islands and the Everglades. Evenings, we spent back at the Naples Motorcoach Resort.
It is a five star resort 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.
The basic lot sells for $99,000. Lakefront and the best locations are over $150,000. There are also rental spots available. They start at about $85 a night. Many spots cost as much or more than a four star hotel room does in many places.
I admit, for a while, being in our little Class B made us feel like we were living in the slums. While our Roadtrek sells new for over $120,000, most of the Class A motorhomes around us start at four and five times that amount.
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.
Towards the end of our stay, I found myself with a strong dose of Class A envy. These motorhomes are massive. They have king sized beds, huge bathrooms and roomy showers, full kitchens and home-sized refrigerators, washer-dryers and room to store and bring all the toys you could want.
So I got to wondering… why couldn't we drive a Class A and tow a Roadtrek?
The idea of staying in a place like the Naples Motorcoach Resort for a winter season and then taking two and three day excursions around the area in our Roadtrek would truly be the best of both worlds. When summer gets too hot and sticky down there – about mid-April most years – we could pull up shop and head west to another spot… say the mountains or the west coast and stay there for the summer season, again ranging far and wide in the Roadtrek.
Hmmm. That is my idea of fulltiming!