RV parks in the Sunbelt are pulling out all the stops this year with major upgrades and grand openings.
COVID-19 has been disrupting people’s travel plans since spring, but it hasn’t stopped snowbirds from making plans to spend winter at RV resorts across the Sunbelt. Owners and operators of Florida’s newest RV resorts are reporting strong demand for the 2020–21 winter season, including Sunkissed Village RV Resort, a 267-site park with a saltwater pool, pickleball, bocce ball, shuffleboard courts and a clubhouse.
“We only opened December 20, 2019, and we’re almost sold out for 2021,” said Darla Sinnard, general manager for both Sunkissed Village and Bay Bayou RV Resort in Tampa.
Demand for RV sites in Florida is so strong that several new parks are being built, while other parks are being expanded, said Bobby Cornwell, CEO of the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
“We anticipate that as many as 3,000 new RV sites could come online in Florida over the next two years as new resorts open and as existing parks complete their expansions,” he said.
One of Florida’s newest RV resorts is Torrey Trails RV and Golf Resort in Bowling Green, which is located about 70 miles southeast of Tampa. The first 158 sites of the resort were expected to be available by September along with the park’s nine-hole golf course, according to Amir Harpaz, who is developing the resort with Alan Wallace and Bill Harvey.
Thirty sites had already been leased at Torrey Trails in advance of the upcoming winter season, Harpaz said, adding that demand remains strong for RV sites in Florida despite the pandemic.
“People have cabin fever,” Harpaz said. “They are eager to come down.”
The buildings at Torrey Trails are designed with a farmhouse theme to appeal to people from rural areas of the Midwest. “Many snowbirds coming from the Midwest who grew up on family farms miss that part of America,” Harpaz said.
Meanwhile, just as Torrey Trails was getting ready to open, Wallace was preparing to break ground on a 167-site park in the Ocala area called Southern Leisure of Ocala. “It will open in June 2021,” Wallace said, adding that the park will feature a 6,000-square-foot clubhouse as well as a swimming pool and spa. The park is being designed to accommodate snowbirds and overnight travelers.
Farther to the north, Craig Kruse, who owns and operates Santa Rosa RV Resort in Navarre, is developing a $20-million RV resort and water park in East Milton that will feature 400 RV sites, 95 rental cabins, 18 luxury glamping tents and 12 fully furnished Conestoga wagons.
Splash RV Resort and Water Park is expected to open next spring, and while the resort is likely to be a popular location for families with kids, about 40% of the park’s winter guests are expected to be snowbirds, according to J.R. Carter, Splash RV Resort’s director of operations.
Other RV resort developers, for their part, are building new RV resorts and expanding existing ones across The Sunshine State.
Fiesta Key RV Resort in Long Key: This resort completed an upgrade to add sewer infrastructure to 62 sites and renovated several rental suites.
Fisherman’s Cove RV Resort in Palmetto: More than $1 million in improvements has recently been made to this active lifestyle resort on Terra Ceia Bay. Improvements include converting grass into paved sites, installing a pickleball court and remodeling the clubhouse. Park amenities include a waterfront heated pool and spa, a fitness center, shuffleboard and bocce ball courts and organized activities. The resort is less than 3 miles from Terra Ceia Preserve State Park, featuring a nearly 2,000-acre oasis of mangroves, hiking trails and waterways.
Flamingo Lake RV Resort in Jacksonville: This park has added 127 sites in the past two years, according to Ken Lloyd, the resort’s assistant general manager and vice president. “We filled up the first 60 new sites 90 days after making them available,” Lloyd said, adding that the park has spent more than $3 million in its latest improvement and expansion projects.
Keystone Heights RV Resort in Keystone Heights: The first 125 sites of this park were expected to open this fall, according to developer Alan Wallace. The park’s amenities will include an 8,000-square-foot clubhouse with a swimming pool and spa, bathhouse and laundry facilities as well as pickleball courts.
Motorcoach Resort St. Lucie West in Port St. Lucie: More than $6 million has been invested in this luxury Class A resort, according to developer John Richardson. Improvements include 67 additional lots, a new pool and laundry facility, four additional holes to the now 18-hole golf course, and internet access added to all sites. Upgraded amenities also include the addition of 5,000 square feet and a new gym to the newly remodeled clubhouse. The resort is minutes from beaches, theaters, museums, and shopping and houses on-site tennis, pickleball, bocce ball and shuffleboard courts, and four heated pools and spas.
Pecan Park RV Resort in Jacksonville: Work has been underway to nearly double the size of this resort, which is being expanded from 183 to 341 sites. The new sites will have concrete driveways, parking and patio areas, and full hookups. Amenities include a new community pool and spa, tennis and pickleball courts, a new clubhouse, additional laundry facilities and an expanded activities program.
Southern Leisure RV Resort in Chiefland: A major expansion has been underway at this park, which opened in January with 218 sites. Work is expected to be finished on another 280 sites by September, according to park owner Alan Wallace. The resort has many upscale amenities, including a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse with state-of-the-art acoustics, a stage for entertainment and a jam-packed activities program with organized activities and social events. Other amenities include a heated Olympic-size swimming pool, a bathhouse, a fitness center, as well as special rooms for sewing, quilting, cards and billiards. Laundry facilities and a post office are also on-site, as is a large recreation pavilion. Outdoor sports facilities include pickleball, bocce ball and shuffleboard courts, as well as walking and jogging trails and horseshoe pits. Dog grooming and salon services are also available.
Stage Stop Campground in Winter Park: This park’s roads and swimming pool have been resurfaced, the park’s Wi-Fi system has been improved and 70% of its sites now have 50-amp service.
Sunseekers RV Resort in Fort Myers: The latest improvements at this park include a remodeled clubhouse and bathhouse, new pickleball and shuffleboard courts and horseshoe pits. Electrical connections have also being upgraded from 30 to 50 amps.
The Tides RV Resort in Palmetto: This new luxury RV resort opened in January with 389 sites on a 95-acre site that includes a catch-and-release fishing lake, heated swimming pools, a 15,000-square-foot clubhouse with kitchen facilities, a state-of-the-art fitness center, pickleball and shuffleboard courts, a dog park, and scheduled activities and special events.
Thousand Trails Orlando RV Resort in Clermont: The latest improvements at this resort include a new miniature putt-putt course, six new pickleball courts with lights, new pool furniture, new playground equipment, upgrades to the clubhouse, two new bathhouses and a new laundry facility.
Upriver RV Resort in Fort Myers: This park recently completed a 57-site expansion along with many other improvements, which include new landscaping, a new bathhouse, new washers and dryers, and a new Wi-Fi system.
The Waves RV Resort in Naples: This 383-site resort recently replaced its existing pool and spa and replaced it with a 110,000-gallon, zero entry swimming pool and 18-person spa along with paver pool decking. Other recent improvements include the addition of four new pickleball courts and several new bocce ball courts, new obstacles for the dog park, new fire pits and a tiki hut.
Wildwood RV Village in Wildwood: This pet-friendly park, located along Interstate 75 between Ocala and Tampa, opened 210 new sites in January. Park amenities include a heated swimming pool with a sunning deck, a shaded dog park and picnic area, big-rig-friendly sites and free cable TV and Wi-Fi.
Other Sunbelt States
While Florida has the most new RV resorts and park expansions underway, new RV resorts and RV park expansions are also underway in several other states across the Sunbelt.
In South Carolina, Sun Communities was planning to open an additional 200 RV sites along with another 50 park model RVs this fall at Carolina Pines RV Resort in Conway, South Carolina, according to David L. Lovell, a regional marketing manager for Southfield, Michigan-based RV resort chain.
CreekFire RV Resort and Campground in Savannah, Georgia, which opened in October 2017 with 105 sites, added another 100 RV sites this year, with the newest sites becoming available in August. These RV sites complement the park’s park model and cabin rentals.
Red Bay, Alabama, the home of Tiffin Motorhomes, also saw the opening of a new RV park last year. Red Bay Acres RV Resort opened in September 2019 with 51 sites, pickleball courts, a horseshoe pit and a dog park. An on-site restaurant, called The Yacht Club, opened in November, serving comfort foods ranging from burgers to rib eye steak.
Scottsdale, Arizona-based Roberts Resorts recently finished a 50-site expansion of Lake Osprey RV Resort in Elberta, Alabama, according to Scott McGee, a regional vice president for the company, which offers its RV sites for sale and for rent. Twenty-five of the new sites border the resort’s 13-acre lake.
Robert Resorts was also preparing to break ground this fall on a 101-site expansion of Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring, Texas, north of Houston. The expansion will nearly double the size of the park, which originally had 115 sites.
Roberts Resorts has also initiated the permitting process for a 160-site expansion of its Oak Forest RV Resort in Austin, with the actual expansion taking place on property across the street from the resort, McGee said.
Meanwhile, in California, Sun Communities has been busy building Costa Vista RV Resort in Chula Vista, about 10 miles south of San Diego, which is expected to open during the first quarter of 2021. Costa Vista is a luxury RV resort with well-appointed, 30- to 35-foot-wide RV sites that include spacious patios with stone paver fire pits. Each campsite will have about 1,500–2,000 square feet of space. Amenities include a restaurant and bar with takeout service direct to the campsite; a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and spa; as well as an indoor and outdoor fitness center; pickleball and basketball courts, and a putting green.
The 19-acre resort is adjacent to San Diego Bay and provides access to trails, walking paths and multiple dog parks. The resort will feature nightly, weekly and monthly rates, and allow guest stays of up to 120 days at a time.
Other San Diego area parks making significant improvements include Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve in Santee. The park is owned by Padre Dam Municipal Water District, which generates about 2 million gallons of recycled water each day, half of which flows through the seven recreation lakes at Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve. The other half is used to irrigate landscaping in the Santee area, a suburban community about 18 miles northwest of downtown San Diego.
While swimming is not permitted in the lakes, the lakes support several different species of fish, including bass, trout, catfish, carp and bluegill. The Santee Lakes campground sells day-use permits for fishing, a popular activity at the park, which also offers pedal boat, rowboat and canoe rentals.
Santee Lakes has been investing in green initiatives in recent years, including a $1.7 million park improvement project that included the installation of 55,000 square feet of sod and the planting of 200 trees, which are irrigated using recycled water and underground seepage from the lakes.
The park is also planning a multi-million dollar makeover of the hub of the Santee Lakes park and campground, which will include a coffee bar and grill, retail stores, a 300-person dining deck over the water and additional rental accommodations.
A new park administration building was completed in June, while the new dining deck, kitchen and general store are expected to be completed by next spring, according to Laura Koval, Santee Lakes’ director of park and recreation.
Farther north, the city of Lake Elsinore, California, has also rebuilt the former La Laguna Resort into a 200-site park called Launch Pointe Recreation Destination & RV Park that includes vintage trailer and yurt rentals as well as frontage along Lake Elsinore.
“The park is 100% brand new. The whole layout of the resort is different now,” said Beau Davis, park manager.
Amenities include The Bobber Restaurant, which features pub-style fare as well as microbrewed beer and wine. A variety of boat rentals are also available, including pontoon boats. The park offers daily and monthly rates.
Meanwhile, Bonelli Bluffs RV Resort & Campground in San Dimas is planning to make at least $1 million in improvements to the lakefront park, which was formerly known as East Shore RV Park. The park store has already been renovated and future renovations include swimming pool improvements and construction of a meeting venue for events, said Jeff Brown, who handles marketing and business development for Basecamp Hospitality, which manages the park.
While guests are currently limited to 20-day stays, Brown said the park is making improvements that will be enticing to snowbirds visiting the area. The park itself has hilly terrain and will be a venue for mountain biking races during the 2028 Olympic Games.
Many RV resort owners and operators reported strong advance reservations for the upcoming winter season, but some resorts are also exercising more leniency with their refund policies because of the uncertainties involving COVID-19.
Sunkissed Village and Bay Bayou RV Resorts in Florida, for example, are both allowing refunds on deposits under certain circumstances. “Normally, we don’t refund reservation deposits for December 1 to March 31 unless it’s because of a serious medical condition. The exception this year will be if COVID-19 continues to spread and our guests are unable to travel,” said Darla Sinnard.
Some park operators have also expressed concern about how COVID-19 affects Canadians and whether the Canadian government will put restrictions on government health insurance to restrict travel into the U.S. Some travel insurance companies had still not decided at press time whether they were going to cover healthcare costs related to COVID-19.
As an ever increasing number of employees now telecommute, working people are realizing they don’t have to wait until their golden years to enjoy snowbirding.
Michael and Patrice Barnes are a case in point. Instead of spending last winter at their home in Idaho, with Michael working as a telecommuting IT consultant, the couple, who are both 56, spent the winter at Verde Ranch RV Resort in Camp Verde, Arizona.
Michael said the decision to purchase an RV and telecommute was a lifestyle choice that made a lot more sense to him than spending another cold winter in Idaho. It also enables him to enjoy his passion for motorcycle riding year-round.
As relatively young people trying out snowbirding for the first time, they weren’t sure they would “fit in” at an RV resort. But while enjoying the hot tub at Verde Ranch one night, the Barnes met Aaron and Amber Stochlia, two even younger telecommuting snowbirds from Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Stochlias had been full-timing in their 45-foot Entegra Aspire since 2018 along with their adolescent and teenage children.
“We didn’t enjoy staying at home,” said Aaron, 43, who works as a tele-commuting cybersecurity consultant while Amber works as a home-based accounting consultant. “Ultimately, we decided our home was a huge investment we didn’t get much enjoyment out of. We’re snowbirds with no fixed home base.”
RV park operators across the Sunbelt are seeing growing numbers of telecommuters who are not waiting until they retire to enjoy the snowbird lifestyle.
“I think it’s a pretty significant trend,” said Lisa Harold, COO of Contemporary Resorts and Residences, which owns Verde Ranch RV Resort. “So many people are telecommuting now. Scott Roberts, president of Scottsdale, Arizona-based Roberts Resorts, which owns snowbird resorts across the Sunbelt, said he is seeing growing numbers of working people with mobile jobs who are snowbirding. His company recently spent more than $90,000 in Wi-Fi improvements at Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort near Phoenix to accommodate the Wi-Fi needs of telecommuting snowbirds.
Across the country, Lynda Phelps, general manager of Upriver RV Resort in Fort Myers, Florida, said she upgraded her park’s Wi-Fi system last winter for the same reason.
David Anthony, an RV resort developer who built Creekside RV Park in Punta Gorda, Florida, in 2017, said that he and other RV park operators are making improvements to their Wi-Fi to accommodate the growing numbers of telecommuting RV owners.
“We’re getting people in their 50s,” he said. “They run remote businesses. We’re seeing more of them all the time. It’s not like the old days.”