RV parks, camps go up­scale — way up­scale

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - TRAVEL - Trevor Hughes

BLUEWATER KEY, FLA. Va­ca­tion­ers are plunk­ing down thou­sands of dol­lars a week to sleep in tents or RVs at lux­ury “glamp­ing” re­sorts fea­tur­ing mas­sive tele­vi­sions, pri­vate docks and farm-to-ta­ble din­ners, with concierges ready with fish­ing guides or to rus­tle up cow­boys for horse­back rides.

It’s all part of the new­est trend to tar­get both re­tir­ing Baby Boomers and Mil­len­ni­als look­ing for ac­tive ad­ven­tures in which not a sin­gle mo­ment is wasted in a bor­ing ho­tel room, and where Mother Na­ture takes top billing. To­day, when even the most ca­sual trav­el­ers ex­pect to find comfy beds and clean show­ers wher­ever they choose to sleep, ex­perts say there’s a de­mand for ex­pe­ri­ences that go above and be­yond.

“Th­ese are no longer stripped­down camp­grounds,” says Mark Ellert, the pres­i­dent of Guy Har­vey Out­post Re­sorts. “Th­ese are sum­mer camps for adults, and adults have ex­pec­ta­tions about those crea­ture com­forts.”

At Bluewater Key RV Re­sort near Key West, the crea­ture com­forts come in the form of sprawl­ing tiki huts equipped with high-end ap­pli­ances, flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi. Pri­vate docks float on the sparkling blue wa­ter and a concierge will whip up a Jeep rental so you don’t have to move your RV. Bluewater Key per­mits only RVs that are at least 24 feet long; pop-ups, truck campers and tents are banned. Dur­ing the win­ter, high-end RVs gather at Bluewater, their own­ers cook­ing in their cus­tom kitchens, sleep­ing in mem­ory-foam beds, re­lax­ing in mas­sag­ing loungers. In the sum­mer, va­ca­tion­ing fam­i­lies fill out Bluewater.

For Mi­ami na­tive Liz­beth Lara, At Col­lec­tive Re­treats’ Vail lo­ca­tion, guests sleep in fur-trimmed beds in­side spa­cious tents. this is par­adise. The palm trees wav­ing in the breeze. The sand be­tween her toes. Meet­ing new friends in ad­ja­cent sites, shar­ing meals with fam­ily. Nine mem­bers of her fam­ily are sleep­ing in their 30-foot RV. Boast­ing 80 sites, many of them sit­ting right on the wa­ter, Bluewater prices start at $90 a night and go up to $200 for a prime slot with a 7-night min­i­mum stay in peak months.

“Oh my God, this view,” Lara says. “Are you kid­ding me? It’s price­less.”

Lara, 47, looks around, as kids pit­ter-pat­ter across the RV site be­tween the tiki hut and the pri­vate dock. Lara and her friends rented eight Bluewater sites for the week­end, cre­at­ing a tem­po­rary neigh­bor­hood of campers. They’ve been cook­ing out, shar­ing Jet Ski rides and fish­ing from their docks.

“I lose all sense of time,” she says. “I’m not look­ing at my phone.”

More than 2,000 miles away near a dude ranch in Vail, Colo., sit eight white can­vas-wall tents, each with a king-size bed and a wood stove.

It’s a world away from Bluewater Key, but the em­pha­sis is the same: high-qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ences with­out per­ma­nent walls. At Col­lec­tive Re­treats’ Vail lo­ca­tion, guests sleep in fur-trimmed beds sit­ting in­side spa­cious tents. Wood­stoves pro­vide heat in the spring and fall, and each guest gets a box of hand­made marsh­mal­lows and gra­ham crack­ers with which to make s’mores. Moun­tains ring the en­camp­ment, and herds of horses race through the nearby pas­tures as dusk falls.

Peter Mack founded Col­lec­tive Re­treats af­ter a year of busi­ness travel in which he spent 250 nights in ho­tel rooms.

“I woke up one day and I didn’t know if I was in Bei­jing or Dal­las,” he says. “I want peo­ple to wake up in a place where a ho­tel shouldn’t ex­ist.”

The com­pany has three lo­ca­tions — Vail, Yel­low­stone and New York’s Hud­son Val­ley — and is build­ing two more, in Sonoma and in Texas Hill Coun­try. Prices start around $400 a night dur­ing the early and late sea­sons, and the com­pany tends to sell out its most pop­u­lar week­ends. The com­pany uses so­cial me­dia — In­sta­gram in par­tic­u­lar — to find cus­tomers. Guests who come av­er­age 2.5 so­cial me­dia posts per stay, Mack said, snap­ping pho­tos of the farm-to-ta­ble din­ners and smoke ris­ing from the tents.

“What we’re hear­ing from our guests is they’re tired of the tra­di­tional travel ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says.

And, Mack says, younger trav­el­ers who don’t have money to spare are among their most fre­quent guests.

Says Ellert: “Peo­ple want ex­pe­ri­ences, they want to be ac­tive, they want to con­nect with the great out­doors . ... We are in a seachange of at­ti­tude about what phys­i­cal things are re­quired to make you happy.”

Back at Bluewater Key, Ron­nie Puno and his friends are loung­ing in their tiki hut, try­ing to de­cide whether to go fish­ing or kayak­ing or mix up a drink.

“We re­ally wanted ac­cess to the wa­ter, and per­sonal ac­cess, in­stead of shar­ing a beach,” says Puno, 34, who came down from Ken­tucky with his wife and four friends.

A few spots away, Norvin Moya, 26, and Aly Seda, 23, are watch­ing a soc­cer game as Seda mixes a mo­jito. They’re stay­ing in Seda’s mom’s lux­ury Red­wood fifth-wheel trailer.

“This is as cool as it gets,” Moya says. “I’m mind-blown.”

PHO­TOS BY TREVOR HUGHES, USA TO­DAY

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