RV parks, camps go upscale — way upscale
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.”