I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to make the most of their RV vacations.
Every November RV owners start their annual trek to Florida to escape the harsh northern winters. The flow of people starts slowly, but by January it reaches a fever pitch. Native Floridians refer to these folks as “snow birds”. While the locals appreciate the money these people spend during their visits, they don’t appreciate the problems they bring with them such as dealing with heavy traffic, having difficulty getting in to see doctors, and putting up with overcrowded restaurants.
Since Florida is 450 miles long and only 129 miles wide at its farthest points, and since the winter weather is much better in the South, the majority of RVers stay in the state's lower 250 mile area.
What this means is that campgrounds in that swath of land fill up quickly with people who stay anywhere from three to six months from November through April.
For this reason, locals can have a pretty tough time finding campsites during those months unless they want to stay north of Central Florida or in rural areas that offer very little in the way of amenities and activities or leave the state entirely.
Finding a Site
So if you, as many others do, want to come to Florida to escape the cold weather conditions at home, you need to do a lot of research and make your plans far in advance of your visit.
In fact, if you don’t make reservations a year in advance for the more popular parks, you won’t have a place to park your coach.
Of course there is always the chance that you can just drive to a facility and hope they’ve had a cancellation, but this is like playing Russian Roulette.
- What you don’t want is to be here dragging an RV behind your car only to find you have no place to stay!
- You also don’t want to reserve a spot sight unseen a year in advance.
This being the case, the best thing you can do for yourself is to make a trip after April 1 and spend some time scoping out the parks in the area you wish to visit the following winter.
To save yourself some time, you should buy a copy of the Good Sam Club Travel and Savings Guide. In it you will find listings of many of Florida's campgrounds along with basic prices, contact information for each and other good information.
You do not have to belong to Good Sam Club to own this guide, but if you do join, you'll get a 10% discount on nightly camping because of your membership.
My husband and I have always used this guide to help us find sites in Florida as well as across the country. This helps us to plan our vacations.
I would suggest that once you narrow down the area you like, that you start making calls and asking questions, so that you'll have a better idea about the parks you might like to camp in once you arrive.
Things to Consider
When investigating campgrounds make sure to do the following:
- Find out how close you are to grocery stores and the nearest hospital.
- Check to see if pets are permitted and if there is a special section for them.
- Take a look at the laundry room to see what it costs, if the machines are in good condition and if there are enough of them to keep you from having problems getting machines.
- Look at the clubhouse to see if it’s clean and find out about any activities the park provides,
- Do the same for the swimming pool and ask if it is heated,
- Take a close look at the RVs that are parked in the sites. Are they in good shape or run down? Does it appear that too many people are staying year round or mostly are temporary visitors?
- Look at the people who are camping in the park. Are they clean and neat, are they older or younger, do any of them look like they might create problems?
- Test the water. Does it smell and taste OK? Is it well water or city water? Is it sulfur water or regular water?
- Find out how close you are to entertainment venues and restaurants.
If you are going to be staying in an area for a long period of time, it is very important that you learn about these things before you reserve.
There will be some parks that offer less expensive prices that will tempt you, but if they are in the middle of nowhere or are not well maintained, you’re not going to be a happy camper!
RV Park Options
Fortunately, there are several options you can utilize to offset some of these issues.
The first one, as previously noted, is to take a trip in April to scope out the different parks and then make your reservations for the following winter months.
The second is to sign up for a 6 on 6 off site. In this scenario, you pay a lesser amount for a 12 month reservation that allows you to stay in your RV for 6 months and leave it stored on site for the other 6. However, not all parks offer this option.
There are several benefits to doing this. For example,
- Your coach is protected from the harsh northern weather.
- You save money on gas or diesel.
- You don’t have to drive back and forth and
- You guarantee yourself a site for the months you wish to use one.
If you want more flexibility, you can also reserve for a year so that you can come and go as you please. In some instances it is actually cheaper to do this than to just come for several months because prices for the winter season sites can be quite high.
For example, as of this writing a facility near me charges $725 per month for visits from January through March, but $2010 ($670) per month if you stay all three months. If you stay six months, however, you only pay $3360 ($560 per month) and a for a year you pay $4860 ($405 per month plus electric.)
Thus if you reserve for a year you are only paying a bit more than half of the monthly rate for a high season visit!
Be aware that this particular park, while very well located, is older and certainly is not what you would consider a resort. There is no WIFI, the sites are large, it is heavily wooded and about one third of the people who camp there are permanent.
However it is 10 minutes from a beautiful beach and only 5 minutes from stores, restaurants and a big, excellent hospital.
You can also stay at State Parks and National Parks within Florida, but these can be costly, fill up quickly and you generally can only stay for 14 days per visit.
As noted earlier, you can avoid many of the crowding problems by simply staying in parks that are located in rural areas. These will cost less but will be less convenient and will have fewer amenities.
You also can buy a deeded lot in an RV park. With this option, you pay for a full hookup site which you can use as needed. Usually there is a monthly maintenance fee and an association of owners that determine their own activities and oversee the care of the park.
In Florida these sites can be quite expensive, but if you plan to use one for many years, they can be worth the cost. The Best and Worst Points of Buying an RV Lot provides more details about this option.
Another possibility is to buy and develop a piece of land on which you can place your recreational vehicle. Can I Live in an RV on My Property ? explains the benefits and caveats of doing this.
Wintering in Florida
Many people who are new to RV travel assume that spending the winter in Florida is simply a matter of showing up and renting an inexpensive campsite.
Obviously, you can see from what has been written here that this isn’t necessarily true, especially if you want to be in populated areas that are close to beaches and entertainment venues.
One park less than 10 minutes from the one I noted above is charging $1200 per month plus electric year round, and they have a waiting list!
This is not a resort. It is an old park like the first one that is located close to the beaches and has added about 30 new sites that have a few more amenities.
It will be up to you to decide which options work best when it comes to spending winters in Florida, but understand that prices are rising all the time and competition for sites is increasing.
Forewarned is forearmed!
Questions & Answers
Question: We are trying to go to Florida at the end of December. Do we need to make reservations at campsites on the way, or are there usually sites available? We are looking for electric as we will probably need heat, Can we just call ahead the same day? Is a Flying J parking lot an option?
Answer: You're talking about coming at the height of the RV travel season. I would suggest calling ahead for reservations both as you go and for any parks, you wish to stay in for a while. Some Flying J's have dry camping spots, but not all of them. The farther south you go, the more difficult it will be to find campsites. You're almost already too late to reserve right now, but start calling as soon as you've made your plans. Florida is NOT a place you can visit "as you go" during the winter months.
© 2018 Sondra Rochelle
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on March 21, 2018:
Dora Weithers: That's what I'm hoping this article will achieve. Florida is a great place for winter RVers, but they have to "do it right" if they want to enjoy themselves. Thanks for commenting.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 20, 2018:
Good advice from an expert. These instructions and suggestions should help make the experience better for the snow birds.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on March 20, 2018:
Hi Mary: Florida is a great place to live...been here a loooong time. Glad you liked the article. Nice to see you again.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on March 20, 2018:
Your articles are always interesting.Before reading, I had no idea they were so expensive. It does sound advantageous to book a year and get settled into a place. Being content in a place and having amenities nearby can greatly help a decision.
I lived briefly in Florida and loved it. It is a place I would like to return to.