Wondering about Florida Camping for Snowbirds following Hurricane Ian? You may be surprised by what Florida campground owners have to say. Contrary to some media reports, they're saying the snowbird camping season is still very much on!
That's the main topic in Episode 417 of the RV Podcast as we talk to Bobby Cornwell, President and CEO of the Florida RV Parks & Campground Association.
Other topics in this episode can be found in the table of contents. Just click on the topics you want to read first.
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Now, here are the full shownotes for this episode, everything we talked about on the podcast!
Our Michigan Property Update
This is a big week for us. If all goes according to plans (finger's crossed!), we will be closing on our long sought Michigan RV property. We've had many challenges in finding the land we are buying.
In Michigan and most other states, land is sold in individual parcels with many restrictions. We have hunted for over a year across the state.
We don’t want to give away too many details until the property closes. But we can tell you that it is 10 acres in size. It even has a small little lake on it that we will own most of. And it is in Southwestern Michigan and we will, like we do in Tennessee, have two or possibly three RV sites where we can invite friends and family.
This property is very different than what we have in Tennessee. For one thing, maybe not at first but as soon as we can, we will be living on it. Full time. Not in the RV but in a house there. That house is going to need a lot of renovation and work, so it sure won't be an immediate move-in. Again, we’ll show the place and share more after we close on it, but we are pretty excited. We will keep both our RVs there, our Arcadia Fifth Wheel and our new Unity FX Class C motorhome.
And just in case you are confused by our eventual moving plans, we are not quitting the RV Lifestyle! We are just moving our main sticks and bricks. We will still be RVing as much, or even more than before.
Beware of Facebook Marketplace Scams
Sort of related – but only indirectly because in anticipation of the future move – we are downsizing and selling some furniture and household items that we won’t be needing. And in so doing, we’ve been advertising some items on Facebook Marketplace.
What we found was a pretty sophisticated scam that is apparently rampant on Facebook Marketplace and other similar online buy-and-sell sites. It involved Zelle, the peer-to-peer money exchanging service that works a little like PayPal.
We were contacted by a prospective buyer who claimed to be interested in buying a piece of furniture we had listed. The scammer offered to immediately pay for the item via Zelle to guarantee that we wouldn't sell it to someone else.
Immediately, I received an email purportedly from Zelle, claiming that the $150 sent by the purported buyer was received but was put on hold “because we noticed the status of your Zelle account has been limited and hence not a business account so we can’t initiate the transfer but we want you to contact the sender of the payment to send in an additional payment of $550.00 to your Zelle so it can be upgraded and changed to a business account then the sum of $700.00 will likewise be credited into your account effectively once the additional payment has been secured back to the sender.”
Huh???? Crazy, right? Here's a screen capture of the phony email:
The email had a service number supposedly for Zelle. We called and ended up talking to someone with a very thick accent pretending to be a Zelle representative, asking us to refund the extra $550 to the buyer and our account would be upgraded and we'd get the $150.
When we called them out on the scam, they hung up.
The email was signed “Zelle Pay” but on inspecting it closely, it was “email@example.com.”
Seriously now, does anyone think Zelle would use a Gmail address?
I pass all this along because I know many are like us, downsizing or selling stuff from their sticks and bricks to go full-time. Beware! Accept only cash from would-be buyers and don't meet them alone. If possible, meet in a public place so they don't know your address.
By the way, I tried to report this to Zelle (their real support number is a joke of unending recordings telling you to push this button or that that ended up saying they were closed) and to my bank, which was closed for the weekend and the following Monday because of Columbus Day. Facebook support is such a laughing stock I didn't even bother.
Google “Facebook Marketplace and Zelle scams” and you'll see these sorts of problems are very common.
RV News of the Week
Many of us were shocked by a sudden and significant rise in gas prices this week. Unfortunately, experts are predicting the pain to be here for a while.
Why is this happening? A fire at a refinery in Toledo, Ohio, is impacting prices in the upper midwest and production is now affected and may be until December. On the West Coast refineries in California dealt with outages that reduced capacity there.
And, of course, OPEC announced it is cutting supplies, and gasoline demand is up. Result? Not a lot of good news.
The national average for a gallon of gas was $3.90 on Saturday. But in Michigan, Illinois, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, and Arizona, the average price for a gallon was $4.36-$6.35.
Did you hear the story of a YouTuber trying to tow with an electric Ford F-150? Boy, was it ever a disaster!
Tyler Hoover, who runs Hoovie's Garage channel on YouTube, charged his Ford F-150 Lightning truck to go 200 miles. He was pulling an empty trailer and planned to pick up a Ford Model A and tow it home. The one-way distance of the trip was about 32 miles.
But as soon as the truck set off towing the empty trailer, its charge started dropping dramatically. “The truck towing 3,500 pounds can't even go 100 miles,” he said. “That is ridiculously stupid. This truck can't do normal truck things.”
Now Hoover’s experiment was, admittedly, not scientific.
But other towing tests with EV trucks have yielded similar results.
For example, Car and Driver hitched a 6,100-pound camper to each of the three electric pickups on the market: the F-150 Lightning, GMC Hummer EV, and Rivian R1T. At 70 mph in 85-degree conditions, maximum range dropped to 100 miles for the Ford, 140 miles for the Hummer, and 110 miles for the Rivian.
Post-Hurricane Florida Camping For Snowbirds Update
Cleanup is well underway in Florida in light of the devastation brought by Hurricane Ian. But to snowbirds and everyone who regularly winters in the Sunshine State, the head of the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campground has perhaps an unusual message: Please come!
While parks from Naples to Tampa were impacted by the storm, most of the state is open for business. Earlier this week the campground association estimated 20 of its 400 member parks were closed because of the storm, but the number is continually updated.
The popular Red Coconut RV Park and the San Carlos RV Park and Islands in Fort Myers Beach are completely destroyed. Yet North Trail RV and RV Country, also in Fort Myers, did not experience major damage.
Here's an edited transcript of our interview about Florida Camping for Snowbirds with Bobby Cornwell, president and CEO of the Florida RV Parks & Campground Association:
Statistics and closure details for Florida Camping For Snowbirds
Bobby, I know this has been a very traumatic and trying couple of weeks now since that devastating hurricane. Can you give us an update? How many of your parks have been shut down, or destroyed? See if we can actually get some real numbers. I know that probably not all of it is tabulated yet, but what can you give us in terms of the current situation?
And you're right. It's hard to get very accurate figures. The information, understandably, is slow coming. We've been reaching out to our members ever since the storm hit. But without power or phone lines and obviously, they have more important things in their hands right now as far as getting their parks and their staff and their campers safe.
But we have been able to tabulate some information. Right now, we have 23 parks that are closed in the Lee, Collier, and Charlotte County areas. That's Fort Myers, Naples area, the surrounding Fort Myers Beaches, and Sanibel. Those were the hardest hit areas.
So like I said, we're showing 23 that are closed. However, the majority of those we expect and have heard from many of the park owners and operators that they will be back open and running real soon. Fort Myers specifically, which is one of the hardest hit areas, the beaches are bad, so I don't want to undermine that.
Most Florida campgrounds are reopening
It's absolutely horrible and devastating, and we probably have anywhere from five to 10 parks there that are severely damaged, pretty much wiped away. So you're talking about years of recovery there, but just a little farther inland, 20 miles make a huge difference.
A lot of the Fort Myers parks are open, and they have power and the power is being restored relatively quickly, considering everything. So that's the good news. In Fort Myers, in that area that we're talking about, that Southwest Florida area there that was most heavily impacted, happens to be the most populated area of the state as far as RV parks and campgrounds go.
There's probably 70 parks just in that three county area. Again, I think it's probably the most dense area, not only in the state, but possibly in the nation. So a lot were devastated, but we have a lot of parks there, which is the good thing. And like I said, the majority of those, if they're not open now, they will be open soon.
Many stored RVs were destroyed
I'm sure a lot of this information is probably still anecdotal, but I know many people were able to pull their RVs out when they had the evacuation warning. But there were still a lot of parks that had RVs in them. Have you any reports about how damaged those RVs and those parks were, or is it still being gathered?
You're right. There were, I think, in these circumstances, a lot of RVs that were left. The evacuation, the way this storm if everybody remembers, this storm was originally projected to go up north towards the Panhandle, Tallahassee, Panama City area.
And then within the next 48 hours, it went from there all the way into Fort Myers. So there wasn't a whole lot of time, warning. People in Fort Myers thought they were safe 24 hours before the storm hit, so there wasn't a whole lot of evacuations ever done way in advance.
So I estimate that there was a good amount of RVs. I don't have any numbers. I wish I did, but fortunately I think a lot got out. But then there were some that were probably there, especially from RVers and campers who maybe stored their RV on site, and they come down for the winter in November through April. I have the feeling there were a lot of RVs that were in that type of situation.
They weren't occupied fortunately but were left on site. I haven't heard from anybody. We reached out to almost all the members and campgrounds that we can, and nobody's reported any deaths or injuries to their staff or their guests that we've heard about. That's great news.
What will 2023 be like for Florida Camping For Snowbirds
The question that we keep getting and that I'm sure that the campgrounds are getting is what about the 2023 snowbird season? We usually see the first wave starting about Halloween time and then of course right after the holidays and then in January.
How is this going to impact those who have reservations or are seasonal snowbirds and their RVs?
You're right. That's the biggest issue right now that the parks are dealing with in the Fort Myers area, even the ones that are open. So they're trying to get all their sites up and running for the reservations and for people that are coming down for the snowbird season.
That's happening. You got snowbirds that are calling into the park saying, “Should we come down? Should we not? We don't want to disrupt anything that's going on there. Is it safe?” So that question's having to be answered. You have snowbirds that are changing plans, and that's not necessarily a good thing for some of the parks of Fort Myers who are relying on the snowbirds.
They want to keep them. But you do have some snowbirds that are saying, “Well, no. I don't want to go down there because of the storm. I'm going to camp farther north, near Orlando.” Some are even going to the Panhandle.
We're hearing from some of our parks in northern Florida that normally don't get any snowbirds, from the campers that were originally going to go south saying, “Hey, we want to come to your area now.”
Many snowbirds are camping this winter in the Panhandle
And that's great for some of the parks that typically don't get the business. So we're going to have a lot of parks that get more business, and they typically would see in the winter.
But it's not necessarily good for the Fort Myers parks and the parks in Southwest Florida because the reality is as bad as the storm is and as bad as the damage is in the main impacted areas along the coast, the rest of that area is going to be fine.
And I think the perception is all of Southwest Florida is destroyed, and that's not the case. As with any storm, it's usually isolated in smaller areas, and people assume the whole state's shut down or all Southwest Florida shut down and fortunately that's not true.
Well, give us some advice for those. I guess one of the pieces of advice we should say is just be a little patient. Give them a week or two to sort things out. But what advice would you give folks? Are there still reservations?
It's hard to get reservations on a good year with no hurricanes, but how about the rest of this year? What advice would you give those who want to snowbird still in Florida?
Things are improving but exercise patience in calling for a couple of weeks
So well, you nailed that. First of all, patience. Let this settle for… It's only been a week, almost a week exactly, I guess. So give us some time. And I understand the campers are anxious as well. A lot of them want to put down big deposits, and they're panicking too so we get that.
But yes, try to give it a little bit of time, and the campground owners are just trying to figure it out themselves as well. So they're dealing with it. I can assure you.
As far as reservations, I mean this is… It's kind of all wait to be seen because you're right, the area that we're talking about would typically be filled already. But now these parks are going through so many changes with the reservations as well. They're having people cancel.
There actually may be more openings for Florida Camping For Snowbirds in 2023
So where in the past maybe somebody couldn't get a spot, now because of the storm, maybe they can, because it's potentially possible that a campground may have a bunch of cancellations.
And they might have some spots open. Right now, they're trying to assist emergency workers, insurance adjusters, contractors who are dying to get a spot close to the damage, and they're needing those locations.
So some of the RV parks are allocating those temporarily, but yet they can't guarantee the space long term because they have the winter visitors coming in.
So it's a little chaotic obviously. But this time of year, you would have spaces typically available. It's not until mid-November that all the snowbirds start coming in. October is usually just slow months to that area.
And I think it's… What I heard you say is it's still a very isolated area that is so severely affected. What is the rest of the Orlando area, of course, the East Coast down into the Keys, they're pretty much normal, right? Any problems there?
Most of Florida will be open for snowbirds this winter
Yeah. I mean, there's some isolated instances, parks farther inland along the river access that maybe opened up into the Gulf Peace River, for instance.
We have one member there that they were under 10 feet of water last I heard. They were still under 10 feet of water, literally the whole park. That will recede, and hopefully they'll be able to rebuild.
But there are those rare patches where if you're on a waterway, a lake that may have flooded. Or even on the coast on the Atlantic side, the East Coast, they got some storm surges as well, heavy waves. And then once again, the rivers and the lakes, they flooded.
So there were some isolated instances where throughout the state people had impacts, but nothing permanent by any means. And yes, I would think within a week or two, there won't be any lasting effects. So to answer the question, pretty much all the parks are open in the state.
So a little patience, couple weeks yet before anybody knows. And if there's any silver lining for snowbirds, maybe some of those late snowbirds that didn't get a reservation might be able to do so now because other people have moved on to different plans?
Snowbirds can still find a good site
And as far as the campers who are curious, once again, perception isn't always reality.
And you look at the media and yes, it's horrible devastation. I don't want to do anything to undermine that in those particular areas. But in Northern Fort Myers and just South Fort Myers, Naples, they had a lot of wind and rain, but still beautiful parts of the state, and they're definitely open.
So the area's not shut down, and yes, you can go find a good site.
Bobby, thank you so much for helping us get a little bit of an understanding of what the situation is there now. Snowbird season 2023 in Florida, it's still very much on.
Thank you. Yes, it is. For sure.
Mike and Jennifer's Favorite Places in Florida – all 3 ebooks!
We RVers may wander far and wide but it’s true for most of us that we end up with some favorite “Go-To” places – places that draw us back again and again.
Florida is one of those places for us. And we know it is for many RVers looking to get away and explore during the winter.
That's why we've created three guides, covering Florida's Atlantic Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Keys.
Each of these guides is a seven-day guided exploration of one of the coasts. And each stop is a curated view of the best things that we’ve enjoyed on this trip and want you to experience.
Altogether these guides are over 300 pages of content!
FAQ's about Florida Gulf Coast beaches of interest to RVers
What is the weather like along Florida's Gulf Coast?
The weather along Florida's Gulf Coast can vary depending on the time of year and the specific location. In general, the area experiences hot, humid summers and mild, pleasant winters.
The Panhandle region can be quite cool in January. It is seldom below freezing, but daytime highs are typically in the 50s. It warms up about 10 degrees each month.
You can also generally add about 10 degrees for every 150 miles you travel south down the Florida peninsula.
By the time you hit Naples, daytime highs in January are in the comfortable 70s.
Did Hurricane Ian destroy many beach campgrounds on the Gulf Coast?
While it severely damaged almost two dozen RV parks and campgrounds, about 8-10 campgrounds in the Naples-Ft. Myers area were completely destroyed. Most of the damaged campgrounds have been repaired and reopened.
Check with the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds if you have questions or concerns.
Are there any websites that can help me get a reservation for a Florida beach campground?
One of the best resources we can recommend is called Campnab. This service monitors parks for cancelations and sends you an alert when an opening matches your criteria. That said, it isn’t magic. The app doesn’t create availabilities.
The service works – but it is not free.
Campnab offers two ways to use the service. The first is individual pay-per-use scans. These watch for vacancies at a specific park for a specific date. These work well if you know exactly when and where you intend to camp. Pay-per-use scans cost $10 – $20, depending on how frequently you want them to check availability.
The second way to use the service is through a membership. These typically run monthly and are tailored to those who camp more frequently or are looking to maximize their chance of finding a site. Membership allows you to scan multiple parks and/or dates simultaneously. With memberships, you pay a monthly recurring fee ($10, $20, $30, or $50), depending on your needs.
Are there places in Florida where you can literally camp on the beach for free?
Not many. And they are very pricey. If you want to sleep directly on the sand in an RV, you'll have to stay at a developed commercial campground like Camp Gulf on the Emerald Coast or an RV resort like Big Pine Key Resort in the keys. Some state parks like the Gamble Rogers State Memorial Recreation Area in the Atlantic Coast or Bahia Honda State Park in the keys or Fort Desto State Park near St. Petersburg have beachside sites, too.
But are there free, unrestricted RV beach camping spots in Florida?
Sorry, none that I know of that would work for RVs.
There is unrestricted camping on wild beaches on a couple of islands, but you need a boat to get there, and it is for tent camping only. If you want to sleep directly on the sand, there is Anclote Key offshore Tarpon Springs, and Shell Key in Pinellas County. Another favorite is Keewaydin Island between Naples and Marco Island but that area remains pretty devasted from Hurricane Ian.
Curious about the gear, gadgets, accessories, and RV products Mike & Jennifer use and recommend?
On this RV Lifestyle Travel blog, our RV Podcast and our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel, we mention all sorts of RV-related products and gear that we use, So we created a special page that links to them. We update this all the time. CLICK HERE to go to it directly.