Saturday, February 20, 2016

Thousand Trails Campground Membership...Show me the savings!

I'll admit it. I never thought I would ever buy a campground membership. For one we prefer to boondock as much as we can. We like more natural settings with fewer people and more space around us. To us spending $15-$20 a night is expensive as there are so many wonderful free options out there (more so on the West coast we found out this winter). The cost in the East is so prohibitive we weren't sure if we would ever be able to return to Florida again.

We have always preferred to camp off the beaten path. To follow a trail to an area where few people are and be surrounded by natural beauty instead of feeling like you are jammed into a parking lot. One of the main reasons solar is so important to us.

Since we sold our house rather quickly and jumped in, head over heels, into this full time life style we had little time to make a winters plan other then...we are heading to Florida! The last time we travelled to Florida the dollar was at par and we didn't notice a huge cost burden of staying in Florida. This year with our dollar being so horrible, and our last minute plans, I started booking sites to have a place to stay. I didn't want to get down here and not find a spot. I booked all our sites from Jan 25th until the end of march before leaving Canada.

At the Rally in February we met many families who belong to Thousand Trails.

We asked them about the pros and cons of joining Thousand Trails. There were way more pros then cons. Financial reasons was the main benefit we heard over and over again. The second highest ranked benefit was it allowed them to be near other fulltime families more often then not. This was a huge factor for us deciding to buy a zone pass. Our kids had so much fun meeting new friends at the rally we knew the friendship factor would be huge for us.

We read some blogs posts against it like this one. Don't let that one discourage you though...continue reading as THIS one may just put you over the edge in favour of buying into the Thousand Trails membership! Either way you have to decide what is important to your family and run with it!

There ARE huge savings to be had. Initially we were concerned if we would get our moneys worth since we are from Canada and can only stay 6 months of the year in the US. We literally paid for our two zone membership and still saved hundreds of dollars by cancelling bookings we already had and moving into the trails system over the next 5 weeks we had left to stay in the States. We will use it again next fall and will renew next Spring and maybe even upgrade as the savings is huge if you have to stay in regular camp grounds.

We bought a two zone pass with Florida Max attached (Florida Max included Bulow RV resort, Gulf View, Harbor Lakes, Lake Magic, Sunshine Travel and Winter Quarters Pasco as six extra resorts).

Our purchase gave us 23 South East Camp grounds plus the 6 max pass bonus and 18 camp grounds in the North West as we knew we were heading out West again in the fall. We also can switch our zone one time so after we return to Canada we will switch it to the South West Zone from the South East Zone so we can stay in California next Nov and December.
source HERE

Here is what we saved: (all dollar amounts in this post are in USD)

We cancelled one week at Fort De Soto when my daughter broke out in a rash, which refunded us $301 and moved to Peace River for two weeks which was FREE as we have 30 days included with our membership.

We saved 20% at our time we had already booked at Terra Ceia RV Park which was an Encore resort. We could now save 20% because we are trails members. So we paid $40.80 a night instead of $50 with fees and taxes of regular rate. Savings of $36.80.

We changed our month of March reservation at Pine Island RV Park which was $1293.15 for the month, We cut it back to one week so we wouldn't incur cancellation fees and still got 20% off as it was an Encore park. They credited back our credit card $953.05.

We spent two weeks at Punta Gorda RV park which was part of our Florida Max pass for FREE.

So savings wise instead of spending $2096 for Feb 20th to March 31st (basically 5 weeks of camping) we spent $604.95 for two zones and Florida Max pass plus$239.10 in other camping fees (negative refunds) for a total $844.05 which included the membership purchase.

Doing this still saved almost $1300 for 5 weeks of camping! Plus we still have it to use in the fall to drive down to California for Nov and Dec (we will do our one time zone switch), plus if we need it for Jan and Feb before having to renew, we have the potential to save $1000's more depending how much we use it. Since we have it I can see us using it for our 14 days in and then 7 out, over and over and over again...until we upgrade :) Now if only they would buy a few more parks in Ontario and BC and we would be all set!

So what do you think? Do you see the savings?

REVIEW Fort DeSoto Park, St Petersburg, Florida

Camping at this county park is very hard to get reservations for and now that we have been here I can see why.

Directions: Fort De Soto Park, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S, St Petersburg, FL 33715

From Tampa / St Petersburg
Take I-275 south. Take exit 17 onto Pinellas Bayway/FL 682 west.
After 3 miles turn left onto Pinellas Bayway (FL 679). Go 6.6 miles to park.

From Bradenton / Sarasota
Take I-275 north. Take exit 17 onto Pinellas Bayway/FL 682 west.
After 3 miles turn left onto Pinellas Bayway (FL 679). Go 6.6 miles to park.

Park Entry Fee (If NOT camping here): $5/Car for parking. If you enter by bike you do not have to pay this fee. Also if you have a disabled parking permit you do not need to pay the parking fee. If you are camping here you get a free parking pass at the rest of the park.

Our site 88. The only site available for our stay.
Value 3.5/5
We could only get a reservation in the pet area which is $5 more a night so we paid $43 roughly including the $3.50 winter fee. Fee sheet currently as of now can be found here.This is a bit pricey for us however it is an average fee for Florida we are finding.

Site Quality 4/5
Very flat site on crushed gravel. Water and electric hook ups at site. No sewer but a dump station is available inside the camp ground.

Facility Fun 4.5/5
This is a wonderfully natural park with lots to do if you love the outdoors. Kids can easily bike to a couple different play grounds. Bring a kayak and head on out or rent one from the park. There are trails for bike riding. The swimming beach is a 15 minute ish bike ride down the road, with other beaches further along as well. You can take your car and be at a beach in minutes. Fires are permitted in an on ground fire pit which is not provided. I believe you can rent fire rings from the camp store but we did not look into it. Providing a fire ring would have made this park a 5/5 in our book.

Natural Surrounding 4.5/5
This was a very natural setting camp ground. Even though our site was along the road it was well treed and very quiet. There were large trees which we put up our tree hugger straps and our hammocks. The only thing this camp ground was missing was the swimming element. You have to bike or drive to the beach as there is no swimming allowed from any of the sites including the water front sites.

Bathrooms 3.5/5
The bathrooms were clean but they were older. They are open air bathrooms so the floors can be hosed down and the drain runs along the outside of the building. There is also an open air area near ceiling for fresh air to circulate. We arrived the day before the hose down of the bathrooms and they looked just as clean as they did the day after the hose down. Showers only have double curtains. No doors.

Staff 5/5
The camp hosts present at our time of stay were very friendly. The front gate rangers were very friendly and helpful. We left this park a bit early as one of my girls broke out into a bit of a rash and her face started to swell a bit. The ranger suggested we could stop in at the fire station on our way out (or any fire station apparently) and they would give her a check over to make sure everything was OK. I just wanted to get her some Benedryl. The last time it happened we believe it was due to cedar smoke and we think either the palm trees or smoke from someone's fire was making her have a reaction again... long story short...the staff were great here!

Location 4/5
The location is beautiful but it is out of the way. We made the mistake of not hitting the grocery store before arriving and had to set up, leave and go out again another 20 minutes each way to the grocery store. Not to mention we had to pay another $1.25 in tolls after paying $3.75 in tolls with the trailer attached to even get to the be sure to get all your supplies before heading to this park. Otherwise the natural location of this park is wonderful.

Overal 4/5
I absolutely loved this park and could have stayed longer. I loved the natural setting and the spacey sites so you didn't feel like you were sitting in your neighbours laps. My girls were a bit bored at times as the few kids they saw here were not as free to play as the families were at the rally so it took them some adjusting to playing a lone or together again. They got in lots of bike riding, and they were allowed to ride their motorized jeep around this park. There were lots of lizards to catch and observe so they had fun! They would have preferred to have a beach or pool we could walk to but other then that they spent a lot of time at the playgrounds. 
Camp ground map
Water front pet site
Open air concept bathrooms. One washer and dryer at entrance.
Cost $1.75 wash and $1.75 dry.
Dog bags provided in dog walk areas
Playground in the pet friendly part of park
Water front in NON pet side of park
Playground in NON pet side of park
One of our hammocks set up in the back of our site.
Lots of wildlife to be seen
See our time spent at East beach HERE, North beach HERE and at the Fort and Pier HERE.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Fort DeSoto Park, East Beach Walk, Florida

One of my favourite days in Fort DeSoto park was actually a day when I went by myself. Rarely do I ever go anywhere without the kids but neither of them wanted to come with me and I really wanted to get out to the beach one more time before we left. So I headed to East Beach...ALL by myself!

When you arrive you hit the playground first from the parking lot. It was another great playground with lots to do and shade covers for those hot days.

 There are lots of reserve-able covered picnic areas for your use and nice clean washrooms near by.

The beach was pretty quiet. Not like those on the bigger more famous beaches. This beach was nice and calm and natural.

There were alot of birds to be seen, collecting some diner a long the shoreline...

Or relaxing on the water waiting for their dinner to swim by.

There were so many Ospreys. I saw many nests and even a couple Ospreys with their dinner caught in the talons.

There were many butterflies but only this little guy posed for a picture.

There were other birds too.

It seemed so surreal to see these guys flying free. They certainly aren't seen in the wild at home in Canada.

Then I took a walk to the pier. I love that there are opportunities for people to fish without the required fishing license.

On another trip I'd like to take the ferry over to Egmont Key. I passed on it for this trip since we will be going to Sanibel Island in March and I have to save something for the next time we are in the area...right???

I really enjoyed my walk out all alone for a change. I love having my girls to explore with me but I do need to do this alone more often when they choose not to come. It was a beautiful way to spend our last day in Fort DeSoto Park. Have you visited here before? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Great Explorations Children's Museum, St Petersburg, Florida

While on our daytrip to St Petersburg and Clearwater area we visited Great Explorations Children's Museum and I must say I was very impressed!

Admission was $10 each for ages 1-54 (under one is free and 55 and older is $9) so this would have cost us $40 to visit except it is part of the ASTC travel passport program so we got in for FREE! See where we bought our membership that allowed us to visit this Children's Museum for FREE HERE.

We arrived shortly before closing so we didn't have much time to explore but it was almost empty so we had the place to ourselves basically and there was no waiting for anything.

Trying their hand at milking a cow and they were very surprised when milk actually came out!

The Build It Creation table where there is lots of Lego provided for you to build what ever your little heart desires.

The pizza station and grocery store once again wins over my girls. They could literally stay and shop and cook all day long!

Practising hula hooping at the Great Explorations Theater stage.

Next up was visiting the veterinary clinic to help some sick animals.
The animals needed baths.
Each had their own safe kennel to rest in while waiting to see the vet.
Some animals had broken bones which needed xrays to be sure.

Upstairs they had a healthy bodies/healthy food and exercise areas. 

Back downstairs they visited the fire hall. 

 Then they headed out into the main play area where there were lots of stations to build with different types of blocks. Sierras favourite was the natural tree blocks...takes after her mamas own heart!

In the middle there was a really cool treehouse/playhouse/slide area.

 Large blocks for building those large muscles.

 A great creation station with lots of building materials.

 I love this clay sculpture someone built.

A whirlwind visit for us for sure but it was lots of fun. We were really impressed with this children's museum. Although it was small it was jam packed with many fun activities.We definitely recommend a visit here if you are in the area. The Sunken Gardens are also next door. We didn't have time to visit them today but another trip we will for sure.