There is no better time to do a review of a firepit right after a fire ban, no? You may have seen our area on the news (our families certainly did with people coming out of the woodwork ensuring we were safe…we are!) that there have been some forest fires and evacuations as a result of some careless people.
So do as we say, not as we do. Start a fire. And do it without much muss or fuss.
What: Flame Genie Wood Pellet Fire Pit
Where to Buy: Amazon or direct from manufacturer
Price: Around $100
If you’re like us, you don’t like to buy bulky items (where you ask “where on earth we’re going to store the thing?”). If you’re also like us, you like to have campfires even if the site you’re renting doesn’t have a fire pit. This is the perfect solution for both problems. The Flame Genie is compact (you can keep it in tact when stationed somewhere for a while but also easily break it down, and there’s also a handy dandy carrying case you can purchase!), burns wood pellets instead of wood (the pellets basically disintegrate upon burning, making a small pile of ash) and boy, does it make a big warm fire! And unlike campfires that smell up the whole joint, it burns pretty clean and you won’t find smoldering the next day because you neglected to properly put it out. It burns out quickly. And you won’t reek of that fire smell. It burns clean. And your neighbors, who may not like the fire part of the campground, will have no qualms with you using this nifty device.
There are some downsides. You have to keep feeding the fire with just the right amount of pellets (too few makes the fire collapse, too many chokes the fire) and it may take a couple of tries to figure out what that amount is. Its kind of like a video game in that way, so perhaps that’s an upside. You also have to purchase pellets, gel and long matches so it isn’t like you can just open the box and start a fire. These are relatively cheap, easy to find and easy to store.
Would Buy Again: Oh hell yes. Coming from a state campground where fires were a staple to a private campground where your site is 100% dependent on the site owner (where we have flowers in the fire pit because their fire pit is rather pathetic), we love this little fire pit. It may be small but it packs a huge fire and big heat.
Buy it here:
You sometimes don’t know what to expect until you actually are doing it. Sure, you can plan and prepare but even then, you come across unexpected good surprises and unexpected bad ones. We will be reviewing what those are, based on subject.
The first round is about government-run campgrounds.
1. COE Campgrounds. You may be wondering “what does COE mean?” We’ll tell you. “COE” stands for “Corps of Engineers”. They are usually located near water and you won’t generally find camphosts greeting you and showing you to the non-existent pool, but what bang you get for your buck! These are usually the cheapest stays for a paid campground (anywhere between $12-$18 per night), albeit there weren’t any sewer hookups at the ones we’ve stayed at. The sites are usually large. We knew people raved about them but this was still a pleasant surprise. If available we’d definitely stay again.
2. State Campgrounds. Ok. These can vary state to state. We admit it. We were surprised that unlike many national parks, many state-run parks and their campgrounds are big rig friendly. They’re all over the board with maintenance and such but we haven’t been disappointed yet. One of our most favorite campgrounds happened to be one that was a state campground.
3. County Campgrounds. These are even more diverse so generalizing is dangerous. They are 100% dependent on the county maintaining them, but we’ve stayed at ones with huge sites and amazing internet. The ones we’ve stayed at were big rig friendly and really well-maintained. This was surprising to us.
1. COE Campgrounds. If you have a big rig, not having sewer readily available may be a problem if you don’t want to unhook and find a place to dump. We didn’t realize that it was no sewer when booking (surprise!) but we were only here for two days. Okay, okay, we’re stretching here. You do get a ridiculous bang for your buck.
2. State Campgrounds. Reservations. Oh my, reservations! Some states are more cut-throat than others. If you are a full-timer, you are competing with locals who go to state campgrounds as a vacation spot on the weekends for a relatively cheap price. You can’t technically stay for more than 14 days, but the easy workaround is having more than one email address and booking with it. Forget holidays. Weekends are crazy as well. Some are not well-maintained as far as trees, so while your rig may meet the length requirements, there is an unspoken height requirement as well (we have met many a tree).
3. County Campgrounds. Many don’t allow reservations less than three days in advance and reservations aren’t posted until three days before arrival. This means, upon entering, if the camphost isn’t available, you need to guess which site to park at where someone isn’t about to make a reservation. It’s common in national parks as well, but man it’s confusing. We had no idea about this.
You’ll notice that we didn’t list national parks. That’s because, being a big rig, we haven’t had the opportunity to find a park that will fit us. Maybe that’s a negative for us but we have friends who love them.
What: RV Driving School
Where to Buy: RV School
Price: Varies, depending on type ($695 for the one we took)
Between the two of us we have *censored for ridiculously high count* years of driving experience. It’s second-nature to the both of us. In thinking about driving a 45 foot motorhome (plus tow!), we first watched youtube videos, talked through the logistics of driving a motorhome, discussed how this would be different than driving a car or SUV, et cetera. But like many others, we tend to learn by doing.
Knowing that we were driving something that was hundreds of thousands of dollars (a bit different than the Jeep, we’ll admit), we knew that we weren’t going to depend on youtube. We researched RV Training and determined that we wanted to get training before we took a major trip, so looked at Pennsylvania.
We researched via Google and Facebook and found RV School. They have multiple locations because they aren’t a brick-and-mortar “school”. They have trainers throughout the nation who may live in the location (considered to be “permanent locations”, or be visiting for an extended period of time (“seasonal”) or just a couple weeks (“temporary”). The instructors determine their own schedule and you work out the timing of the training with the instructor. That said, payment is to RV School and RV School stands behind their instructors.
We took a Combination/2 person lesson. It’s a 2 day 6 hour intensive training. There’s also an option for a single/1 person course with the option of a “ride along” companion, but we both wanted ownership of the driving in some way.
We contacted the instructor, Ray Casselberry, to work out the date and place. Ray was a lifetime truck driver who was retired, and we felt he was fully capable of helping us drive the bus. He recommended we travel an hour to South Central Pennsylvania (Carlisle). So with Kim, Chris and the dogs in tow, on Chris’ birthday, his gift was driving our brand new RV (happy birthday to you!).
The training itself was intense and thorough. Did it cover every scenario? No, how could it, but it started at an RV park Ray had a relationship with (and known to have some tighter turns so we maneuvered with an instructor right there for the first time) and the area had everything – steep hills (up and down, as what goes up must come down!), small town roads, traffic circles, highways (entering and exiting) and large shopping centers (to practice backing up). It also allowed the dogs practice to travel in the rig, and helped us identify some snags in our current doggie containment system (our dogs, it turns out, were used to the car and being RIGHT NEXT to us).
To say we learned a lot is an understatement. The training was invaluable. One thing our instructor immediately corrected was our speed. When we both got to the wheel the instruction was “slow down”. As we had more practice, he said it less and less. We also came across some spine-tingling “omygah!” moments which he talked us through (getting onto a packed highway, for example). We learned the “stupid face” (Ray’s phrase) which is the face you give if a car decides to be jerkish and blocks you from safely making your turn. We learned to be more patient than you have driving a car or a SUV. It’s so simple, but it reiterated safety first.
Other than the perk of being more confident with our driving, another perk is insurance – completion did lower our rates than if we hadn’t taken the course.
Would Recommend: Yes. We do often think back to lessons taught during those two days and it was worth every single penny.
So, we’ve told you our tale of our favorite campgrounds here. We loved them all for so many different reasons. Now’s the time to tell you about campgrounds that celebrate mediocrity. Remember when we told you how reviews are subjective here? Well, despite doing the research, sometimes there’s nothing you can do but experience it first-hand. Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants no matter what the gut tells you.
Consider this to be the Razzies of GeekRV. The only thing contributing to these rating is our subjective selves. Take it or leave it. Are these the worst campgrounds ever? No, but they fell short based on expectation set by the website or reviews.
Least Pet Friendly. Columbia River RV Park, Portland OR. As pet owners, we look for parks that are pet friendly. Well, the problem with this is that park owners know that many RVers have pets so call themselves pet friendly. We didn’t learn until we checked in that this park expected you to NOT walk your dogs anywhere in the park but pick them up, trot about a quarter mile out of the park, go across a busy street and go to another park’s enclosed dog park which is basically a small dirt field. Because, you know, that’s logistically realistic. Considering they have little strips of grass (some of which floods), there’s not much they’re saving. There are signs everywhere stating people live here and to not let dogs go on the grass. People live in neighborhoods with houses, too, and as long as you clean up it’s legally something dogs can do. And they give no alternatives or designated areas inside the park, so that means the park is NOT pet-friendly! Besides that, this is a parking-lot type trailer park that claims to be Big Rig friendly as much as they claim to be pet-friendly. Emphasis on claims. Gut check: we stayed here because of location. We wanted to be close. Sometimes it is all about location but sometimes, it just isn’t.
Worst Connectivity. Southern Oregon RV Park, Central Point OR. There were many things wrong with this park but the thing that stands out the most is connectivity. They are right off of I-5 in a populated area. Jackson County, which runs this park, didn’t put in any wireless because they opted to not install it or they haven’t gotten around to it yet . That said, without wireless, the cellular service was bare minimum (one bar for AT&T and Verizon). We drove a mile down the road and service was great. They are basically in a dead zone. When it rained out, service went from one bar to nothing. And, you know, it never rains in Oregon (insert sarcasm here). Besides the connectivity, security was an issue, had a terrible reservation service, didn’t have an office and camp hosts who seemed missing in action. Gut check: if it appears to be good to be true online, it is too good to be true.
Biggest Opportunity Lost. The Rock RV Park, Rockmart, GA. What a gorgeous piece of land. What a great concept (outdoor concert venue and camping). Amazing views and peaceful (no concerts when we stayed there). That said, that’s the end of it. Loose dogs everywhere (we believe one was the owner’s dog). Most hookups are at the front of the sites so very tough access. The driveway to get to the site is all hills. Most sites had a hill as well. There are low-hanging wires at the entrance, and despite stating they were Big Rig friendly we couldn’t help but scrape these wires (you should be fine if you’re under 12 feet tall, we are 13’5″). The owner assured us he had a pull through for us. Despite having reservations, we showed up without a place to park. Their solution was to park on a big field next to another site where the resident was gone for the weekend and piggyback off of their sewer (which was backed up), electric and water. We were glad it didn’t rain as that field would’ve been tough if it turned to mud. Below is a picture of the property, though, so that’s why we call it the biggest opportunity lost. Imagine if the property was actually meant for RVs! Gut check: this was an available park on a holiday weekend when everything else was booked. The biggest upside was the beauty.
Are You Willing to Testify Under Oath? Forsyth KOA, Forsyth GA. We called the office to ensure they are Big Rig friendly. We explained our size and class. They said “Oh yes!” People lie. The “paved” roads are torn apart. The turns are not just tight but nearly impossible (doable, but not fun). We were placed on the bottom of a steep hill. We had a pull-through site that was extremely unlevel with a hurricane ditch across us. They placed us in the middle of the row which was raised and had a ditch on either side of the pad. Pulling out of that deathtrap was nerve-wracking. Less experienced drivers or someone not paying attention would’ve destroyed their rig. Gut check: The reviews stated this park wasn’t Big Rig friendly. We called to verify and they said they were. Sometimes you need to believe what you read.
You Never Actually Visited, Did You? Newport Dunes, Newport Beach CA. A certain blog rated this park as one of “16 top RV parks to stay when money is no object”. Um, yeah. We suspect the people who wrote this article never actually visited, and if they did, they’re blind. What they forgot to mention was whether the park was actually decent or not. It was the most expensive park we’d ever stayed (this is saying something) but it seemed kind of like a dump. The only thing about this park is the view. If you get a bay-side spot, you’ll have a view. That really is the only thing this place has going for it. The spots are not only extremely tight, but there’s barbed fencing on either side of your site which makes it even more tight. If you do not have a bayside site, you will not fit if you are a big rig. Many people had fires and kids playing in the street because the sites were small. The only reason we fit length-wise was because we didn’t have a tree in front of us so we jutted out in front. There were a ton of issues with water to and from the sites. They turned it off for a day (okay, that happens). It then was turned back on. The next day, they had to shut the water off again. Before all that happened, they told the site next to us to use our water since theirs wasn’t working. Gut check: we wanted to stay in Newport Beach more than we wanted to believe the mixed reviews. Believe the bad reviews.
So the mantra when trying to decide where to stay? Do your research, trust your gut. Do your research, trust your gut. Say it with us now…
We wanted to do a helicopter ride around the Grand Canyon for our anniversary. It was (lucky) number 15, we were in Vegas, we felt a moral imperative to go. We did some research online and Sundance Helicopters got great reviews. We went with the Grand Canyon Sunset picnic tour in the EC-130 upgrade (more windows to see the sights). We were considering the private helicopter but decided it wasn’t worth the astronomical cost.
The limo picked us up an hour and a half before the scheduled tour and we checked in about an hour early (based on region of where they pick you up – the earliness of the pickup was kind of a bummer). Then there was a lot of waiting, and waiting, and waiting. As we were waiting, we were surprised how many people were taking this tour. We were afraid that they would cancel the tour because there’s a minimum of 6 people. No worries there.
Thank goodness we didn’t opt for the private helicopter! Each timed tour takes off at the same time and lands at the same time, and there were easily 10 helicopters on our tour. Even though there was one couple who did the private helicopter, they sat with the rest of us (6 per helicopter, 60 other people gathered in one small area so it isn’t exactly “private”). We had a small picnic at an approved ridge and hung out for 30 minutes or so. We were a bit shocked how little we got to see of the Grand Canyon. Here it is.
The most impressive part of the trip honestly was the sunset and the quick tour around Las Vegas at night. Sure, the lights are just lights but at night they were really something.
We were happy to have done it. We can now say “yes, we’ve flown in a helicopter” and “Grand Canyon? Check!”.
Helpful hint 1: you will be walking on ROCKS and you will be near helicopter blades. It also gets very cold in the evening. There were people who had a ton of problems because of their choice of attire. They were freezing, couldn’t walk without looking like a baby giraffe and clearly regretted that decision to leave the jacket behind. Meanwhile we were strutting around because we chose wisely. “Lookit us! Climbing rocks without issue!” Okay, not really strutting. We really didn’t do that. But we were strutting in our minds.
Helpful hint 2: you get a limo ride to and from your hotel (we parked at a hotel around Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort, 5 minutes away from the Silverton). When you leave for your limo, it’s last in/first out. We were lucky that the six other people in the limo didn’t seem to mind going so out of the way from their strip hotels to drop us off first.
If you’re in Vegas, want to see the Grand Canyon, and only have 4 hours to see the Grand Canyon, this might be a good workaround to see a lot in a very little amount of time.
This will be a breathing list because we’re always moving! That said, here are the ones that top our “best of” list and why. Full disclosure: This is completely subjective. There is no point system, no scientific method. It’s all whim.
Best Area: Tiger Run Resort, Breckenridge CO – For us the location was perfect. You’ll be a stone’s throw from bike/running paths, near everything and tons of local flavor in both Frisco and Breckenridge. Pros of this campground are nice wide, paved roads. Lots of greenspace for the dogs. Amazing views and prime location. Breckenridge, for us, was a place unlike any other. Tiger Run kind of knows this so they have not improved some key pain points yet, such as allowing constant construction from owners improving their sites (they have rules to dissuade this but they aren’t enforced). Staff needs a serious overhaul. It is the location that makes this place so great for us.
Best Layout: Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort, Las Vegas NV – The best layout of park we’ve seen for big rigs. Spots are gorgeous, lots of greenspace for the dogs. Easy in-and-out location. Cons is that there is no enclosed dog park and because this resort is 100% owned, your spot may be sold while you’re staying there (not fun to move). That said, the lots are really something, complete with shade, grills, fireplaces and outdoor refrigerators on some sites. There are events about once per month so you can get to know your neighbors (although there is some exclusion of owners versus renters, such as the gym hours). Staff is really great. The residents are hit-or-miss, some are very friendly, others are friendly to only certain residents (read: of a certain age-group).
Best Dog Park: Portal RV Resort, Moab UT – The dog park in the resort section was the highlight of our dogs’ day! It is large, grass is spongy, and there’s a place for owners to sit on a bench in the shade. The park itself is very nice, although the resort section is hit-or-miss. Some lots have gazebos while others don’t. Ours didn’t, but did back up to a horse field where we were visited by guests daily.
Best Hosts: Mountaindale RV Resort – Colorado Springs, CO – The owners/hosts take great pride in this park and there’s a reason. The hosts love their park and love their guests. Also, this is a resort that caters to big rigs and the owner actually took another campground and combined two spots into every one spot. The spots are HUGE and the wireless is the best we’ve seen at any campground. Our only issues were that AT&T was completely dead (a known issue, make sure you forward calls to skype, the wireless will help you along) and there wasn’t much grass. The people, wireless and the spot sizes more than made up for it.
Best Wireless: Mountaindale RV Resort – Colorado Springs, CO – Again, they are the best of the best in wireless. You wouldn’t believe how good it is. The best internet of any campground we’ve ever seen and as a result connectivity (which could be an issue) wasn’t an issue at all. They are one of the only campgrounds we’ve seen that recognized an issue and while they had no control over the issue (AT&T being blocked by a MOUNTAIN!), they compensated by getting the best wireless access out there. We wish more campgrounds did this.
Best Events: Elite Resorts, Clermont FL – Every Monday, Tuesday and Sunday there are get-togethers hosted by the resort (happy hour, snacks and ice cream). As a full-timer, it’s a great way to meet your neighbors and make some great friends. The staff and the residents make this place amazing. Spots are very large. A ton of greenspace for the dogs. The spots don’t really have much to them, very little privacy, but very nice park. We didn’t visit the mouse that often, but there are a lot of Disney fans who live here. Cons are constant construction within the park.
Best Newbie Campground: Raleigh Oaks RV Resort, Four Oaks, NC – This was a Christmas holiday stop for us, not necessarily where we’d choose to go on our own, but it is very close to the east side of Raleigh, the spots are paved, lots are grassy and large and the people are beyond compare. These were the folks who didn’t charge us for a no-show because they knew the rain was horrible, and wanted to promote “safety first”.
The skinny is we’d love to put Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort’s layout in Breckenridge, hosted by the owners of Mountaindale with their wireless, with a dog park built by Portal RV Resort and events held by Elite Resorts. That, friends, would be the perfect RV resort!
What: Mail Forwarding Service
Where to Buy: Depending on domicile. We’re reviewing St. Brendan’s Isle and Escapees
Once you decide on a domicile and you’re full-timing, unless you have a family member willing to be the point of contact for your mail and have them send it (which may not exactly foster good will between yourself and the family member), you should look into mail forwarding services. We used two services over the year. The difference between them are night-and-day.
Overview: This service has both Texas and Florida. The pricing structure is varied, depending on the level of service you want. The basic service ($195) includes the annual fee, postage deposit, enrollment fee and a cancellation fee (which seems a bit presumptuous).
If you opt to not have class or special sorting, you will not get the (brand new) scanning service. You will not be notified if/when new mail comes in so you need to be on top of things or schedule a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly send if you want to see your mail.
Our Experience: You could not pay us to use this service again. It was beyond horrible for us. They sent our mail to the wrong customer (ok, mistakes happen). What’s worse is they didn’t let us know about the fact that they lost it and did very little to get our mail back. We asked for our mail to be sent to us with 2-Day delivery and received their verification it would be sent. After 5 days, we had not received the mail so we reached out. No response back. Finally we called again after 7 days, only to find out that they sent the mail to the wrong person and had no idea where the mail was. They thought the mail was sent to a particular customer, but did not reach out to the customer to see if that was the case nor did they send that customer a label to send the mail back. They neglected to tell us anything, and only told us because we continued to prompt them for information.
After a lot of words from us, we also insisted we be provided with a daily update. No update was provided. Finally we received a call that they received our mail back and there seemed to be a question how the mail should be sent. Considering we waited a week plus due to their mistake, you’d think good customer service would tell them that they should send the mail Next Day Air at their expense. That was asking too much. We asked for tracking information and none was sent. The unapologetic and lackadaisical way they handled their mistake was appalling. It felt like we were dealing with volunteers who would rather be doing anything than doing the job of mail forwarding. It was unprofessional at best.
Would Recommend: No. Wait, on second thought, NO.
UPDATE: After writing this review, a VP from Escapees reached out to Kim, claiming that the mail was delayed because some of the mail was addressed to Chris and the service was only for Kim. Actually, none of the mail was addressed to Chris and 100% was addressed to Kim so we asked them to check their sources. However, we did point out that if that was the case, then this should have been conveyed in the first place. The explanation made no sense because return to sender for Chris wouldn’t have lost Kim’s mail as well, but maybe there’s some fancy USPS action going on there. Maybe Mastercard is offering us a free pony if we sign up now through junk mail. We reiterated that the issue was the customer service and lack of transparency. In addition, they indicated they did comp the shipping of the lost mail to us. As we don’t get an accounting of this, we will accept their statement and stand corrected on that point. This incident occurred approximately four months ago and this is the first time anyone reached out to us to explore the miscommunication. We are certainly willing to work with them, but the information we’re being given is inconsistent with their own information they provided to us months earlier. If they had said a few months ago “Yo, Bozos! You did this wrong!” we would have worked with them and this post would have read “This is how newbies can screw things up”. They said nothing to the kind at the time. For the record, Chris doesn’t use the address, nor does he give it out, and he’d actually be hard-pressed to provide it to anyone without calling Kim first to ask for the address (to which she’d say “Why are you giving out that address?”). We appreciate their reaching out and hopefully things have improved since this incident. We still do have the service and the one other time we had mail sent to us it arrived without issue.
St. Brendan’s Isle
Overview: This service allows for marine travelers as well as RVers to receive their mail. The “Travelers Special” is a monthly fee of $11.99 per month which includes all mail forwarding. There is also a scan option of $7.99 per month.
Our Experience: We opted for both the Travelers Special and the Scanning Service options. This service has been invaluable to us. We were notified via email when new mail came in. The postage fees to get the mail to us was extremely reasonable. The scanning service was very valuable as we were able to view bills and not have to waste postage fees on mail we didn’t really need to see in person.
We have also had large packages delivered here without issue. The price of $240 per year may seem steep, but considering the terrible experience we had with Escapees, we knew the reliability and consistency of this mail forwarding service was worth every penny. In addition, mail scanning with Escapees would bump up the base price so the price is practically even. St. Brendan’s Isle. Everything has been handled professionally and we found the service is perfect for our needs. We never really had to “think” about our mail. All the hard work is done by them.
Would Recommend: Yes
The Bottom Line
If choosing between the two mail forwarders, without hesitation we would recommend St. Brendan’s Isle. We are giving Escapees a chance as they did reach out to try to remedy the issue and will update as things progress.
We have a glass-enclosed shower which makes things like bottles, soap and such look a bit unkempt (never mind the loofahs, they add character). They are just extra things we have to put away before driving. We saw this at Bed, Bath and Beyond and while the price was steep, thought it was perfect for the shower. They have these in singles, doubles and triples. Some other makers have them in a brighter chrome but we liked the stainless look.
We chose the triple because we (read: Kim) needed a place for shampoo, conditioner and liquid soap.
What: Triple wall mount pumps for the shower
Manufacturer: Simple Human
Where to Buy: Bed, Bath and Beyond, Amazon, Kohls
Would we buy it again: Yes
The Pros: Instantly cleaned up the shower. You can have your loofahs and razor all in one place.
The Cons: Other than the price tag, the biggest con to this is that you have to make sure that your conditioner is not too thick (otherwise it will clog). Originally we used Aveda’s products (Invadi) and had a terrible time with clogging. We switched to another Aveda product (Balancing conditioner) and no problems.
The Results: There are probably other items out there that are less expensive, but this works for us and we liked the look. It has become of the daily routine and at no point do we say “Gee, wish those bottles were back”.