VW California

Chris McGraw has a post up on autoblog with a review of the 2018 Volkswagen California.

20 minutes. That’s how long it took someone to stop and ask me about the cherry red Volkswagen California I was driving.

“Is this the new Volkswagen van?” a woman in the passenger seat of a Dodge Charger asked while we were both stopped at a stoplight. “That looks nice.”

It was the first of many times that I was going to disappoint onlookers this week. No, the California isn’t the new van from VW. In fact, Volkswagen is simply celebrating the original California camper’s thirtieth anniversary this year, which is why Volkswagen shipped a fleet of them to Los Angeles. The fact that they’re in California has more to do with the name than a particular connection to the U.S. – no Californias have ever been sold here.

It is the thirtieth anniversary of this unique camper van, named after one of my favourite states.

Sadly, you can’t buy one in North America. You can buy it here though.

When we were travelling through Norway, there were RVs everywhere and a number of camper vans like the VW California.

Here is one photo and if you look towards the very back row, you can see a couple of camper vans with their tops up. Norway, despite having a very short summer season, has one of the highest levels of RV ownership in Europe.

A few reasons why VW doesn’t make the California available to North American consumers: safety tests and cost. Spending roughly $100,000 Canadian for a camper van — after exchange rates and taxes — would seem expensive for such a unique vehicle.

Treehugger made the following observation:

Who needs a big RV when you can travel in tried-and-true style? If only they sold it here.

A lot of people (including me) have a dream of hitting the road and seeing the world, or at least the continent. The Volkswagen camper always seemed to me to be the perfect escape vehicle; it is no larger than a car (smaller in footprint than a lot of American SUVs), yet they pack so much into that box that you can almost live in it. They are magical transformers.

Well, for us, we really like the big RV. Especially for being out on the road mostly full-time.

Jason of Jalopnik had this video overview of the VW California. Cool machine.

Hearthside Grove Motorcoach Resort

Only a few more days before we make our way to Hearthside Grove. So excited to be returning to Petoskey and so excited to be staying at Hearthside for a few weeks.

Andy Pargh just posted a great video on Hearthside Grove. Everything you might want to know about the resort is covered in his video.

Shamadon RV Resort Review

rwc_4391

The toughest part about getting to the Shamadon RV Resort?

Driving through Toronto.

We were delayed by almost three hours due to severe traffic congestion on the 401. I have no idea how people living in Toronto can tolerate the horrendous traffic congestion on most of their roads.

This meant a late night arrival into the park. We had planned to get there for 5pm and we wound up arriving there closer to 8pm. In the dark.

Crystal was expecting us. And she had Patrick help us get settled in.

Wonderful service from the team at Shamadon. Patrick and Crystal were outstanding.

First Impressions

Overall I would rate this park 8 out of 10.

Now keep in mind that we are comparing this park to some of the RV resorts that we have stayed at in the United States. Relative to the Canadian sites we have stayed at, I would rate this park 9 out of 10 with top marks for service and for the setting.

At this time of year, the park was very quiet and we were given a site that was picture perfect. A corner site with great views of the countryside and no neighbours. A very private and peaceful site.

Getting into the Park

Aside from driving through the Toronto traffic, the route into the park is very nice. Scenic roadways. Well maintained and smooth highways. Picturesque small towns. No issues for height and width of a large rig.

Be warned though that your GPS will likely take you along Letterbreen Rd off Highway 6.

Your only option if you take Letterbreen is to take the turn on Concession Rd 2 for about 3 kilometres of gravel road. If you keep going on Highway 6 and take the turn on County 9 then you will only have about a kilometre of gravel road before the entrance to the resort.

The check-in process was very quick and Patrick escorted us to our site. He was very helpful. And he demonstrated something that I really enjoyed throughout our stay at Shamadon: amazing customer service. Very friendly and attentive staff.

Sites

We were assigned site 211. This was a large grass site and I was a bit concerned about whether our coach would settle particularly as we had rain in the forecast. No worries though. We had a bit of an adventure getting out of the site but not because the tires got stuck. More on that in a moment.

The service on this site was 30 amp even though our coach likes a 50 amp service. We are very accustomed to running the coach on 30 amps and this is not a major issue for us. The water pressure was a bit low, about 30 psi or so. We used our freshwater tank and water pump for showers — I like a bit more pressure than 30 psi when I shower.

shamadonrvmap

Shamadon had placed us in an exceptionally quiet and wonderful location at the park. Surrounded by trees and a stunning forest trail, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. No line of sight to the Bell satellites and the digital antenna could not draw any usable channels.

Getting out of the site proved challenging. Our rig was too high to exit the loop by going straight out of the pull-through (from site 211 out past sites 210 – 200). There were numerous low-hanging branches in our way. I pulled the coach forward, repositioned and reversed back as far as possible and then swung hard to complete the three-point turn to go past sites 212-216. We had no choice but to exit the wrong way out of the loop in that part of the park. Fortunately it was a very short part of the loop and we did not have any oncoming traffic.

Pros

Beautifully well maintained and scenic
Amazing staff and service
Nice facilities in a country setting

Cons

A bit of a challenge for a 40-foot diesel pusher to get around so pick your site carefully
Lots of gravel getting into the park as well as driving around the park

 

Window Shopping at the Hershey RV Show

Our plan was to attend the Hershey RV show Friday and Saturday.

We arrived on Friday to a pretty quiet day at the show. We were there from 10am until about 7pm. Long day but we had a lot of fun.

I’ll spend a bit of time posting about our window shopping first. The Hershey RV was our opportunity to relook at a number of coaches and to see if we had any tinge of buyer’s remorse. The short answer? None whatsoever. Although there was one coach that was very tempting.

There are four coaches that compete very closely: Entegra, Tiffin, American Coach and Newmar. Sure, there are other coaches from Thor, Fleetwood and Winnebago, but realistically, those four coaches would be at the top of our shopping list if we were looking to buy this year.

Having lived in the Castaway since June and having run the coach on several long road trips, we have more than a bit of a feel for the Newmar product. We love it and if we were to make a purchase decision today, we would still go with the Newmar Dutch Star. It is a wonderful coach and the Newmar support has been terrific.

Entegra was a strong candidate for us last year. Going through the coaches at the show this year, I could see why. The Entegra products offer a lot for the dollar. Now, I could nitpick on a number of items with the Entegra coaches, which is true for all of these coaches as not one is perfect, but the main issue for us was the floorplan. We could not find a floorplan we really loved in a 40-foot coach in the Entegra line. I’m not sure what impact the Thor acquisition may have on the Entegra line. Most M&A activities are conducted to build scale and lower costs. I guess we will have to wait and see what, if anything, this acquisition might due to the Entegra customer base. What that acquisition concern us if we were buying this year? Hard to say.

For us, the Tiffin line was nice but not to our liking. Again primarily due to floorplans in a 40-foot coach. We had quickly ruled their products out of the running last year when we were going through our finalist list. The one and only dealer in Ontario, McPhail’s of Harriston, was a significant distance from our home. And then there was a lot of online feedback about required trips to Red Bay, Alabama to deal with warranty items.

As we went through the Entegra and Tiffin coaches, we were reassured in our decision to buy the Castaway from Newmar.

That said, the American Coach products were very impressive. We really liked the American Dream. Beautiful coach and a really nice floorplan albeit at 42 feet and just a wee bit more expensive than the Dutch Star. Okay, maybe a lot more expensive. Very nice coach.

Oh, and I did find my Basecamp at the show. Such a cool little travel trailer.

airstreambasecamp

Lots more to share about the Hershey RV show so stay tuned.

Lancaster New Holland KOA Review

l1020820

l1020819

We were a bit late in finding a site near the Hershey RV show and we did not want to boondock at the show itself. We found a place to hangout for a few nights at the Lancaster/New Holland KOA.

Although the weather forecast was originally sunny and warm, we found a mostly cloudy and overcast weather pattern for our stay. No rain, but most of the scenery was tempered by a greyish mood to the light.

The New Holland area is home to Lancaster County’s Amish community. It is really quite a beautiful area and we will go back so that we can spend a lot more time here. The Discover Lancaster website is a good resource if you are thinking about travelling in this area.

We loved the area. We had a quiet campground with awesome views of the countryside. It felt private and it was also very quiet. The customer service at this KOA? About what I expected when reading the reviews for this campground. Mixed. If all you need is a place to park for a few nights and nothing else, then this place is fine. If you need anything outside of the basics, be warned. Bonnie, who has a bit of a reputation online, is not what I would consider to be a customer focused individual.

That said, we were gone for most of our time here. It took us about an hour to drive to the Hershey RV from this campsite. And we left early and returned late each day that we were here.

On our first night, we enjoyed a meal at the Shady Maple Smorgasbord.

Oh my goodness. What a place.

Good thing that we had not eaten very much that first day. So much great food!

Shady Maple is very popular so best to avoid it on the weekends.

So, without further fanfare, here is our review of the Lancaster/New Holland KOA.

First Impressions

Overall I would rate this park 7.5 out of 10.

We don’t mind paying more for a nice experience however this campground is overpriced. We paid $87 per night presumably for the view and the location. There is really not much else to this KOA. A basic gravel pull-through site with full hook-ups. Water pressure was low at our site and we elected to fill our freshwater tank and run off the internal water pump.

The park was well maintained. And it was very quiet. Not much in the way of kids probably because there is nothing for them to do here. Which suits us fine. We enjoy quiet and peaceful surroundings and this KOA delivers exactly that.

Getting into the Park

Be prepared for an adventurous drive getting to this campground. I have never seen such a convoluted route on a GPS. We were coming southbound on I-81 and spent almost 2 hours after leaving the Interstate to get to this KOA. We must have crossed every possible turnpike and roadway in this part of Pennsylvania. Tight roads, lots of hills, numerous small towns. If you are driving a big rig, well, let’s just say the drive to the campground will be a bit challenging.

This KOA is located in the country. It is near the small community of New Holland and it is actually a fair distance from Lancaster. We thought that we would have a relatively moderate drive of 6 hours or so. It took us more than 10 hours to get here. The toughest part of the drive was the last 2 hours. The Interstate was smooth for the most part although there was an extensive amount of construction work on the bridges of I-81 that proved interesting for a big rig. Someone needs to tell those highway folks to put the cones on the other side of the lane marker. We hit several areas where the cones were set inside our lane by a good foot or so making it very tough to stay between the lines.

Although complicated to get to this site from the Interstate, this part of Pennsylvania is truly beautiful. Wonderful vistas for the passenger. For the pilot, well I had to stay pretty focused on the driving.

Pulling into the KOA you will find a barrier just before the office. We were let in as we had arrived during office hours. The office check-in was quick. We received a basic map and a keycard with a stern warning to bring it back or pay a $20 penalty.

Sites

We were assigned X10 although any of the sites from X1-X14 are nice. Great views in front and not tightly packed. Sites 32-41 are also very nice. Similar views as the X sites. Access to the gravel sites is via paved road. Our site was level and we had no issues pulling in and getting set up. One well used picnic table and one fire pit. No trees in the X sites.

lancasterkoamap

Pros

Very quiet park catering more to older couples
Clean and well maintained
Good lot size and expansive views of the Amish countryside

Cons

Limited services and facilities so make sure that this park will work for you and your family
Lots of mixed reviews on the web in terms of customer service

Our customer service experience?

Well, we had rented a car from Enterprise. We needed to leave early Sunday morning and getting the car back to the rental agency would take us about 40 minutes out of our way. We had to make the drive home in one day and we knew from our experience coming down that the drive was more in the range of 8 – 10 hours.

Enterprise kindly offered to pick up the car at the campground. Leave the keys at the office, park the car outside the gate and they would come by and pick it up.

Only Bonnie would not support that kind act. Her view was that they were not in the car rental business and that they would not hold the keys nor would they allow the car to be left outside the gate.

Fair enough. But I really did not understand why this would be such an imposition.

We travelled all the way into New Holland to return the car and travelled all the way back before we could begin the drive home.

Not a big deal but just be warned. The reviews on this KOA are mixed and I can understand why. This won’t be the type of place that will look to go much beyond the basics.