We’re back in South Carolina for the first since we started out from Charleston on this little vagabond journey almost two years ago. This time though, we’re at the totally opposite end of the Palmetto state.
We’ve been at the Carolina Landing RV campground, in Fair Play, SC, for a little over a week and a half. It’s another Thousand Trails campground … and if you’re keeping score, it’s another one in the “plus” column for them, as far as I’m concerned!
Speaking of that, I’ve decided to grade the overall experience with Thousand Trails. So far, I have to say I’m very impressed! But what I’m looking for may not be what others are looking for, so I’ve included an explanation at the end of this post as to how I’m grading these campgrounds.
We’ve had a really good time here, despite some weather issues. Yep, we just can’t get past the weather. We’ve had a couple of cold days, but that hasn’t been the problem in the grand scheme of things. I’ll talk about that later. The positive experiences come first.
We arrived a week ago Monday, after a pretty easy drive up from Flagler Beach. We stopped and spent most of Sunday night in a Walmart parking lot in Swainsboro, GA, a ways west of Savannah. I said most of the night – we tried sleeping in the car rather than taking everything out of the Nutshell. I woke up around 2:30 in the morning and decided to just start driving. We made it to Carolina Landing shortly after it opened and were set up by early afternoon.
It actually took a little while to find a site. We had picked one out and started to set up there, but one of the maintenance crew came by and talked us out of it. He noted that if we did get any amount of rain, the runoff would go right through that site. So we wound up moving up the hill and to the side a little bit. And boy, am I grateful we took his suggestion. Again, more on that later.
I’m really excited about the next few months coming up on our journey. We’ve got plans to see quite a few friends between now and mid-July. It’s funny … we’ve been able to visit multiple times with the folks I grew up with in Dallas. But we’re finally coming to a point where we’re going to be able to see the contingent of “Joisey” friends now, too.
It started the day before we left Florida, when Jeanie stopped by for a visit. As I mentioned in the last post, she lived around the corner from my home in Pompton Lakes. Jeanie, as I write this, I’m looking out at my car, where this little solar powered flower is flapping its leaves in the sunlight. I think of you every time I look at it.
But I had two stints in New Jersey … the first growing up and the second when I returned as an adult in late 2001. Our next visitor came from my latter time in the Garden State..
Gary and I met at my last workplace in New Jersey. He was loosely affiliated with the company I worked for and shared an office with us. We became friends over that time, sharing more than a few deep conversations in addition to the office space, along with an appreciation for bad puns.
Gary moved out of his office long before I left New Jersey and wound up moving to the Atlanta area a couple of years ago. So when he came out on Tuesday, the day after we arrived, at least five years had passed since we saw each other.
It was a great visit! He had retired from his everyday business and was focused more seriously on what others might look at as a hobby – philately! It’s a bit more than that with Gary, though. Before he left New Jersey, he had been involved with a couple of major philately groups. He’s now in the process of writing a book about the overlap between the study of a country’s (or an area’s) stamps and the study of its general history.
We talked about that, along with a hodgepodge of other things. What I liked about it was that for the most part, the conversation was forward-looking. Sure, we told a couple of stories, but it wasn’t really reminiscing as much as just sharing new stuff. We spent the afternoon that way, along with having some burgers and beer before Gary had to make his way back to Atlanta.
Several days later, on Saturday, we had our second visitor in camp. Quite honestly, I don’t remember how Mark and I met online. We spent a little time talking about it shortly after he arrived from Atlanta. He thinks he first became acquainted with us through the blog, after which we became Facebook friends. I thought there might have been some direct association through a Facebook group or something along those lines. Regardless, we’ve been enjoying each other’s posts for probably a year now.
Mark and I are sort of kindred spirits … I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, the fact that we are both originally from the NYC area, that we share a similar political viewpoint, or that we have a mutual love for baseball. Regardless, we had a great visit while sharing some burgers and beverages.
Other than our two visits, the time here had been relatively uneventful until a couple of days ago. Remember the weather? Well, we had a hell of a storm come through on Wednesday. The worst of it came through late that night, and I’ve got the video to prove it. We were pretty lucky because there were severe thunderstorm and tornado watches popping up all around us. The only one that impacted us was the last one.
Once that passed, we were visited by pretty high winds over the next couple of days. Frank opted to continue spending most of the time inside the Nutshell. He didn’t sleep the entire time the storms were going through and I think the wind was the last straw for him. He sat in my lap for a little while on Thursday morning, but finally decided to head back into the cabin and catch some z’s.
So that pretty much catches you all up to date on our travels. We head out tomorrow morning to continue our reunion tour. We’ll be camping for a few days at Myrtle Beach State Park, next to another longtime friend from Pompton Lakes, Val and her husband Bill. This will be our first time camping with a friend and I’m really looking forward to it.
Here’s our report card on the Thousand Trails experience to date. The ratings are based on a pretty simple idea – how close did the campground come to offering the experience I was hoping to get.
Campgrounds visited – 8
“What I was looking for” experience – 4
“Crowded but natural” experience – 2
“Made the best of it” experience – 2
I just realized this is my first report card release. I also realized that my grading system might not necessarily reflect the things that are important to other people.
Thousand Trails prides itself on offering a lot of amenities. They have things like swimming pools, activity centers, wash houses and laundry facilities. Some of them offer mini golf; a variety of other games like shuffleboard, tennis, or horseshoes; scheduled activities such as movies, arts and crafts, and social hours; some even have on-site stores where you can buy groceries or other supplies.
Those things are nice, but with the exception of wanting a clean wash house and a place to do the laundry, I don’t really care about all that other stuff! I’ve enjoyed a few of the other things, but I look at them as niceties. The place isn’t going to get a bunch of extra rating points because of those. But because they’re available, I’m not going to fail any of these campgrounds. At a minimum, I feel like I can make due in any of them until one comes along that proves otherwise.
So with that in mind, here are my three grade definitions:
The “What I was looking for” experience
We’re camping. We’re out in nature, and not feeling as if we’re in the middle of a mobile home community for RVs. It doesn’t feel like we are right on top of our neighbor. Someone else might be close by, but I don’t feel like it. There’s a certain rustic feel … it may not be the same throughout the entire Campground, but we’re in a section where I’m able to feel like I’m getting away from everything. To me, this is the equivalent of an “A” letter grade.
The four campgrounds I would put in this category are Circle M (Lancaster, PA); Lake Whitney (Whitney, TX); Peace River (Wauchula, FL); and this one, Carolina Landing (Fair Play, SC)
The “Crowded but natural” experience
In this case, it feels like we’re out in nature, but it’s compromised a little bit because someone is right on top of us. Or the park is just so damn big that you just can’t feel like you’re totally away from it all. This is equivalent to a “B”
The two campgrounds in this category are Sea Pines (Swainton, NJ); and Orlando, FL.
The “Made the best of it” experience
Either you’re out in nature … crowded or otherwise … or not. In this category, you’re not! Either the place is equivalent to a mobile home park or you’re camping on concrete while staring at a bunch of RV’s instead of trees. This is a “C” in my book. (I’m not going to fail any of these places because even where we’ve had to make the best of it, the people have been incredible and the experience enriching. The other reason is because of money – unless I’m having to grin and bear it with the majority of locations, I’m going to be a happy camper simply because of the cost benefits of the membership.)
The two places I would put in this category are Lake Conroe (Willis, TX) and Three Flags (Wildwood, FL)
So as far the basic feel of the eight campgrounds we’ve visited so far, they’re averaging better than a “B”. That’s pretty damn good in my book.
What’s funny is that while Lake Conroe didn’t provide the environment I was looking for, it was probably one of the more enriching experiences we’ve had because of the people we encountered. In most every case, the experiences we’ve had with the surrounding campers has been an A+! So that’s even more of a reason to be happy with these places.
One last thing, and I think this is important if you’re thinking of using my ratings to decide if Thousand Trails is for you. You need to keep in mind that I’m living in a teardrop trailer. There’ve been sites we’ve used that a much larger RV wouldn’t have been able to access. In other cases, part of the rustic feel was because the roads were narrow and unpaved, or there might have been hills.
If you are traveling around in a teardrop, those things don’t mean as much. But if you’re in a big RV, you’re not going to be too happy dealing with hills, or narrow roads. Just keep that in mind. Oh yeah, and if you are camping with kids, then you’re going to love all the amenities and activities!
We’ll continue to add to the ratings as we go forward. We’re coming up on a stretch beginning in May where we’ll be visiting eight or nine Thousand Trails campgrounds in a row. I’ll probably put out another report card around the 4th of July. And if you have any questions about any of these parks in the meantime, please feel totally free to send me a private message and I’ll be more than happy to give you whatever information I can.
One last thing – I’m not being paid or getting any special benefits for endorsing Thousand Trails. I just felt that needed to be said.