Last month, I left the cold dark Alaska winter and headed to sunny hot (by Alaska standards) Tampa Bay, Florida. My good friend, Darlena, who is also in the market for an RV joined me.  The first half of the trip was a road trip up to Tennessee where we had the opportunity to tour the Oliver factory.  Oliver brand travel trailer, you might remember, is on my Final Four trailer choices.  Then another road trip back to Tampa for the RV SuperShow.  I expected to write about our week in a single post.  But it turns out I have so much to say about both that it makes more sense to write separate posts.  So today and next month’s Logistics post, I’ll share some of my experiences and observations about the RV show.  And the Logistic post following, I’ll tell you all about the Oliver tour.

Let me start with how I decided on the Tampa RV SuperShow.  I knew I’d need to fly somewhere in order to go to an RV Show.  Alaska just doesn’t have the population density.  Attendance at an RV show was a “must do” in my planning process.

In deciding which RV show to attend, my only real priority was that it was big enough to give me a wide array of RVs and vendors. Pretty simple criteria. And, although nearly all the RV Show websites claim to be the biggest, you get a pretty good idea of the size once you dig a little farther.

It was 80 degrees in Tampa which is darn warm for this Alaskan.

So then, for me, it became a scheduling issue.  This knocked shows held September, October or November off the list as it’s my busiest and most stressful time at work. Location was not a priority but I did pay some attention to it because Alaska winters are tough. Heading to sun and warmth greatly appealed to me greatly.

Costs were calculated but a few hundred dollars wasn’t going to be a deciding factor. The cost of nearby hotels, shuttle service to/from the airport, transportation to the RV show were figured.  I wanted to use airline miles for the ticket so an airport serviced by Alaska Airlines was a priority.

After considering all these factors in total, I zeroed in on the Tampa RV SuperShow. I knew it was big enough to meet my needs since it hosts 450 vendors, 1,500 RVs and the show is spread over 26 acres.  It’s big enough to have a little train that hauls people from one end of the festivities to the other.  Like others, it claimed to be the biggest.  I just got lucky that it turned out to actually be true with attendance over 70,000 people.

Welcome arch of the Florida State Fairgrounds.

The Tampa RV SuperShow is held at the Tampa Fairgrounds. Nearby Sheraton Tampa East is their official hotel partner which comes with discounted room rates. The hotel certainly wasn’t the cheapest option but what sold me on staying there was that they offered a free shuttle service to anywhere within five miles of the hotel. This meant free rides to and from the RV show without the long slow lines or cost of parking. However, the airport isn’t inside that five mile zone so we used Uber (half the price of a taxi).

So this is what happens when you don’t have a Cheesecake Factory in your town! And this was after we’d already eaten lunch.

The Tampa RV SuperShow is held for five days in mid-January each year.  We attended the 32nd annual. The advertised entrance fee is $10. And when we said we didn’t have a coupon, the kind man behind the ticket counter picked up one next to him and said, “Yes you do. Here it is.” So it was $9 for the ticket. But the bonus is we got a second ticket at no charge for another day’s entrance. In other words, if you use both tickets, you pay $4.50 per day.

Doors opened each day at 9 a.m. and closed at 6 p.m.  We attended the first two days of the show, on Wednesday and Thursday. No doubt there were much bigger crowds on the weekend. We arrived both days when they opened. On our first day, we stayed until 3:30. On the second day, by 1:30, our legs were tired, we were tired of sweating, our minds overloaded and our SuperShow bags were brimming. So the handy Sheraton shuttle took us to Cheesecake Factory for lunch and had them pick us up again when we were done.

A band playing music greeted us with sounds of New Orleans. Just inside the first building were wide long tables stacked 50 or more high with RV show programs. By afternoon that first day they were almost entirely gone, only to be fully replenished the next day. We didn’t stop for the RVs in that first building because our strategy was based on our ability to deal with the heat.  Or, rather, to deal poorly with the heat.

A lovely Alaska summer day is in the 60s. Alaskans start complaining of the heat when the mercury reaches the 70s. So we knew the 80 degree temperatures of Tampa was something we’d battle. So the strategy was to arrive when they opened and spend a couple hours outside before the hottest part of the day drove us inside to the vendor booths and the education seminars.

One of the many showers we stepped into.

There were so many RVs to walk through and so much to see, I almost don’t know how to write about it without using the word overwhelmed again and again.

We probably stepped into 50 or 60 rigs. We sat in chairs, dining room seats and on beds.  Also, we stepped into showers and pretended to wash our hair to see if elbows hit the sides. We opened draws, cabinets, doors, ovens, refrigerators and storage bays.  We tested window shades, the strength of hooks and roofs/ceilings.  And the rigs that spoke to us, we sat in for a bit trying imagine living in them.  And, to be honest, we settled into a few others merely to enjoy the air conditioner turned on high.

We talked to a few salesmen who, except for one, were really great.  It didn’t feel anything like walking on to a car lot. They left us alone to wander but were nearby when we had questions or to give us a brochure.

Lift up the back of the clam shell to find the kitchen.

The range of what we saw ran the gamut from teeny clam shells you could practically pull with a bicycle to a $2.3 million Prevost.

Clam shells aren’t practical for my purposes but we didn’t pass a single one without looking in and wondering if maybe it could work.  The price. The size. The small tow vehicle required. And just the downright cuteness of them.  What’s not to like?

The most expensive rig we walked through was one selling for a half million dollars.  We passed on the $2.3 million rig because you could only get inside with an appointment plus you had to take your shoes off.  For looky-loos, there was a metal stairway and platform set up at the front of the rig to look at the rig through the giant front windshield without actually entering the RV. We did that instead. It had a chandelier.

Having never been to an RV show before, the one thing that surprised me was that there wasn’t used RVs.  With so many RV lots represented, for some reason, I thought they’d bring both new and used rigs from their inventory.  In my mind, that meant there was a chance I might see a Casita or a Bigfoot.  But that wasn’t the case.  All name brands huddled together showing off several sizes and features of the particular brand.  All the rigs were new. I don’t know how all RV shows work. Once I’m on the road I will attend more and will better be able to make generalizations about all RV shows.

You might wonder, since I didn’t see any of the rigs I’m considering for my future home, was it worth the time and expense of going.  The answer: a resounding YES.  Not only did it help me get the feel for different sized rigs, it allowed me to see the difference in quality among rigs.  Even though I knew it was true, it was still enlightening to open a cupboard door and have it vibrate because it was made of little more than cardboard.  Internet research just cannot replicate the in-person experience.

Come back to the next Logistics post and I’ll continue the discussion about the Tampa RV SuperShow.  And a big thanks to Darlena for being the photographer on our trip.

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