The stereotypical image of snowbirds is a group of older adults lounging around a swimming pool, soaking up the sun.
That image may apply to some snowbirds some of the time, but not to many baby boomers who spend the winter at the larger RV parks and resorts across the Sunbelt. This group is more likely to be taking classes in the Chinese martial art Tai chi or a Chinese meditative practice called Qigong.
They could be learning or refining skills in wood carving, ceramics or calligraphy, or attending daylong seminars on music and politics by professors from Ivy League universities. Some RV parks even have their own theatrical and choral groups. Others host arts and crafts shows and sporting tournaments.
“Today’s retired baby boomers are nothing like retirees of the World War II generation,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. “This is a very active group that thrives on activities, classes and entertainment.”
Similarly, today’s RV parks and resorts are nothing like the snowbird parks of a generation ago. Many RV parks and resorts that cater to retired baby boomers are offering classes, activities and special events to keep their snowbird guests entertained throughout the winter months.
Consider Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort in Casa Grande, Ariz. The park offers recreation activities such as aerobics, Pilates, tai chi, yoga, lawn bowling, softball and volleyball. Dance enthusiasts can take classes in everything from cabaret dancing to line, square and western dancing.
Palm Creek also offers more than a dozen arts and crafts classes, including ceramics, pottery, sewing, oil painting, watercolor painting, silver smithing, stained glass and wood carving. In fact, its winter guests produce so many high quality craft items that the resort now has a monthly craft fair.
“We’re not very sedentary here,” said Wendell Johnson, general manager of Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort. “I’d say probably 70 to 80 percent of our guests pursue something here other than lying out by the pool.”
Voyager RV Resort in Tucson offers similar classes and activities, as well as Qigong, in addition to a class where guests can learn choreographed spirit dance, jazz dance and free-form dance.
Last year, Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties, which owns RV resorts throughout the Sunbelt, launched a lecture series at several of its parks in Florida and Arizona that featured professors from Harvard and Yale who talked about a variety of topics, from the music to Mozart to the role of women in politics.
Randall Hendrickson, manager of Leaf Verde RV Resort in Buckeye, Ariz., said organized activities provide opportunities for park guests to forge strong friendships with one another, while stimulating repeat visits to the park.
“At Leaf Verde,” he said, “we have augmented the activity schedule to include water aerobics, yoga, water volleyball, casino trips and bus tours. These have been extremely well received, and our returning guests are amazed at all there is to do. Literally every day there is an activity available to serve all interests.”
The Great Outdoors RV Resort in Titusville, Fla., offers fitness programs such as Zumba, aerobics, kickboxing, Pilates and yoga. Classes in calligraphy, photography, oil painting and rubber stamping are offered as well. The park also has formed clubs for virtually every type of interest, from knitting to kayaking to motorcycling.
Many private park operators consider activities to be an essential part of their business strategy. “If you’re trying to attract snowbirds, you’ve got to have activities,” said Jolene Wade, managing partner of the Fountain of Youth Spa and RV Park in Niland, Calif.
Wade’s park, located in the Southern California desert just east of the Salton Sea, features natural hot springs and some of the best winter weather in the country. But even with those attractions, she offers numerous activities, including radio-control aircraft flying, a clown school, bocce ball, water exercise classes and dances with live music.
Many parks have expanded their entertainment offering and now host frequent dances and even dinner shows with professional entertainers.
“The last time I did a luau I hired an act out of Las Vegas to perform,” said Doreen Fuller, activities director for Rincon Country RV Resort in Tucson, Ariz. That’s a sharp contrast to a generation ago, when a big social event at an RV park was a potluck.
In the 1980s people had less money to spend, Fuller said. “A $4 or $5 dollar ticket in those days was a lot of money. Today, we still have $5 and $6 tickets, but we also have $12 and $15 tickets for the bigger shows. I thought that was going to hurt us this year, but we haven’t had any problem selling tickets to our shows.”
For more information about Sunbelt parks and resorts and other private parks, visit www.GoCampingAmerica.com.