Peace River, not quite so peaceful.
We had kept Superbowl weekend open, as we had originally hoped to go to Disney World that weekend. Now, for the first time since the New Year, we were scheduled to have a weekend free! I had made reservation at a Thousand Trails campground that I knew was always available and we planned to base out of there for the next two weeks. As we were getting ready to pack up from a concert, I remembered a lady at Orlando who kept commenting about how nice the pool was at Peace River. She said that they kept their pool at 90 degrees year round and that their hot tub was not too hot. I started to look at the campground that we had reserved. The reviews told me that they did not heat their pool at all and that there was NO playground. Since we were going to be there for two weeks, I thought it was worth a try to see if there was room at Peace River for us.
I'll give a bit of background on our membership campgrounds. There are 3 in Florida. We can stay for free for up to 2 weeks at a time, but we have to have a reservation. If they are listed as a high usage site, then we can only make one reservation at a time. So, when we stayed weekdays in Orlando, it was very tricky to get a reservation. They were always full and we could not make a new reservation until the previous one was used - which for us, less than a week before we needed the next reservation. Often I had to call a couple of time each day until someone cancelled and I could get a spot.
From what I remembered, Peace River was also a high usage site. I was not all that hopeful when I called on one day's notice, hoping to get a 13 day reservation. To my surprise, it was available! We were excited as we made the drive there. As soon as I arrived, I understood why it was so easy to get a reservation.
The girl at the desk asked me, "Do you need a sewer hook-up?" I answered, "yes."
(We always request a sewer hookup. We had just come from 3 days in a church parking lot and there were 7 of us looking forward to long showers and home-cooked meals. )
"O.K., there is a lottery for that at 1:00 at the bottom on the stairs."
I asked what the chances of me getting a site today was, and she and the other workers assured me that I would not be getting a sewer hook up today. She told me to park in a non-sewer site, but to be careful because many people had been getting stuck in the mud, so I may want to walk it first.
I knocked on the window of the van and told Michael to walk with me. It was noon. We were all hungry, but I told him that we would have to visit the dump station and get settled in a electric/water site and then move tomorrow. It would be a process. We walked down the first lane and found an acceptable grass site, somewhat near the lodge, playground, and pool. They kids were already begging to swim.
We went back to retrieve the Airstream and I reported the site number to the ranger. Another camper yelled at me for parking in the "check-in" lane. I assured him that I was indeed checking-in and he assured me that I was causing a traffic jam. (the driveway is barely wide enough for 2 vehicles, but I was in the clearly marked "check-in" parking space).
We parked, realizing that the grass was nowhere near level and I tossed some peanut butter sandwiches on the table for the kids, only to realize that it was time for the lottery. I grabbed a protein bar and rushed to the lodge as to not miss my chance. This is where I learned that the "lottery" is not really a "lottery" at all.
They read the names off a list, based on the date and time that you checked in. I was clearly last on the list, since I just arrived 20 min prior. You must be present to win. If your name is called, 3 things can happen:
- "not here" - your name gets recycled on the list for tomorrow, keeping your original check-in time.
- "Here and Choose site" - you are present and choose from the available sites
- "Here, but Pass" - your name gets recycled on tomorrows list.
Your name can only be recycled 4 times and then it is taken off the list. If you have lost your place, then you can requested that it be added, but it will be added at the bottom.
I was about 50th on the list, There were about 15 sites available. There were about 20 people standing to claim one. To my surprise, everyone kept "passing". It seems everyone was trying to play the game and get the "best" site. I had not had time to walk the campground, so I only had the map to choose from. Evidently, if there is a tree, then your satellite signal will be bad, if you are by the road, it will be noisy, and some sites don't have picnic tables. Some of the people were yelling at the staff members because they were told that they were #27 on the list and they had called 30 names. When they called them a couple of names later, the couple "passed." Some people tried to claim sites that were not listed, stating that they had been watching it for the past 2 days and that no camper was present there. These people were serious!
They actually got to the end and had 3 sites left over. They look at me and ask my name, which they had not called. They repeat my name aloud and I choose one of the three remaining sites. It was far from the lodge and near the road, but I figured "one in the hand is better than 2 in the bush." I went to report to Michael. Since we had been assured we would not get a site, we and already unhitched, plugged in, and put out the awnings. We undo everything and move across camp. As soon as we get settled in, the weather turns cool and overcast, and we tell the kids there will be no swimming and began to sulk a bit. Thirteen days is the longest that we have EVER been on one location and it just might be miserable.
The campground had left a bad taste in our mouth. We were beginning to regret our decision. They next day, I tool the kids exploring and found out that they had a TON of activities. All of their games and facilities were well maintained. They had a kids club 3 times a week. They had live entertainment on the weekends. Each day we went on a nature walk to see if we could spot any alligators on the river. A family with 4 kids moved in as our neighbors. I promised the kids with all the time that we had, we would be sure to try out everything! By the time that we left, we had even grown to like the campground.