This year the Tampa RV Supershow would be a different experience for us. Instead of staying at a nearby campground as we have done in previous years, we signed up to join the Entegra Coach Owner’s Association (ECOA) rally, staying in our coach at the Florida State Fairgrounds from Tuesday, the 12th until the last day of the show on the 17th. For $190, our stay would include a campsite (well, I wouldn’t exactly call it that – it was a spot in a field with no sewer or water hookups and only 30 amp electrical service), daily entry to the show (typically $10 for a 2 day ticket but we would get 4 full days), entertainment at night in one of the pavilions (we never had a chance to go) and free coffee and doughnuts each day.
Having been to the show in the past, we knew that the show itself is huge with every type, size and style of RV on the market with over 1200 new RV’s, campers, and 5th wheels parked within inches from each other. Even if you are not in the market for a new unit, there are several buildings housing over 400 booth exhibits where vendors sell a myriad of accessories, offerings for the best camping opportunities and memberships to various clubs. In 2015, over 63,000 people attended this massive show. Judging from the crowds that were there, I bet this year’s attendance surpassed that!
So we knew what to expect but we never realized how many RV’s actually camped at the fairgrounds and what an incredible operation it is to accommodate them! There were 40 RV’s in the Entegra group but one of the parking attendants mentioned to me that there were over 400 coaches camping at the fairgrounds. Yikes, quite a feat coordinating the time and arrival of each rally group, determining where each group would be parking, installing huge diesel generators in each area to provide 30 amp power to every coach and efficiently parking everyone to ensure maximum utilization of space. And to get the majority of it done in one day. Wow! Although some of these tasks are done by staff employees, much of the assistance is provided by volunteers.
We arrived right on the prescribed time for our group, but it was 3 hours before they were ready to escort the entire fleet of Entegra’s to the rally field. Good thing it was cool outside so it was fairly comfortable waiting. Our “site” wasn’t bad, we were lucky that we were at the end of a row so we didn’t have a coach on the driver’s side and in front of us was a large unoccupied grassy area where Happy Hour happened every afternoon. Out the driver’s side window, we had a lovely view of a chain link fence with porta-potties. HA, not my favorite scenic vista, but it was fine!
Very busy and fun week, hoofing it back and forth to the show each day except for Friday morning when it poured and Saturday when our poor tired feet groaned enough is enough! Nice having the extra days at the show, much less rushed. Plus lots of extra time for socializing with new friends, a few old friends and even family.
It wasn’t all fun and games though. Not only were members of the Entegra management team at the show but two of their techs, Kirk and Rod, were there as well. Kirk and Rod will be spending much of January, February and March here in Florida this year, servicing problems on Entegra coaches. Bet they hate leaving cold, snowy Indiana! Kirk was able to fix a slight problem with the front fireplace panel which was a result of a repair Entegra did in October. And as luck would have it, our Aquahot developed a problem during the show. After doing some troubleshooting Rob determined that one of the buck boost cards had fried so Kirk ordered a new one for us. We also had a tech from Blue Ox visit our coach to to rebuild our tow bar ($30).
On our first night there we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe with Gary and Leigh, friends we had met at the Entegra plant in Middlebury and the Spartan training class. Great seeing them again and hearing about their recent trip to China. Delicious meal – we both had the Original Legendary Burger, a 1/2-lb Certified Angus Beef® burger topped with smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, golden fried onion ring, crisp lettuce and vine ripened tomato served with fries.
And then there was dinner with family. Yes, family. Rob’s aunt and uncle had recently sold their house and wanted to trade in their existing Forest River coach for a newer coach so we met up with them at the show on Wednesday. It didn’t take long – by Thursday afternoon, they had bought a brand new 2016 38A Berkshire with 1-1/2 baths and bunk beds. Congrats!
To celebrate we treated them to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, going there a second time because it was so close to the fairgrounds. This meal wasn’t quite as good as our first but I think that was due to what we ordered – we both had The Texan, hickory-smoked pulled pork or chicken (we both had pork) with chipotle barbecue sauce, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, crispy fried jalapeños and onions, piled high on toasted brioche served with baked beans, fries and cole slaw. Not as good as our first meal – the pulled pork was a little dry and somewhat flavorless.
On Wednesday evening, Entegra held a terrific Customer Appreciation dinner at the T Pepin Hospitality Center with over 400 Entegra owners in attendance. In previous years it was held at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City but because business is booming and they have so many customers now, they needed a bigger venue. Open bar (beer and wine), a delicious 3 course meal including a salad, choice of tilapia or chicken (we both had tilapia), mashed potatoes and asparagus and cake for dessert. Entertainment after dinner was provided by a comedian/magician who was hysterical. Haven’t laughed so hard in a long time! Here’s a snippet of his act posted on YouTube by another Entegra owner. Another 1st class event hosted by Entegra!
Friends, Jen and Deas (Nealys on Wheels), whom we met at Topsail last winter, were staying at the Fairgrounds but in a different rally area. On Saturday they invited us to meet them for lunch at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor City. I had half of a Cuban sandwich ($7), roasted Mojo pork, smoked ham, salami, swiss cheese, slice dill pickle, mayo and mustard on Cuban bread with a True Blonde Ale. Instead of fries, for $2 extra, I had a cup of beer & cheese soup (cheddar jack cheese with Ybor Blond Ale) which was excellent. But I think I ordered the wrong thing – the sandwich was okay, nothing great. Rob also had the soup and a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich ($9) which was very good with a Red Eye Amber Ale.
Saturday night was a fun night! Lazydays hosted a cook out for the Entegra group at our rally area, providing burgers and brats with everyone else providing a pot luck covered dish. So much food! Entegra management was there as were people from Lazy Days. Jen and Deas (Entegra wannabees) joined in the festivities along with a couple they had just met, Joe and Kait (We’re the Russos). Thanks to Pat and Medarda Bauer for the great job organizing the entire rally!
Sleepless night Saturday night into Sunday morning! Severe t-storm with tornado warnings and torrential downpours. Yikes! All night we were nervously wondering if our rally field would turn into a mud pit by Sunday morning. We’ve heard stories of RVs getting stuck in mud after a lot of rain at other rallies, requiring the services of a tow truck. Fortunately the rain had stopped by early the next morning. No problem leaving the Fairgrounds headed for our next destination, Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, FL.
All in all our experience here was better than expected, perhaps we’ll do it again next year! We’ll see…