Well, here we are in snowy Middlebury, IN! What, you say, what on earth are you doing there? Did you decide to head south but lost your way and accidentally headed west instead? Sorry that wasn’t what happened. Did you feel that you didn’t have enough snow and arctic temps in merry ol’ Massachusetts that needed to find some more? Heck, no.
With our planned major lifestyle change, we have been talking a lot about upgrading our moho. It’s not that we don’t like our 2006 Fleetwood Discovery but we’re thinking that for full time living, it lacks some of the features that we have on our wish list. More storage space, especially pass through storage in the basement, a 1-1/2 bath layout and a larger capacity washer and dryer (the combo washer/dryer that we have now is great for small loads but the drying function leaves a lot to be desired) – to name a few.
We’re also thinking that we would prefer to work out the kinks of a new (to us) unit while we are still living in our house rather than being on the road. Also, and perhaps most importantly, we have discovered that we are approaching the 7 year “fiscal cliff” if you will – beyond this age most dealers will be reluctant to take a trade, primarily due to the fact that most banks don’t want to make low equity loans for coaches beyond this age. If the lenders won’t make attractive loans, the units are harder to sell because the buyers must put more money down. If they are harder to sell the value decreases pretty substantially, so we are thinking now would be the time to cut our losses.
Yes, it is possible to sell on our own and perhaps do better, but there are some pitfalls and issues with that too. An in between approach is to sell on consignment and we have a tentative arrangement with a local dealer. Rob will elaborate on all these options and what we have learned about the buying/selling process in a future post.
In the Northeast, RV dealers are few and far between and those that do exist, do not have much inventory in the way of diesel pushers. Our plan was to visit several of the larger RV dealers in the south this winter and attend several of the larger RV shows, but our trip is totally cancelled so we won’t be seeing any palm trees, pelicans or southern RV dealers this year.
About the best that we could do was to attend the RV show in Boston in January so we could see the new 2013 Fleetwood Discovery and a few others. We had read a lot about it and in theory liked the “best-in-show” 40E floor plan and thought that perhaps it might be just what we wanted. But unfortunately sometimes things look and sound better in theory than they do in real life. We were very disappointed in the practical workability of the layout, the attempt at elegance that came off as impractical glitz and an end product that seems to be suffering under the cost driven “leadership” of the holding company (American Industrial Partners) that acquired Fleetwood/American Coach in 2009. I will let Rob expound further on that in another post.
So anyway, after doing a lot of research, we came up with a short list and at the top was an Entegra Aspire which on paper appears to provide a lot of bang for the buck. Other possibilities were Newmar Dutch Star or Ventana, Winnebago/Itasca Tour/Ellipse or Journey/Meridian, a (non-glitzy) Fleetwood Providence, a slightly used American Coach Revolution built on a Spartan chassis (as part of that aforementioned cost cutting, American Coach has now switched to Freightliner) or possibly a Thor Tuscany.
Checking out an Entegra sounded good in theory but trying to find a new or even a used one at any dealership less than 1300 miles away was pretty impossible. Most new or used units are sold before they ever hit the dealer lots and the two private sellers we found are far away and suffering from delusions of grandeur in regard to pricing.
Perhaps it was the idea of seeing the various floor plans and how an Entegra is built, or maybe at some sub-conscience level it was the enticement of abandoning all of our tiresome home improvement projects for a much needed getaway that lured us into making the decision to take a road trip to Middlebury, Indiana to the Entegra plant (much closer than Lazy Days in FL or the other big dealerships in TX) with stops along the way to see other models.
Whatever our reasoning, it did not make sense to make the trip this time of year in our Discovery, so we arranged for Diane, our wonderful kitty sitter, to visit once a day to feed and cuddle the “boys” (our three cats). Tough leaving them since they are usually passengers in our coach – this is the first time we’ve been away from them since we bought the Discovery in 2010. Thinking that we had a good weather window (NOT!), we hopped in our van last Friday morning and headed west.
Along the way, we had arranged to stop at a dealership in Albany, NY, where we made special arrangements to see and test drive an Entegra Anthem 42DEQ which is the next level up from the Aspire but not the floor plan we like (or think we like). It was beautiful with lots of bells and whistles, but we knew it was way out of our price range. However, since the Anthem and Aspire both share the same engine and most chassis specs, a test drive would be very telling – Rob was really impressed with the way it drove and handled. Very quiet and significantly more comfortable to drive than our Discovery despite being about 3 feet longer.
After spending several hours in Albany, we then headed to Syracuse where we spent the night. Next morning (Saturday) we stopped at the Camping World there to look at the Winnebago Tour (exterior photo on the left, interior on the right), the Thor Tuscany and the Itasca Meridien. All were very nice but nothing knocked our socks off. There were pros and cons to each unit – I guess like anything else there doesn’t seem to be one unit that has it all. If only, we could take this feature from the Winnebago Tour, another feature from the Entegra Aspire, another feature from the Thor Tuscany and build our own unit!! Then we would have exactly what we wanted!
The next night we stayed outside of Cleveland in Independence. On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at L.A. Pete’s which was excellent. Did I mention the good weather window? Boy, were we wrong about that! We had “lake effect snow” all day Saturday and Sunday. Nothing major but just enough to make it a little nerve wracking driving (more for Rob than me since I was nodding off a lot). Alas, Sunday morning there was at least 2 inches of the white stuff on the ground – so why are we doing this again???
After about a 3 hour drive from Cleveland and into clear weather, we arrived in Middlebury, Indiana. When we originally contacted Entegra about touring their factory, they suggested that we either stay at the nearby Hampton Inn or the Das Dutchman Essenhaus Inn and Conference Center. (Note the photo on the right is a panorama shot – click on it to see the entire shot). Since both we’re about the same price, we opted to stay at the Essenhaus. What an excellent decision that was especially after staying at two rather yucky places on our way here!
On Saturday we stayed at the Comfort Inn Fairgrounds, Syracuse. Big sections of peeling, somewhat moldy looking wallpaper and a massage shower head stuck in the jackhammer position (nothing like a painful shower to wake you up in the morning) were just a few of the not so desirable amenities we found there. Sunday night wasn’t any better at the Comfort Inn in Independence, Ohio – I’ll just say that we were glad we brought a supply of Purell wipes to wipe off the crud on the table and other items in the room. Needless to say, we skipped their continental breakfast in the morning. We’ve had good luck with CI in the past but that wasn’t the case this trip – I’m not sure that we’ll ever stay at one again.
Anyway, the Essenhaus Inn and Conference Center (essenhaus is a German word meaning “eating house”) is very unique, the decor is fantastic, sparkling clean and absolutely beautiful! Located in the heart of Amish/Mennonite country (all restaurants and businesses are closed on Sunday), it has the largest restaurant in Indiana (seats 1100) serving home made Amish food, a bakery full of lots of goodies, and numerous gift/clothing shops.
At the restaurant, you can either order from the menu (average price around $10), be served family style ($16.50) or enjoy their buffet ($12.50) which has both hot items (broasted chicken, roast beef, home made noodles, mashed potatoes and lots of veggies, etc.) and a salad bar. We usually don’t do buffets since neither of us like to eat that much but with the reasonable price, on Monday night, we had their buffet. The food was very good but we did waddle out of there. Luckily we had walked over to the restaurant so we were able to burn a few calories hiking back to our room!
Typically in the morning they offer a continental breakfast, but due to the small number of guests, they offered us vouchers to have breakfast in their restaurant. Yummy! We both had delicious omelets with home made toast. On each table, they have home made Amish peanut butter and apple butter – both were delicious.
Tuesday morning we thought we would get another free breakfast in the restaurant but we were disappointed when they had their usual continental breakfast set out. But that too was excellent – not your typical continental breakfast this one offered home made breads, donuts and other baked goods, sausage gravy and biscuits, cereal, juice, and coffee.
On Monday morning, under mostly sunny skies, we went to the Newmar factory in Nappanee and saw how their RV’s were built. Their diesel models include King Aire ($800K and up), Essex, Mountain Aire, Dutch Star and Ventana.
Later that afternoon we went to the Thor plant in Elkhart to see how they build their Palazzo and Tuscany units. Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures at either place but Rob will provide commentary regarding what we learned in a separate post.
Our plan was to tour Entegra on Tuesday morning and leave for home on Wednesday morning, arriving home on Thursday but the weather window slammed shut in our faces with a forecast of snow all day here on Tuesday with accumulations of 4″ to 8″ so we rescheduled the tour to Wednesday morning. Since it was too nasty to go out, we wandered around the inn, checking out the pool area and playing a wild game of ping pong. We didn’t keep score but I’m guessing that I won!
Once the shops opened at 10:00 a.m., we walked over so we could browse all the lovely gift items. In the Dutch Country Gift shop, you could climb up to the “silo” to get a view of the surrounding area (see pictures below). Once we returned back to the inn, we spent most of the afternoon sitting in the common area working on this blog and other things. If you have to be stuck in the snow somewhere, I can’t think of a better place to be! Sure beats the Comfort Inn!
After breakfast we headed over to the Jayco (Entegra) plant for our tour which not only met, but exceeded expectations in all areas including the floor plan – I’ll let Rob provide all the gory details about what we learned on the tour. On the way back to the Inn, we stopped at the Rise n Roll Bakery for lunch but we’ll do a separate post on that as well.
Our plan is to begin the journey home tomorrow – we had hoped to be back by Friday but apparently Tuesday’s storm is headed eastward where it will merge with another storm coming up the east coast, so New England is getting clobbered again. We’ll most likely have to stay somewhere on Friday night, perhaps near Albany, to wait for the storm to pass. Oh joy, more snow…….
Below are some more photos of the Essenhaus.