I’ve talked before about campgrounds that have a legendary feel to them due to how many in our RVing community have shared amazing things about their stays.
Fort De Soto Park at the tip of an island chain in the Gulf of Mexico just south of St. Petersburg, Florida is one such park that has been on our bucket list for years. Problem is, it’s rather difficult to score a site.
But if you are so lucky, you could be camping in waterfront bliss with the Gulf of Mexico just off your doorstep.
They release sites to Pinellas County residents 7 months in advance, and then to the rest of the world a month later. Primo waterfront sites are usually taken fairly quickly.
To add to the challenge, there are 3 camping loops. One is reserved for tents & van sized RVs (no pets allowed), one for RVs of any size (but no pets allowed) and one for RVs of any size but allowing pets.
The pet loop also has the least number of waterfront sites. They’re in high demand, and almost instantly book up.
But one of the very cool things about the park is they ‘hold back’ 10% of the sites, making them available on Friday morning at 7am, online only, for the next 7-days. This gives non-planners a chance too.
After our time in Spring Hill, we were coordinating with our buddies Ann & Elliott, who were touring Florida on vacation in the ill-fated Le’Sharo we borrowed during our bus hunt 5 years ago (if you’ve not read the adventure before, take the chance to do so – guaranteed for a laugh).
We both agreed to brave the morning to attempt snagging sites to converge at.
Tips for Snagging a ‘Hold Back’ or First Day Reservation Site
I could find very little written about the hold back process, or what to be prepared for. So I wanted to share just how archaic and frustrating the process is – so that hopefully others might be a little ahead of the game.
We set our alarm for the ungodly hour of 7am, with a map of the campground up in another window.
You start by entering your date range, then the options show up. Right at 7am, you see site options pop up one-by-one. Keep clicking refresh until the ones in your site range appear (and do know the site range of the loop you qualify for, it’s not visually indicated otherwise.) We waited patiently for the Pet Loop sites to appear (86-164) – as they are strict on including cats in the pet definition.
- To select a site, you click the ‘Reserve’ link and then a pop-up appears to confirm the loop you’ve selected.
- After acknowledging the loop information, it brings up a little bit of info about the site. And then you have to enter in your date range AGAIN into a pop-up calendar by clicking on the dates you want one-by-one, IN DATE ORDER.
Mess up on one of them (which is easy, because the darn thing isn’t overly responsive – especially without coffee yet), and you have to start over. Did I mention you’re doing this at 7am??
- By the time you click the ‘Book’ button, more than likely the site has already been snagged out from underneath you. (In my humble former software user interface designer opinion, once you select a date range and click a link that says ‘Reserve’ it should hold it for a couple minutes – otherwise, it should say ‘More Info’.)
Ok, so we finally found one open still after starting back at the beginning a few times – which brought us to a subtotal screen.
Or.. so we thought.
5. To proceed you have to create a user account or look up an existing one and enter your PIN. (Hint: Pre-register if you can, this will save you time and up your odds of snagging a site.).
By the time we completed that step, the system told us the site was already booked?!?
It doesn’t even hold the site even after it’s given you a subtotal. TEASE.
So, we missed out on our preferred reservation from Friday – Tuesday, as all weekend spots were gone in less than 4 minutes.
But were able to get a non-waterfront spot for Sunday & Monday night. Whew. That wouldn’t work for our meet up this same day, but at least we could check out the park afterwards.
Last Minute Plan B
After being told by others that if you were online at precisely 7am, you’d have no trouble getting a site (true, but not necessarily for the same day or over the weekend) – we really hadn’t considered much of a Plan B.
At this point, we were frustrated and cranky from lack of sleep.
So we got out all our campground finding resources, and looked at several options with our friends Ann & Elliott for a location that would be available last minute on a Friday night that would be easy enough for us to both reach.
We settled on Clearwater Travel Resort (our review), which had pretty high reviews and seemed nicely located in Clearwater. They honor Passport America Discount Camping Club rates, bringing the cost down to $25/night – which was fine by us.
Overall, we were pretty pleased by the park, it has a great community feeling, decently spaced sites and well maintained. Walking distance to shopping and dining (awesome sushi), and there’s the fantastic Ream Wilson Trail nearby that kept us nicely entertained.
We had a night catching up with our buddies before they needed to head home, which was the whole point anyway. When you have great friends, it doesn’t matter the location – it’s all about the people!
Fort De Soto Park – Our Underwhelming Impressions
So after all the build up to Fort De Soto Park – including the years of reading about it and the frustrating experience of making a reservation – we have to admit, we were underwhelmed. Ok, maybe we were even frustrated.
You can read our full experience in our review on Campendium, so I won’t go all negative nellie here too.
But let’s just say the site we booked that was supposed to ‘fit all RVs’ didn’t (but they were able to move us), and unless you snag a waterfront spot (which we didn’t) the back in pet loop sites weren’t worth our aggravation and $43/night fee.
They offer little privacy, no view and are substantially smaller than the other sites that only have a $2 premium uncharge (or the super-ginormous pull-thrus at the same price). We really feel for the premium price they charge, they should invest in re-vamping their reservation system, arrival process and keeping limbs cut back for accessibility to the sites.
We also were a bit irked by so many primo sites being designated non-pet (had they allowed cats, we could have moved into a very nice site in the other loop.)
It is a lovely park overall however – we enjoyed biking around the island, the beaches are beautiful. And the waterfront sites do have a magical feel to them. We know without a doubt our entire perception would be different had we experienced that, and we would only return with a reservation for such a site.
Oh well, lesson learned.
Friendships – That’s The REAL Magic
But again, our purpose of being in the area wasn’t just about the park – it was connecting with our dear friends Ben & Karen. Longer time readers might recognize the names and faces, but it’s been a while.
These are the very first fellow working-aged nomads we ever met on the road back in 2008.
Our paths have intersected so many times over the years, and our stories so intertwined. The reason we have a vintage bus is because Ben was converting one and we learned so much from his experience. Our MINI Cooper was Karen’s before.
However these two have been base camped in the Tampa Bay area for the past 2 years since they sold their Prevost bus, and are awaiting their 1963 Flxbile vintage bus conversion to finally be completed (when it is, it’ll be one of the sweetest conversions on the road – check it out at CreativeCruiser.com).
It was awesome to spend a couple days catching up with these guys, and reminding us of that ebb & flow of nomadic friendships. We can always pick up where we left off last, no matter the time that has passed. And parting ways again tugs at our hearts.. always.
We can’t wait for them to be on the road again, and getting back to rendezvousing all over the country in our sweet vintage buses with MINIs in tow.
What’s Up Next?
This post was scheduled in advance to go live, while we’re out at sea on our little vacation. Our apologies if comments aren’t replied to immediately 🙂