Inside the exclusive world of luxury RV travel in America – Business Insider – Business Insider

The sun is setting in Indio, California, and Dan Cross and wife, Colleen, are driving a golf cart along a palm tree-fringed path.

They're heading to their friends' home for dinner, where dinner is served on a private outdoor patio near the pool. Mountains loom in the distance and the blazing sun fades away as the friends talk in Desert Shores Motorcoach Resort, the luxury RV resort the Crosses have called part-time home for the past 12 years and where a lot costs an average of $400,000.

Welcome to Desert Shores, where an RV lot will cost you $400,000. Courtesy Desert Shores

The Crosses have been RVing for nearly 35 years, and they've been in the high-end RV market for most of that time. Their primary residence is in Iowa, and they chose California to escape the cold Midwestern winters. They stay at Desert Shores from November through April, and to live there is to have a social existence.

"There's an awful lot of socializing going on within the park," Cross told Business Insider. "During a typical week, you find people inviting their friends and neighbors over and having dinner on their patios."

RVing has long been a popular travel option, but as the coronavirus pandemic led to border shutdowns around the world, many Americans have turned to old-fashioned domestic road travel to satiate their cabin fever. RVshare, a peer-to-peer rental marketplace, reported a 650% increase in bookings since early April.

RVs are hotels, cars, and offices in one with the added perk of bathrooms and WiFi. For families on the go, the sights and national parks in Western states like South Dakota, Wyoming, Arizona, and California remain top RV destinations. But for travelers who appreciate the finer things in life, luxury RV resorts, which are similar to five-star hotels, prove to be extremely popular.

Not just a place to park your RVs, RV resorts have spacious lots and operate essentially like country clubs, with monthly dues in exchange for access to a wide array of amenities.

Just 30 minutes from Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park and one hour from Big Bear Lake, Desert Shores has 141 lots.

All guests at Desert Shores sleep in their motorhomes, but each of those lots also has a villa. They're aptly named "villas": Each measures between 1,200 and 1,800 square feet and is replete with its own pool, hot tub, and patio. Indoors, space opens up to a kitchen, a great room, a bathroom, and a garage. Owners can put their lots into a rental pool and renters must stay for a minimum of 31 days.

Courtesy Desert Shores

Guests also have access to a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse, pool, spa, kitchen, ballroom, fitness center, tennis courts, a dog park and enhanced security.

Darren Leigh Smith, Desert Shores' Broker, says the resort attracts buyers seeking an upscale experience.

"Our guests are primarily snowbirds from colder states, and most are self-made husband-and-wife duos who have built small businesses together," Smith said. "All of the hard work they put in affords them the time to enjoy life away from work more. They come to Desert Shores because of the extra space we provide with our large lots and casitas, which allows them to invite their kids and grandkids to visit, which can be hard to do with typical RV resorts."

These specific restrictions match most of those who own Class A motorhomes. Like many of the luxury RV resort offerings, Desert Shores requires guests to have Class A motorhomes (also referred to as bus conversions and motorcoaches), which typically measure 36- to 45-feet long. They're the largest on the market, sleeping eight to 10 people.

These are also considered the most luxurious RVs out there and cost anywhere from $50,000 and to $3 million.

A Featherlite Coach. Courtesy Featherlite

Among the many companies that create Class A motorhomes are Monarch, Marathon Coaches, Prevost, and Anderson Mobile Estates. These motorhomes are often regarded as "land yachts" for their expensive fabrics and flooring, top-notch appliances, and even rooftop hot tubs.

Featherlite Coaches, a luxury motorcoach manufacturer, creates conversion motorhomes on the Prevost bus chassis with floor plans that can include multiple bathrooms, bunk beds that convert to closets, and dinettes that convert to coffee tables for entertaining. Many are even installed with Amazon Alexa voice controls, Apple TV, HDTV satellite antennas, and cellular routers to stay connected even in the most remote locations.

Mark Eisenhart, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Featherlite Coaches, told Business Insider the company has seen a marked increase in sales and deliveries of coaches since mid-May. Compared to the same months last year, sales and deliveries have more than doubled, Eisenhart said.

"As more executives need to travel, and more families search for a safer way to travel and vacation, coaches offer a method to satisfy both needs," Eisenhart said.

The camaraderie and like-minded community is what draws people to RV resorts.

"RV people are different. They like being outdoors, and they like being with their spouse," said Kyle McCain, an RVer and President of the Board of Directors at Mountain Falls Motorcoach Resort in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. "Any one of us can get on an airplane and fly to the Ritz-Carlton. But if you're at an RV resort, you like being with similar people."

Mountain Falls attracts an affluent clientele that includes Fortune 500 business executives, developers, oil company executives, hoteliers, and wine connoisseurs. McCain says COVID-19 has positively impacted sales at Mountain Falls, reporting a 127% increase in revenue and 102% increase in rentals over the last year.

Courtesy Mountain Falls

There are 230 lots, most of which come with a cottage and can set you back $1.2 million to $3 million. There's no lack of activities to partake in on-site: the RV park has tennis courts, pickleball courts, a fitness center and spa, a nine-hole golf course, and two pools. That's in addition to a concierge who organizes off-property activities like hiking, and a chic clubhouse with stately stone fireplaces and a dining room.

"At Mountain Falls, ownership is inspired by the absolute beauty we're surrounded by a state park wilderness on one side and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the other side," McCain said. "That, combined with the best amenities and social events that we, as 38-year RVers, have ever experienced."

Lisa Proctor and her husband, both of whom are retired, have been traveling to Mountain Falls for four years. They head there for the summer months to escape the sweltering Tennessee heat. Their small dog Roxy has been a trusty companion on their travels.

"RV living is, more than anything else, about being outside and away from the noise, confinement and complexity of urban life," she told Business Insider.

An aerial shot of Mountain Falls. Courtesy Mountain Falls

While some love the seclusion, others choose resorts for their proximity to the ocean and world-class golfing. Enter: Naples Motorcoach Resort in Naples, Florida.

Many RVers love Naples Motorcoach Resort because they can bring their boats for day trips or fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, to which the resort offers direct access. The 184-lot luxury resort's grounds feature manicured gardens, palm trees, and tidy green lawns. Among its amenities are three pools, fitness center, poker room, private theater, billiards room, and a ballroom.

Chad Geffert, General Manager of Naples Motorcoach Resort, told Business Insider that owners typically build custom casitas with amenities like tiki huts, outdoor kitchens, and fire pits. Lots range from $129,900 to $289,000, excluding the cost of the customizations.

Courtesy Naples Motorcoach

"RV ownership has gone up in the industry, and I think it's related to the fact that RVs are probably the safest way to travel for the next few years," Geffert said. Of Naples Motorcoach's clientele, he noted, "It's all large-scale, Class A motorhomes. When people come down from the north, they'll spend the whole season down here. It's more of a long-term resort with the option to buy and have a piece of paradise forever."

At Hearthside Grove Motorcoach Resort in Petoskey, Michigan, vacationers are able to access the outdoors in complete luxury. Lots have cottages with chic amenities and contemporary interiors, but they do not come cheap: Purchasing a lot can cost up to $1 million.

The resort is ensconced in lush woodlands and is just minutes from the lake with easy access to golfing, sailing, fishing trips, and cooking classes with local chefs. It's the perfect family-friendly resort.

The living is easy at Hearthside Grove in Michigan. Courtesy Hearthside Grove

The ease of having an RV, especially during COVID-19, is paying off for several travelers. Cross and his wife will return to Desert Shores for their usual November to April season, but in the meantime, they're hoping to take a trip up to Michigan with the lifelong friends they've met at Desert Shores resort.

"We've built probably the best friends of our lives there," he said. "Like family."

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