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Using Cruise America to “Travel Hack” Camping

I’ve said before that I hate camping. HATE it. Staying in a tent with no electricity or  bathroom is NOT my idea of vacation. It’s something you do when you have no other choice. And of course, as travel hackers, we have many choices. That’s the beauty of this hobby: getting to experience things that are otherwise not attainable to an average joe.

However, there is a sophisticated form of camping: traveling in an RV or a motorhome, a compromise for “fancy pants” folks. Now that I can do! Sure, you still have to deal with limited space, but at least there is A/C, shower and a toilet, plus a real (though usually mediocre) mattress.

My husband loves camping and his best travel memories are of roaming around the West in a cheap pop-up. He’s even mentioned buying one of those on Craigslist. Unfortunately, cheap pop-ups don’t come with bathroom, shower or A/C. On top of it, you have to insure them, pay for license and tag, plus store them in the yard from then on. All just so you can take them out for a spin once or twice per year. No way, Jose! The solution? Rent.

Cruise America

I’m sure there are other companies, but Cruise America (has nothing to do with water cruises) is the one I’m familiar with. They’ve been in business for a long time and have 124 locations around the country. If you have some flexibility, you can score some amazing bargains by keeping an eye on their Hot Rental Deals page.

For example, right now you can get an incredible deal on RV if you live in Florida and plan on traveling to Arizona:

This is a great bargain, no doubt about it. As you can see, you are allowed a total of 8 nights at this price, so you can potentially do a detour to Nevada before dropping off your unit in Arizona. Of course, this deal is mostly good for families with flexible schedule. Unless you are going during Spring Break, taking the kids out of school is not an option for most of us.

But what about getting back to Florida? Southwest or other airline to the rescue, of course. You can  mix and match your travel transportation options, there is no law that prevents it.

Renting an RV at a regular price

Not all of us want to spend 8 nights in an RV, roaming around Arizona. Personally, I’m  interested in renting it for three nights max. I don’t think I can last longer than that in a confined space with my two crazy kids. For us, the place that would be the obvious choice is Disney’s Fort Wilderness, a cadillac of campgrounds.

My husband and his sister stayed there with kids in a tent a few times, and they both said it’s way too hard to set everything up.

 

So, bringing an RV would be a decent compromise. It wouldn’t be cheap during high season, I’ll tell you that. Minimum rental period is usually 3 nights. Here is what an RV would run during March of 2018 (the peak of Spring Break):

Ouch! Then you have to pay around $300 to rent a campground  lot for three nights. So, once you add the fees, you are looking at spending more than $1,000 (with fees for kits etc). It’s still less compared to renting a cabin in Fort Wilderness, but not by a whole lot. This is definitely not a dirt cheap vacation by any stretch of imagination.

However, the rate is way more palatable at the end of May:

Much better! So, assuming you rent  a full-hookup site for $300 and pay $300 for an RV (with fees), the price works out to be around $200 per night, which is somewhat reasonable. Since we live in Florida, we would bring our own supplies and sheets. Sure, you can get a hotel for much less, but you are paying for a unique experience. My kids are begging us to buy an RV (which we absolutely can not afford), so this would be the next best thing.

I’m also seriously considering renting an RV so we could stay at Lion Country Safari campground. We visited the park a year ago, and really enjoyed it. It would be neat to hear  lions roar in the morning. Who needs to go to Africa? This is cheaper and just as good! OK, I’m kidding, of course.

The logistics of picking up an RV would be a bit challenging. We would probably have to ask my in-laws to drop us off and pick us up in Fort Myers Cruise America location. Then we would start our long trek to the opposite coast. I read on Cruise America website that some locations will let you leave your vehicle on their lot, so that’s another option. In that case, we could drive to Delray beach Cruise America franchise, which is located about 30 minutes from Lion Country Safari.

Of course, if you plan on flying to Orlando and staying at Fort Wilderness, you wouldn’t have any issues. Just  take a taxi from the airport or Uber your way to the rental location, and go from there.

Update: Nancy mentioned to me that there are companies that will bring an RV to the lot and set everything up in Fort Wilderness campground. Interesting! I found Fort Wilderness RV Rentals via Google search and 6 nights+ rates aren’t too bad.

Credit cards to help you pay for your RV rental

The charge from Cruise America should code as transportation. That will make it eligible for $300 annual credit from Chase Sapphire Reserve. Update: reader Ben has mentioned in the comments that the charge did not code as travel purchase on his CSR statement. Calling Chase and asking them to apply it manually might work.

Of course, if you are looking to apply for a sign-up bonus, you have many options. Check my Hot Deals page for cash and travel rebate offers.

Aside from cashback bonuses, the most obvious choices are Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Capital One Venture Rewards and you can see more details on them in my linked page. Both pay us commission if you choose to support the site.

Bottom line

Unless you snag a super deal on a moving Cruise America special, you should probably plan to shell out a good bit of money, especially if traveling during high season. In all likelihood, you can travel hack a hotel room for much less. However, you probably won’t be hearing a roaring lion in the morning if you do!

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

17 thoughts on “Using Cruise America to “Travel Hack” Camping

  1. I like camping. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t rough it. I need a clean shower and restrooms. But I also like the idea of camping in a campground where I’m really in the woods or by a stream and my kids can roam and explore. (Let me know if you find one like that!) We stayed at Ft. Wilderness and my kids liked it, but I was disappointed that the sites were right on top of each other. Everyone is so jam packed in there. I think if I’m going to spend that much on an RV, I’d rather just rent a cabin in a state park. But if your kids want the RV experience, go for it. I’ll look forward that the trip report on that experience, I’m sure it’ll be good!

    • @Jennifer Yeah, Fort Wilderness is super crowded, especially if you reserve the cheapest lot. We found that paying extra for a premium lot solves the problem of noise and makes for a more tolerable experience. I still don’t want to stay there in a tent, but we may do the RV thing for few nights. I really want to do Lion Country Safari KoA. That campground looks like fun!

  2. My husband also hates camping, although he has never been. My kids really want to go camping, but since he won’t go, it would be too much work for me. Admittedly, my memories of camping were when I was a kid with my friend’s family, and everything was set up for us since we were just kids. I’m sure it’s a lot harder as an adult.

    There is a company that rents RVs directly in Disney’s Fort Wilderness. They set everything up for you, you just have to show up. I was so set on doing this with my family, but Brian slowly talked me out of it. The cost wasn’t going to be cheaper than a Disney hotel, plus our living quarters would be cramped and there would probably be lots of BUGS. But it sure sounded like a good idea to me.

    • @Nancy Thanks for the info on RV companies in Fort Wilderness area. I’ve updated the post and mentioned one. I should have done more research on it, for sure. I definitely learn something new on this blog every day! But yeah, the cost is steep, unless you stay 6+ nights.
      I do have to agree with your husband. A family of five in an RV is a recipe for disaster. My husband has good memories of traveling in a pop-up, but he was a kid. When I talk to my MIL, it sounds like she “sacrificed” her sanity in order for everything to run smoothly.
      She was a slave: cooking, cleaning, setting up beds each day etc. She said she had to wake up at 5 AM daily in order to get started on everything during the road trip. No thank you! I’m not that selfless. 🙂

  3. Ha! I was against camping for a few years. I used to say: “There are two types of people in this world: those who hate camping and those who love it. I belong to the first group”. Last summer we went camping five times. Never say never.

    • @Leticia I actually thought of you when I was writing this post. Your family makes tent camping seem fun! 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever become a convert. I used to camp in a tent as a kid, and I remember hating it even then. I’m easygoing on some things, but quite picky on others.

  4. So I was excluded from doing any of the planning – 8 of us are RV’ing through Arizona for 8 days starting Sunday. Staying in mostly average Air BNB & hotels along the way. Haven’t even provisioned yet, and this is already the most expensive trip I’ve ever taken.

    AAARGH!

    • @James Oh my! Eight people? Good luck! 🙂 But honestly, try to have fun. Sure, they will be challenges. Every trip has them. But you can’t change the plans at this point, so might as well TRY to enjoy yourself. Oh, and if you want to contribute a trip report, I will be happy to publish it! Not something you read about every day in the miles and points blogs, that’s for sure.

  5. About the last point, CruiseAmerica does NOT code as travel on the CSR. I was fully expecting it to and was surprised it did not.

    • @Ben Thank you so much for the data point! I will update the post. It is surprising because it should code as a travel purchase. You may want to call Chase and ask them to credit it manually. Let me know how it goes if you can.

  6. Wow, great information about the one-way relocation ‘hot deals’. Already shared with many friends in Canada and the US. I knew this was popular in Australia, but didn’t realize it was an option here. Thanks!

    • @Lisa M No problem! I hope it helps some of your friends. Yeah, relocation deals are dirt cheap for those who have some flexibility. They usually have good deals for moving RVs to Florida right before Christmas holidays.

  7. I’d like to see a longer post from Nancy about the Ft. Wilderness RV rental options. I might be able to get on board with a “Cadillac” campground or a glamping experience. My family camped everywhere until I left the nest, mostly in tents but they upgraded to a popup in later years. My parents still camp in an RV. Back then, if we stayed in a hotel, it was typically a low budget property that was something akin to a Motel 6. I have good memories (campfires, hiking, hanging out with extended family) and bad memories (sweating inside a tent because there was no AC, bugs, having to walk to the campground restroom in the middle of the night to go to the toilet or shower).

    Business travel forever spoiled me. After spending many weeks of my life in very nice hotels, I know what I like and it’s hard to go back. We tried camping in my parents’ RV a few years ago. It rained pretty hard on the first or second night we were there and the rest of the days it was mud city. Mud on my kids, mud in the RV, falling down in the slippery mud – it just wasn’t a good time. I felt like I could never get fully clean. I’m sure the kids enjoyed it, they don’t mind getting down in the dirt, but it just wasn’t my scene.

    • @Erik I’m sure Nancy wouldn’t mind doing a post on some RV options for Disney and maybe a few budget hotel choices. I’ll forward your request!
      According to my research, it appears that longer rentals (6+nights) represent the best value. Plus, they set up everything, which is convenient.
      I honestly think your family would like Fort Wilderenss. It is very nice. Bathrooms are clean and everything is taken care of. It’s Disney, after all. Plus, they have an awesome pool for kids. As long as you are staying in an RV and not in a tent, I believe it will be a comfortable experience. Obviously, you can’t control the weather, but the roads are paved, so mud shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not cheap once you factor in lot rent and RV, but it would be a fun experience for young kids. For adults? Probably not so much. I feel the way you do. I like to have decent bed and space. I think I got spoiled over the last few years by what miles and points provided for us in terms of lodging. But it’s nice to mix things up now and again. So I hope to do this RV thing at least once while the kids are still little. I doubt they’ll be into to it once they get older.

  8. I know I’m late to this discussion, but I HATE camping and even an RV is just too much work and completely out of my comfort zone. My husband went 2 years ago camping with a group of guys with their sons, and my hubby refused to set up a tent because it’s just too much work, and he and my son blew up an inflatable mattress and slept in the SUV. The guys were all laughing at them until they all woke up freezing the next morning in their little pop up tents. I don’t even have good memories of any camping we ever did so you know we won’t be camping anytime soon 🙂

    • @Stephanie I can totally relate to how you feel about camping! It sounds fun (in theory), but too many drawbacks, at least for me. Of course, some enjoy it, and who am I to argue with success?
      We’ll probably do the RV thing at least once because kids really want to. Once!

  9. Pingback: Renting an RV at Disney's Fort Wilderness--Miles For Family

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