Address: 2555 US HWY 17S, Wauchula, FL 33873
Phone: (863) 735-8888
# of sites: 460
Full hookup price: From $57 /day (30 amp)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Warnings: High demand park, sewer not available on all sites, alligators (?)
Peace River RV Resort is located in the woods along the Peace River just outside of Wauchula, Florida. It is about 45 minutes from the Gulf coast and just under two hours from Orlando. It is one of only two full Thousand Trails resorts in the Sunshine State and sites here are very much in demand during the tourist season of January through March.
There are 37 Encore (Trails Collection) resorts and only two TT parks in Florida. Along with the Orlando Thousand Trails Resort, this park is part of the "Florida shuffle" for TT members, where they come and go between Encore properties. Following a stay, members must be out of the Encore system for at least seven days before staying at another Encore property, but there is no waiting period if they stay in a full TT park. Thus, the TT campgrounds are a huge convenience and cost savings if you want to spend a considerable time if the state.
Proximity to Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Punta Gorda on the Gulf and Orlando in Central Florida is a big plus for this park's location. Even Vero Beach on the Atlantic coast is only a two-hour drive away. The wildlife is abundant and birding is exceptional in Central Florida, where you'll see many species that are only found here. Fishing is also popular everywhere in the state.
The park itself has the usual resort amenities and it sports a very nice nature trail along the Peace River. Sites are above average in width and we were able to snag an excellent space in which our front door faced the woods.
As I alluded to in the warnings, there are often far fewer sites with sewer drains than there are RV's checking in. To make matters worse, you are left on your own to find them while avoiding the empty sites with sewers that are reserved for seasonal or annual campers. When we return in January, I'm told we will be participating in a lottery system for the sewer sites but need to be waiting at 9am to get into the drawing, which happens around 1pm. If we don't get a sewer site in the lottery, there are always several dozen dry sites or with water and power available we can stay overnight in and get in the next day's lottery. Not ideal. It seems to me that with the popularity of the park they would expand the number of sites with sewer hook-ups.
Like many resorts, the dog park is about a half-mile walk from much of the resort and is very small. There are dog waste baskets scattered around the park but none have bags, so you do have to provide your own. With two dogs, sometimes I will run out while on a walk and I really appreciate it when a resort provides the poop bags around the park. In addition, there are signs around the park warning of alligators and snakes, making for a nervous time walking near the river.
The staff here wasn't always friendly. For example, the office here has a rule that you can’t pick up a package before 2pm and sure enough, they stuck to that rule when we tried to pick up one at 1:53. Okay, that’s the rule. Knowing this and that they close the office at 4:30pm, I was able to get there in time, with 4 minutes to spare, or so I thought. I followed a few paces behind a young woman up the stairs and to the office. When she went in, she closed the door behind her and locked it, pulled the shades down and deadbolt locked. It was still 4 minutes before 4:30 and the gal had seen me behind her. Now I have to wait until 2:00 the next day.
As we were leaving the resort on travel day we heard what sounded like assault rifle gunfire is several short bursts. It sounded like it came from down the aisle next to us and we were a bit taken aback. Was there an active shooter in the park? It turned out that there is hunting in the bordering properties and that's where the gunfire was coming from. It's a bit unnerving to think we'll be returning to a place where hunters are using assault rifles nearby.
All-in-all, the Peace River RV & Camping Resort is adequate and convenient for a stopover between other campgrounds. As an alternative location, I would probably recommend the Orlando Thousand Trails, a much nicer and better run facility, for an interim stay, but if that's not a good option, Peace River will still hold you over.
Address: 38801 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key, FL 33043
Phone: (305) 872-2217
# of sites: 399
Full hookup price: From $774/week
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warnings: Oleander on site (poisonous)
Spending time in the Florida Keys was a bucket list item for me and this resort is right in the middle of them. Although the name is Sunshine Key and its address is on Big Pine Key, the park is actually on Ohio Key, adjacent to Big Pine. We went in November, before the high-tourist season, but also still during high temperatures.
We first saw this resort in February of 2018 just after hurricane Michael had devastated the area. The park was closed, and it definitely looked like it had sustained serious damage. Eighteen months later, the RV resort was in nearly full operation, though they are still utilizing temporary quarters for their entrance, check-in desk, mail room and convenience store. Though there are plenty of seasonal or year-round residents, the park was only about a third full in the two off-season weeks we were there.
Sunshine Key is one of the cleanest resorts we have stayed in recently. There was no trash to be seen anywhere except in the trash bins. There are many nice, wide sites, some are pull-through, all with full-hookups and spacious pea-graveled patio areas. Amenities are plentiful as well, including swimming pool, tennis, pickle ball and basketball courts, along with a marina, fishing dock and shoreline right on-site.
Probably the largest plus to this resort is its proximity to Key West, just about a 20-mile drive away, and the rest of the Keys are also within an easy driving distance. Ohio Key is on the west side of the Seven-Mile Bridge, which means that shopping in Marathon is only seven miles from the park.
Numerous tourist activities are available, as one would expect of a popular tourist destination, and the historic town of Key West has an abundance of tram, bus and boat tours and a wide variety of dining options. Fishing charters and party boats are available in almost any of the populated Keys with a myriad of species to be caught. You do not need a fishing license if you join a charter excursion with a licensed captain.
One big downside is the cost of sites at Sunshine Key, with some people paying $1,300 per week for premium waterfront sites. The public can pay as low as $774 per week, a more reasonable rate, and Thousand Trails members with the Trails Collection need only pay $20/day with a 2-week max stay. Usually we do not pay out-of-pocket for Thousand Trails visits, so the $280, plus tax, was a bit of a hit to the pocketbook.
Another huge negative is that no pet fences are allowed and there are no off-leash dog areas. I'm not sure that their reasoning of "liability issues" is valid, since very few resorts have this restriction. Our Chihuahua-mix dogs are not a threat to anyone while corralled behind a fence and not having one set their house training back by weeks. Our 5th wheel has a doggy door and when the puppies have to go potty, they normally just head outside to the yard, leaving us to easily clean up at our convenience. Without the door available to them, they went potty in the doorway in front of the locked doggie door.
Another pet-related complaint is the presence of Oleander plants in the park, including between our site the the one next-door. Ingesting just one Oleander leaf can kill a full-sized horse, and pets have no chance to survive. I used our pet fencing to section off the plant from our puppies, but we were nervous about it our entire stay.
If you are not used to them, almost constant trade winds can be annoying, and the Keys' low elevation and location at the entrance to the Gulf makes them susceptible to storms, mild and severe. We were fortunate to follow the storm season by a few weeks, but another could have developed at any time.
Not knowing any better, Nadyne and I were hoping to enjoy tumbling waves on a sandy beach. However, we found the the region really has no waves or sandy beaches, mostly due to the shallow water surrounding all of the islands in the area. It was very much like being in the Outer Banks or inside a large sheltered harbor. That's nice for boating and fishing but not so much for beach-combing or body surfing.
Even with shopping available in Marathon and Key West, traditional full-sized box stores and supermarkets are back on the mainland, 50+ miles away. Advanced planning may be necessary before hitting Key Largo and the Overseas Highway..
Like I mentioned, visiting the Florida Keys was a bucket list item and overall it didn't disappoint. We loved touring Key West, Big Pine and many other of the Keys. Key deer are abundant (and cute), bird watching is everywhere and there are spectacular sunsets nearly every night.
Overall, the Florida Keys exude a laid-back, relaxed lifestyle into which one can easily be assimilated. However long your visit, it will seem too short.
Jack Huber is a novelist with 7 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.