We recently went to the 2017 Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa – advertised as the largest RV Show in the country. The show doesn’t disappoint, as it covers most of the fairgrounds and stretches for what feels like miles in every direction. There are literally thousands of RVs you can walk through, ranging from inexpensive pop-up tent trailers to multi-million dollar Prevost tour buses.
The show is very well attended, and almost every RV we entered had at least a couple people inside. This was especially true during the heat of the day, as the mostly paved fairground gets very warm (yes, even in January) and the RVs all have power and Air Conditioners on full blast.
In spite of the crowds, me still managed to see everything we came to see in about 5 hours on a Saturday afternoon. I know some people really enjoy shows and will attend for several days, and others go to an RV Show to actually purchase an RV, but for us an RV Show serves as a low-pressure way to check out all the new RVs, RV Floor Plan Options, Gadgets, and Gizmos that make living in an RV fun.
As we have our RV Show visits somewhat ‘dialed in’, I figured I’d share the strategies we use to visit a show for cheap, see everything we came to see, and avoid indigestion (RV Shows are full of greasy food). Here are our 6 Tips – I hope you find them useful:
Tip #1 – Research the RV Show Ahead of Time.
We recommend looking at the show map – usually available on the RV Show website – at least a day or two before going to the show. Take the time to identify the vendors (RV Manufacturers) you’re interested in, and plot the shortest walking course that links them all together.
For example – As we are current 31-foot Class C RV owners, we’re potentially interested in upgrading to a small to mid-size Class A at some point. We would prefer a small diesel engine or we might consider a ‘gasser’ as long as the engine could handle the size RV we selected. We’re also somewhat interested in ‘Super C’ RVs – Class C RVs with mid-duty front diesel engines.
Manufacturers who make Class A RVs that we’re interested in – and that are in our potential price range include: Fleetwood, Winnebago, Tiffin, Newmar, and Thor.
Manufacturers who make Super Cs include: Renegade, Dynamax, Nexus, Jayco, and Thor.
As you can see in the picture above, those RV manufacturers are spread throughout the show. We quickly identified the RVs we wanted to see, then connected them by the shortest walking route. That way we only walk one ‘loop’ through the show vs. walking back and forth multiple times and tiring ourselves out.
It’s also important to note that some of the larger manufacturers, including Forest River, Winnebago, Jayco, and Thor divide their RVs by type and place them in different booths throughout the show. Fortunately the map lists the specific RV models in each booth, so you can target the right RVs and avoid the rest.
Tip #2 – Eat a Good Meal Before You Go
While it can be fun to eat greasy show food such as pizza, hamburgers, fried dough, and sausages with peppers and onions, it also can make you feel blah and often costs more than ‘real’ food at a restaurant outside the show. If the Show is one of those times you’re looking for some fried dough, pizza, and soda we totally get it – as we’ve had our share too! However, as Kathy is now a pescetarian (she eats fish but no other meat) and is somewhat gluten intolerant, we find it makes much more sense for us to stop and eat on the way to the show.
This is also a cost savings, as show food is expensive – plus it tends to be the sort of food that makes you hungry again quickly. Buying food and drinks is also time consuming as it involves standing in line to order (in the Sun) and then waiting for your order. There’s usually nowhere to sit, as every table is taken by the hundreds of other people who also didn’t eat a good meal before they got to the show. Show food is also very salty so you end up buying lots of overpriced beverages and spending lots of time walking to the restrooms. Not what you came to the RV show to do at all!
Speaking of drinks, we strongly recommend that you bring a backpack with cold water with you. Water and other drinks at the show cost a small fortune, so there’s no reason not to bring your own. If you like really cold water then we recommend using Hydroflask water bottles (http://amzn.to/2litVUs) as they’re double-walled and keep ice water cold for hours. We each have a 16oz hydroflask bottle plus we bring an extra 32oz hydroflask bottle that we fill with ice and then some water. This works great and saves us tons of money.
Note that while most shows say ‘no food and drinks allowed’, you can still bring bottles with ice water into the show with you. Bring snacks at your discretion. If they’re seen, you may need to bring them back to the car or throw them away, so just be aware.
Tip #3 – Only Look at RVs You’re Interested In Possibly Buying
If you’re shopping for an RV it makes sense to only look at RVs in your price range and that match your desired style (Class A, Class C, 5th Wheel, Travel Trailer). This is for 3 reasons:
1. Trying to look at all types of RVs in all price ranges is exhausting and overwhelming. The RV Show is huge and almost every RV is full of people. Walking into and through every RV – not to mention up and down all those stairs – will tire you out in a hurry. It will also overload your brain quickly, as RVs start to blend together after the first 10 or 15.
2. Touring high-end Tiffin and NewMar Class A motorhomes before shopping for a $75K Class C RV will make all the Class Cs feel small, cramped, and cheap. Conversely walking through a bunch of $20K – $40K travel trailers before shopping for a $75K Class C will make the Class C feel roomy, upscale, and nice. Perspective matters!
3. This will help you stay in your budget. It’s easy (very easy!) to go over your budget when shopping for RVs – especially when you see just how nice some RVs can be!
Also helpful – most manufacturers tape the floor plan to the outside of each RV. This saves time as you can avoid walking through RV floor plans you already know you want to avoid.
Of course you can take all of this with a grain of salt. While we mostly stick to looking at specific RVs, we definitely walk through other RVs that catch our eye even if they’re out of our price range or not a style we’re likely to buy. RV shows are meant to be fun and it’s interesting to check out the $500K+ big rigs – just don’t overdo it.
Tip 4 – Don’t buy an RV at the show without researching pricing online first.
I discuss this in detail in my article on RV Show Pricing, so I won’t repeat that information here. The short version is that even ‘RV Show Special Pricing’ is still a starting point for negotiation. You can usually save thousands – or tens of thousands – more off those prices.
Tip 5 – Avoid visiting the show on Saturday if Possible
Saturday is always the busiest day to visit any RV show, followed by Sunday and then Friday. Most shows start on Wednesday or Thursday. If you can go on opening day you’ll usually have smaller crowds with more industry people.
Sundays are also less crowded, especially in the afternoon. The downside to Sundays is that many of the RVs have been bought and are therefore closed to the public, plus some of the vendors close up early as that’s the last day of the show.
Tip 6 – Save the inside exhibits for the heat of the day
RV shows always have large exhibition halls full of all the latest RV accessories. These are great places to shop for RV gear & accessories, campground memberships, and vacation packages. Best of all, these exhibit halls are always air conditioned in my experience.
You may think – wait, the Tampa RV show is in January. It can’t be that hot, right? The reality is that both times we’ve gone it’s been mid 80’s with full Sun, so even if you love the heat you’ll likely be ready for some shade and air conditioning by 2pm.
By hitting the indoor display areas in the middle of the day, you usually avoid the largest crowds as those come at opening and closing. You also avoid the worst time to look at RVs, as everyone tends to crowd into RVs midday to get out of the Sun and take advantage of the A/C.
Our Highlights from the 2017 Florida RV SuperShow
Here are the three things that really stood out for us at the 2017 Florida RV Show in no particular order.
#1 – The Rooftop Deck on this Park Model Home
Park models – that is mobile homes that are designed to be placed on an RV pad semi-permanently – have been around a long time. Older park models are relatively basic units – 4 walls and a roof. Newer park models have started to use more unique and flexible floor plans, better materials, and more efficient designs.
This particular unit is by Athens Park Models and includes an awesome rooftop deck. We don’t plan on settling down anytime soon, but if and when we do, a park model unit like this is on our list. Very cool!
#2 – The New Aria Class A RV by Thor
This RV wasn’t on our radar to look at, but it caught our attention as we walked by, and we’re glad it did. The Aria has several different floor plans and lengths, all of which have visually beautiful interiors with layouts that make a lot of sense. We liked the 3901 model the best – at just under 40 feet it includes a bath and a half, washer dryer, a king bed, and theater seating with a HUGE pop-up TV that looks perfect for watching movies and football. Sign us up!
#3 – This Teardrop with a Kitchen & a Bathroom
We were both impressed with the amount of features packed into this small teardrop trailer. Traditional teardrop trailers are a place to sleep – maybe a place to sit – and not much more. This unit includes a kitchen area, a seating area that turns into a bed, and best of all a full wet bath with toilet and shower! If we were just starting out, or had a vehicle without much tow rating, this teardrop would be a great unit for getting our feet wet. We really like the retro design, too!
We both enjoy going to RV shows, as it’s fun to see all the features and amenities that RV manufacturers are able to squeeze into their new units. That said, our show limit as mentioned is about 5 hours. The crowds, heat, and walking/standing on pavement catch up with us after that, and the whole RV Show thing starts to feel less fun at that point.
By using the tips above, we managed to see every RV on our list with time to spare at the 2017 RV Florida Super Show in Tampa, plus we spent no money on food or drinks and we weren’t hungry or thirsty. We hope these tips and suggestions save you some money and energy while you enjoy your local RV Show, too!