Thursday, December 31, 2015

Camping and service at Lazy Days in Tampa

Since we want to tow our RAM 1500 pickup truck, we needed to outfit it with a base plate, tow bar and braking system.  We decided several weeks ago to get the Blue Ox tow bar/base plate and have the Air Force One braking system installed.  Knowing that it would take a day or two to do all of the work, we thought we'd kill time while we waited by taking some courses at Lazy Days in Seffner (Tampa), FL.

I was concerned about a place working on my coach that wasn't an "official" Newmar service center.  However, I was assured that Lazy Days does a tremendous volume of service and they have installed hundreds of similar systems.  The work on the truck would take a day or day and a half, and they would need the motorhome for about three hours following that.  We heard that they have a nice campground on-site with amenities like restaurants; they also said that we could get breakfast and lunch free every day and take their Driver Confidence Course at no cost since we were staying for 3+ nights in the resort.

Camping at Lazy Days

We arrived on Sunday afternoon, 1/27, and were shown to the last campsite they had that would fit our coach.  I wasn't pleased about this because I had picked out a site when I called - they even went through a list telling me what was and wasn't available.  When we arrived, the site had been taken and we were shown to the last row of streets and a site that barely fit our 43'9" coach.  There wasn't even room to put our truck in front of the rig; we had to park it in a nearby empty site.

Parking at Lazy Days is "straight in", so you have to know how to park the bigger rigs.  A worker came to our site and directed me while backing and I managed to do it the first time.  We immediately had a problem because the grass at the back of the pad (right behind the RV) sloped up enough that the giant Newmar mud flap dug into the dirt and almost bent.  I had to pull up a foot or two and then back up again while my wife held the flap up so that it wouldn't bend.

The campground has full hookups with 50-amp service, wifi that's decent if you're near the main complex, and cable TV that also includes HD channels.  All went pretty smooth except for the water connection.  Even after using two different water regulators, it still dripped at a pretty good rate.

There are trees throughout the park, and our 13'-high rig is situated within two feet of a tree on each side.  Putting an awning out meant slightly dragging some of the branches along the top as it extended, but it was probably okay to do it safely.  We had heard of other campers who called the office and asked them to come out to their site (which they did) to cut some branches before they even parked.

People in the campground are nice, but the atmosphere can't compare to the extremely friendly campers we encountered at Stone Mountain.  Most people walk by without saying hello and pretty much stick to themselves.  Perhaps it's because Stone Mountain folks are there to have a good time, while a lot of the Lazy Days campers are here for several months or have just stopped in for service.  At Stone Mountain, people would stop by, say hello and chat for a minute or two.  At Lazy Days, you may spend your entire stay of a few days without talking to anyone unless you initiate the conversation.

The Lazy Days service center is about half a mile away and they provide trolley service between the two most days.  Monday is not one of them, however, as the "trolley lady" has that day off.  But they are quick to point out that all you need to do is call Security and they'll come get you and give you a ride whenever you want it - even after hours.

At the entrance to the campground is a huge "Rally Center", which is a modern meeting room complete with a stage and kitchen.  One of the walls in the Center is a mock-up of a large RV, behind which is a restaurant/bar called Exit 10 (that's the exit you use to get there from I4).  Exit 10 is only open at 3pm some days, however.  Right outside the Rally center is their huge pool that is under screening.  It's very clean and modern; a lot of people use it and we could certainly see why they did.  There's also a spa ("hot tub") next to the pool.

When you check in, they give you free cards for breakfast and lunch everyday at a cafe located in the main building that houses sales, service and parts.  The cards only get you three types of muffin-style breakfast sandwiches (rather tasteless) or a plate with watery eggs and frozen-brought-back-to-life breakfast potatoes.  Bacon is supposed to be extra, but they didn't charge us for it.  Other things that are available include waffles, for about $7.  At lunch, the freebies include a hamburger, chicken sandwich, fish sandwich or a "Daily Special".  On the Tuesday we were there, the special was a beef, cheese and bean burrito with chips.  It was okay and was hot but, like most of the stuff, was somewhat bland.

Sodas and coffee were free and you can go in there any time and help yourself.  Nice.

Service at Lazy Days

Service at Lazy Days was not as pleasant as it has been at most of the places we have taken our car.  I guess I was very spoiled by the extremely attentive technicians at National Indoor RV Center in GA (now in Lewisville).  Even though I called four or five times before we went to make sure that they would have my parts in stock to do the work, a guy from the parts department knocked on my door mid-day to say that they had not checked the stock and didn't have the part.  To their credit, they had it the next morning and were able to begin the work.  It was frustrating for me because I had left two unanswered voice mails with the service manager over a period of two weeks, had spoken on the phone twice with the parts guy and specifically told them I was trying to avoid a mix-up when we got there.

Our service manager told me that they had over 400 coaches currently being serviced, and shared that he was responsible for about 70 of them.  I respect that they're busy, but when they are that busy, it leaves little time for paying attention to the customer.  My service manager never asked me how I was doing, how long I had been RVing, or anything personal at all.  Our discussions were very, very brief and to the point.  He was always polite and courteous, but that's about where it ended.

After a one-day delay getting started, I was concerned that they may not finish in time to get us out by the morning of New Year's Eve.  The service manager told me that they had to do the work in the truck (install base plate, wiring, and the braking system) and that it would take at least one day, maybe a bit more.  Then he said they would ask for the coach so they could install that part of the braking system.  I don't know why they couldn't take the coach earlier, but they do the work serially.  So the truck went in early Tuesday morning and by Tuesday night we had not even received a phone call.

On Wednesday morning, we packed up the coach, put in the slides and took the rig over to the service center.  They hadn't called yet, but we wanted to be over there so that it would be ready as soon as they called for it.  I walked into the service area and found our service manager, who made a phone call and then came out and said that they were going to take it back right away.  When he got into the coach to drive it back to a service bay, I reminded him that I wanted them to install the remote booster for my new Tireminder system (it's just a connection to 12V in the rear battery bay).  I told him that I didn't think it would take them but a few minutes to do it because they surely did a lot of them - after all, they sell the Tireminder system in their Accessories store.  He held it in his hand and told me that they actually try to discourage people from using them (the Tireminder) because they have had a lot of problems.  That's the first time I've ever heard anyone say that.  As a matter of fact, and I mentioned this to him, Lazy Days sells the Tireminder in their accessories store - and it's the only TPMS they sell.  He followed that up by telling me that it would be no problem to install it.

They finally called us at 4pm on Wednesday and we took a golf cart to the service bay.  The technician showed us the Blue Ox Avail tow bar setup, explained the connections, and patiently answered all of our questions about towing and using the Air Force One braking system.

While our service manager took my wife back to the office to pay the bill, I drove the coach and our newly-attached truck down the long row behind the service bays and up to the front parking lot.  As I was making turns, I could "feel" the 65 feet behind me when the truck appeared in the convex mirrors.  Wow.  That's a lot of real estate.   After getting to the front of the building, I pulled the coach/toad into one of those long parking spaces to wait for my wife.  There are several rows of these spaces in front of the buildings, so it was my plan to just pull forward into the next aisle when we left.  I turned off the engine, stepped out of the coach and couldn't believe what I saw:  both sides of the aisle were blocked.  I hadn't driven the coach with the toad more than a quarter of a mile and I already had to detach it so I could back out of the space!  

All told, our service experience with Lazy Days was a good one.  They didn't have the right part after a lot of effort to get it right ahead of time, but once the part was in they did a good job and took their time to explain everything to us.  We had to wait a while, but it was more than bearable because of the nice facilities, courses, food and other amenities.

Courses offered by Lazy Days

Lazy Days offers several courses, most of them are free and about one hour long.  They have classes in convection microwave cooking, electrical systems, plumbing, towing, apps, and more.  Their "big" course is the Driver's Confidence training, which consists of two hours of classroom instruction in the morning followed by actual driving in the afternoon.  The classroom session is very informative, and the experienced instructor teaches a "dot" system where you place sticky dots on your coach and mirrors to increase your awareness around the rig when you're driving and parking.

My wife and I took the Driver's Confidence Course and were impressed by the simplicity of the system.  A lot of the nervousness that new coach drivers have is rooted in the mysteries of turning and parking.  The course provides a logical and practical plan to do these things, thus giving students the "confidence" that its title promises.  The last thing we did on the last afternoon we were at Lazy Days was apply the dots to our coach before returning to our site from the service center.  When we got to our site, there were cars parked everywhere in front of their coaches and getting in was going to be tight.  We followed the course's instructions the best we could, and managed to get our coach squarely in our site without any issues.

If you want to take the DCC, you'll have to call in advance.  All of the others were open classes; just show up and attend.  The classroom is located in the main building right off the customer lounge.

Most of the instructors provided handouts that had screenshots of their slides.  This was particularly helpful later because you can not only refer to the slides, but you can write notes beside them.  

Overall Impressions

We enjoyed staying at Lazy Days RV Resort and are likely to return there if we need service.  However, we wouldn't consider it a destination campground because the sites themselves had little to offer.  No fire pits, no grills, no lakes, no views, etc.  Just a space and a picnic table.  When you're getting service, though, their willingness to provide transportation to anywhere on or next to the property (to and from the service center, to the Cracker Barrel, and just about anywhere at any time of the day) was nice.  Amenities like the pool, restaurants, and waiting areas were clean and well-maintained, and all of the employees were welcoming.  I'll bet we heard "Welcome to Lazy Days" at least six times a day.
Access to Lazy Days is easy because it's right off of I-4 just east of Tampa. Once you get off of the interstate at Exit 10, you drive north between a Flying J on your left and a TA on your right.  Then you turn left into the campground. 

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