Sunday, January 24, 2016

The 2016 Tampa RV Supershow

About the Show

I've been attending the Tampa show almost every year for the past decade.  It's only a one hour and fifteen minute drive from Orlando. There's nothing like walking through every type of RV imaginable, from vintage trailers to lavish motorhomes costing more than two million dollars.

The Tampa show is held every year on the Florida State Fairgrounds in east Tampa, and it's only appropriate that the entire event has a carnival-like atmosphere.  Interspersed among thousands of RV's are kiosks where you can buy everything from deli sandwiches to funnel cakes.  As you walk from one RV vendor to another, you can smell sausage, kettle corn and hamburgers.  Entertainers on stilts, unusual bikes, and other carts souped up with organs and drums drive through the walkways singing, telling jokes and - in some cases - helping visitors find their way around acres of RVs.  Even the entrances have entertainment; the rear entrance had two people playing steel drums.

The show features two large exposition halls with long aisles of vendors selling anything you could ever want for your RV.  Not only are the mom and pop shops represented, but some of the largest RV accessory chains have sizeable displays.  Camping World has a huge section of the "A" building, and will even cart you and your purchases to your coach parked on the fairgrounds.

2016 Tampa Supershow map
If too difficult to read, view the map from their web site.

After coming into the main gate, you walk through a large indoor area that features the really expensive stuff like Prevost's and Newell's.  The rear exit to that building takes you past a vendor that sells ice cream (chocolate coated frozen bananas or vanilla cones dipped in chocolate) and into the huge outdoor area where you'll spend the rest of your day.  There is a lake just beyond the exit that has a floating "sit down" restaurant with a good lunch menu; just make sure you get there early enough to avoid the long lines.

You can make arrangements to stay on the fairgrounds in your RV, and a few clubs (like the Newmar Kountry Klub) hold rallies on the grounds.  Trolleys run people from the various parking areas to the gates, which can be quite a distance to cover on foot if you arrive late.  I have wondered why they call the Hershey RV Show the "Largest RV Show in America" when the Tampa show consistently has thousands more people in attendance.  The show runs from Wednesday through Sunday every year in whatever weekend falls mid-month, usually around the 15th.  Serious buyers show up on Wednesday, so it's not uncommon to show up on Saturday (the most crowded day) and not be able to tour some coaches because they are sold and locked up at the request of the buyer.

RVs are packed pretty tight at these shows.  Many people have said that they would like to see how they park them.  Almost all dealerships have carpeting throughout their displays, since it not only looks good and promotes their brand colors, but it helps to keep the inside of the coaches cleaner.

Many of the dealerships, especially the larger ones, will have factory representatives and executives at their display areas.  In the Newmar area, we found their Interior Coordinator (coordinates interiors with customers), their VP of Engineering, and even their President, Matt Miller.  There's no better place to get your questions answered than at a show like this because all of the "players" are there and are eager to help.  Manufacturers like to have their largest dealerships at the big shows, because they are better equipped to bring more inventory.  In Newmar's case, North Trail RV out of Fort Meyers is a huge  dealership and they usually represent Newmar at the Tampa Show.  For 2016, North Trail had more that 50 Newmar coaches - an incredible variety of rigs available for walk-throughs by potential customers.

Tips for attending the Tampa RV Supershow

  1. If you have an RV, come in the RV and stay on the fairgrounds.  If you belong to a club having a rally on the fairgrounds, attend the rally and stay in your coach.  
  2. Come early.  The show usually opens around 9am.  Parking is better and the crowds don't usually pick up until around lunch time.
  3. Get there on Wednesday if you're seriously looking.  You may have a few more coaches to see because some aren't sold and locked.  If any dealers are offering test drives, you're more likely to get on the drive list.  And the crowds are smaller on Wednesday and Thursday.
  4. If there's something you really want from an exposition vendor, go to them first.  Show prices are good, and a lot of them will run out of inventory by Friday evening.
  5. Most of the food is "junk food", which I personally don't mind.  However, if you want salads or something different, get to the lake restaurant by 11am or to the kiosk that sells deli sandwiches about any time.  Vendors usually occupy the same spot year-to-year, and the deli is located straight west (straight out the door) from the southwest entrance of the main exposition center (just inside the main gate).
  6. The entrance price buys you two 1-day tickets.  If you're planning to come one day and a friend the next, hold your second-day ticket for them.
  7. Programs are available as soon as you enter the show.  Find the seminars you want to attend and get to them about 10-15 minutes early.  You can't reserve seating.
  8. If coming from the east on I-4 (morning only) and there's a long line to get off of I-4 at Exit 7, continue to Exit 5.  Turn left on Martin Luther King Boulevard and go to the south entrance.  This could save you a good half hour in traffic.
  9. If you're thinking about buying a particular brand of RV, find out if they are having an on-site rally.  If so, contact someone at the rally and see if you can go out late one afternoon and wander around to meet some owners.  They'll be friendly and give you a real insight into the brand.  There's no one better to answer your questions that people who own the same type of RV.
  10. If you have, or may have, issues walking all day, rent a scooter just after you get into the main entrance.  They aren't cheap (about $50-$60 per day), and you'll need to get there by 10-1030am or they'll all be gone.  Personal scooters aren't allowed into the fairgrounds unless you have proof of a disability.
For more information, check out the Official Site for the Tampa RV Supershow.

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