Travelling enthusiast and Caravan World’s roaming reporter, Tony Allsop gives his ultimate list to what things he looks for when choosing a holiday park.
After staying in all types of holiday parks on our trips around Australia, we have developed clear ideas about what makes a park appealing to us. Rather surprisingly, it all comes down to simple things like tidiness, cleanliness and respect for travellers, and we try to be ideal guests to encourage them to keep up the good work. Like the sign we saw in a park in Lightning Ridge years ago: You be nice to us and we will be very nice to you.
The following are the key features of a great holiday park for grey nomads.
When we arrive at a park we haven't visited before we assess the presentation. Tidy garden and lawns, and a clean and well maintained office, creates a good impression. Messy permanent sites with 'unsavoury' characters hanging around or cabins full of workers make a park less appealing to grey nomads.
The surroundings of the park are also important. We can think of two well appointed parks on the Bruce Highway in Queensland that have the railway line as a back boundary. With trains shunting half the night and heavy transports passing every few minutes, sleep is impossible. Parks near pubs can be a bit problematic on weekends.
After even a few hours of driving, most grey nomads would arrive feeling a bit tired or possibly stressed, or dare I say even a little grumpy. Experienced park managers realise how important a friendly greeting is in this situation. Helpful staff who don't rattle off too much information at once make a much better impression. Where possible it is good to be offered a choice of site. Being shown to your site and assistance to back on can be much appreciated. We like to be offered a map of the area, while some parks have a welcome pack.
If the park includes an email address in their listing, it would be wonderful if they replied to email enquiries in a timely manner. When planning the next stage of our trip, checking availability or facilities by email is convenient for us, and it means the park can answer the query at a quiet time rather than having their phone lines tied up when they are busy.
Even in these days of ensuite vans, good clean amenities are a priority for grey nomads. Most parks are aware of this, and sparkling clean, well ventilated amenities are much more common than they were previously. Potted plants or fresh flowers create a positive impression, but loud distorted pop music, not so much.
Like most grey nomads, we like to see value for money. We do understand the on-costs that parks face, and we expect to pay a premium for beachfront locations and for extra services that we use.
Parks with children's playgrounds, jumping pillows, water parks and other kids attractions are fully booked in the school holidays when most grey nomads stay well away. However, they can have high vacancy rates in the grey nomad touring season because the site fees remain high to cover the cost of maintaining these facilities. It will be interesting to see how this conundrum is resolved: maybe there will ultimately be a division into family resort parks with full facilities and more luxury cabins, and traditional caravan parks with basic facilities and a price to match, to attract the grey nomad market.
TV and mobile phone reception are high on our list. On short trips we do not worry too much about TV, but it is great to be able to watch a favourite show or just the news while on the road, especially in bad weather.
All grey nomads like to keep in touch with their family and friends, and most do so via the internet using email, Facebook or Skype on laptops or mobile devices. We have our own Wifi modems, but the number of hotspots in holiday parks is increasing noticeably.
Those who are not computer literate still use mobile phones for contact, taking advantage of 'free hour' options on their plans. It is annoying if poor reception causes the phone to drop out repeatedly or you have to climb a hill to make or receive calls.
Pets in parks remains a contentious issue. Because lots of grey nomads travel with small dogs, some parks have difficulty surviving if they do not take pets. Not everyone enjoys the company of dogs so it is very important that the park has an active pet management program. Quite a few parks now have 'dog areas', which seems to solve some of the problems. It pays to enquire when booking.
A park that is within walking distance to shops and maybe a pub or club for dinner is something that appeals to us if we are staying a few days. Strolling around shops or markets is one of the pleasures of visiting new places, and it is so much nicer if you don't have to take the vehicle each time you go out.
A camp kitchen, barbecue area or shelter shed is a popular place to meet at happy hour. Most parks frequented by grey nomads have an area where guests can meet, though some prefer to sit in small circles near their vans on balmy evenings. In cooler climates, some parks have magnificent cosy rooms with fires and comfortable chairs which lend themselves perfectly to long chats about wonderful places to visit.
An increasing number of parks frequented by grey nomads are providing some sort of entertainment, hoping to induce travellers to extend their stay to attend these events. They can be as simple as scones for morning tea or a sausage sizzle, but some are much more elaborate, with dinner, and a show including music and bush poetry. It brings travellers together, and we have known people to stay several extra days for a camp oven dinner and entertainment.
Another aspect is that attendees are often asked for a gold coin donation to raise money for Angel Flight or the Flying Doctor and almost all grey nomads are more than happy to contribute to these vital services.
While it is a personal preference, we love to camp near water; it doesn't matter whether it is the ocean, a lake or a river. It seems that wherever there is water, there is something interesting happening. Boats going by, birds, fishing and interesting debris left by the tide. Many grey nomads enjoy fishing, and everyone enjoys a walk along a beach, so these parks are always popular in the tourist season.
So now you know what we look for in a holiday park. We enjoy the security and convenience of park accommodation and it has been interesting to watch the progressive changes in parks over the last few decades, mostly for the better from the point of view of caravanners.
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