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Wealthy baby boomers increasingly drawn to luxury RV lifestyle
NAPLES, Fla. — This is a typical Friday night at the Pelican Lake, Fla., Motorcoach Resort.
John VanderWal is hauling in pizza, a neighbor cranks up the karaoke, cocktails are flowing and custom golf carts, done up to look like anything from a California roadster to a Mustang convertible, make their way down Southern Breeze Drive to the outdoor party.
Welcome to life in the slow lane, a community designed for the luxury motor-coach set that travels the country in million-dollar mobile mansions with interiors as elegant as a presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton.
"This is like a great vacation. Everyone is here to have fun, laugh and enjoy life," said VanderWal, 53, the party host who is lounging outside his $1.3 million custom-built motor coach parked on a palm-tree-lined patio overlooking a lake. Only Class A motor homes — luxury buses at least 26 feet long that can cost more than $1 million — get past the guard at the security gate.
"This ain't no KOA, baby," he said, referring to the chain of family-oriented campgrounds.
Lavish motor-coach parks like Pelican Lake are sprouting up in such sunny vacation spots as southern Florida and Palm Springs, Calif., to meet the demands of owners of posh recreational vehicles.
"Our residents like to be with the same type of people," said Shelley Freshwater, a broker for Pelican Lake Realty, which manages the 289 sites. "It's not that they are looking down on people, but when they come here, they will be with other Class A's. That keeps the park exclusive."
Custom RVs that sell for up to $2 million have become increasingly popular among baby boomers. The RV industry is thriving, with an estimated 8 million U.S. households owning an RV; about 300 million-dollar vehicles are sold each year, according to industry officials.
The median age of RV owners is 54, younger than the retirees who dominated the industry in the late 1990s. The luxury motor homes belong to an elite group, many of them business executives in their 50s and 60s who made their fortunes early and traded in the hectic lifestyle.
"We are seeing a big influx of baby boomers who are wealthier than the previous generation," said Rachel Parsons, spokeswoman for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. "They have a reputation as being wanderers and getting out there and discovering America. And they want to do it bigger and more extravagantly than their parents did."
For $200,000 to $300,000, owners can purchase a landscaped lot in an exclusive community with lighted tennis courts, heated pools, clubhouses, golf courses and spas. After a day of fishing, boating or lounging beneath the palm trees, they retire to their elegant homes, complete with marble baths, king-size beds and plasma televisions.
"If you are a wanderer at all, it allows you to do that in your own home," said Vicki Bowman, 52, who with her husband, Don Clauson, 70, spends four months of the year at Pelican Lake in their $750,000, 45-foot Prevost Marathon conversion. "You're sleeping in your own bed every night, your dishes are in the cupboard and you're not dragging suitcases in and out of a hotel."
Konigseder, co-owner of Liberty Coach, a North Chicago, Ill., company that makes top-of-the-line luxury motor homes, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks contributed to the growing interest in RVs.
"Since 9/11, more people have tried the RV experience and liked it," said Konigseder, whose company builds just 29 coaches a year. "We have seen a greater influx in the Class A type of motor home probably because people are wanting to do more with the family and are traveling more in this country instead of flying over the top of it."
Konigseder says his coaches get about 6.5 miles per gallon. But the $300 cost to fill up the tank is not a deterrent for dedicated luxury-coach RVers.
"Anyone who can afford to have a million-dollar motor coach does not have to worry about paying for gas," Freshwater said.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company