Wednesday, October 26, 2011

America's Largest RV Show

America's Largest RV Show - and this is not a description or my name for this show, but the name given to it by the Pennsylvania RV Association. The show is run annually in Hershey, PA and it is actually considered to be the largest RV show in the country. I first heard about this show when we first started looking for an RV two years ago and I became active on the internet forums for RVs. The show was highly talked about and I very much wanted to go. Of course, without the RV, in our circumstances (read back to the beginning articles if you don't know why), we could not go to the show. Hershey is too far for a one day, there and back trip for us. Two shows past in the process of buying the Roadtrek, and with the 2011 show coming up, I wanted to go!

I have seen large industry shows on television and described in magazines. Shows like the Consumer Electronics Show, where new models are introduced, new products are presented for the first time to the public, and the excitement of people coming from all over with a common interest. This show was described as very much like that. In fact, it is like that in regard to most of the large RV manufacturers being represented and new models being shown for the first time. This was all very exciting.

As I mentioned in last week's article, the 2011 show almost did not happen - for everyone. Tropical Storm Lee ripped up the east coast and went through Pennsylvania, ripping up major roads and flooding towns. Main access roads in and around Hershey were not only flooded but some were damaged beyond quick repair. Watching the damage on television, huge sections of asphalt roadway buckled up and broke off leaving gaping holes across the lanes. The forums and the Facebook page for the show were full of speculation that there was no way that the area could recover in time to get the show set up and underway. The promoters, of course, remained positive, and continued to report that the show would be held. Alternate routes were found and reported and it was announced that the show would go on as planned.

RVers make reservations at campgrounds for this show months in advance. One of the largest campgrounds in the area close to the site of the arena that the show is held at was flooded by the storm. Many who had reservations now found themselves with none - and the other campgrounds local and in the surrounding areas were booked in advance. The show does have space for dry camping - camping in a parking lot without hook ups - but this was first come first serve. As the show was about to start, people were looking for campgrounds at a distance. When I had made my reservations a month in advance, I was given one of the last four sites in the campground in Lancaster which is about forty five minutes east of Hershey. Driving in the area this entire trip, we saw more RVs of all types on the road than we saw in the area during the height of the summer tourist season.

We drove from Lancaster using the recommended "storm" route to the show. When we got within about five miles of the show, the roads backed up to a stand still. We were online for the show. We slowly moved along and it took about thirty minutes for us to get to the entrance - which was rather confusing - as signage was there but not really there telling you your options. We ended up parking in a lot that served both Hershey Amusement park for overflow parking and the arena. The interesting thing is that Hershey Park parking has a fee - but the show parking was free. So we were asked where we were going - the park or the show. Had we said the park, we would have been charged to park in the same space. I wonder how may going to the park going through this same parking lot entrance realized that in time to say they were going to the show and not pay the parking fee for the amusement park. There was a bit of a walk to the show arena and admission was paid just outside the arena. Admission is for one day - but a multi-day ticket was available.

The show is broken up into two parts on the calendar. The first two days of the show are for "Industry Only" and the show hosts dealers and those in the RV industry to give them a first look at what the manufacturers are introducing. The last five days of the show are for the public. The show features acres and acres of RVs on display outside the Hershey arena. Inside the arena are products and gadgets, as well as campgrounds from all over showing what they have to offer. The Show has been featured on the Travel Channel each year - showing the highlights of the show. Seeing that and their feature of the top ten new products for RVs each year on the show, I was anticipating a lot to see, even for those who were not out shopping for an RV. And with so many people attending in their RVs, surely, there would be more than new RVs to tour... Well, maybe in past years, but I am sorry to say, after all of this buildup, that I was very disappointed in America's Largest RV Show 2011.

If you were there to look at RVs with the intent to purchase, either at the show or as an introduction to what is available, the show is wonderful. There is everything that you would hope to see. We walked in two other Class B RV manufacturers, one of which we did not even know about. We also went into huge Class A's, Class C's, and some trailers. We also got to spend time with one of the Roadtrek company representatives - which I will speak about later in this article.

I was there for the products - and the walk around the arena at ground level was lined with booths. The arena floor was full of booths, but there really was nothing to see. There were several vendors selling LED replacement lights for the fluorescent and halogen bulbs that are in the fixtures in the RV. This was interesting to see the assortment and how easy it is to replace what we have currently for LEDs that last longer and use less power from the 12 volt system. They were quite expensive for each bulb and some of our fixtures take two bulbs. There was a television cable company selling connectors for cable television connections and I did find something that I had not seen before - converters to make push on connectors from screw on connectors. We made our big purchase of the day there and bought two for a dollar each. Most of the arena floor was taken up by the Camping World stores and they had a number of their products for sale - at prices that were higher than the current sale prices in the catalog. A trip to Camping World would have been easier - and closer. One item at the outskirts of the Camping World display were the components for satellite TV in the RV. I went over the to man at the display and asked some basic questions - he had no answers as he had limited understanding himself of how it worked. So much for Camping World selling me a satellite antenna that day. Many of the booths were non-RV related. A house gutter company and a home bathroom contractor both wanted to do work on your non-mobile home. Where were the new and exciting products? I saw two - one was a pair of suction cups that hold open a supermarket plastic grocery bag that turns it into a garbage bag inside your RV. Interesting - I asked the inventor if the suction cups will stick to a wood cabinet door - his answer was a disappointed no. With all wood inside the Roadtrek (and I suspect most RVs) I am not sure where these hooks could hang in any RV. We moved on. There was another gentlemen selling a toilet cleaning device for an RV. It was not clear - even after listening to his sales pitch if this cleaned the black tank or it cleaned the toilet bowl. I suspect that it only cleaned the toilet bowl. We moved on. We did get to speak with the people from the Cherry Hill Campground which is the only campground near Washington, D.C. and they did answer some important to us questions that we had.

Food at the show is available both inside and outside the arena. There were long lines at each of the food vendor trucks outside. There was a wide variety of things at the trucks. Inside the arena snack stands were all open and the lines were not long. The variety was arena standards like hot dogs, sausages, burgers, and sandwiches, but the prices were not as outrageous as they could have been. My recommendation is to go inside and avoid the lines.

Outside of the arena at the edge of all of the new RVs there were some product manufacturer's booths. One was Onan-Cummings that makes the Roadtrek generator and the other was Winegard antennas who make satellite dish antennas for RVs. We went over to Winegard to see if they could explain what the guy at the Camping World display could not. I asked the Winegard rep how it worked and he did explain it all thoroughly - but he did so in such a condescending way that it was insulting and put us off from talking any further with him. We went over to the Onan booth and saw on display the generator that hangs below the Roadtrek. This was an opportunity to look at up close what we can only see by crawling under the Roadtrek. No one bothered us as I took off the access panel on the generator and looked inside - even opening up the oil fill to see the oil dip stick. This was actually time well spent, as we learned a lot seeing this up close, comfortably, and in the bright daylight.

We went over to the Roadtrek display. Roadtrek was represented by both the company and the dealer that we purchased our Roadtrek from in Pennsylvania. There were several RT reps there - and our plumb-dumb salesman was there from the dealer as well. He waved when he saw us. I waved back and did not acknowledge him further - lest I make a scene. One of the Roadtrek company people came over to us and I introduced myself and that I owned a new 2011 190 Popular. He asked about it and this was my opportunity to unload my list of issues to date and concern about the quality of the manufacturer of the Roadtrek. Coming face to face with him the day after we unexpectedly had to spend a day at the dealer service center to fix the toilet leak, was to his disadvantage - as I was polite but direct with my comments. And when I indicated that if they looked at the Roadtrek forums on the internet, he would see that my concerns were shared by others. His response was that the forums attract people who have something to complain about. Well, that is the wrong attitude to have from the company because many a sale can be lost by potential owners reading these concerns on these forums. Anyway, he was very nice to us and gave me his direct email to reach him with any problems that we have.

While I was with the Roadtrek rep I asked if they had on display the new spare tire brackets that are supposed to make the spare easier to bring down off the Roadtrek and to put back up again. The spare tire arrangement currently results in a very heavy unit that takes two people or one very strong person to take down and lift back up. Roadtrek has addressed this problem for 2012 by redesigning the tire bracket and adding a spring. It was demonstrated to me and then I tried it. It is still heavy - a little better, but not much. There is a third party add on that is reported to make this task much easier to take down and lift - so it looks like we will be looking to that option rather than the Roadtrek replacement. And I am sure that the third party option is a lot less expensive.

When we left, we both felt let down. Had we been looking to buy an RV we would have been thrilled and perhaps even going back again the next day. But the Travel Channel is going to have a hard time finding anything to show in regard to new products. We saw them filming as we walked around the RVs. I almost went over and asked...

If you are looking to buy an RV, definitely go. I do not plan on going again next year, and maybe not ever again. A trip to Camping World would have been a better choice to shop for our Roadtrek or any RV. I found others on the forums that felt that same way after the show. For us, America's Largest RV show was one of our RV largest disappointments.

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