My wife and I are members of Thousand Trails and use it extensively. So far, we’ve camped at a half-dozen or so of their campgrounds and have visited a couple of more. We’ve found each to be sufficient for our goals of the trip. I’m going to blog about the campgrounds we’ve visited another time, so for now – it was Circle M, Hershey, Sea Pines, Harbor View, Williamsburg and Orlando.
We started with Family Courtesy Cards before we ever owned a camper. It was free (a gift from my dad and his wife), so the price was right! And then we bought a pop-up camper from my wife’s friend. And then we spent 30 nights camping in it in 2011. We were hooked and ended up buying a new camper in the summer of 2012 and camped a bunch more. We shared the Family Courtesy Cards with my sister and her family and both of my step-brothers and their families. One of the rules of the Family Courtesy Cards is that you can’t have 2 reservations at different places for the same day and because of how much we camped – we actually blocked our extended family from being able to go camping due to overlap with scheduled trips.
At the end of 2012, we made the choice that we were going to branch off from their membership and get our own. It turns out, that part of their contract allows them to gift a membership to their children. We were able to get the same national membership for no charge and the same yearly dues (which is less than the zone passes cost). The only catch – it was a 5 year contract that we had to agree to.
I’ve since learned that Thousand Trails has a few different membership levels:
- Zone Camping Pass – the country is split into 4 zones and you pay a fee for each one; included in your fee is 30 nights of camping free and you can reserve sites up to 60 days in advance. Has the 14-days in/7 days out rule*.
- Zone National – all 4 zones; included in your fee is 60 nights of camping free and you an reserve up to 60 days in advance. Has the 14-days in/7 days out rule*.
- Elite Connections (seem to be 2 levels of the “Elite” membership but I don’t have the distinction handy) – all the same as the Zone National with extra perks – most notably without the 14-days in/7-days out rule and being able to go park-to-park.
* What is this “14-days in/7 days out rule”?
This is probably the littlest known caveat and the one that is going to cost me the most money. Per my contract:
“You may stay at one preserve for up to 14 consecutive nights at a time. If you stay at any preserve for more than four consecutive nights, you must wait for seven nights before you stay again at any preserve.”
What this means is that I cannot camp at a Thousand Trails park for a week and immediately go to another one. There is also even verbiage that you’re not allowed to have multiple memberships in order to circumvent this rule. But, you can always upgrade to the “Elite” membership…
At this time, I have decided against upgrading to the Elite membership. There just weren’t enough cases in my summer camping planning that it would cause me angst. Though, just this week – I was planning for the first half of July and it reared it’s ugly head. Most likely, I will eventually upgrade.
Generalization/What is Thousand Trails like?
This is probably pretty unfair, but I’ve talked to a few people about “What is Thousand Trails like?” and most recently was talking to a fellow in Williamsburg. My answer generally is:
“Coming from a snobby car-camping background in the woods and state parks, TT is RVing vs. camping. The parks are generally clean, fairly well kept (the bathrooms have been hit or miss with more emphasis on miss but we don’t use them anymore) and have a ton of amenities and activities for the kids. We enjoy the pools, duck pin bowling, water parks and stuff that they provide. The parks generally do not have a ton of privacy between sites and aren’t usually wooded. It’s not my idea of camping, but it’s been amazing for family time for my wife, I and our two kids and I’m thankful for it.”