It couldn't have been more different from our recent family outing to Disneyland. Instead of whisking our two young boys and us from the airport in a Disney Magical Express bus, never needing anyone to take the wheel of anything besides a stroller the entire trip, this one had us picking up a massive 31-foot condo on wheels, then captaining it around pretty much the entire eastern Newfoundland seaboard.
With an eight- and four year-old, long road trips have tended to be enjoyable for the destinations reached, when they could run around on a beach, cottage or in a hotel pool. Ideally, this would then tire them out for mercifully early bedtimes, with the usual hitting, arguing, tattle-telling and sanity-preserving stops part of the price of getting there. For these trips, portable and rear-seat DVD players became godsends, and only folks without kids wonder what possesses parents to pay through the nose for them.
But this trip in a motor home, organized by the GoRVing Canada trade association, promised lots of time on the road, with long drives around the Avalon Peninsula and through much of the Bonavista Peninsula, making the journey itself more a main feature of the adventure. Never having driven or experienced a recreational vehicle before – neither a modest camping trailer that can be towed by your average minivan or one of these converted Ford F-450 V-10s with a bedroom, bathroom, TV and shower that sleeps six – the trip would introduce us to the convenience and costs involved with lugging around your hotel room with your luggage.
Starting just outside of the relative hustle and bustle of St. John's, the province's largest city, and away from the occasionally busy Trans-Canada highway, we headed south to start, down the coastal Highway 10 around the Avalon Peninsula. This seaside route is known as the Irish Loop, so named in honour of more than 200 years of heavy Irish immigration to the area.
With a tempting fridge and TV right near in our boys' view, everyone was warned that seat belts were just as important in an RV while moving as in a car. Our higher-end coach offered seat belts placed around a U-shaped table, where they could face each other and play together. There were even seat belts on the couches, which allowed the boys to stretch out and sleep while still belted in place.
Through the big Ford's windscreen, bright sunny skies brought out a shimmer to the continuous blue of the Atlantic Ocean views of this part of the route. Rocky hills undulated up and down, the roads twisting around shorelines that never seemed straight. It's clear to see why all who participate rave about the yearly Targa Newfoundland race on these roads.
More than once I found myself wishing I was behind the wheel of a convertible or sport bike that offered more in the way of driving fun. But then I realized that with relatively few rental cars and hotels/motels on these scenic but largely isolated roads, an RV offered the ability to just stop on any outcropping by the sea, and have a leisurely lunch. Flip on the water, turn on the diesel generator switch for electricity and microwave use, and we were good to stop anywhere.
Thankfully, the friendly folks at Islander RV in St. John's had shown us everything we needed to know to be self-sustaining, mostly, in the RV for nearly a week. This included a rundown of how to connect that water and electricity to the handy power and water connections offered by most, but not all, of the RV camps in which we stayed.
Carefully inching our way out of the RV park, this 31-footer felt huge, with massive rear-view mirrors so far out that the driver can barely reach them while seated. This could be the only vehicle that costs about 100 grand that doesn't come with power mirrors, and one that seriously needs them. The driver quickly becomes used to the vehicle's size, especially on the open roads that we mostly travelled, its size most noticeable when we stopped at a mall in Clarenville, population 6,036, where our RV took up most of the entire length of two parking spots.
You don't want to rumble anything this large into a drive-through, trust me.
Most of the camping spots where we stayed offered little parks and play areas for the boys, but there were some memorable activities as well, especially whale watching. Our boat tour near Bay Bulls found plenty of humpbacks out playing in the bay. At first, even a puff from a blowhole was enough to excite all on board, though that quickly became old hat after seeing many single and whale couples slowly arcing their large tail fins out of the water.
Our favourite spot – which we discovered by chance – was a little sandy beach, not even listed on our map, in Gooseberry Cove. Our oldest ended up running into the surprisingly warm water of Placentia Bay up to knee deep, pants and all, and we circled back for some beach soccer and sand pool building the next day.
Cost-wise, the Islander RV website suggests that such a vehicle at the height of the peak summer season would run about $300/day, all-in, with a seven-day minimum rental. That includes 150 kilometres a day – each additional kilometre adds $0.29 to the bill, which may curb one's enthusiasm to explore.
Yes, that's more expensive than many hotel rooms, and doesn't include the $20-$45 RV park fees for staying the night. But it offers an extreme form of glam-ping – or glamorous camping – which places you right in the heart of nature, with almost all the comforts of home, if you stay at a place with WiFi, or opt to bring – as some RVers around us did – a satellite dish.
By the end of our Newfoundland adventure, we're not totally convinced on the cost savings, especially if you're renting a luxury machine with a power-operated extension that pulls the couch and table out when parked, opening up the interior. This comfy but thirsty Ford F-450 gulped down $350 worth of gas over five days and about 1,000 km worth of driving.
Still, without the rides and attractions of a Magic Kingdom, our RV was the entertainment for much of our trip. A trip where getting there was certainly more than half the fun.