A recent conversation with one of Florida’s State Park “kiosk sentries” has launched yet another of our bi-annual Anti-Campground Reservation System tirades. Before relating how Florida has further alienated would-be visitors and campers, we briefly summarize our position on the topic.
Few will disagree that the “Full Reservation System”, as adopted by an increasing number of premiere campgrounds, has dramatically altered how all of us obtain access to our campsites. For those accustomed to planning their every move a few months in advance, the Reservation System is a welcome tool. For those of us who prefer to wander and explore - - uncertain where the road leads - - we find ourselves locked-out of the increasing list of desirable camp locations.
We’ve been accused of being unable to adapt to the future. But implicit in that accusation is the assumption that “new is better”. No, it’s not that we’re unable to adapt - - merely that we’re unwilling.
When you’re reached that inevitable maturity (senior status), where time clocks along with the associated schedules that business and life demand, may be ignored and, further, when you've tasted the luxury of flexibility, you, too, may discover the joy of impromptu travel and conclude that, for all its advantages, the Reservation System doesn’t meet your needs, that ‘new’ isn’t always better.
Its unfortunate that the majority of those making the rules haven’t appreciated this ‘unintended consequence’ of the Reservation System and, moreover, the simplicity by which the needs of both the Planner and the Impromptu Traveler can be met - - split each campground’s sites into two groups: Reservable and Non-Reservable.
While we await the coming of our suggested miracle, we adapt as best we can. One truism of the Reservation System is that Reservations Only campgrounds ALWAYS have unused sites. This is counter intuitive. But campers continue to flow-into First-Come, First-Served campgrounds throughout any given day until every nook and cranny is occupied.
But Reservation Only campgrounds will always have no-shows or, even worse, those who ‘never intended to show’, those who, for example, reserve ‘their’ spot a few days in advance of their true, planned arrival, to ‘lock-in’ their real intention - - to occupy the site on a weekend or holiday. With this awareness, we often arrive late at these campgrounds after most who will actually camp, have already arrived. Yes, discerning the ‘no shows’ from the ‘late arrivers’ can be a challenge, but our track-record is good.
We may have wasted a little of your reading time because the “Florida issue” of which we currently rant, isn’t really one of ‘Reservations’ vs ‘First-Come, First-Served’. Indeed, we assumed correctly, that arriving late Sunday afternoon, still pre-season here in Florida, we would find a plethora of vacancies - - we wouldn’t have to guess which of the unoccupied sites were the no-shows. But, then, we didn’t know Florida.
We’ve all seen those signs “Campsites by Reservation Only”. We’ll spend little time trying to outline the consequences of such a restriction other than to note that we’ve never had any difficulty obtaining a campsite, if there are unreserved sites, by simply arriving at the campground office . . . at least, not until Sunday.
We pulled up to the entrance kiosk at Florida’s Lake Manatee State Park at 5:30pm, Sunday. The park attendant inquired if we had a reservation.
“No,” was our reply.
“Sorry, then you can’t camp here,” came her surprising response.
“You mean this park is full?” was all we could muster in our disappointment.
“No,” she continued, “we have lots of sites available, but you need a reservation.”
Here we digress to inquire: Are we really reserving a camp site when we arrive, pay for, and immediately occupy an otherwise unreserved campground site? To us, a ‘reservation’ implies securing something for some future occupation. But until this unlikely encounter, no one, anywhere, had ever argued the meaning of “reservation” - - nor suggested that “Reservation Only” actually required doing something in advance if unreserved sites were available. All, everywhere, have gladly accepted our money and given us leave to occupy the otherwise unreserved site. It’s seems Florida both agrees with our definition of reservation (as an in advance activity) and uncompromisingly intends on enforcing such definition.
“Ok,” we continued, “how do we make the required reservation?”
“You can’t, you’re too late. We don’t accept reservations at this park, or any Florida State Park, after 1pm,” was the answer.
After a few ‘you’re kidding, of course’ type comments we asked for this confirmation:
“Let’s be sure we understand, you can have a nearly empty campground . . . and you will not accept any drive-up campers if they arrive after 1pm? You will let those dozens of unreserved campsites remain empty and unused, indeed, unusable?”
Her answer was “Yes”.
Florida has taken “Reservations Only” to a new level of absurdity. What’s really amazing about this is that . . . in all our past ‘discussions’ with forum members and others concerning the Reservation System”, often the conversation devolves into a discussion of the abuses of the Reservation System and that these abuses, as noted above, guaranty that there will always be unused sites at such campgrounds. Even the most ardent advocates of the Reservation System acknowledge this to be wasteful . . . but consider it a ‘waste’ that must be accepted because we can never now whether that empty site is a ‘no show’ or ‘late arrival’.
But in Florida they’re creating even larger wastes - - and with what justification? An arbitrary administrative rule? How is it that the remainder of the country has found a means to parcel their unreserved sites to drive-in campers?