Editor’s Note: The following story appears in the current issue of MotorHome Magazine.
After being diagnosed with cancer last summer, Sheri Fraser went through nearly two months of chemotherapy, radiation and proton therapy. After it was over, she couldn’t wait to escape with her husband, Terry, to one of their favorite getaways, The Springs at Borrego RV Resort in Borrego Springs, Calif.
The 90-site luxury desert resort, on the outskirts of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the Southern California desert, includes panoramic views of rugged mountains and hot mineral baths with natural spring water from an on-site well.
What Fraser didn’t expect when she visited the park last winter, however, was its newest amenity: a wellness center led by Anna Morris, a holistic health practitioner and expert in Ayurvedic massage who trained with Deepak Chopra and Dr. Vasant Lad, two of the nation’s premier experts in holistic health medicine. “It was just heaven,” said Fraser, 51. “Anna was one of the best massage therapists I’ve ever been to.”
And she’s not the only massage therapist at the RV resort’s wellness center. Joining her are Amy Baay, a licensed massage practitioner, and Betty Patterson, a licensed acupuncturist who also does herbal medicine and teaches classes in Qigong, an energy building exercise with slow body movements.
“It was just surreal to think that I had all these things available to me while I was camping,” Fraser said.
The Springs at Borrego RV Resort isn’t the only park offering these kinds of amenities. Several RV resorts across the country, in fact, are broadening their repertoire of health- and wellness-oriented amenities to soothe body, mind and, in some cases, even the spiritual health and well-being of its guests.
Consider The Great Outdoors RV Nature and Golf Resort in Titusville, Fla., about 30 minutes from Orlando. The 1,625-site park, one of the largest in the Sunbelt, has two fitness centers, three swimming pools and three whirlpool spas as well as classes in Zumba, yoga and Pilates.
“We also have our own beauty salon, acupuncturist and massage therapist,” said Judy Willeke, a director at the resort. She said the resort’s acupuncturist and massage therapist previously had their own offices in the Titusville area, but demand for their services was so strong they found it worthwhile to move their practices on to the resort. One of the park’s residents is also a retired nutritionist, who now performs house calls to help the park’s guests keep in health.
“The 60s are the new 40s,” Willeke said, adding, “RVers want to take better care of themselves and they want to look good.”
Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS), which owns RV parks and resorts throughout the Sunbelt, is also seeing increased demand for a greater variety of health and wellness services. Professional massage practitioners work out of the fitness centers at the company’s Arizona properties, including Monte Vista Village Resort in Mesa and Voyager RV Resort in Tucson. ELS also offers wellness seminars and special events at its Arizona and Florida properties throughout the winter season, said Pat Zamora, a company representative.
Doreen Fuller, activities director for Rincon Country RV Resort in Tucson, said her park also complements its pool and spa with classes in low-impact aerobics, tai chi and yoga. And, for the past three years, she said, the resort has invited several doctors and physician’s assistants to provide seminars on a variety of topics, including blood pressure, joint and shoulder pain, arthritis, as well as brain health in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
“Most people are being very careful about their diet and they are taking better care of themselves,” she said.
And it’s not just retired RVers who are taking a greater interest in health and wellness activities.
“It seems like we’re seeing younger people, in their 40s, come out and enjoy a weekend,” said Jolene Wade, managing partner of Fountain of Youth Spa Campground in Niland, Calif. “Some are coming in to pamper themselves. But others are coming because they need limbering up.”
The Fountain of Youth Spa has complemented its hot mineral baths with on-site massage therapists for many years. But Wade sees growing interest in health- and wellness-oriented activities. “There seems to be more demand for bodywork,” she said.
Of course, it’s certainly feasible for people to seek massages and other types of wellness activities at home. But there’s something uniquely special and relaxing about engaging in these kinds of activities while enjoying time away at an RV resort.
Consider the experience of RVers at the Fountain of Youth Spa.
“We have restorative energy with beautiful views, plenty of sunshine, lots of areas to roam and hike,” Wade said. “We also have a walking course within the park. You can stop at different stations and do different exercises. People like to head out into the desert, do the walking course and relax by the pool. And we have the Chocolate Mountains that change colors all day. You can see the Salton Sea in the distance. It’s really a pretty peaceful, rejuvenating experience.”
Sacred Rocks Reserve in Boulevard, Calif., has taken the concept of health and wellness even further by complementing its natural surroundings with a man-made labyrinth, a circular walking path that is said to facilitate contemplation, meditation and spiritual awareness.
“The Christian church adopted the labyrinth for meditation and prayer in A.D. 300, but labyrinths have been found in carved rock much earlier. The oldest one found was about 5,000 years old,” said Sharon Courmousis, who owns the park with her husband, Dimitri.
Sacred Rocks’ labyrinth is a mile long and was patterned using an 800-year-old design from a monk in Chartres, France. “It’s one of the oldest symbols for spiritual connection,” Courmousis said.
Unlike a maze, which tries to trick the participant, a labyrinth facilitates meditation. “What happens when you take the time to walk the path of a labyrinth is that somehow your mind becomes clear and the extraneous thoughts fall away,” Courmousis said. “I’ve seen people who are agitated or nervous, and once they start walking in the path of a labyrinth, they are able to pull themselves in, center themselves and be in a healing environment. And because our labyrinth has only natural noises, since we’re away from the freeway and in a remote location, it’s a very special experience. People go out to walk the labyrinth in the morning and the evening and even at midnight when there’s a blanket of stars.”
Courmousis said she took a personal interest in labyrinths after a cancer diagnosis. “Five years ago, after a breast cancer diagnosis and during chemotherapy and radiation, I walked the labyrinth daily. I feel it helped me in all ways to deal with this shocking situation — emotionally, spiritually and physically,” she said.
Sacred Rocks has frequent orientation sessions to explain to its guests what a labyrinth is and how to use it. “As time goes on,” Courmousis said, “we find more and more people are driving up just to do the labyrinth.”
As the winter season settles in, so do winter visitors to Arizona. That means restaurants in the Tucson area may be busier, and shopping centers more packed. With all the extra business, it’s a season that many local industries depend on.
“For about four months, we fill up completely,” said George O’Leary, owner of Rincon Country RV Resort. O’Leary says only 20% of his RV spaces are occupied by year-round residents. He depends heavily on winter visitors for the bulk of his business. And this year, he’s already off to a busy start.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he told KOLD-TV, Tucson. “One day, 10 rigs showed up without reservations, that was very nice to see that.”
O’Leary says reservations for spaces this past month are up 25% compared to this time last year. And the spending impact of winter visitors doesn’t stop there. “They’re going to restaurants and buying cars and buying RVs.”
Among the thousands of winter visitors making their home in Tucson for the season are Virgil and Carole Musch. They just arrived from South Dakota, and plan to settle in through mid-April.
“We come here every year,” Virgil said. “It’s our seventh year.”
The Muschs bought their RV in Tucson years ago, and that’s not the only money they’re pumping into the economy. They plan to go shopping and dine out often at their favorite restaurants. “By the time we leave, we’ll probably be a little bit fatter,” Virgil joked.
A survey by the Arizona Assocaition of RV Parks and Campgrounds shows a mixed industry forecast. Some RV resorts in the state are already reporting an increase in reservations among winter visitors. Some are anticipating lower numbers compared to last year, and others expect the trend to stay flat.