Imagine using precious vacation days at work, driving 4 hours to the beach in traffic, and then hours later driving back home 4 hours in a crazy thunderstorm. Sounds like the perfect vacation doesn't it! Well, that's what happened on my vacation. Thanks KOA (Kampgrounds of America)!!!
What happened was, it rained. Not the campground's fault, but it appeared they had booked campers on a known drainage spot (search VA Beach KOA and flood). Then, a weather situation (10 minutes of rain) caused the campers on that ONE site only, 1 out of 350+, to have a flash flood that ruined their tent and their vacation. These campers who just drove 4 hours were now STRANDED 4 hours from home with nowhere to sleep except in a car with wet blankets. So what did the KOA, a national campground chain with 500 locations, do for their customers? After lots of complaining they gave them their money back and told them to pack up and go home...
We were those campers, and here is what happened...
I live in Northern Virginia. It is a pain in the neck to get down to Virginia Beach. In order to avoid the horrible traffic on the worst road in America, I-95, I decided to leave work early on a Thursday (instead of a Friday), avoid I-95, and check out a cool campground before going to Virginia Beach for the main leg of my vacation on Friday and Saturday. Everything turned out great. Assateague Island National Seashore was an amazing place and the perfect start to this vacation. It also turned out to be the last bit of fun.
|The view from just above our campsite at Assateague National Seashore Campground|
On Friday morning we drove from Assateague to Virginia Beach. It was a long, boring, and horrible drive featuring Priuses driving in the left lane, traffic lights galore, and lots of traffic. But eventually we arrived at our destination, KOA Virginia Beach, an RV Park / Campground only minutes away from downtown and the main beach area.
Years ago I stayed at this campground. If you can get over the noise from the awesome military aircraft flying overhead it is a pretty cool place. They have clean bathrooms, clean showers, a swimming pool, and a bus that takes you to and from the beach and bars so you don't have to park or drink and drive. It is sort of a luxury campground, almost a hotel with tents. It was so fun I recommended the place to everyone I came across who ever mentioned Virginia Beach.
THAT ENDS NOW!!!!
After we arrived at my campsite we pitched our tent, pumped up the old air mattress and tossed our sleeping bags into the tent. It was really hot in Virginia Beach, so the tent was no place to hang out, but it seemed like a cool spot. Little did we know that KOA booked us on a site that was a known drainage ditch.
We went to explore and after driving around the local area a bit, it began to rain. We headed back towards the campground figuring the rain would cool everything down. However, before we even got back the rain had stopped and that darn hot sun was back out beating down. "Oh well" I thought, "I'm so tired I'll just make it a hot nap". LOL. Oh no I wouldn't.
When arriving back at our campsite, we saw the following:
|We did not caulk the tent and float it across|
That right there is Tenty (You'll meet him at the end of this post) floating in 3+ inches of rainwater. The poor SOB did as much as he could, but there is only so much you can do when you are submerged in water for an extended period of time. If you touched the tent floor with your finger, the water would start seeping in. RIP Tenty. RIP my hard work and $$$ waterproofing him. (notice the other sites in the background not in a drainage ditch)
I've camped with rain before. I've camped with lots of water under our tent. NEVER, 3 inches. NEVER the entire surface area of the base of the tent and beyond. And NEVER outside of the WILDERNESS. Specifically at a maintained place where things can be done to avoid it.
--the video which was taken after lots of the water drained away--
So now I was in quite the predicament. 3.5-4 Hours from home with a flooded campsite and no tent to sleep in. (I wasn't waking up, or not waking up, in 3 inches of water because the flood ruined our seams). I feel sorry for myself just reading that. Here's who didn't feel sorry for me. KOA Virginia Beach.
If you've ever stayed at a KOA before, you know that they have a bunch of employees in yellow shirts riding around on golf carts making sure everything is going swell. They pass by every 5-10 minutes so you always know you have customer service. Well here's the funny thing about the employees at KOA VA Beach...they didn't stop...they drove by...with big smiles on their faces!
|A river runs through it, without Brad Pitt|
5 golf carts drove by (the same guy 3x) and not a single one stopped to offer us assistance. Finally, the 6th guy stopped and helped us out as best he could. He called in the main office, he found us a new site, he offered to help us move. Great employee! Unfortunately, that solution was not going to help us, as we no longer had a safe tent to sleep in. Also, F you other employees.
Now here is the thing about me. I suck at complaining. I'm not the worst at it, and not a complete pushover, but I do not get the same out of it that other people do. So knowing that, you will know that this situation will not resolve itself the same way it would if my angry mom was involved. My mom would have us in a penthouse suite in Virginia Beach's best hotel...not I...
I went to the front desk, told them my story, and they told me that rain was not a cause for any grievance. I showed them the picture of my tent underwater, the extreme nature of our situation, the tales of our ruined tent, and the fact that the hundreds of other sites had no flooding...ours was the worst. This was no typical rain, no typical flood, and no typical tent leak. But they were sounding more like an insurance company than a service based company, somewhat expected from lower level employees who are trained to speak the company line and keep you away from the manager.
I was not happy with their solution, to move to a new, less flooded site, as that would help me 0. Got an extra tent we can borrow?
|30 minutes later, there is still a large puddle where our tent used to be|
I asked to speak to the owner Keith, and the lady at the front went back to phone him. About 10 minutes later she came back out and said that the owner said that we could get our money back...so long as we packed up and left...
Wow! What a great solution! I get my $ back, you rebook the site and get your $ back. I drive home 4 hours with a ruined vacation (or pay $300+ to stay in a hotel for 2 nights) you keep making money and nothing changes. AWESOME!!!
As you can tell by the phone call and the non face to face meeting, Keith appears to be quite the customer service oriented owner. I mean how can I let my personal experience lead me to disbelieve the corporate self-written bio about the guy:
"In fact, you may see Keith cruising around the campground in his custom golf cart, stopping by just to say hello." - KOA Virginia Beach Owner Bio
Or, in fact, you may never see Keith, even if your tent is underwater and your entire vacation is ruined!
He wants this to be a place where you can build positive, lasting memories with your family, find a get-away from life's hectic pace, and have a home base while you enjoy all that Virginia Beach has to offer. He wants your experience at Virginia Beach KOA to be so great that you cant wait to tell your friends and family about it! - KOA VA Beach Owner Bio Continued
Oh, I have a lasting memory, and boy can't I wait to tell my friends and family about it! Heck, I'm doing it right now!
In the end, with the disappointment of losing out on my thrifty vacation, I decided to just head back home. I didn't want to deal with finding a hotel at the beach on a Friday night and I was really bummed out and not wanting to be there anymore. Yeah, I failed as a complaining consumer.
Oh, and next time it rains, see if they still use site 285, the drainage ditch, to stuff in another paying customer and make that extra $.
I left with a different view of not only KOA Virginia Beach, but KOA as a whole. This is a National Chain. And while I know based on previous experience that 99 out of 100 times at a KOA I will have an amazing time. I want to know that the 1 time I don't I'll be taken care of. And if the Virginia Beach location tells me something about this company...I won't be.
So that is the last time this camper, with decades of future camping trips in the wings, will ever stay at a KOA.
Meet Tenty. The result of a forgot to pack tent, Tenty became my non-wilderness goto. The tent cost over $100 and it must have been fate that all the $20-$99 tents were sold out and I was forced to get him. Now one thing about Tenty was that he wasn't the best at keeping out water. He had a few leaks here and there and wasn't being that great of a friend. But because of the initial investment, I felt that Tenty was going to be here to stay whether I liked it or not, so I decided to give him a few upgrades.
I spend 4 days revamping Tenty. I sprayed the entire inside/outside/rainfly with at least 3 layers of waterproof spray. Because the tent had so much surface area, this took not only hours of time, but TONS of cans of spray at $10 a can. After the spraying I also hand-painted (with a nail polish sized brush) every single seam on that tent with seam sealer. This again was multiple layers on what seemed like millions of seams. It took hours and hours.
Eventually, when everything dried, I gave Tenty the hose test. I sprayed it every which way, and the results of my hard work had payed off. It didn't leak a single drop. From there on out, Tenty became a trusted companion. Weathering out storm after storm and keeping myself and my equipment dry. This was now a tent, albeit a very expensive one.