Key West Military RV Snow Birding for Newbies

Editors note: This article was written by Steve Johnson and is used by permission. It's a great overview of what to expect and how to plan for an extended winter stay at the Key West NAS, FL.

Key West Military RV Snow Birding for Newbies

Key West, FloridaWinter 2009-2010 was our first year snow birding at Sigsbee and it was great in every aspect. We’re already planning for our return. We had a lot of questions before our maiden voyage so this is an attempt to supplement the information provided at the Sigsbee listing. It is our opinion so others may (will!) disagree. Opinions: everyone has one. I have no ties to Sigsbee other than we’ll be back next year and liked the folks we met this snowbird season.

Overview: Naval Air Station Key West manages the RV operation. NAS Key West is on Boca Chica a few miles before you get on Key West. It is an operational base and nothing RV related except, perhaps, the auto craft shop and the Navigator Lounge. There are 4 Navy/Coast Guard facilities of interest on Key West proper: Sigsbee; Trumbo/USCG base; Truman Annex (the beach), and the Naval/VA clinic. There is also an Army diving school right across the bay which is neat because you see paratroopers making drops into the water up close.

  • Sigsbee is mainly a military housing area for Key West. Since the Key is 2x4 miles, everything is close. Some bike into town but most drive. There is a bus route not far from the gate but it is a long hike to the gate. Sigsbee has: main RV park; commissary; PX; gas station (with diesel) that is big-rig accessible. ITT travel office (discounts on Key West attractions); work-out room; tennis courts; very modern and clean rest rooms and showers in the middle of each park; 3 dump stations; potable water filling stations; laundry facilities; bar/restaurant; play grounds; dog park; marina; water access for wading/snorkeling; vet (for meds); Navy Lodge; and WiFI throughout the park area ($21.95/month) that was very reliable and fast. Propane is delivered on Fridays (sign up in MWR office). The truck comes to your site and you pay by cash, check or credit card.
  • Trumbo is close to town and some park there and walk/bike into town. It has some housing. For RVer’s it is the main dry-camp area for those that do not want to rotate to hookup sites. It adjoins the Coast Guard Station and you can drive out on the pier and, during posted hours, fish from the pier (this year it was after 1500). It has a pool. It also has rest rooms and showers and a dump station. Trumbo RV park is not operational in the off season.
  • Truman Annex is the military beach with a nice facility that has wifi, snack bar, TV’s, etc.
  • My experience is that the pharmacy is about all you can use at the Naval/VA clinic.

Camping: Sigsbee (and Trumbo) do not take reservations (except for active duty). Fear not. They pride themselves on having never turned anyone away. I understand that the 09-10 winter snowbird season was a record with over 500 rigs at one time and no one was turned away! This year the rate was $11/night for dry and $21/night for hookup sites (50 amp at all). The local civilian RV park is $100+ for crowded sites and it is not even on Key West proper!

Follow the directions on the site to the MWR office. This year it closed at 1500. If it is closed, you’ll see a sign in a field that shows overnight parking. You might get lucky and one of the great hosts will stop by and show you to a regular site. We drove through the park area and found an on-duty host so that saved a move.

There are approximately 100 sites with full hookups. The new ones have pads and are located as far East as you can go on Sigsbee. There is a nice laundry and bath facilities there as well as 3 dump stations and potable water filling areas all easily accessible by the biggest of rigs. As you drive to the MWR office you’ll probably see RV’s to your left. These are the other hookup sites. There are 2 “neighborhoods” here nicknamed: “Hollywood” and “The Rock Pile”. Hollywood sites have a pad and more space. Rock Pile sites are close and on crushed coral. 1st row sites face the water. Whenever you start to complain, remember you are paying $21 and at the civilian park they are paying $100+ and are also packed in. Many of the sites in dry camping have gorgeous views of the water…this can be bad with a strong North wind but we were still always glad when we drew a waterfront site in dry camp.

Rotation: I think they run an extremely fair, transparent and above board system. Active Duty rightfully have priority and go to the top of the list. There is no homesteading and luck determines what site you get. You cannot request a particular site. You cannot move to a different site. I’ve seen hippie vans on the Hollywood waterfront and Prevost’s on the Rock Pile back row. You can only stay on a hookup site for 2 weeks. At the end of your 2 week period you go to dry if there is anyone in dry camping. If there is not, you start the 2 week clock again and don’t have to move. If rotation is in effect, at about 1200 on the day before your 2 weeks are up, a host will put a notice on your door telling you to move by 1000 the next day to the given site number. If you are in a dry site, on the day your name gets to the top, you’ll get a hookup site number to move to the next day. In prime season, it is a huge game of musical chairs at 1000 as rigs that look like gypsy caravans with laundry racks move between dry and hookups. The roster of all in dry camp and their position number is posted on the bulletin board at about 1500 daily. It is almost impossible to guess how long it will take to move to the top. Some days, only 1 or 2 might move; on other days, 10 might move. I found that 6/day was a good planning number in prime season. This year there were 237 on the list at one time.

Our experience in Winter 09-10: arrived 21 Nov and spent 1 night in dry and then 2 weeks on the Rock Pile (3rd row). 1 night in dry and then back to the Rock Pile (2nd row) for 2 weeks. Left to go home for Christmas. We took the RV but some leave their rigs in a storage area…you cannot leave them in the RV park.  Returned on 10 Jan and the place was packed! Stayed in dry until 6 Feb and we went to the Rock Pile (2nd row). Stayed 2 weeks and returned to dry on 20 Feb. On 12 Mar moved to the New Park area for 2 weeks. On 26 Mar moved to dry. On 30 Mar moved to Hollywood (2nd row). On 13 Apr departed. We know that the luck of the draw prevails: we never got 1st row but other newbies did; we know that folks that have been coming for years and very active in the MWR community never got 1st row. Again, this was a very busy year and perhaps worst case. I’m told that the general situation is that it gets very busy after New Years and stays that way until Easter. I’m also told that a few weeks after Easter, snowbirds go home and there are always full hookups available with no rotation. Today, the first Wednesday after Easter, there are 19 rigs on the rotation list.

Non-Rotation: Some decide that they are happy to dry camp and not rotate. Trumbo is all non-rotation (except once this year they had to put a few in rotation there because of crowding). There is a small area for approximately 20 rigs that is non-rotation at Sigsbee. Outside of these areas, you must rotate or leave. Why? There are some very nice waterfront sites in Sigsbee dry camping. If non-rotators could stay there then these would not be available to the rest.

Lessons Learned

Make sure your 12volt system is ready for a lot of dry camping. Consider buying a Honda 2000i generator, even if you are in a motorhome! We bought one after gassing up twice while in dry camping and we know we’ll be back. It’s a waste to run a big generator when all you are really doing is charging batteries or watching TV. I’m guessing that 70% of the motorhomes had a portable generator. I’m guessing that 90% of all of the generators in the park were the Honda 2000i’s because of their low noise and fuel consumption. Generators must be turned off 2300-0700.

Bring a blue tote like sold in Camping World to use to dump grey and black water; otherwise, you’ll have to move your rig. Someone said they used to rent these: if so, they don’t anymore. There are 3 dump stations at Sigsbee and some at Trumbo. They are all big-rig friendly.  The base roads are all also big-rig friendly.

Buy a 45 gal collapsible bladder like sold in Camping World to refill your water tank. I tried the 5 gal jugs and that got old.  There are potable water faucets in the park that are easily accessible for rigs or jug filling. There might be a short wait but nothing big.

If you want to watch TV, you better have DirecTV or Dish satellite. You might need a portable dish since some sites have trees in the way. There is only 1 broadcast TV station and it is a tourist infomercial station. There is no cable in the RV park.

There is excellent wifi that covers the Sigsbee RV park area. $21.95/month. I used it a lot in every site we had and rarely had a problem. I don’t know about Trumbo.

Misc:

The only way to get snail mail is use General Delivery at the Key West post office (always huge lines) or rent a PO Box at the PX or post office. The MWR office will not accept your mail. UPS and FedEx deliver everyday and are familiar with the rotation game. I tried not to order anything unless I knew I was going to be on a site for the period it would take to arrive. If you use a site number on an order and rotate, you might be able to call UPS and change it. The UPS driver this year gave me his cell number and I called him on delivery day if it had changed. You can also tell the new site occupant where you are or the driver will go to the office and try and find you, but that is unfair to him.

Commissary and PX are small but very well stocked. PX has booze. There are 3 civilian grocery stores a short distance from the main gate but we rarely used them since the commissary was quite adequate. There is no Wal-Mart (a local radio station points out that Cuba is closer than Wal-Mart). There is a K-Mart, Sears, and Home Depot, CVS, and Walgreen’s are close by.  Many restaurants deliver.

Sigsbee has 2 large (+/- 10 machines) and 1 small Laundromats. $1/wash load; dryers vary in price.  In prime season, there are frequent waits.

The park is very pet friendly with lots of dog walk areas and even a fenced play area. Please keep it that way by watching after your pets. Host Loretta is famous for always having dog treats in her golf cart: our dog could spot Loretta’s cart at the other end of the park.

There is a very extensive activities program sponsored by MWR. Lots of arts and crafts, games, etc.  MWR sponsored a very nice Thanksgiving dinner and, I believe, one for Christmas.  Fellow campers frequently organize pot luck’s and sundown parties, complete with the sound of conch shells being blown as the sunset.

If you like these, bring bikes (helmet required – sold in PX) and Kayaks. There are 2 nice fenced and lighted tennis courts on Sigsbee. Riders of motor scooters/bikes/cycles are required to have helmets and every piece of safety clothing made.

Exhaust stacks for installed generators are a good idea since it can be close quarters in prime season in dry camp. About half the rigs had one.

Base speed limit is 15mph and they mean it! Really! Seriously!

All our neighbors in the various sites were great. Folks seemed to have a laid back attitude and chill out. The folks we met were quite happy, non-complaining and, simply, relaxed.  A reviewer said everyone complained: we obviously had different encounters and we were here for 5 months. This was our first experience with staying in a community of Vets and we wondered how that would be. Happy to say that we did not find folks living in the past and constant war stories: what we saw were folks enjoying life talking about where they are going next.  We are not big “joiners” but we met a lot of nice folks and have some new friends that we’ll be staying in touch with. I had to go TDY for a few weeks and new friends were at the ready to help my bride with water, dumping, and anything else. Many people have been doing this for years yet I didn’t see any cliquishness. We were invited to several sunset parties.

We’ll be glad to answer any questions. Again, these are our views and opinions.