By Tony Barthel
During the past year, I’ve been able to get out a surprising amount just because social distancing and enjoying the RV lifestyle seem to align. Apparently, I’m not alone. The RV industry just reported a record number of shipments of new RVs in January. But RV sales aren’t the only things setting records.
RV rentals are another space where there’s a lot of activity. Companies like Outdoorsy, which is an intermediary that puts renters and owners together much like Airbnb does for vacation homes, are also setting records. In fact, I listened to an interview with Outdoorsy where they shared stories of some couples making a lot of money just renting RVs.
One of the things that has been consistent in every spot I stay is that there is at least one, and often several, Cruise America RVs there.
If you’re not familiar with these, Cruise America is one of the largest RV rental companies. They’re easy to spot driving down the road and in campgrounds because of their distinct elaborate graphics, which include a photo decal of a dog in the door window. Essentially, Cruise America RVs are RVs with billboards for Cruise America all over them. This makes sense: If you’re driving a giant billboard you might as well take advantage of the space.
What is it?
The Cruise America RV is basically a Thor Majestic. There are three models: the 19G, the 23A and the 28A. These are all relatively simple RVs, all things considered, but are fully equipped with the basic functions. There is also a pickup with a camper available which is, quite surprisingly, a Lance 650.
You won’t find things like ovens, slide rooms, automatic leveling or any other fancy features. Instead, you get a motorhome. A bit of a generic motorhome except with the elaborate graphics on the side. There’s not an awning, either, nor is there a folding step. Both of these are high repair items so they’re smart to exclude them.
Since this is a much larger vehicle than most drivers would likely own at home, it does have a back-up sensor so you don’t back into a pole at a campground or something like that.
The company says their “Standard RV” is good for five sleeping positions, which seems reasonable.
Let’s go inside…
As you walk inside there’s a seat on the right and then a dinette directly opposite the entrance that is good for four diners. That dinette folds down to make a full-sized bed and there’s additional sleeping over the cab in the form of a queen-sized bed.
On the camp side next to the entrance is a galley with a three-burner cooktop (though I’ve also seen images with four-burner cooktops) and a small round sink. Across from that is the typical propane-electric RV refrigerator and then a closet further back.
In the rear of the coach is the bathroom – but the sink is not in the bathroom itself, which seems smart. If you have five people taking a trip in here, someone can brush their teeth while another traveler can take care of other needs.
That bathroom features a toilet and shower.
In the opposite corner on the camp side is a full-sized bed.
This is not an elaborate coach by any means, but Cruise America specifies residential-grade plumbing fixtures. However, they also claim to have exceptional appliances and, really, they’re just the same ones you’ll see in most other RVs. Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just the truth.
Looking into renting one of these, I examined the rental rate out of San Francisco in the fall of 2021. I found the basic price was about $105 per day, which doesn’t seem unreasonable. To that, you can add a few options including a kitchen kit for $110 and a personal kit for $60.
The kitchen kit includes five place settings including cups, plates, glasses, cutlery and more. There are also some kitchen utensils like knives, spatulas and spoons and pans of various sizes along with a teapot and several bowls. Lastly, there’s also a broom.
One thing to keep an eye on is the mileage. If you’ve ever rented a U-Haul truck before, you’ll see how affordable the experience seems until you add the mileage. Then it’s expensive. I rented one from Dallas to Los Angeles, not realizing this. Zowie! But I was young and stupid at the time.
In this case, the mileage charge isn’t bad at 35¢ per mile. They even credit you back at the same rate if you haven’t driven 500 miles when you return the vehicle. There is a standard $175 mileage fee on top of the daily rental.
One of the things that I am surprised by is that all of these Class C Cruise America motorhomes include a generator, in this case, an Onan 4000 series model. The chassis of this is the Ford E-350, so there’s a receiver hitch at the back. However, Cruise America doesn’t say anything about towing. But they do mention this for holding bicycle racks and that sort of thing.
I’ve seen piles of people get out of these RVs, so I know that some people stretch the truth about how many people are along for the journey – even though Cruise America asks you when you rent the vehicle.
As mentioned, I have seen quite a few of these at campgrounds that I’ve been in in the past year and almost every one of them came with a funny story. Well, funny to me.
At one state park, there was a family who clearly had decided that their interpretation of the maximum number of occupants and Cruise America’s were quite different. I think I counted 11 people of at least five generations staying in that motorhome.
In more than one circumstance I saw folks having trouble with their tanks, with one opening the dump valve before attaching the hose, much to their chagrin. And the chagrin of anybody who could smell within 10 campsites.
I saw folks overflowing their fresh water tanks and many who just didn’t understand many of the functions of the RV. There are a lot of Asian tourists who frequent this area and the combination of a language barrier and most human’s lack of familiarity with RV systems didn’t bode well for an effortless journey.
In a three-day workshop that I teach in several local campgrounds, we had someone who bought a Cruise America RV and were very, very pleased with that experience. They were especially happy with the price and the service they had received from the company. The thing that I thought was funny was that the attractive Cruise America graphics were taken off, of course. But then they bothered to put swooshy swirl graphics on. Bleh.
A great way to get started
Cruise America is probably the first experience a lot of people have with RVing on a first-hand basis. Their coaches aren’t overly fancy but they are well equipped and, from what I’ve seen, they’re well maintained.
I rented a Class C RV from a private company, not Cruise America, and was surprisingly disappointed with the evident complete lack of maintenance performed on this coach along with its obvious trips to Burning Man. Seriously.
But I think this is a great way to dip one’s toes in the water of the RV lifestyle, and the prices aren’t bad for the experience. Plus, you do get to drive around with a pretty cool mural on your RV.
These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.
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