First, let’s start with what is Glamping? In short, it’s a form of camping that involves accommodation and facilities more luxurious than traditional camping.
Bingo, glamping was just the type of experience that my fiancé Lance and I were looking for on my birthday adventure to Everglades National Park. That way he would be able to sleep in a real bed, and I would be able to stay close to nature! The whole goal of this birthday road trip was to see tons of unique wildlife, and we did just that, successfully spotting everything from alligators to manatees. In fact, here are my 5 Animals to See in the Everglades.
As for the glamping part of the trip… My 30 second review is: you cannot beat the location and exceptional views, these eco-tents make for a novel stay, but they have far too many flaws for me to recommend the experience 100%.
We booked four nights at the eco-tents in Everglades National Park, at their Flamingo Campground. Currently these tents are the only non-camping option inside the park’s property. So, unless you pack a tent or have an RV revved up ready to go, they are your only immersive Everglades experience. To be frank, we knew our tired mosquito bitten bodies would need a comfy bed after each day’s adventures, so we opted for the glamping route! These 186-square-foot canvas structure tents have sturdy metal frames designed to withstand a Category 4 hurricane and are built on stilts perfect for any unexpected flooding. Each tent is equipped with one queen or two double beds, with thick mattresses, fresh white linens, and fluffy pillows. They provide a dry, mosquito-free overnight stay with lights, a fan, and outlets for charging your phone. The crowning jewel of each tent is the oversized screen windows that keep the bloodthirsty mosquitoes out while bringing you an unobstructed view of Florida Bay right outside. Even with all those features, these tents still fell short of putting the “glam” in glamping. We ended up leaving a night early and only stayed for 3 of the 4 nights we paid for – which we have NEVER done before!
To better understand my disappointment from this “glamping” getaway, here are 6 pros and cons from our Everglades experience.
Pros of the Eco-Tents
- 10 Star View: Our eco-tent had a postcard view of Florida Bay, at the southernmost tip of the Everglades. All we could see from our bed was the wave of grasses and mangrove trees dotting the salty shore. From that unobstructed perspective it felt like we were the only humans in this remote place. We were lucky to nearly have the place to ourselves since we visited during the off season of the park. The best part of the view was unzipping the canvas sides and letting the coastal breeze through the tent during our afternoon naps.
- African Safari Lookalike: After 9 delusional hours in the car, I did a massive double take, for a second I thought we had driven all the way to an African safari. Each of the tents looked like they had been plucked off the Serengeti and dropped into the Everglades. They were all sleek with taught canvas and were seamlessly connected to one another from a boardwalk. The eco-tents were simply beautiful, I even wrote down the name of the company, thinking I might just be able to fit one in our backyard! My favorite little touch was the inconspicuous solar-powered lights that trimmed the boardwalk at night. Their faint glow made for easy navigating but ensured that no light pollution would interfere with seeing the stunning night sky. We were treated to a clear view of the sparkling Milky Way during our first night in this safari lookalike.
- Location, Location, Location: From our tent we were just minutes from the Flamingo Marina. Oddly enough this hub is famous for being quite the wildlife hotspot. From the docks we spotted dozens of manatees, a handful of American crocodiles, and too many ibises to count. Even just exploring the campground we saw spoonbills in flight, watched osprey fishing, and caught a glimpse of a bobcat at dusk. To learn more about where to find some of the most iconic animals in the park check out: 5 Animals to See in the Everglades.
Cons of the Eco-Tents
- LONG Dead-End Drive: Everything about the Everglades is spread out, and Flamingo happens to be the furthest point inside the park. Just getting from the main Visitor Center all the way to our tent was a 45-minute drive… ONE WAY. This meant lots of time in the car just trekking back and forth through the park. We estimated over eight hours just getting in and out during our stay. Sure, the drive was beautiful, and we saw plenty of wildlife from the road, but after the first couple of times the trek wore us out. Also, once you get about 10 miles outside of Flamingo most cell phones lose service. Of course, it’s great to disconnect in nature, but we would have really appreciated a few bars of service just in case of an emergency.
- Nightmare Bathrooms: The not-so-glam part of staying in the eco-tents is the bathroom situation and lack of options for where to eat. I knew they were shared bathrooms, but I definitely didn’t realize they were not-new (unlike the brand-new tents) and seemed to be skipped when it came to maintenance and cleaning. The toilets flushed and there was running water, but otherwise the bathrooms did not fill the “glam” of glamping. Neither of us dared to shower while we were there. In fact, the best wildlife viewing was inside the bathroom at night. The floors came alive with ants, and you could hardly step without crushing a darting cockroach. For how neat and clean the tents were, the bathrooms were a disappointing shock.
Also, the campground had a strict no food in the tents policy, which created quite the issue for meal prepping and planning. One would imagine that each tent would at least have a picnic table, but they do not. Instead, there are few communal tables and fire rings, along the road near the restrooms – the last place I would want to cook up a meal. One of the best parts of camping is the experience of cooking food on a fire. Instead, we resorted to sneaking snacks into our tent and having leftovers to barely satisfy our growling stomachs.
- Outrageous Price: When we booked our tent, I thought $99 per night was a deal, but after seeing the lack of amenities that price tag immediately became outrageous. Obviously that rate is much cheaper than a typical hotel option, but compared to the $135 a night we paid to stay in a tiny cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains the eco-tents were priced a bit too high. (and those tiny cabins in the mountains even had their own bathroom/shower, kitchenette, fire pit, picnic table, and heat/AC) Shockingly enough it turns out we paid the lowest rate of the year for the eco-tents. During peak season their price jumps to $150 a night…. which is far too much considering what isn’t provided.
Those looking for a novel place to stay in the Everglades, I would recommend staying for just one night at the eco-tents. The reality was we left disappointed in our stay- the cons outweighed the pros after three nights in our very non-glamorous tent. Trying to juggle where to eat, brushing our teeth around the insect mob, all while trying to not continuously drive in and out just became too daunting. I might consider returning to stay at the eco-tents, now that I have a more realistic idea of what to expect from this “glamping” destination inside Everglades National Park.