Workamping

Workamper Experiences: KOA Mystic

Honeywagon



After leaving Lake City RV Resort we settled in nicely at Casey Jones RV Park. While staying there we waited until after the holidays and started our search for a workamping job for the summer. We use several methods to find jobs so please visit our “ how to make money on the road” page to see our resources.

The summer season is generally easy to find work. You can basically pick any area you want to check out and nine times out of ten you will find a  job in that area. The campgrounds located in the northern states have their busiest seasons in the warmer months and the southern campgrounds have trouble finding people to work in the extreme heat. That’s why I say you can more or less go anywhere you want during the summer season.

Family Events

That being said, we had a few family events that were going to be taking place that season so we decided we wanted to be fairly close to our home town area of Long Island, New York. It had also been some time since we had visited family.

As we sorted through the numerous jobs, we came across one in Mystic, Connecticut. It was actually located in North Stonington but it was only about 20 minutes from a ferry that goes across to Long Island. Perfect!!!

It was for a housekeeping job so we figured we would apply and Chris could do housekeeping and maybe they would have something for me somewhere else. We heard back from the manager and set up a phone interview. 

Phone Interview

The phone interview went great. They wanted Chris for housekeeping and offered me a position in maintenance/guest services. We discussed the compensation and the fact that I only wanted part-time hours. Our final agreement was that Chris was to work full-time in housekeeping working under the housekeeping supervisor and I would work part-time in maintenance/guest services with the understanding that during the peak part of the summer if they were short-handed I would work some extra hours.

We were promised the site at $150 a month which was the standard KOA corporate campground price at the time. This included the site, electric, wifi, water, and sewer. We were also told we would get a laundry stipend every paycheck which was every other week, a discount on propane, and a discount in the store. We would work the same days but not necessarily the same hours and would have the same days off. 

It All Sounded Good

Everything sounded good so we accepted the job. We were supposed to start mid-May and work until mid-September. As we always do, we had the manager send an email containing everything we spoke about in our agreement. We were pretty excited. We had found a job that was close to our home town. We even started sending emails to friends and family letting them know we would be close by for the summer.

As the winter moved on we received an email from the manager asking if we could start earlier. We weren’t really doing anything special so we agreed. I believe we arrived in Mystic around April 20th. We met some of the workers during check-in and were told there were two sites available that we could choose from. The sites were in a designated area for workampers and the two sites were close to each other. We headed over to the area with our RV, made our choice, backed in and set up. After setting up we returned to the office and advised them which site we had chosen. 

All Going According To Plan

Everything was going according to plan at this point. The park looked nice, our spot was nice, and the people seemed very friendly. We were told a date and time to meet with the manager and until that point, we could just settle in. 

The day we met with the manager is the day we started seeing that things are not always as they seem or are supposed to be. As I said earlier this was a corporate KOA and therefore we would be reporting to a manager instead of an owner. It was a husband/wife team but we were told the wife was the manager, not the husband. It had something to do with if he were to be classified as the assistant manager they would not be able to take time off together.

Breakdown By Issue

The easiest way for us to break down what went on here is to go issue by issue. We will give you what was promised and in most cases what was verified by email, and what actually happened. After reading all the issues, some larger than others, you will wonder why we stayed so long. We will address that at the end.

Issue # 1

Issue #1– Chris was introduced to the housekeeping supervisor and that’s when we realized that the housekeeping crew consisted of the housekeeping supervisor and Chris…lol. They said during a portion of the season they get college students called “summer shiners’ and if they had time, they would help out as they also helped the activities director. There were 22 deluxe cabins and 10 basic cabins. There were also two large bathroom/shower facilities. Housekeeping was also responsible for doing the laundry for the deluxe cabins. 

The Outcome

Outcome– It turned out the cabins were super busy. The summer shiners would help sometimes but let’s face it, they were kids. We will leave it at that. Both bathroom facilities were heavily utilized by the guests and required a lot of attention. Chris learned quickly that these facilities were given the lowest priority. The cabins were the first priority. The worst part about having to run around to get the cabins cleaned and ready for the next guest turned out to be with the housekeeping supervisor herself. 

It turned out that she scheduled herself to start before everyone else so she could see what cabins would be leaving. She then made sure she would be the first one at that cabin so she could check it for damage. Sounds legit, right? Nope, what she was really doing was going in ahead of time and taking any tip money that was left!!! 

Chris did speak with the supervisor about “tips” and the supervisor told her that all tips went to the manager and then a “party” was scheduled for the housekeeping staff with the tip money at the end of the season. Our mistake was not discussing the way the tips were handled with the manager. It turns out that there were other tasks that the supervisor assigned that Chris discussed with the manager and she learned the supervisor was handling some situations and making decisions herself without the knowledge of the manager. 

It should be noted that they did hire two more housekeepers midway through the season and the addition of these employees was a big help but one left after only one month. There were also times where they got so busy the manager and her husband would have to help out cleaning cabins for an hour or two.

Issue # 2

Issue #2– We were then asked for $20 for laundry. We would buy a $20 roll of quarters and they color-coded the quarters we were to use. When they emptied the machines we would get back all the quarters that were colored with our color. Now to me, a laundry stipend is you get a certain amount of quarters each payday for laundry, not me buying a roll of quarters. It was not a big deal as we did the exact same thing while working at KOA Amarillo and it worked out great. It was just another red flag being thrown.

The Outcome

Outcome– It turns out that this was a disaster. The manager always claimed she was “too busy” to empty the machines and separate the quarters. Her attitude was that she would get to it when she could. Almost every two weeks we would have to ask for our quarters and she would give us a huge attitude. She even told us many times that we would have to use our own money because she didn’t have time to empty the money holders in the washers and dryers.

What? I don’t think so. It wasn’t a money issue. We could have certainly used our own money to do laundry. It was really just the principle. It wasn’t just us either. The other workampers all got the same story. We were just the ones that fought back and demanded the quarters.

Issue # 3

Issue #3– I was then told that I would more than likely be doing 40 hour weeks because it looked like they were starting out the season short-handed. As soon as they hired more people I would be able to cut back on my hours. That’s not terrible. I don’t mind helping out.

The Outcome

Outcome– Help never came. Not only did I work 40 hours the entire summer, but they were also always changing!!! 8 am-4:30 pm one day 12 pm-8:30 pm another day, and 11 am to 7:30 pm yet another day. Chris’s schedule started to change also. The days off remained the same or we would have left as that is an absolute no-no as any position we take having the same days off is not negotiable. Again, I do not mind helping out where needed. The problem with this is the manager almost never had the new schedule ready in time!!!

We were left to guess what our hours were on the first day of the new week. At first, we would call her the previous day for our hours. After numerous weeks with no new schedule on the first day of the new week, we started following the previous week’s schedule until she gave us a new one.

Issue # 4

Issue #4– We were told that we were to be given a discount on propane. This was the first place we had to actually pay for propane. KOA Amarillo and even Lake City RV Resort offered free propane to their employees. It is not a big deal and we knew we were going to get propane at a discounted rate, as per our agreement. 

The Outcome

Outcome: The first time we needed propane it cost us a fortune. When we asked about the discount, the manager stated that we were given the discount and it was the best she could do. She said, after all, she can’t lose money. According to her, we were getting it for cost!!! We learned that this was not true. Lucky for us there was a Tractor Supply a mile down the road that sold it for a dollar a gallon less!!!

Issue # 5

Issue #5– On the maintenance end of things. I was told I would be doing light maintenance and guest services. This turned out to be true. I was asked to do things like mow, clean sites, weed wack, collect and empty garbage, deliver firewood and ice, and deal with any guest issues that popped up. I was also asked to do the “honey wagon” service. I agreed as it did not seem like that big a deal to me. I actually enjoyed the job duties and meeting and assisting all the guests.

The Outcome

Outcome: There was always a shortage of golf carts. Some of the carts were electric and some were gas. We always seemed to run out of gas by mid-month. The manager would then say there was nothing she could do as she was given a monthly gas budget and couldn’t spend anything extra. 

It seemed like when there was no gas for the truck or tractor that pulled the honey wagon, she always seemed to find more gas money. By the way, if you are unfamiliar with what a “honey wagon” is, it is just a nice way of saying the cesspool (or waste collection) vehicle…lol. 

There were two different sized honey wagon containers. One was large and the other about half the size. I don’t remember the actual gallonage. They were a mess!!! The pumps would leak, the hoses were the cheapest hoses money could buy and would leak and break, and there was no pin to lock the trailer which I asked for the entire season. I wound up using my personal pin for my hitch as I did not want the honey wagon breaking free from the hitch and rolling through the park full of…well, poop!!!

There were many seasonal campers that had no sewer at their site and they would sign up for “pump-outs.” Each day we would check the pump-out sheet and pump out the ones who signed up. Half of the deluxe cabins also had to be pumped because instead of being hooked to sewers they had large containers housed underneath. At one point in the season I refused to use the larger honey wagon due to the pump leaking raw sewage all over the ground. I was told it was not that bad and I could use it… I think not!!! I even had a couple of hoses split. Instead of buying new hoses they would cut the split part out and reinstall. They even used duct tape in some spots!!!

Issue # 6

Issue #6– We were given an approximate end date of mid-September. The entire season we tried to get an exact end date so we could plan our trip to our next winter job in Yuma, Arizona. We were blown off every time we asked. Time and time again we explained we needed a definite date. 

The Outcome

Outcome: After numerous attempts to secure an end date, and I mean numerous, we decided to tell the manager when we were leaving. We picked a date that would be after Labor Day and VKR weekends which are busy weekends so we would not leave her short-handed. When we advised her of our leaving date she became extremely annoyed. She stated it was too early. We explained to her that we tried to get her to give us an end date the entire season and she wouldn’t give us one so we had to decide. We explained we had a winter job in Yuma and wanted to visit some friends and family along the way. We needed definite dates for planning and she didn’t seem to care. 

We kept our end of the deal by working first Labor Day weekend and then VKR weekend or at least trying. During VKR weekend they were not as busy as they anticipated. While Chris was doing laundry for the cabins, the manager came down and said she no longer needed us and we needed to be out of the park the next day. 

I was not scheduled to start until 12 noon that day so I was at the RV when Chris was told this. Chris came to the RV to tell me what happened. As she was telling me what just happened the manager came flying up to our door on her golf cart and started yelling she wanted all of our keys, radios, shirts, etc. and we needed to be out the next day, which was Saturday.

Not even knowing the full story yet I told her we would bring everything to the office after we had gotten together everything she requested to be returned. I also reminded her that our deal was that we were to work the weekend and leave Monday and if she didn’t want us to work we were ok with that but we were leaving Monday. 

Final Thoughts

We thought we had improved our interviewing techniques and covered all the bases. We negotiated everything over the phone and had the manager send us an email detailing everything we spoke about and agreed to so we would have everything in writing. We had even emailed her a couple of times before we showed up to clarify some things we thought about afterward.

It seems that even with the best planning in the world things can go awry. Each of the above situations were discussed with the manager, very few were addressed, most not. Could we have fought with her and jumped up and down screaming that she wasn’t following the rules? Yup, we could have. What would it have proved? It would only have made a bad situation worse. Could we have packed up and left? Yup, we could have done that too. So if we were so miserable why did we stay?

The bottom line is we were not that miserable. The things we list above are there to make you aware of situations that have happened to us and we are sharing these experiences so others applying for workamping positions in campgrounds can get an idea of what REALLY happens as these assignments are being completed. We want people who are applying for these types of positions to be aware of different situations that could possibly arise. What’s the old saying? There are three sides to every story, the manager/owner version, our version, and the truth is somewhere in between. We feel we are as honest as we can be.

We enjoyed working with the staff including the manager’s husband!!! He was one of the nicest guys in the world. Even the seasonal campers there were awesome. We loved the park itself and the fact that we were so close to our friends and family. The manager even gave my cousin a discount on one of the cabins when she and her husband came to visit.

It was just unfortunate that we never saw eye to eye with the manager. It could have been a super great experience. It would even have been a place we might have considered coming back to every now and then when we wanted to be near family. Unfortunately, that will never happen until that manager is gone.

We hope this is helpful in your decision making for the future. Every job has its pros and cons. Sometimes the pros outweigh the cons and you just make it work. As you will see with our next two assignments, sometimes you luck out and just have fun!!!







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *