Saturday, April 21

Review of Aquatics Camp at St. Johns River Base at Echockotee for Boys AND Girls

It's odd there isn't more about this aquatics camp near Orange Park online. The Scout River Base seems to have some reviews of its own, along with some reviews of the Aquatics Camp, but there's not a lot of buzz considering the cool factor associated with an aquatics camp like this for my kids. This review will continue to be updated as we go through the process of signing up and attending the camp. If we like it, then it will be a review that spans more than one year. This is for both boys and girls, Scouts and non-Scouts, though I am not sure how well it's advertised to the general public (and that's totally up to the Scouts to decide).


REGISTRATION
My son is in Cub Scouts, so it was in one of his mailings that we saw an ad for Aquatics Camp. It was really our daughter, after seeing the offerings available to her, that forced the issue. She's in the age sweet spot for this week-long camp, as she is allowed to choose her own schedule of activities, normally one per hour. Here's the list of activities she chose:
Climbing Fun
Kayaking MB 
Stand Up Paddleboarding 
Water Sports Fun $15.00
Tubing $15.00
Catamaran Sailing 
She is stoked about these events, and I would be, too, so I hope the counselors know what they're doing. The sailing actually takes up two time slots, so she gets six rather than seven choices. There are also all kinds of land-based options (she initially chose a sports session to end the day).

You'll also notice the extra charges, totaling $30 for our daughter's choices. That made us kind of angry at first, but since this might be the one and only chance for her to practice some of the activities, we'll let it go. But that does lead to the price and ALL the nickels and dimes.

You have a basic price per week. Let's say $275 this year. You can get an early bird discount for signing up before May, and you can also get multiple week or sibling discounts. That's about it for discounts...everything else is an add-on.

Some classes are more, presumably because of gas for the boats or materials needed. Lunch is $25 more for the week. Busing is $40 more. Camping one night is $50 more. Extended care is $25.

Basically, we paid $535 for two kids for a week. But if we'd been just on time in registering, needed care, buses, lunch, and some camping, then it would be more like $800. Depending on your work schedule, there may be few options to get out of buses or extra child care. I am going to have to work from a local library rather than drive back home (and spend three hours driving) each day. I'd try to split the driving with another parent, if possible. Honestly, if it would have been $40 for both kids for the bus, they'd have been on it, but $80 means I can figure it out.

Back to the choices our daughter DID get to make. You'll appreciate this if you're sticking your kid in the camp for several weeks. However, if it's a single-week deal, then make sure he/she chooses enough of the water activities. Our son does not get a choice, since he's 4th grade going into 5th .You have to be 5th to 6th to choose. 12 yr+ to climb alone. And then at 14 you're done. It's a small window.

POST-REGISTRATION
OK, this is really stupid. Apparently, you are supposed to show up at the camp the Saturday before the camp starts in order to turn in the health form and insurance. Think about that. I live nearly an hour from the camp, but others might even live further away. Why in the world would we want to show up an extra day, on a weekend, in order to do this? In fact, we might still be on vacation, so I'll have to call to see if we can do it early. Also, I would suggest everyone call and complain about this requirement. Scouts seem to think that there is no such thing as an inconvenience if it has to do with Scouting. My five days of driving (an hour each way) is supposed to be six days? We invented fax machines and now phones that send pdfs for a reason, and that reason is so that I don't have to drive an extra two hours on a Saturday for no reason! Yes, I'm a bit put out, but I'm hoping that this camp, which sounds so exciting, lives up to our expectations. And I'm especially hoping I won't have to write about what the counselors do with the kids for five days straight of thunderstorms.

When I emailed about not being able to make it the Saturday before camp, I was given an option. So if you are in a similar situation, then contact the camp. 

THE CAMP (updated after session complete - August)
2018
Daughter (11)
Our daughter really enjoyed the camp. Yes, the rain ruined a couple of times out on the boat, but she was able to get out on the lake enough times to appreciate the time she had. It's really the best option around for those of us who don't have our own boats and equipment. She also enjoyed the other activities she chose. However, she also learned what she'll sign up to do next year. For example, she didn't love catamaran sailing, so that one's probably out. She also wasn't sure about the kayaking. Of course, if she signs up for more activities with the speedboat, then that would be more money, so we'll have to weigh the options when we sign up next year.
Son (9-10)
Actually, our son turned 10 right at the time of the camp, and we were able to allow him to pick his own activities after the first day. I could tell he had been bored. We owed more money, but it was worth it, and he ended up enjoying his time there a lot more than if he'd been relegated to the prescribed schedule. The cooking class he chose was a bit of a letdown (he wanted to learn how to cook), but the other activities were good.

In fact, I don't know if we'd have come back if both our kids had been under 10 when we first tried this camp. It's really much more exciting for the 10-14 year-olds. And more expensive, but still less than buying a house on the water, boat, tubes, skis, other boats, and whatnot.

I also wanted to mention the swim test. We were worried about this, and the kids trained quite a bit to make sure they met the requirements, but it was done more to see if they knew how to swim. Since both kids can swim, the distance wasn't a huge deal, so they were both allowed to participate fully.


I'd also not recommend trying to drive there from 45 minutes away each day, even if you work from home and can do the work at a local library. We'll probably be using the bus in the future, or at least choose the camping option to save one day on the road.

All in all, we are happy with our decision to attend the Aquatics Camp. It simply offers more than the other options. It might put a dent in your budget, but it will be a week to remember for the kids.

[UPDATE]
I looked for this review on Google and was not able to find it, so it has not been indexed properly. That's kind of odd, since most of the posts on this site seem to show up in searches. Maybe it's because I'd left out the Orange Park name or because my title is too long for Google. I'll try indexing it again, since our kids are enrolled for a second year, and I'll update the review with anything new.

Actually, we paid for busing this year, so $40 a kid. But we got free lunches because we enrolled early or some reason. And getting the 2nd kid discount was a huge hassle this year. All told, $635 for two kids in year two.

[UPDATE 2]
Disappointment
$635 for 2019 was exactly $100 more than 2018. The kids still enjoyed the camp. They rode the bus so that I could get more work done. And they got that free lunch. The problem was the add-ons. Even after the two-kid discount, both kids wanted more time in the water, and that SHOULD have worked out OK, but there were more boat break-downs, kind of like last year. Sure, the kids joined another group to do more tubing, but that means the tubing class got overbooked, and our kids both missed out on water sports ALL week. That's really not acceptable.

I know the weather could have ruined the entire week, and it probably does sometimes. But that's an act of God, and I am not complaining about the four or five sessions the kids had changed because of weather. But when boats break down two years in a row, I have to wonder where the $635 was going. The whole point is that I'm willing to pay way too much for a camp so that I don't have to buy the boat myself, but that means I really do expect all of the boats to be working. In fact, I'll only sign the kids up again if I have assurances there are extra boats or extra parts next year.

Our daughter was disappointed with the science class. We'd hoped it would be STEM-like and semi-educational, but it was the same old science book experiments kids do every year, and it cost us an add-on price for materials, so a waste.

The camp staff seem to do a good job of making sure the kids have fun, even with the disappointments, so my kids don't want me to pull the plug on next year already. As a parent, I feel like two years and nearly $1,200 invested in the camp for two kids might be my limit, even if we have learned which classes to take and avoid. Who knows, next year could be thunderstorms all week.

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