Taking a Family Vacation to the Winnebago Grand National Rally
The 50th Annual Winnebago Grand National Rally (GNR) has ended. The RVs have gone home and everyone is feeling a little forlorn to be away from so many friends, old and new. I think the only way to really process the withdrawal, is to spend some time recapping our very FIRST Winnebago Rally! (Don't miss our video recap at the end of this article for more about our first GNR experience).
GNR First Impressions
We came into Forest City not knowing what to expect. We were excited to meet our friends at Winnebago, but also didn't really know anything about Iowa except for Winnebago and corn ... and Field of Dreams. By the time we left, we found ourselves wishing for more time to adventure and hang out with friends. We are already planning what we will do upon our return!
Pre-Rally Fun at Puckerbrush
We arrived a few days ahead of the rally to sightsee, attend the Puckerbrush Festival (a Forest City festival that runs the weekend prior to GNR), and meet people. Despite the stormy start to our pre-rally week, we had some of the most gorgeous summer weather we have ever experienced. We actually wore sweaters one night. My born-and-raised-Texan mind was blown! The lowest evening temperatures actually dipped into the 50s and I swear I could hear angels singing! Nic and I made sure to toast a nice glass of wine to that, and we were definitely surrounded by other glass-clinkers as well.
Our favorite day of the Puckerbrush Festival was the last day: which included the Heritage Festival held at Heritage Park. The park was a short walk from the rally grounds and was made even shorter by the "People Mover" trailers pulled by trucks, which offered seated travel across the grounds - absolutely genius.
At the festival, we saw a steam tractor and heard the incredibly loud whistle, visited the blacksmith where we learned about forging and watched our five-year-old help to make a memento we brought home. We also went by the hand-churned ice cream parlor, visited the garage housing several vintage firetrucks and wagons, and toured a gorgeous church. There was even a wooden playground and an amphitheater that the boys obviously had to perform in.
We took WAY too many photos and absolutely got the "look" from our boys! HA! Sorry, not sorry. Everywhere we turned was a gorgeous backdrop requiring a few snaps for future memories, and if that's wrong, I don't want to be right.
First-Timer Intro to GNR
We made our way to the First-Timers Happy Hour meeting on the first day of GNR just in time. If you have never been to the rally, this is a really great resource for asking questions and hearing basic information and what to expect. There is a panel of Winnebago employees as well as seasoned rally attendees ready to answer your questions and offer up some fantastic tips. We were honestly surprised to see so many first-timers at the rally!
We were initially intimidated by the idea of coming to something so established and feared we would stick out like a sore thumb, but there was such a large group of new faces, ours included, all smiling and happy to be joining in on the action! Of course, it was also National Ice Cream Day, so we did what any responsible adults would do and took our boys to the rally grounds' ice cream stand, Scoopy Doos, for some yummy treats after getting our GNR education.
Entertainment for the Whole Family
Rally week was finally upon us and boy did Winnebago line up the fun! There were so many activities to choose from that we couldn't experience them all, but that's what the future is for! There was a great welcome day complete with factory tours, classes, games including a golf tournament, and a Kick-Off Party with vendors and tours of the new Winnebago models!
In the evening, we ran down to the amphitheater to watch a touching flag ceremony and entertainment by country recording artist, Stephanie Quayle. Which of course included her signature 'Winnebago' song! The boys' favorite part of the day was racing around and touring ALL of the RVs ... and apparently, we will be purchasing 37 of them! HA!
Behind-the-Scenes of Winnebago
We also had the opportunity to tour the Forest City Production Facility, and we were amazed by the hands-on approach to the manufacturing and building of each unit. Our tour guides were fantastic and so graciously accommodated our pace with our boys! We got to see how every piece of fabric is stitched and stuffed to make our homes comfortable for living.
We were greeted with kindness in every building we entered and especially loved seeing the main factory floor where the Winnebagos are quite literally built up by hand. The workers all move in a well-choreographed manner as the RVs make their constant journey down the conveyer-belt type of line. Every cabinet, door, slide, handle is placed and secured with real people working and watching over. After our tour, we got a real treat! We saw where the RVs are road-tested for all types of terrain to make sure they are secure and safe for us Winnebago owners! Our takeaway: Care at every stage of the build. Absolute care for the product, for the brand, but most of all, for the family of Winnebago owners.
In addition to touring the Forest City facilities, there was also an option to caravan over to the Waverly or Charles City locations for a tour!
All the Classes!
During the rally, every single morning there were fitness classes. And if you wanted to learn something more in-depth, there were several seminars to choose from all day, every day in a variety of topics. (I mean everything - towing, tanks, safety, satellite, cleaning, RV care and maintenance, insurance, Q&As, roundtable talks with fellow owners, retirement locations ... e-ver-y-thing). There were also all kinds of craft and niche classes including pillow stitching, pebble stone pictures, painting, and even Beer 101!
There were also so many family-friendly activities sprinkled throughout the rally and we had an absolute blast checking them all out.
Making Connections While Having Fun
Our evenings were filled with laughter, happy hour, and making new friends! Each evening, Winnebago provided wonderful entertainment, and between music at the amphitheater (with evenings featuring Stephanie Quayle, Home Free, and Chris Kroeze), Trivia Night, and Row Parties including Malek's Fishermen Band, campfire singing, and s'mores, there was absolutely something for everyone! We wish we had longer to stay - the evening weather was so beautiful, and the company was so enjoyable - it really was the best way to end each fun-filled day.
Two really neat things we didn't know about the rally beforehand is the service option and the V.O.I.C.E. program.
You can actually sign up for service on your rig while you are at GNR. Pick your top fixes needed, sign up, and when it's your turn, you bring it on in. They repair it and before you know it, you are back in your rig on the grounds enjoying a freshly tuned RV!
There was also a very unique station set up for meeting Winnebago employees and letting your V.O.I.C.E. be heard about design, function, issues, floorplan, etc. Owners were encouraged to sign up for time slots to have one-on-one discussions with representatives about what you love and what you don't love about your rig, what you need more of and how the function works for you.
This is where we saw a big difference between a company that cares about their buyers and one that doesn't. The reps we spoke with genuinely wanted to hear about how things were working for us, what our design preferences are, and how to implement these things for the future. No snark, no patronizing, no nonsense. They leaned in and listened and made notes. Incredible service.
GNR from a Family's Perspective
In full disclosure, we weren't sure if there would be much for our family to do while we were there. We have two young boys (4- and 5-years-old), and our perception about GNR was that we probably wouldn't fit in with such a young family. What we found, was that Winnebago is really focusing on providing new activities and entertainment for families to participate in, so that families like ours can be involved in GNR as well! They are making great strides and are continuing to add to their family entertainment for the coming years, which is very exciting for us! We are hoping to see a playground or two on the grounds in the coming years, and see some family play-date type activities and maybe even a parents' night out added to the schedule.
Some of our personal favorite activities as a family were the factory tour, touring through all of the new Winnebago models, the ice cream social where we met so many fellow RVers, and the family activities like the bounce house and massive inflatable slides. Our boys played with other kids for hours and made LOTS of friends!
They were also SO ecstatic about getting their faces painted, and let me tell you, this face-painter meant business. She was an absolute artist and transformed our boys into a leopard and a puppy.
Speaking of puppies, we must have met EVERY. SINGLE. ONE on the grounds. If you were there and had a dog with you, you know this is true. I'm sure we met you ... and I'm sorry for our boys hollering a mile away to ask to pet your dogs. (I wish I were exaggerating...YEESH!) I guess we will be adding something cute and furry to our family in the future.
Oh! One last favorite thing, our boys went crazy for a super special RV treat over at the Visitor's Center ... the very Winnebago featured on the red carpet for TOY STORY 4! Who are we kidding? Nic and I went crazy for it, too! To know our family is to know that we love Disney and travel with several costumes. Obviously, it was meant to be, because we just so happened to have Buzz and Woody traveling with us and did NOT miss the chance to capture them in front of the famous Toy Story Winnebago! Swoon!
Overall, we were made to feel so welcome and a real part of the Winnebago family! If you have never been to the Winnebago Grand National Rally and are on the fence, you absolutely HAVE to go! It is a wonderful experience and we are absolutely missing our friends we made in our time there. The gorgeous weather, the cotton-candy sunsets, the schedule of activities and relationships we made, added up to one week of cherished memories and a deepening of our love for Winnebago. We are certainly all 'Bound By The W!'