Driving the Melbourne is a mixed bag. The 305-horsepower, 6.8-liter Ford V-10 engine moves the 31-foot camper with surprising authority. It's well-matched to the five-speed automatic transmission, letting the Melbourne climb mountains at highway speeds without undue strain. Although big gasoline engines aren't noted for their fuel efficiency, having one that's strong enough that it isn't perpetually at full throttle gives it the ability to return a respectable 9.5 highway mpg.

Steering, however, left more to be desired. In parking lots, the Melbourne has an enormous turning radius, making it difficult to maneuver. (No kidding, you say.) The problem lies in the van foundation upon which the Melbourne is built. The steering in these vans just doesn't turn as far as it does in purpose-built large vehicles, so they need more space to turn around than even bigger vehicles such as Jayco's Seneca, which is built on a commercial truck platform.


Staying at the Kampgrounds of America site south of Montreal, we saw more motorhomes and campers than we've ever seen in the U.S. A fellow guest at the KOA site explained that he and his wife have 51 days of holidays and vacation a year, so they travel extensively in their RV. Perhaps that's the norm in Canada, which would provide ample opportunity to see travel the country.

After staying at the KOA for a few days, it was time to head home. We turned south on A15 toward upstate New York and, once back in the U.S., we diverted off I-87 to lunch in Lake Placid so we could visit the arena where the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team joined sports history.

Why put up with voracious fuel consumption, challenging highway manners, and fewer automotive amenities than a minivan? This family of five had nightly camping fees of $20 for state parks and $50 for nicer private campgrounds such as those of KOA, and included in that cheaper-than-a-hotel cost is the ability to cook your own meals for even greater savings while on vacation.

How does the gas bill compare with airfare for five to Montreal? We used about $550 worth of gas to travel there from Washington, D.C. That's about the cost of one regular fare round-trip flight, or maybe two discount fares on sale. Yes, the kids bicker. But they also play games and look out the windows at the changing flora during the drive.

RV travel, it turns out, is a little like a visit to Quebec. It's foreign in some ways and very familiar in others, and that combination makes it an unforgettable adventure for the kids.

Jayco Manufacturing