They call them Winter Texans. And that’s a term of affection in Corpus Christi. You see, after the bewildering pace of the summer season on the Gulf Coast beachfront—where the rush of vacationers and partygoers spin an ever-revolving door of guests—the arrival of the snowbirds is more than just a sign of the season. It’s more than just a nice change of pace. When those RVs begin to glide into view, swooping down from their northern habitat like a breath of fresh air, the locals know exactly what it means: The cool kids have arrived.
Ornithologists (bird scientists that we imagine have very white coats) tell us that Winter Texans are from a family of snowbirds with a wide variety of species. Each Winter in Corpus Christi, they descend in droves from Alaska and Canada; from Iowa and Kentucky; from Dakotas both North and South. The reasons for their migration are as simple—and powerful—as forces of nature. Many are retirees, with lives rich with achievement, full of hard-earned wisdom and the good sense to enjoy their second youth. Other southbound guests are simply hitting reset, escaping the cold for a season of R&R in the warm air of the Texas coast. When the time comes, they’ll mount back north renewed and reenergized.
Whatever the motivation for migration, the locals have noticed that their Winter Texans share a common trait: They’re fun to be around. Which is why their arrival every winter is the best time of the year—for guest and resort alike.
Living That Mustang Island Life
Mustang Island runs north to south like a long privacy fence between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Now, there are two ways onto the island. There’s the JFK Causeway connecting to North Padre Island just to the south. That’s the first (and lesser) option. The second is much more memorable—and it drops you right into Port Aransas, where you’ll find the Tropic Island Resort.
Riding the ferry is something like a rite of passage—and a lot of fun. (It’s also free, takes just ten minutes, and operates 24/7.) During your ten-minute voyage, you can get out and walk on board to watch dolphins play in the wake of the ferry. You’ll see pelicans dip into the waves for a catch, taste saltwater spray in the warm breeze, and feel absolute confidence in your snowbird instincts. In a single movement, the old, cruel cold of the North has been separated by a warm body of Gulfstream water. And if, like Keats’ Stout Cortez, a new planet feels as though it were swimming into your ken, please resist any urge to burn the boat. (You’ll need it to get back next Spring.)
Landing at Robert’s Point Park on the north tip of the island, you’re a quarter mile away from the Tropic Island Resort. Once you get off the ferry, you come to the first light, and you take a right. On the left-hand side, just a mile from the beach, there’s the Tropic Island Resort. Behind the blue sign, there’s an unmistakable two-story, antebellum-style home with white columns and a broad circular drive. This is the main office of the North Campus. The manager of the resort, Ashley Huff, calls it “the big house.” Ashley has been at the Tropic Island Resort for seven years. She’s basically the mayor of the park. She knows the names and faces all around the resort. She says that the establishment was built in the 1950s. First, it was just a little hotel that added some RV sites. Then it added a few more. And it has grown more and more since, adding an additional 200 sites and another campus to the south last year.
Up till last year, the resort was family run, but even now, it has that “mom-and-pop” feel. Ashley laughs, “Most of my staff has been here for forever. We don’t do a lot of turnover. Everybody knows us. We’ve had the same guests for years.” She notes, “We are always getting new ones, but the faces are constant around here.”
“Everybody knows us. We’ve had the same guests for years. We are always getting new ones, but the faces are constant around here.”
It doesn’t take too long to figure out why staff members stay and seasonal guests return. There’s the warm reception, where guests are given a cable box, parking pass, a map, and then escorted in person to help pick their site. There’s the general store stocked with necessities, goodies, ice, and contact info for things like repair. And yes, there’s the large pool, heated to 90-92ºF year-round. And hot tubs, luxury bathhouses, laundry rooms, poolside ice cream, and a special-made Winter agenda for their seasonal guests.
Oh, and there’s also one other thing: The entire island is 100 percent golf-cart friendly. Explaining how that’s possible, she says, “Most RV parks are out on major highways, but this one is original to the town.” So, the resort has an onsite golf cart rental company, Peyton’s Beach Carts, to get everyone in on the fun. Without shame, Ashley happily confesses, “I personally have not driven a car in six months!”
You see, in island life, things move at a more leisurely pace. Even so, there’s plenty to do under the Corpus Christi sun. And it just so happens that Winter Texans are around long enough to soak it all in.
Cruising the Texas Riviera
Corpus Christi is a different kind of cool. The jewel of the Texas Riviera eschews Winter’s wicked bluster with warm air, a red-hot Latin music scene, sunny seaside explorations, and a dizzying array of great food. And for the snowbird looking for a cozy nest outside Florida’s crowd-covered coastline, it offers vistas and experiences that are definitively unique.
Just off the edge of the city’s eastern shore lies the U.S.S. Lexington, a retired aircraft carrier. Decked with memories from deep-sea World War II battles like the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, the Lexington’s massive muscular bulk towers over the shallows. Now, with its embattled past decades behind it, it’s getting some R&R of its own as a museum. Visitors can walk its giant deck and hear stories that would defy belief were they not part of the historical record.
A short walk down the beach will take you to the Texas State Aquarium, where you can see sandbar sharks, meet bottlenose dolphins, and gawk at a bunch of weird and wonderful and colorful sea creatures. There’s even a splash park, if you’re bringing some tiny humans along. Head a little further south into the city and there’s the Mirador de la Flor—an achingly beautiful, seaside monument to the murdered Tejano singer, Selena, in the city of her birth.
Circling back to Port Aransas on Mustang Island, there’s plenty to explore in less than a mile radius from the resort. (Great golf cart distances.) Turn south down Ross Avenue past the resort’s southern campus, and you’ll discover the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center with a 750-foot-long boardwalk overlooking the bird-rich wetlands. (You also get a chance to see Boots, the local 14-foot alligator, who is distinctly not shy.) Out on the water, you can fish— sheepshead and snapper are big catches in the Winter—and back at the resort there’s a dedicated fish house to clean and stock up for the year. (A bit warmer than the one on Page 60.) East of the resort, follow Cotter Avenue and there’s the Amos Rehabilitation Keep (aka the ARK), where injured marine animals, like seas turtles, are rehabilitated and released back into the wild—a sentiment snowbirds can certainly relate to.
Chilling with the Happy Hour Crew
There’s very little that’s cooler than knowing what you want out of life. And life experience is a good way to figure that out. Like the U.S.S. Lexington, snowbirds have experience in spades. They come from all over—from the Great Lakes of Michigan and Minnesota, from the plains of Kansas and the fields of Iowa. Ashley knows some that even go border to border, “We get a lot of Canadians that are passing through on their way to Mexico, because we are Passport America friendly.”
Wherever they come from, they like what they find in Corpus Christi and the Tropic Island Resort. Maybe it’s the climate. Or possibly the ice cream social every Saturday night. “We have so much going on,” Ashley points out. “We try to keep our Winter Texans very active, having fun. We do line dancing and bing and water aerobics. We have a pancake breakfast every month”
That pancake breakfast is something else. It’s something special. It’s full-on mom-and-pop treatment. “My husband and I cook—free to our guests—eggs, bacon, sausage. We have a fruit platter. I think I did up 10 pounds of pancake batter. We cook all morning long and feed everybody that comes through. We serve orange juice and coffee.” Ashley’s voice lilts as she talks about the best part, “It’s a great way for new guests to meet returning guests.”
And those new guests know a good thing when they see it. “We have a family from Alaska right now. They came to stay for a couple days and extended for a month after the pancake breakfast.”
“I have some snowbirds that have been coming to this property every winter for 25 years. It’s kind of like a big family.”
Community is what matters at the Tropic Island Resort. The newest Winter Texans tell Ashley that no matter how new they are, everyone makes them feel so welcome and so part of the family. That’s saying a lot because the resort family is tight. “I have some snowbirds that have been coming to this property every winter for 25 years. It’s kind of like a big family. In fact, some guests have actually watched my kids grow up.”
Ashley jokes that quite a few guests stay here even longer than they’re at their homes up north. There’s one group of Winter Texans that Ashley calls the “happy hour crew.” They love to come down, laugh over drinks in the marina, watch the boats come in, and tell stories to whoever will believe them. (Ashley’s dad affectionately calls them the “Liars Club.”) From their cozy perch, the happy hour crew can see the ships come and go, including the daily pirate cruises firing their cannons and staging mock sword fights. The commentary is lively. The Liar’s Club is good company to keep. At least, until they’re released back into the wild. Because once they go, everyone at the Tropic Island Resort starts looking ahead again—just waiting for that Winter day when the cool kids will roll back in.
Looking to explore Tropic Island Resort? Book your spot as a Winter Texan at TropicIslandResort.com or call at (361) 239-3860.
And see what's on deck at the LEX! Here’s a hint: It ain’t all history. There’s an Escape Room, a flight simulator, overnight camping, and more.