4 months in the 2021 Cedar Creek Champagne 38EKS
We bought a brand new model off the floor of the 2021 Tampa RV Show. Here's our take after spending some quality time in it.
It was love at first sight.
Never would I have imagined buying a fifth wheel at an RV show, let alone one that didn't meet any of the requirements on our list. In fact, we weren't even technically RV shopping - just optimistically browsing.
But on that cold, rainy Wednesday on the first day of the 2021 Tampa RV Show - after spending hours walking through different RVs - I stepped foot inside the Cedar Creek Champagne 38EKS on a whim.
I'll admit, I was a little taken by the unique full body paint and the front window that puts off an incredibly modern vibe. When picturing it with our blacked out truck, I knew the combination would go together like frosé on a hot summer day.
Yet knowing nothing about the trailer, I wasn't expecting to be walking out with a purchase contract. In fact, I left the wife, baby and stroller outside to take a quick peek. But when I walked out thirty seconds later, I remember saying, “well we just found our new home”.
Buying at an RV show
Before diving into the actual unit, it's worth noting how valuable it can be to visit an RV show. There are apparently close to 200 different shows around the country!
Many local dealers bring new models to shows, giving visitors the chance to see models from different dealers all in one place. On top of that, manufacturers often send representatives for their brands to answer questions about the new units and gauge customer feedback.
Tyler Alamo, Forest River's representative for the Cedar Creek line, was on-hand to talk us through the unit. Being able to directly connect with a representative from the manufacturer is a huge benefit.
Things we love
Aside from the curb appeal, the 38EKS boasts an incredibly unique floorplan. Forest River was one of (if not) the first in having a massive rear kitchen and mid living area in the unique Riverstone 39RKFB. (This layout has only grown in popularity in the last few years.)
Front bedroom with desk
The 38EKS builds on it, with a unique twist. By eliminating a 2nd bathroom, the 38EKS makes room for a residential-style staircase and hallway, leading to a front bedroom complete with a desk.
With plenty of bedroom storage in the hallway and bedroom slideout, the front of the trailer is repurposed with the desk, an all-in-one washer/dryer space, and a front window, providing a ton of natural light into what is normally a space you don't typically want to spend time, other than for sleeping.
Fulltime RV living with a newborn
Our situation is somewhat unique in that I work from home and we have a newborn. This poses some challenges while living fulltime in an RV:
- When the baby is awake, there are usually toys playing nursery rhymes and a very active 4-month old who loves to bounce
- When she sleeps, she needs a dark room
In a more typical RV layout with a desk in the living area, noise (and sanity) become an issue when working.
But with the 38EKS layout, the distance between the desk in the bedroom and the living area, the baby can play, scream, cry to her heart's content and the long hallway provides a nice buffer to dampen the noise.
For the sleeping arrangement, we added a blackout curtain between the desk and bed to create total darkness in the bed, while allowing me to have bright screens (and a front-facing view) at my desk just feet away.
I have strong affinity toward east/west bedrooms (where the bed is in a slideout, vs sitting front to back), and the combination of the east/west layout with opposing slides and a desk gives the bedroom an expansive feel, making you completely forget you're in an RV. (I've toured enough model homes to conclude the square footage of this bedroom is larger than most childrens' bedrooms in new homes, which is impressive for an RV.)
I've mostly focused on what differentiates this RV from other floorplans we've seen, but the rear half pulls its weight too, with a rear kitchen with cabinets that extend to the ceiling, providing ample storage space. The rear-facing window over the kitchen sink is a huge plus for my wife who spends a lot of time in the kitchen and prefers a view at the sink over staring at backsplash or cabinets.
A recent trend is to place a dual vanity bathroom sink width-wise in the RV. Even if the further sink is less accessible, it adds to the residential feel. It's very stylish for an RV, and takes cues from high-end Class A motorhomes. Aside from the luxurious-looking shower surround, the shower pan that flows to a hidden drain is a nice touch.
Digital control panel
The Vegatouch control system, while nowhere near perfect, is the best I've seen. It beats out OneControl and Jaycommand by a long shot. However, the leveling controls aren't integrated into the system, which is disappointing.
Leveling & hitching
Speaking of the leveling system, I was relieved to see the controls in close proximity to the actual hitch. In recent years, fifth wheel manufacturers have been moving these controls further back, which makes it difficult to simultaneously see the hitch while using the controls, an issue I don't have with the 38EKS.
On the topic of hitching, I should mention that Forest River uses a leveling system that includes a “hitch height” function, which restores the height of the hitch to where it was last unhitched - a huge time saver that I've missed on our Jayco.
Things that could be improved
New vehicles go through rigorous amounts of testing before being sold to customers. New RVs, on the other hand, don't. And it shows. It doesn't seem like anyone actually tried spending a night in this RV before they decided to build it.
This being a brand new floorplan, we expected there would be some kinks to work through. But we were sort of shocked to discover an extensive list of design flaws that are even more surprising - especially when considering it's made by a manufacturer who has been building fifth wheels for decades.
- The kitchen table and couch collide when slides are in. This could be fixed by making the table slightly more narrow. As a result of constant rubbing when in motion, the couch had marks on it before we even took delivery.
- The large front bedroom only has two A/C vents, limiting the amount of airflow and pushing more air, intended for the bedroom, to the rest of the RV via the ducted vent system. (We still have yet to resolve this, and the bedroom doesn't cool below 80 degrees on warm days.)
- This is a premium RV, yet Forest River continues to slap on cheap Chinese-made tires (in this case, Westlake tires), that do not historically have a great reputation among RVers, myself included. (I have personally had a blowout with Westlake tires in our Riverstone, and my experience is not unique.) For a premium unit, Forest River should stop offering US-made tires as an “upgrade”. This provides RV dealers with an upsell opportunity, but in our opinion, safety should be standard, not an option.
- The 38EKS only comes with one awning, and it only covers the front half of the RV. The outdoor TV is near the back of the rear slideout. Other Cedar Creeks have an awning in the sideout, so it's baffling why it was omitted in this unit.
- Two of the gray tanks are mislabeled (apparently a common issue with Cedar Creek units), and a third gray tank isn't wired into the Vegatouch control panel. There is literally no way to know your tank is getting full, until the sink fails to drain.
- The bedroom's thermostat sensor isn't even located in the bedroom. It's actually in the hallway. So if the bedroom door is closed and have A/C on in one part of the RV, the climate will never get to the set temperature because it's cooling a different room. (This is actually really infuriating in practice.)
- By far, our largest beef with the 38EKS is the lighting system. It could use some serious work, and deserves its own section below.
Spotlight on lighting
In short, the Cedar Creek line needs to hire a lighting director. Virtual switches are mislabeled in the Vegatouch tablet interface, physical switches are never where you'd expect them to be, and some aren't even in the same room as the lights they control. Here's a rundown of the larger annoyances:
- There is no switch for the kitchen lights in the kitchen.
- A switch in the bedroom labeled "bedroom accent lights" actually controls accent lighting in the bathroom.
- There are several puck-style lights under the kitchen cabinets, toggled by push button switches on the lights themselves, but are controlled by a master switch only available in the Vegatouch app. The option for "kitchen accent lights" isn't actually wired to anything, despite the kitchen actually having accent lights. We've had the RV for over a couple months now, and we still struggle with hitting the correct switches on the first try.
- There's no way to control bedroom lights from the bed via a physical switch, which seems like an obvious miss for an RV these days, especially when many physical switches (like in this unit) are wireless. If you want to adjust lighting from bed, it requires whipping out the phone app.
- Some lights dim, others don't. At the lower dimming settings, the lights create an incessant flicker that is hard on the eyes.
- Ceiling lights were installed above the living room's ceiling fan, which creates an incessant flicker - fine for a nightclub, but not for when we're trying to watch The Bachelor on a Monday night.
- The bedroom lights extend into the hallway, which means if you have guests (or kids) sleeping on the pull-out sofa in the living area, you can't have the bedroom lights on without interfering with the lighting in the main room.
- With no dimming options in the bathroom, the lights are either too bright or too low, but never a happy medium.
In talking with other Cedar Creek owners, this seems to be a trend - they're apparently just notoriously bad about lighting.
In addition to this list, I have a much more detailed list of the minor nits and quality control issues.
Despite the long list of daily annoyances, the Cedar Creek 38EKS is still hands down the best mass-market fifth wheel I've owned. Between its unique floorplan to the quality construction Forest River is known for, RV manufacturers should take note of the what Forest River did right with this unit.
Fortunately most of the issues we experienced are reasonably easy fixes, and I'd expect many of them to be worked out over the coming months and years.
This is my 4th fifth wheel purchase. Having owned Grand Design, Jayco and Forest River products, despite all the minor issues, there's a good chance I'm sticking with a Forest River product for the next one.
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