I have now ”camped” in the University of Wisconsin/Oshkosh dorms for six nights and believe I have enough data and experience to report.
It costs $75 per night (with a three night minimum) for a dorm room. It has two beds, so you can split this expense with a roomie, for an effective rate of $37.50 per night. If you are camping on the EAA grounds, it will cost you $30 per night, with a 3 night minimum. If you want electricity and water, the charge is $75 per night. Even the cheapie hotel rooms within 50 miles of OSH are running over $200 per night. So, traditional tent camping is your least expensive alternative, with dorm camping coming in a close second.
Although off the AirVenture grounds, the dorms are convenient to the show. Buses run almost continuously from right in front of the dorm, to the bus park at the show. A weekly bus pass is $15. If you are camping, you are right at the show. However, it will probably be a long walk from your campsite. If you are in a hotel, you will have a commute, a little traffic at the gate, a parking fee and then a bus ride to the bus park. I’m going to have to give this one to dorm camping.
Depending on your selection, a hotel room definitely wins the cush factor. Air conditioning, a big screen tv and a personal bathroom are hard to beat. Tent camping, on the other hand, is rarely comfortable. The best you can hope for is to minimize the discomfort of weather, lack of room and sleeping surfaces by purchasing (sometimes pricey) equipment. Dorm rooms are certainly a compromise. On the one hand, you get a fairly stark room with two single beds and an adequate, but thin mattress. You also get a desk and chair and a full service bathroom, located down the hall. On the other hand, your living quarters are wind and water tight. Most of the dorm rooms are not air-conditioned. Some sort of fan is crucial. If you were staying in your dorm room during the day, it would be fairly unpleasant, even with a fan. With the cool Wisconsin nights, however, a fan makes the climate fairly comfortable. Another potential for discomfort comes with the bathroom trips in the middle of the night. There are families with small children in the dorms, so midnight treks to the lavatory might require some clothing in addition to just your drawers.
Here, we are talking about breakfast and dinner. Most everyone eats lunch on the AirVenture grounds. Most hotels have an adequate breakfast included in the room price. If you are camping, you are on your own. Gone are the days of a skillet with bacon over an open fire. Although some campers still make breakfast over a Coleman (or equivalent) camping stove, most just wander into the show to dine at one of the several eateries on the field. The dorm campers have a good quality breakfast option at the Blackhawk Commons dining room, located just across the street from the dorms. This all-you-can-eat extravaganza runs from 5:30 a.m. till 9:00 a.m. It ain’t eggs Benedict and smoked salmon, but there is a good variety of breakfast comfort food, as well as healthy options, for you to choose. The only problem is that you will inevitably eat too much and have to jog it off when you return home. The cost for breakfast is $9.50. Blackhawk Commons dining hall also serves an all-you-can-eat dinner for $17, but dorm campers do not recommend it as highly as they do breakfast. In the end, most folks, whether they are staying in a hotel, dorm room or tent, go out on the town for dinner. Oshkosh has many good options for evening dining. All you need is transportation to get there. Here, campers may be hampered, unless they can score a car.
From a personal perspective, I had a good experience dorm camping at AirVenture this year. While the rooms are pretty spartan, you really spend very little time there. The best part about the dorms is that you are in close proximity to hundreds of other EAA pilgrims, all of whom are having just a good a time as you are. You get to meet interesting people in the dining hall and on the bus every day. For convenience and cost, the dorms are hard to beat. I would certainly consider dorm camping for AirVenture in the future.