For houseboaters, time aboard is not just for weekend parties or summer vacations. Houseboating is a way of life and that lifestyle runs in the blood of the Earnhardt family. David and Tanora Earnhardt and their three daughters, Rachel, Grace and Molly, find that the heart of their family is tied into their 2001, 75-foot Fantasy houseboat. While their house rests in Branson, Mo., it would be safe to say their home floats in a slip at State Park Marina on Table Rock Lake.
“We really enjoy everything about our houseboat,” says David with a smile. “I have been boating for about 40 years now and truly love being on the water. I have instilled this love into my wife and kids and we use this time to enjoy being together.”
The Earnhardts’ love of the water is only rivaled by the love shared within the family. Originally, the desire to buy a houseboat stemmed from David’s dream of spending family gatherings and vacations on the water. He felt time for making memories with the family and enjoying the company of friends couldn’t be better spent than on deck of a houseboat and enjoying the fun and excitement that could only be found on a houseboat. This dream became a reality when the family decided to purchase a 56-foot Fun Country houseboat. Since David is a private airline pilot, the family decided to name the boat Just Plane Fun. This modest investment was the beginning of what was to become a lifelong passion that the family just couldn’t get enough of.
For a while, the houseboat fit the Earnhardts’ needs and they hosted many family events and parties for friends and fellow dock neighbors. David worked tirelessly to make all of the necessary repairs and to add all of the amenities that he could so his family and friends’ experiences would be better with each visit. Over time, however, the popularity of their houseboat gatherings and the frequent trips to their beloved houseboat led the couple to consider something bigger and more accommodating. Not wanting to leave State Park where Just Plane Fun had been docked, they teamed up with the marina staff and began their search for their next boat.
The family’s experience at State Park is always incredible and the marina’s owners, Phil and Bob Cox, and the rest of the staff are constantly working to improve their standard of living and have always treated the Earnhardts as members of the State Park family.
“The first place before State Park, we were treated like a check,” says David. “But here they provide the best experience overall for my family.”
The staff at State Park became very invested in ensuring that each family who docked with them were well cared for and appreciated. They happily helped the Earnhardts look through houseboats that were available on site, which ultimately led them to their beautiful 2001 Fantasy, which the Earnhardts aptly named Just Plane Fun Too.
“Buying the Fantasy from them was the best boating experience I had ever had,” admits David. “They pulled the boat out of the water, cleaned it up for us and made sure it looked nice. For me, to be appreciated as a customer is the most important thing.”
The luxurious Fantasy not only gives the family more than they had with their previous houseboat, but to them it is absolutely astonishing by comparison. The 16- by 75-foot deck includes four state rooms and two heads, which not only offer separate rooms for David and Tanora’s children, but also give family and friends more space and comfort so they can enjoy a memorable day on the water. The extra room wasn’t the only feature to standout to the Earnhardts; the Fantasy’s twin engines offers more power and maneuverability too, adding a dramatic and exciting increase in the possibilities that couldn’t be found with their previous houseboat.
Even with all of the remarkable features the Fantasy offers, there were a plethora of creature comforts that became the proverbial “icing on the cake” for the family.
“It’s the little things that make you feel at home,” says Tanora with a grin.
Little things like doors, extra leg room and the attention to detail that State Park took in the Fantasy’s upkeep that left the Earnhardt family with little more to do than enjoy their new investment. Everything the Fantasy gave became one more reason to lengthen the family’s time onboard. Trips to the houseboat became more frequent and instead of occasionally visiting throughout the year, the Earnhardts began spending practically as much time on the boat as they did at their actual home.
“Owning a houseboat has been the best thing our family has ever done,” says David. “My kids are constantly begging us to go to the lake, any time of the year. My daughter Rachel will be going to college next year and she’s only looking at colleges that are less than 2 to 3 hours away from the lake.”
The Earnhardt family discovered that, for them, there is no better place to be than on their beloved houseboat. This perfect situation wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the tightly knit love that is shared between the family, the continuous effort that State Park put into making every day at the marina a memorable one, and the unforgettable friends that have made David and his family feel right at home. Dock friends, in fact, have become one of the most important “must-haves” for the Earnhardt family.
“We spend so much of our leisure dollar and so much of our family time on our boat, if we didn’t get along with the people next to us, our time here would be miserable,” says David.
The licensed pilot also found a few more important necessities for any prospective houseboat owner. He pressed adamantly for two engines, which give the houseboat unimaginable maneuverability. He also wanted an aluminum hull, which allows him to pull the boat ashore and tie it off, as opposed to anchoring it away from land. These are vital options that should be looked into before making the decision on which houseboat is the right one. He also mentioned that doing a little “homework” on different marinas and getting to know the staff and what the marina offers is a pivotal factor for new houseboaters who are looking for the best place. The greatest advice David offers is sharing every moment possible with friends and making unforgettable memories that are possible only with the love found in the family.
Each trip they made to the dock, the Earnhardts found there was no better place to be, and what started as a simple platform for small gatherings and the occasional party, turned into an ongoing passion that every member of the family shares. Their remarkable story is not an uncommon one for the houseboating community. While every person has his unique history, the resoundingly amazing result is the same. There is just something perplexingly wonderful about the houseboat experience that can’t be summed up or weighed and for David and his family, that experience was only just a Fantasy away.