Floating away: Sandusky houseboat glampground will open in May

Sandusky has all types of accommodations for people coming to the area in the summer, from waterpark resorts to hotels and motels to campgrounds.

Now, visitors with the desire for something a little bit different have another choice, staying on a tiny houseboat at the mouth of Sandusky Bay.

“We’re always doing something unique and different because that’s what people want these days,” says Joe Lisa, owner of Sol Stay. “They don’t want to just go to a hotel room and spend $200-$300 for a night. They want to be able to have a whole experience, so our goal is to create experiences within the hospitality industry, and we’re doing that something different here with a floating houseboat village.”

There will be 10 houseboats in the water and three cottages available when the spot off River Avenue in Sandusky officially opens on May 13. Lisa plans for at least 20, and perhaps even as many as 30, units when the project is completed.

Rental prices currently range from $85 to $161 per night, according to the Sol Stay Sandusky site.

“This is all nature-related,” Lisa says. “The added amenities of being close to Cedar Point is cool because it is nearby, but the goal is for people to be able to unplug, hang out, have a great time, and then, maybe they want to go to Cedar Point or have a good time in downtown Sandusky. But really, they get to experience nature here. They get to experience the great outdoors and have a good time.”

The River Avenue location is right off the Cedar Point Causeway and near Louie’s Bar and the new Pipe Creek Wharf. The site is also near the Pipe Creek Wildlife Area.

“We will have kayak rentals, paddle board rentals, and we’re going to have jet ski rentals, plus we have our own little inland beach where you can sit in the sand and hang out,” Lisa says. “We have a jacuzzi, but we’re also within walking distance to the Pipe Creek Wildlife Area, which is a beautiful park. It’s super cool and the trails seem almost endless. I honestly think it's a secret of Sandusky."

The houseboats are roughly 8x12 feet with a small porch in the front. There are no kitchens in the houseboats, but guests will be able to bring their own coolers and grills are available for cooking.

“It’s just like a campground, or what we like to call a ‘glampground,’” Lisa says. “Every single houseboat is unique in its own way. Each one has its own quirkiness to it, it’s own cool factor.”

In fact, some are vintage 1970s houseboats that have been renovated and updated to include modern bedding, linens, pillows and USB connectivity.

“We’re doing our twist on the whole ‘glamping’ thing,” Lisa says. “Instead of doing a floating tent, which would be kind of tough to do, we decided to do floating houseboats. They used to be popular beach in the 70s, so its really a retro thing that we’re trying to bring back.”

Glamping describes a style of camping with amenities and resort-style services not normally associated with tradition camping. Lisa, a Van Wert, Ohio, native, formed a group of like-minded individuals while attending Bowling Green State University, with the first project being a tiny house located near Toledo in Erie, Mich.A view from a Sol Stay houseboat in Sandusky near RIver Avenue. (Courtesy of SolStay)

The business, formerly know as Fireside, branched out from there with sites near Joshua Tree National Park, the Grand Canyon, near Otsego Lake and Clear Lake State parks near Gaylord, Mich., and AirBNB rentals in Port Clinton.

Each site is a bit different with some featuring geodesic domes and others use insulated tents known as yurts.

“I’ve actually converted an ambulance into an AirBNB,” Lisa says. “That was the third unit that we did. Then, the whole thing out west kind of took off. We started building everything out west just before COVID happened. Everyone realized the world is very big and life can be very short, so why not experience the world while we’re in it.”

Each houseboat and cottage in the Sandusky location has a different name, from Silver Lining to Captain’s Cozy Quarters to Escape on the Lake to Cozy Waterfront Cottage and have private bathrooms. The houseboats accommodate two people, while the cottages can hold between four to eight people depending on the unit, according to the website.

There’s also additional restroom facilities for guests to use with showers and bathrooms, along with that jacuzzi.

“The houseboats are all docked and tied off,” Lisa says. “The goal of the place is to have visitors come for couples retreat and see another houseboat and think they’d really like to book that one the next time.”

Sol Stay is listed on AirBNB.com, but guests can also make reservations at Sol Stay site, which links visitors to a page that lists all the different options available, including that three cottages, and allows them to reserve a unit throughout the season.

“I get my dopamine from doing stuff that is different, not just creating a house that is a regular old place to stay,” Lisa says. “I like to do things that are an experience and not just a place to sleep. That’s what drew me here.”