Friday, January 11, 2019

A Disney Christmas

I am writing this from South Bay, Florida. We have been here almost a week. The park sits right on the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee. We are leaving here on Sunday to head down into  Everglades National Park. It might be difficult to get in touch with us during the next two weeks. We should resurface around the 28th of January. Let's go back a little over 3 weeks...

We left Hart Springs on December 19 and headed south to Orlando. We decided to avoid the toll roads, which saved us the tolls, but cost us about an hour of travel time. No big deal to us. We were only traveling about 160 miles anyway. We did have reservations at Bill Frederick Park in central Orlando. This park is an unbelievable deal. The rate is a little over $20 per night with W/E and is in the middle of a large park with a large lake. We were only about 5 miles to Universal Studios and about 20 miles to Disney. We did make the reservations last July, so keep that in mind.

Our daughter, SIL and youngest granddaughter were joining us on the evening of the 20th. We did have one thing to do before they arrived. We wanted to go see a boat over in Titusville. Of all of the boats I have been looking at on the internet, this one was #1. We liked it, but more on that in later entries. We made it back to the park in time for their arrival.

Kim, Shannon and Amelia spent the next day at Disney touring around on buses and the Monorail checking out the Christmas decorations and the stores at Disney Springs. It was an almost free day, which allowed us to maximize the next day. And "Maximize" it we did!

Life size gingerbread house
Shannon and Amelia on a boat ride to move around the park.
Brian and I spent the day by going to Universal Studios to see the opening of "Aquaman" and then coming back to the park to play Disc Golf. That was the first time that either of us have played and we both enjoyed it a great deal. I will certainly have to do more, now that I have my own set of discs.

Brian playing Disc golf in Bill Frederick Park
Shannon and Kim have never been to Disney World. They are both REALLY in to Disney. The movies, characters, etc. This was a trip of a lifetime for both of them. They have been researching it and reading about it for a long time. This was their BIG day. Brian and I went along with whatever they wanted and tried our best to be agreeable and positive.

We left for Disney about 6:40 AM. We were at the front gate by 7:20. The day was carefully planned. We had fast passes on certain rides at certain times to maximize the riding time for Amelia.

Kim at the front gate with her Disney Christmas ears on. We have a similar picture at Disneyland in California two years ago. To say she was excited would be a huge understatement. 
We are ready for the day. Riding the monorail to the park entrance.
Opening performance welcoming everyone to the park.
We took over 1000 pictures. It is impossible to show everything that we did and I am sure that the audience of this blog does not want to see all of those pictures anyway. Here are a few highlights:

Amelia with Rapunzel
The characters do an amazing job connecting to the kids. And the big kids.

Amelia and Cinderella
We went for the matching shirts, we were all in!
It was all about these three girls on this day
Amelia rode the Dumbo ride with us.
I think you get the idea. The day went on and on. Disney characters and rides and more Disney characters and more rides. There was an amazing fireworks show at 10:30 and then the park cleared out, but we were not done. We rode our last ride just after midnight. 

We left the park at 12:20 AM. I walked over 28,000 steps. To say we were tired would be an understatement. Disney is certainly expensive, but they do an amazing job living up to the fantasy of so many girls and boys of all ages.

We celebrated Christmas in the trailer. A first for Brian and Shannon.

Amelia with her huge lollypop
It was a fun week with the three of them. We are so glad they made the trip to Orlando. It really made it all a very special time.

I was excited to continue our trip south. I was ready to leave the traffic of Orlando. Although the weather was perfect for our day at Disney, we were hoping for some warmer temps. We found them a few miles south. I will write about our continuing travels in Florida in my next entry.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Disney or Bust

I am writing this entry from south Florida. It is warm and beautiful, just like it is supposed to be. High temps in the 70's and lows in the 50's for mid January is as close to perfect as you can get. I am catching up this week, so I am hoping to get a few entries done before we head to the Everglades for two weeks. We will have very limited cell phone and internet during that time. Let's go back about a month to early December...

We stayed at Bear Creek Campground from December 3 to December 9. We had about 450 miles to get to Orlando and we had 11 days. We were looking for a place that was about 1/3rd of the way. We considered a campground called East Bank that we stayed at and enjoyed last year. It is up on lake Seminole at the junction of Alabama, Georgia and Florida. That park was closed due to hurricane damage from Michael that hit the panhandle on October 10. I finally found a county park just west of Tallahassee on Lake Talquin called Coe Landing. I called ahead and they had space for us.

The best route was along I-10. We don't normally drive interstate highways, but there was not a better option. As we drove along, I started noticing wind damage along the highway. At this point I-10 is about 70 miles from the coast. We had heard that Michael was a monster, just a few MPH below Catagory 5 strength when it hit, but nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. The damage was extensive. This area is mostly pine forests. Most of them were mowed down like a giant weedeater had cut the trees off about 6 feet off the ground. I have seen this type of damage in a very limited area from a tornado, but this went on for over 50 miles. It was amazing and scary.

The pictures just don't do justice to the amount of damage this area sustained

The thoughts of living in a sailboat and trying to dodge or survive one of these monsters is certainly something to consider.

We arrived a short time later at Coe Landing. The park is small, but pretty nice. It only has 20 sites, but most of them are along the lake with nice views. There was only one other site occupied. We selected site #7.

The park was very quiet. We did see a bit of storm damage, but not bad. It was only about a 10 mile drive to Tallahassee, so we loaded up the laundry and hit a local laundromat. Not exciting, but just part of our lifestyle.

 It took about 20 minutes to walk around the entire park, but it still had some nice views. There was a dock just below our site that gave us nice views up and down the lake.

The second morning we were there is was dead still and the lake was beautiful. Of course, I was thinking about sitting in a boat, drinking my coffee, looking out over the water.

We only stayed three nights at Coe Landing, but we really liked it. It was a bit over $27 per night with W/E and had good Verizon and OTA TV. Not a bad stopping point at all.

We left Coe Landing on December 11th and drove about 145 miles to Hart Springs County park. This park sits along the Suwannee river. The springs is a recreation area with a swimming area. We had heard the springs were closed and that was confirmed when we arrived. The area had been taking some significant rainfall and many roads were under water.

The park looked nice and we moved into site #6 for the next week. We had a big problem getting set up. One of our landing gear on the front of the trailer had been making a strange noise. It completely failed right after I got the trailer off of the truck. Out came our trusty hydraulic jack and we got set up.

The story of this jack goes back to just after we bought this trailer almost 6 years ago. I have had it fixed once, replaced it once, fixed it myself twice and now was unable to fix it with the parts I had on hand. I really wanted to replace it with a brand new one anyway. I made a bunch of phone calls to find a replacement. Atwood, the maker of the jack no longer sells it, so I finally talked to a guy at Lippert that knew what to do. They sell a direct replacement and had them in stock. I talked to the park manager and was told they allow shipping direct to our site. I ordered the part and  needed two day shipping. The jack was $245 and the shipping was another $135. Now we had to wait with that jack holding up that corner of the trailer. We walked around very carefully for a few days.

Hart Springs park is very nice. These are full hook up sites. The surface is hard sand, which makes it's way inside at astonishing pace, but we really liked the vibe of this place. I went for daily walks and even played a bit of basketball on the very nice basketball court in the park. We did get one solid day of rain while we were there, but the park was not in danger of flooding.

Standing water in our site after the rain. It was gone in hours.

Beautiful tree covered in Spanish moss that was along my walking route.
I did not take many pictures while we were there. We just relaxed and waited for our new jack. It came after dark on the day it was scheduled to arrive. I could not wait, so I installed it that night and it has worked perfectly.  I have known since the last time I repaired that jack it was suspect, so that was always a concern when we arrived or left a site. I am much relieved now that it is good to go.

We had reservations at a county park in Orlando that is just a few miles from Universal Studios and Disney. Our Daughter, SIL and youngest granddaughter were meeting us there for a day at Disney and Christmas. Kim and I were very excited. I will write all about it in my next entry. Be ready for lots of pictures of princesses.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Bear Lake Campground

I am writing this entry on January 4th from South Central Florida. We have been enjoying some quiet camping time and some hot temperatures. Most days have been in the 80's. We even went to the beach on Sanibel Island yesterday, but I am getting ahead of myself. This entry is back almost a month ago...

We left Gulf Shores, Alabama on Monday, December 3rd. It felt good to leave the busy area and move north and a bit east to the Northern Panhandle of Florida. We left the busy area around Pensacola and then entered the Blackwater Wildlife Management area. This is a pine forest that has very little population. We drove a total of about 80 miles and arrived and a pretty little campground right on a lake. It was very quiet on this weekday. We really liked the vibe of this place.

Here is a shot of our campsite from the other side of the lake
After getting set up, we took a walk around and found a number of things that we wanted to do while we were there. There is a 4 mile trail that goes all the way around the lake that looked very pretty and secluded. Paddling on the lake was also on the list, but the main thing we wanted to do was enjoy the peace and quiet and do some reading. We had no cell signal with Verizon, the camp host had one bar with AT&T. We did have OTA TV, but it was going to be a quiet week. We paid for 7 days.

Here is a shot from the dam, looking down Bear lake.
The first morning I decided to take on that 4 mile hike. It was a very well established trail with a few bridges built over streams feeding the lake. The bridges were needed because of all of the recent rain. There was one area that the water covered the toes of my boots, but that still had a solid bottom.

Very well established trail

Nice views of the lake and some birds.
It is a great hike and was almost totally flat. A great way to start the day in my book.

We were enjoying our peace and quiet until well after dark on the second night we were at Bear Lake. About 8:30 a vehicle pulled into the spot next to ours. We are used to the noise made by other campers, but this was more than normal, but we just kept doing what we were doing. They did quiet down nicely about an hour after arriving, so all was well for sleeping.

We were a bit surprised the next morning to see some make shift tents and rain flies. and after a while we counted 8 children ranging in age from about 15 to 2. They were very well behaved and friendly, but they were our very close neighbors the rest of the time we were there. They were quiet and in bed by 8, but were up with the sun at about 7. So much for the peace and quiet.

Family of 10, next door.
I never talked Kim into doing the hike around the lake, but I did it a couple more times.

One of the many brides along the hike

I did encounter this garter snake on one of my hikes.
I was successful talking Kim into going for a paddle on the lake. We had a great time going all around the lake on mostly glassy water.

Not a real exciting entry, but it was still a pretty great week. We really liked the campground that is run by the Florida State Forest. There are other campgrounds in this part of the state that are also State Forest Service campgrounds. This could be a great stopping point if you are traveling along the gulf coast and are looking for something different that the coastal route that you have done a number of times as we have.

We were heading to Orlando and our date with Disney, but first we had some time to kill. Come back to see what other new campgrounds we find along our travels.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Gulf Shores, Alabama

I am writing this entry from southern Florida. We had an awesome Christmas with Shannon, Brian and Amelia. They came from Missouri to go to Disney World and stayed with us in Orlando. I will write all about our magical day in a coming entry, but let's go back a few weeks...

We left the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Friday, November 30. We went east through Mobile, Alabama and then south to Gulf Shores. We decided to bite the bullet and stay at Gulf State Park. I say it that way because although we have stayed here before, and it is a very nice park, it is very overpriced in my opinion. By the time you pay all of the fees and taxes, it is over $50 per night. I just don't like to pay more for something than it is worth. (wait until I write about Disney) Don't get me wrong, we like the park. The sites are large and you have access to the very nice beach. You do have to drive or ride a bike the 4 miles to the beach, but it is not far.

You may ask, why we would come here when it is overpriced and we have been here before, well it is all about seeing some very good friends. We were really looking forward to spending time with Bob and Rox, who have a condo in GS. This is the closest park to their condo.

We went through the check in process of this huge park. I think they have over 350 sites. They do offer monthly rates and RV storage, so many people leave their rig here and just drive down to stay for the winter months. The check in process is still very much like a large resort hotel. We got set up in site 91 in the Bobcat loop. That loop is the closest to the front of the park. It can take 10 minutes to drive from the back of the park to the front gate. We had plans to get together with Bob and Rox that evening, but we had time for a quick trip to the beach. It was about 70 degrees, but that was going to change in the next few days. A big storm would bring wind and rain over the next two days.

The surf was up because of the coming storm

Kim loves her beaches
Nice wave over my head
We took some of the shrimp that we had purchased off of a boat in Gulfport over to Bob and Rox's and they added some fish that Bob had caught on a recent charter trip. We had an awesome dinner. Here is a shot of Bob and I cleaning shrimp with their deveiner. I am still looking for one of my own.

The next day we went to look at marinas in the area. They pretended to be interested. We, of course, were gathering information for the future plans of cruising the coastal areas in a boat.  It was pretty rainy and I did not take any pictures.

Then on Sunday, I had an appointment to see a boat that was located on the Dog river on the other side of Mobile bay. We had a fun time looking at the boat. Bob and Rox decided to take their two wired hair Dachshunds along for the trip.

The "Girls" travel very well.
After looking at the boat, which was only mildly interesting to me, we drove out to Dauphin Island. The town there is quiet and very charming. We drove the island from end to end and then waited for the next ferry back over to the other side of the bay.

This was our lunch spot, the ferry is in the background.
We walked around the outer grounds of Fort Gaines. It costs only $8 per person to visit the fort, but we did not have the time to do a full tour.

The keel of an old ship that was found after a recent hurricane. 
We boarded the ferry and Kim was in her element. She loves to be on the water. We saw dolphins, but were unable to get any pictures of them. The wind was light, but we had a nice swell coming in from the gulf. We loved the ride.

Kim is up on deck ready for the ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay.

Everyone on Dolphin watch

A Coast Guard cutter passed to our stern
We had an awesome weekend in Gulf Shores. We can not thank Bob and Rox enough for the hospitality and tour guiding. We really love visiting friends while we are on the road.

We had been on the road for almost a month at this point and we were just getting back into our groove. Our next stop was at a Florida State Forest campground that sounded like our kind of place. Come back for my next entry and I will tell you if it was as good as advertised.