Monday, February 29, 2016

Orlando, Florida Part 3

I have not written in a few days. I have not been inspired to write because it feels like we are not doing as much new stuff  as usual. Is that really true? Not really, I guess it is just we have settled into a routine.

We have now been in Orlando for two weeks. It certainly has been a different experience living in this environment. In some ways it is more relaxing than living on the road or at the ranch. We don't feel like we have work to do, like when we are at the ranch or have much of the things we need to do when we are traveling. We don't need to spend time planning our next move and the apprehension that goes with that. In some ways it is more relaxing and in some ways it is not as much fun. Are we bored? Certainly not.

We have no issue just taking a day off and reading and taking a bike ride or going for a swim in the pool. It has been a nice couple of weeks after the fast paced (for us) travel over the previous month and a half. This week things will change. Shannon and Amelia will be here on Wednesday and the rest of the family will be here next weekend.

This past week we went to Universal Studios twice more. That is a total of 4 times so far. We rode some fun rides including this roller coaster, The Dragon Challenge, that goes inverted three times.

The Dragon Challenge
This park is so large, that we still have not done everything in the park. After the Dragon Challenge, we were ready for something slower, so we did the merry go round. Kim loves merry go rounds and this one had a Dr. Seuss theme. Called Caro-Seuss-el, it was pretty fun.

Kim in her element
We have seen a bunch of the shows, but we still have many more to see. It is really a fun park and I am glad we did this.

On Sunday, February 28, we went back to port Canaveral to pick up Mark and his friends at the conclusion of their cruise. We got up very early. We left the rig at 7AM to head over to have breakfast with Bill and Lisa before they left town. Travel safe guys and we hope to see you down the road.

We met up with Mark and his friends. They had a blast on their cruise. I forgot to get a better picture of them. Darn. It was great seeing him and meeting his friends. He has decided to stay in St. Louis for a while for those family members that know what that means.

On our way to Cape Canaveral we saw a bunch of Hot Air balloons flying around on this cool, still morning. I guess there are advantages to getting up early.

We have been thinking about a class A motor home and found this perfect unit:

Actually, this is just a prop that is at Universal. It is part of the Simpson's exhibit.

We love our rig and have no plans to do anything different any time soon. I did take a picture of a couple of Prevost H3's parked here in our park. That is close to $5M sitting there. They are beautiful.

Most of the sites in this park are occupied by a totally different type of rig. They use an old RV as a base and then just start adding. Many have been here for many years, but have current license plates. I think that is a law or something.

The one thing about this park that we have noticed is that it is not like a typical State Park. The people are very friendly. Everyone waves or says hi, but no attempts to make friends. They have thier friends and I think we are just seen as short timers. It is a different experience, but that is what we love about our travels. In just two more weeks we will leave this place and wake up to a totally different environment. Diversity is awesome.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Orlando, Florida - Part 2

I am writing this entry on February 24. There have been storms all around the SE US in the past 12 hours. An RV park was hit by a tornado up in the New Orleans area last night. We have heard from a number of RV friends and thankfully all are safe. Our prayers go out to those that were not as fortunate.

This entry will cover this past weekend and a little of last week. On Friday, February 19, we decided to spend the day at Universal Studios. The theme park is really two different parks. Our passes cover both. We did a quick tour of "Islands of Adventure" on Wednesday, so this time we did a tour of the park called "Universal Studios - Orlando".

The park is broken up into sections that each are based on a popular movie.

Kim is ready to go.
We first hit Diagon Alley. I loved the dragon.

Dragon in Daigon Alley
We ended up doing a bunch of rides and watched two shows. We had a really fun day. It feels a bit strange to see all the families with kids and we don't have any with us, but we are kind of like big kids so that counts.

On Saturday, we went over and met our son Mark and three friends for dinner. They are heading out for a cruise on Sunday. We went to a Habachi restaurant and had a great time talking to Mark and getting to know his friends.

The next morning we got up very early for us. We were on the road at 9AM. The humanity!

We headed over to pick up the guys and drive them down to the cruise boat in Cape Canaveral. That went smoothly. We will pick them up next weekend to get a recap and take them back to the Airport. I shot one picture of the group, but it sadly did not turn out. Oh well, I will get them when they get back.

We then went to Titusville and checked out the area around the cape. This area is of course, the home of the Kenned Space Center. I have planned to check it out at some point, but today was not the day. We went to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor center and took a walk around.

Alligator sunning himself on the dock.
They had a nice boardwalk. We were just kind of killing time before we went over to Jetty Park to meet up with our friends Bill and Lisa. We met them last year in Goose island SP in Texas. They camped right next to us. They are from Rockford, IL. They are both retired school teachers and love to travel, but maintain a home in Illinois and spend about half of the year there.

Here is Bill, Lisa and Kim. 
We were sitting on the grass right next to the channel that goes into the cruise ship port. Directly across the channel was a US Navy submarine base. My son Michael served on the USS Hartford during his time in the Navy. His submarine went into this base several times. Here is a Navy research ship coming out of the base.

Looking down the Channel, you can see the cruise boats coming out of port.

There were a total of 4 ships coming out of port heading out to sea on this Sunday.

First up was the Carnival Sensation
It was fun to waive to all of the passengers as they headed out on their cruise.

Here are a few shots of the boat that Mark and his friends were on.

This is Royal Caribbeans' Freedom of the Seas.
Sadly, we did not see Mark or his friends when they were cruising by.

Pretty Ship, I am sure they will have fun.
Next up was a Disney ship:

Disney Magic - Pretty Ship.
The next ship was not scheduled for a while, so Kim and I took a walk to the beach and the Pier. We had a beautiful sunset and a full moon. It was a beautiful evening.

Kim at another beach. This time on the Atlantic ocean. You can see the cruise ship in the background. 

This guy was posing for pictures.
Full moon over the Atlantic.
Last up was the Carnival Sunshine
I love this shot of the reflection of the moon and the lights of the ship.
Bill and Lisa even fed us dinner while we were visiting. We had a great time watching the cruise ships and telling stories of our travels over the past year. We are hoping to see them again before they head north.

It has a been a fun first week in Orlando. We have three more weeks here. I am sure they will get crazy when the grandchildren get here. We can't wait. Come back to see what else we find to do in this active area.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Orlando, Florida - Part 1

On February 15, we arrived in Orlando, Florida. Big cities are not normally our thing, but we had some good reasons to come here.

The one thing that we don't like about this lifestyle is that we miss our kids and grandkids. The main reason we decided to come to Orlando was that we are going to get to see our son Mark twice and Shannon and Brian and their 6 kids are coming to spend a week. It is really all about family.

We looked around for a place to stay and were a bit surprised how things work for RVers in Florida this time of year. Most places book up a year in advance and the going rate for a site is $40 to $60 per night. The one way to avoid the high costs is to reserve a month at a time. The going rate for a month is between $500 to $900. Still a bit high, but with our budget being $600, we were good. We looked around and found a place that was close to the condo that Shannon and Brian will be staying in. It is only about 20 miles to the #1 destination of this trip: Universal Studios Orlando. I will explain why later.

When we arrived at our park, the office was closed. On a Monday? Oh Yeah, Presidents Day. Still a bit strange to have the office just closed with no instructions on what to do. We talked to some other residents and we just pulled into a site that was open and hoped. The only problem with this site is that it had very sandy soil and I got stuck. I decided to just drop the trailer right there and do a overnight set up.

It was not a good first impression and only added to my anxiety of being in this urban setting. When the office opened on Tuesday, they had us all set up in a site and all was good. Now the problem was getting out of the site we were in. The good news is that it had rained overnight and the sand was more solid. I made sure I was in 4X4 and was able to pull right out. We had no issue getting set up in our new site. The funny thing was when the neighbors saw that we were pulling in they all came out to watch. I nailed the back in on the first try. I am sure they all left disappointed. Everyone goes to a car race to see the crashes. Here is our home for the next month:

Each site has a concrete pad to be used as a patio. 
After getting set up, I started feeling better about this place. This is a very old park. There are many permanent residences and seasonals. Many of the RV's have not moved in years. My guess is the park was built in the 70's, but it could be the 60's. Many have old RV's that have been added on to with storage sheds and side rooms. I am sure the average age in the park is older than us, but everyone we have met has been very nice. They have plenty of social events and a very nice heated swimming pool. The temps have been averaging around 80 for the high and 65 at night. I little warm for us, but after seeing the storms up north, we can handle it.

Shannon and Brian are coming back to Orlando for the third time in the past year. Last spring, they went to Universal Studios because they are huge Harry Potter fans. They have two sections of the park dedicated to the very popular 7 movie series. The least expensive way to go was to buy season passes. Those passes are still good this year during their spring break, so they are coming back the first week on March.

We decided to get season passes also, so we headed out to the park to get the passes purchased. We got it done and even spent about 4 hours walking around getting oriented. We even rode a couple rides and learned that we need to work on our motion sickness.

Kim loves theme parks.
This is one of those things that we identified that Kim really wanted to do. We are at a point in our lives that if we want to do something, now is the time to do it. We spent over $500 on our passes, but we will use them plenty of times and are really looking forward to sharing it with the kids.

I will write more about our time in Orlando over the next few entries. Come back to see if I can keep my breakfast down after riding some of those rides.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

St. George Island and Southern Comfort

We really enjoyed our 4 night stay at St. George Island SP. We were wishing we could have stayed longer, but it was Thursday night and the park was full for the weekend. We are learning that the Florida SP's this time of year are much more full than most places we go. You have to make reservations for most weekends. I have been doing some checking and it does not seem to be the case in Georgia. Just over the border, they have plenty of availability. Certainly something to be aware of and plan for. 

Before we left we wanted to take one more walk on the beach to see the sunset. It was a beautiful evening.

Small lake at the front of the campground. 
We were about an hour before sunset, so we walked on the beach for a while.

Kim, in her element. 
Calm gulf water on a nice day.
Sun setting over the island.
Kim decided that she wanted to see the sun setting over the water. The problem was that we had to walk to the other side of the island to see that. We walked back through the campground to the bay side and just caught the end of the sunset.

Nice View. You can see the bridge in the distance.
Same view, different angle. Smoke from some forest fires up in Tates Hell State Forest. 
That was the perfect end to a great stay at St. George Island SP. This place will be one of our top parks we have ever stayed in. We have stayed in 12 campgrounds on this trip. This one is in the top 5 and we have had some great places to stay.

On Friday, February 12, we left St. George Island and drove around the coastal bend of Florida into the main part of the peninsula. I looked on Passport America for a campground and found Southern Comfort. It was about $20 per night after taxes at the PA rate. The overhead view on Google Earth looked ok. It was pretty close to the highway, but we decided to give it a shot. It is about halfway between SGI and Orlando.

Southern Comfort is an older campground with a significant number of long term occupants. The owner was very nice and invited us to come to the "bar" for a drink and to join them for a Valentines day party on Saturday night. We opted to stay home on Friday night. On Saturday, I went for a long walk on the bike path that runs along the road on the far side. It is very nice and would have been a good place for a long bike ride.

We did go to the Saturday night "pot luck" dinner and Valentines party. We spent some time with our neighbors in the park. Dick and Kim are from Portsmouth, NH and are trying out full timing. They sold their house in one day. So, they had to get ready in a hurry and get on the road. They are unsure if this lifestyle is for them. We talked for a long time and offered any help they might need. Really nice folks. Unfortunately, I forgot to get their picture.

Here is my Valentines Day card to Kim:

Southern Comfort is not the type of park we would normally stay in. Clear evidence of that is that I did not take a single picture of the park or the town of Cross City, Florida. It is not far to Fanning Springs or Manatee Springs State Parks. We would certainly opt for one of those sites if we had the option. The good news is that it was overall a good experience and it set us up for a Monday departure to head south to Orlando. It was there, that we would get even further out of our comfort zone. I will write all about that in my next entries.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

St. George Island SP part 2

I last left our adventure at St. George Island SP. The second day we were there the wind diminished significantly. It was a bit cool, but a light jacket was all that was needed to be comfortable.

I had seen a nature trail on the map of the campground. Little did I know, it is a very long trail. As I was leaving the campground, I noticed another Titanium trailer in a spot a few away from us. I noted the license plates were from Massachusetts. I walked out to the bay and said hi to a nice couple that was walking their dog. I noted a Massachusetts accent in their voices, but wasn't sure if they were the ones in the Ti. I went on with my walk. I ended up walking down through the center of the island by some small lakes and swamps. There were a few birds, but not as many as I had expected. The trial led to the beach. I then took a walk on the beach back to the campground. The walk was a bit over 4 miles.

Here is a shot of the bay side of the island. The water was still pretty rough.
I like the roots of these trees. 
The inland area was a mix of low plants and tall pine trees. 
The trail was a mix of sand and boardwalks.
It was a beautiful day on the beach. I looked at many cool shells, but resisted keeping any. One of the great things about living in a trailer is you don't have room for souvenirs. With all of the memorable places we have been, we would need to hitch up another trailer to carry all of the souvenirs if we kept them. We only keep the really special things we find. (unless they are beads)

Peaceful beach on a calm day
There were a number of cool sponges on the beach. 

When I got back to the campground, I went by the Titanium trailer and the folks were sitting outside enjoying the beautiful day. Joe and Cindy are from Mass. and really cool people. Cindy retired in the past year. Joe has been enjoying his retirement for a number of years. We had a fun discussion about our trailers and Joe told me about a number of modifications he has made to his. Over the next two days we took tours of each others trailers and we really enjoyed meeting them. Here is a shot of Joe and Cindy, we really hope to cross paths again.

Joe and Cindy and their Titanium
Joe gave me a great tip on a seafood sales trailer up the island. I went there and bought more shrimp and a nice Tuna Steak. We had that for dinner. It was pretty good.

The next day was February 11. We decided to get in the truck and make a drive back across the bridge into Apalachicola. It is a cool little town with a rich history. The Apalachicola river hits the gulf at this point and creates one of the most pristine marine environments left in the world. We toured around town and then went to the visitors center and enjoyed the exhibits.

Nice boats in the Marina in Apalachicola
Old Kiln at the waters edge
Alligator at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Visitor Center
Lighthouse on St. George Island
Wow, this is becoming a really long post. I think I will end it there and finish in the coming days. We did one more fun thing prior to leaving this awesome place. Come back to see the end of the visit.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

St. George Island State Park

We left Blackwater SP on February 8. We love Blackwater! The sites are awesome. (Maybe the best we have ever stayed in.) Excellent hook ups, great spacing and green space in between and they are huge. The river is cool and the hiking and biking is excellent. All of the things we like in a park. All this and reasonable at $24 per night with all taxes and fees.

We were looking for our next destination and we liked St. George Island SP down on an island in the gulf. It was pretty full, but they had an opening in one site that we could fit in. The opening was for Monday through Thursday nights. We decided to go for it.

The web site says no rigs over 36 feet. I don't understand that. The sites are very large and we fit easily with room to spare.

Plenty of room in this site.
Nice park with plenty of spacing between sites. 
St. George Island is connected to the mainland via a bridge from Eastpoint, Florida. Eastpoint is just to the east of Apalachicola. When we arrived the wind was blowing about 30 MPH out of the north. That was a tail wind for most of the drive, but going across the bridge was a bit scary. We don't like to travel in wind, but because we had reservations we were forced into moving on this day. We made the decision that on the trip back to Missouri, we would get back to traveling without reservations. We are also discussing a change in plans. We will see if that happens.

The best thing about this park is the beach! We love the beach, so even though it was cold and windy, we went to the beach. It is about a 15 minute walk from the campground. We walked for almost 4 miles.

Kim walking along the beach trying to stay warm.

Day use area

The beach is beautiful and pristine. There is no development on this end of the island except the few SP bathrooms and shelters. The sand is pure white and not a single piece of trash in sight. Lots of nice shells also.

That is a fin shell.
The wind was brutal, but we still enjoyed our walk. I think we saw one other couple on the beach.

Even the seagulls were struggling with the wind.
On the walk back to the campsite, we saw some Blue Herons. Just as I snapped the picture two took to flight.

Blue Herons is Flight
It was Fat Tuesday, so Kim decided to make King Cakes. All I can tell you is someone ate them. They were sooo good!

That was the first two days of adventure while we were on St. George Island. The next days, the weather got better and we did some more fun stuff. We also made some new friends. Come back and I will tell you the rest of the story of our wonderful stay at St. George Island.