17 Feb 2014 (Mon) – Went back to the Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore. Paul wanted to visit the Naval Live Oaks Area. Back in the day (when ships were made out of wood), the government set up a federal forest for shipbuilding. The Live Oak is a dense wood that withstands canon fire. In addition, the trees have naturally curved and bent branches. This made it easier to cut wood to fit ship forms without having to forcefully shape the timbers. There are really no live oaks left of the forest – a tree here or there among the bramble. They use fiberglass and metal on today’s ships. A picture in the visitor’s center showed a live oak that was just humongous. It looked like it was wider than taller, and it looked like it stood about a quarter mile high.
We drove back into Pensacola Bay to return to the historic village but it turns out they are closed on Mondays. We walked around, looking for a place to have lunch, but most restaurants were also closed. Probably only pays to be open when the tourists are there. We finally found a place and ate, then walked back to the truck. We came across a park with a beautiful collection of live oaks intertwined over the walkway. They weren’t as large as the picture we saw, but they were still quite impressive.
Went to the base commissary to get some groceries then returned to the campground. Did some laundry. Went down to the beach to take some pictures of the sunset. Returned home and began packing up for tomorrow’s move.
16 Feb 2014 (Sun) – Spent the day hanging out around the camper. Let the cat out almost all day long. She is sleeping well tonight.
15 Feb 2014 (Sat) – Got a real feel for Mardi Gras today. Drove to Mobile, Alabama, to visit the Mobile Medical Museum. It was a small place, but quite interesting. Being the curious folks we are, we were familiar with a lot of the items on display and the procedures of past medical practices. There were two plaster of paris forms showing the inside of a human being – a French man with mustache, goatee, and eyelashes. It was creepy! We were able to share some information we picked up along the way, and the exchange made the tour much more enjoyable. The museum director took our picture and posted it on Facebook.
Then we headed over to the Mobile Carnival Museum. That was a jaw-dropping experience! It was a great education on Mardi Gras: how it started, and what it means to the people in the area. They say there are only three seasons in Mobile: football season, hurricane season, and Mardi Gras season. Mardi Gras is actually catholic based and originally started in Mobile, not New Orleans like everyone thinks. There are two organizations that host a Bal Masque (masked ball). They are made up of the very wealthy of the old south – one group is composed of wealthy black folks, and one group is made up of wealthy white folks. They each elect a queen and king, with a court of 18 ladies and knights, and several pages (boys about 6 years old). They dress in the most elaborate costumes I’ve ever seen. And all the sparkles on the trains are Austrian crystals, not sequins. The trains are only worn for the event that year then retired. Daughters and granddaughters will use parts of their mother’s/grandmother’s train to make their own, making it a family tradition. The trains on display were just eye-popping – in color and in cost. The guide said each train costs between the value of a new Chevrolet and a brand new Mercedes 360 with all the accessories. Add to that the outfits, the parties, the crown, the scepter, etc. There are massive amounts of money spent on this throughout the year.
There are 65 krewes (organizations – also called mystic societies) that host parades during Mardi Gras, and parties all year long. Each krewe has a parade theme, and a new theme is chosen every year. Each parade has at least 18 floats. Multiply the 18 floats (and more) by 65 krewes and you get an idea how big this business is in the area. The people on the floats are all throwing beads, toys, stuffed animals, and moon pies (a southern favorite) as they travel the parade route. You have to watch out. They are flinging these things out and you don’t want to get hit in the face or head. The stuff is flying through the air and you can barely catch them before the next thing is flying at you. And all the while, the crowd is cheering and screaming, the bands are playing, and horns are blaring. It is a cacophony of noise and color and sound.
After the parade, we walked over to Dauphin Street to look for something to eat. All the restaurants were closed and all the bars (of which there were many) were full of party-goers. People were walking up and down the street with glasses of beer and other drinks.
We came across a beautiful church that is the Archdiocese of Mobile called the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. We snuck inside to take a look. It was gorgeous. The stained glass told the story of Jesus’ mother, Mary, and how she was involved in his life. There were stairs spiraling downstairs that led to a crypt. Former rectors were buried in the wall, set in a beautiful room of marble. There were six chairs facing the front of a small altar.
We couldn’t find a restaurant so we stopped at a food place along the parade route. I got chick-on-a-stick and Paul got a Polish sausage. We returned to the truck and drove back to Pensacola. We arrived just in time to watch the sunset. Then we returned to the camper where we watched the Olympics for the rest of the night.
14 Feb 2014 (Fri) – Happy Valentine’s Day! Went to Historic Pensacola Village today. Driving down some of the streets, some buildings had the same balcony with wrought iron railings that they have in New Orleans. The French influence is evident here. The historic village is about four blocks wide by one block long and has old buildings in the area. We saw houses built in the 1700 and 1800s and a church that was refurbished by the Pensacola Historical Society. The history of the area is so fascinating. Spain settled here first; the French chased them out; Spain took it back; the British took the city; Spain took it back during the American Revolution; the confederate states claimed it; and, finally, Florida joined the USA. They have a Fiesta of the Five Flags every year to commemorate their history. Also, this area was one of the most liberal in the nation and both free blacks and escaped slaves poured into the area. There is quite a mix of ethnicities here – Seminole Indians, Spanish, French, British, African Americans, and southern whites. And many of them have inter-married over the years.
We then walked over to the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Museum. Mr. Wentworth was a collector of artifacts and historical items. He had a collection of over 150,000 pieces that he turned over to the State of Florida. The building is three stories tall and full of his items. There was one whole room just devoted to Coca-Cola items. The top floor had an exhibit on alligators (not a Wentworth artifact). The museum was not as captivating a collection as the one in Vermont.
We went to the Oar House for lunch. It was a delightful place – very much designed as a summer café. The walls of the room we sat in all open up in the summer. There is a grass roof, and wooden framing inside and out on the patios. There were all kinds of decorations, including a pelican sculpture. All over this town, we have been seeing pelican sculptures. It is like other towns that had sculptures of whales, planes, cows, and horses. An artsy display.
We drove to Joe Patti’s. They sell fresh fish. It was a huge counter with all kinds of fish laid out. It was a veritable indoor fish market. The place was unbelievably packed. We took number 39 when they were calling number 8. Paul got on the line while I waited for our number to be called (this gives you an idea of how long the line was). They went quickly and I got my order in less than five minutes and joined Paul on line, who had to step aside because he had reached the register area before I got to him. There were five registers going. We bought a pound of fresh flounder and a loaf of sourdough bread, which is supposed to be the best in town. It was delicious! We bought a bag of six beignets. We each had one, and gave the rest to the receptionist at the campground.
On the way back to the campground, we came upon a Veterans Memorial Park. We stopped to look at it. There was a replica of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. Three sculptures were spread around the park – one devoted to all service people, one for Vietnam, and one for Korea. At the end of the park we spotted another park across the street right on the bay. It was a National Memorial for Missing Children. Intrigued, we walked across the street to look at it. It was a pier that went out to the shoreline with a platform. A sculpture sat in the middle of the platform with parents and a child under a large pair of hands. Around the sides were posted pictures of different children that are missing. Their names and the dates of their disappearance printed on them.
We walked down to the beach to watch the sunset but the clouds were too low to pick up the colors. Walked back to the camper, had dinner, and watched the Olympics.
13 Feb 2014 (Thu) – Went back to the National Museum of Naval Aviation today. Wow, what a place! There were so many things – special touches – that made the displays wonderful. This place is definitely better than the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. It has many of the actual planes that performed missions from WWI through to Desert Storm. There were displays for dirigibles, float planes, biplanes, jet fighters and bombers, helicopters, and space vehicles. There was a set up to make you feel you were actually inside an aircraft carrier and another to replicate a 1940s town in Alabama – complete with the smell of ginger snap cookies baking. And the best thing about the whole museum was that you were allowed to touch just about everything. There were several cockpits you could climb into, and cut-aways of planes and engines to look at. It was absolutely fabulous.
Finished up about 3 p.m. and returned to the campground. Let the dog and cat outside to enjoy the sunshine. The temperature got up to 58 degrees today. Everything is drying out nicely. Watched the Olympics tonight. It is so amazing what these folks put their bodies through. Such talent! So sorry for the Russian ice skater whose back problems made him withdraw from competition. At least he won a gold and helped his team win gold.
12 Feb 2014 (Wed) – Woke to heavy rain. Put on our raincoats and new hiking boots (we stopped at Pro Bass Shops yesterday and bought waterproof hiking boots), then drove to the National Museum of Naval Aviation. The place seemed to be more crowded than this weekend! I guess everyone thought a rainy day was a good time to go to the museum.
We took a one and a half hour tour with a guide who walked us around the main floor, stopping at certain planes and giving us a wonderful description of their history. The best story was about the Sopwith Camel. They used castor oil on the engine and the pilots had to cover their faces because the oil would fly back into the open cockpit and get in their mouths. The pilots ate a diet rich in cheese to offset the effects of the castor oil. We barely touched everything on the first floor. This place is huge!
At 1 p.m., we took a trolley tour of the flight line. There were about 70 planes of varying vintage parked out there. The tour guide drove back and forth before the planes, stopping at selected points to talk about a particular aircraft. He spoke too fast and had a strong southern accent, which made it very hard to understand him. I missed about three-quarters of what he said.
We left the museum and drove to Captain Joey Patti’s Seafood Restaurant for lunch. It was a real local dive and everything on the menu was fried. Paul had a combo plate and I ordered plain, grilled chicken. The place was humming with people. It’s very popular.
We stopped by a CVS and bought some Valentine’s Day items, then went to the post office to mail them off. Finally, we returned to the campground.
11 Feb 2014 (Tue) – Woke to a rainy, cold day. The wind was biting, making it feel much colder than it was. We drove over the border to Mobile, Alabama to Battleship Memorial Park. The battleship USS Alabama and submarine USS Drum, as well as several aircraft, were on display.
The USS Alabama had three self-guided tours: two were below deck (one forward and one aft) and the third was above deck. We started with the below deck forward part of the ship tour, then followed with the below deck stern of the ship, and a little of above deck wanderings. What a great experience! We were able to poke around just about everywhere on the ship. We climbed up stairways, we climbed down stairways, we wandered into rooms, and we investigated passageways. The ship had so many activities that you would not expect to find on a battleship – bakery, cleaners, tailor, print shop, movie film room, barber shop, and diving rig. The ship also had two floatplanes they used as spotters and sub killers. We were able to go deep into the bowels of the ship below the engine room. We also got to see all three levels of the gun turret – the only battleship on display that lets visitors do that. We spent three hours wandering that battleship.
Next was the USS Drum. The submarine was out of the water and on stanchions. There was a great deal of damage to the hull and renovations were taking place. We climbed in the hatch leading to the forward torpedo room and exited the after torpedo room. The sub was a lot roomier than other submarines we have been on. They said this is the oldest submarine on display, but we think we have seen older ones. There were some things on the sub that were unexpected – extras like an ice cream station, a mess hall area, and a control room on top of the central control room (two levels in the center of the boat). Like the battleship, we were allowed to climb all over and around the submarine.
There was also a large building with aircraft from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam on display. There were a couple of videos playing around the facility. A simulator stood in the corner that you could pay to ride on that was supposed to be simulate take off from an aircraft carrier. We did not do that.
We left the park at 4:30 p.m., spent and very satisfied with the day. We stopped at Felix’s Fish Camp for dinner. The outside looked something like the Oak Beach Inn used to look like. The outside had a corrugated tin roof and peeling paint. Inside, though, was a wonderful area. We were seated at a table overlooking Mobile Bay. The entire wall facing the bay was filled with windows. Unfortunately, the day was gray and drizzly but the view was still captivating. The meal was delicious – the crab bisque was outrageous!
We returned to the camper, fed the animals, walked the dog, talked with our son and his fiancé and then watched the Olympics. The luge was phenomenal!
10 Feb 2014 (Mon) – Took it easy today. While Paul washed the truck and trailer, I played with the animals. Sheba really enjoyed the extra time outside. There were only a couple of clouds in the sky this morning but by this evening, the skies are overcast and rain threatens.
Drove over to the Navy Exchange and picked up a cat toy, a blouse, and a box of wine. Then went over to the commissary and picked up some groceries. The campground is about 14 miles away from the base.
Came back to the camper, put away the groceries, and went off to play disc golf. This is a game of 18 stations that is played with frisbees. You “tee” off and then make your way down the course to the final point which consists of a large basket with chains to help catch the frisbee and deposit it in the basket.
Afterward, Paul grilled dinner on the BBQ, we did some laundry, then watched the Olympics. It was a laid back, easy day. Delightful!
9 Feb 2014 (Sun) – Left at 9:45 a.m. to drive the 45 minutes to Fort Pickens, the fourth part of the defensive network built to protect the Pensacola Bay. We drove over a causeway that had a sign posted that said it was a long bridge and to check your gas level. It was not that long. It just must be that a lot of people run out of gas on the bridge, for some reason.
The causeway took us to Santa Rosa Island. We drove through the towns of Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach. VERY beachie towns. It reminded us of Dune Road in the Hamptons or Atlantique on Fire Island. Both towns had loads of colorful buildings, bars, restaurants, and hotels.
Finally, we came to the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Our golden pass saved us $6 on the entrance fee to the park. That pass has already paid for itself and we are now making money on it. Cool. As we drove along the narrow island road, we came across a battery of two cannons. We got out and climbed up into the dunes to look things over. While we shuffled through the bramble and brush on top of the dune, we spotted an armadillo rooting around in the bushes. As we stood and watched, it came out of the bushes completely into the clear so we could get a good look at it. It seemed not the least bit fazed by our presence. It was delightful to see up close! I tried to touch it but it scooted away. They really can move fast.
We climbed back down from the dune and continued our drive to Fort Pickens. It was a massive fort. Built similarly like Fort Barancas and Advanced Redoubt, there were tunnels and arches and cannon emplacements and so on. The difference, unfortunately, is that this place has not been given the loving attention of the others. There were stalactites and stalagmites growing in the darkest, moist places. Many places were crumbling and discolored. But very little of the fort was off limits to exploring. Love that!
After Fort Pickens, we drove over to look at more gun batteries along the shoreline. There were a total of nine batteries. They seemed so incongruous nestled into the dunes of the whitest sand and blue green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We stopped at a small pavilion and walked along the beach. The water was much colder than we expected but it sure was clear.
We drove into Pensacola Beach and had lunch at Flounder’s Chowder House. It was quite an interesting place. It had a big shrimp boat in front of the restaurant, and a giant clam in the hallway. The place had a big outdoor patio, another patio area that was enclosed in glass that could be opened up, and an indoor area. The place was huge. There was a performer playing a fiddle along with some canned music that sounded really good. Some lady from the audience jumped up on stage and sang a couple of songs with him. It was so much like our friend, Laurie.
We drove back to the base looking for fuel but the gas station was closed (it’s Sunday). We returned to the campground and spent the evening watching the Olympics. Love those ice skaters!
8 Feb 2014 (Sat) – We went back to the Advanced Redoubt for the 11 a.m. Park Ranger led tour. What an amazing story! The redoubt was going to be a fort; part of a defensive network of coastal defenses on the Pensacola Bay. It was built between 1845 and 1870. Before they fully completed it, it was obsolete. The fort was never opened and never named so it was never officially called a fort. The redoubt is remarkably well preserved. We were able to walk into the redoubt over a moat, to stand in the center parade field, and go down the tunnels into the scarp and the counter scarp. We even passed a couple of tiny bats sleeping on the ceiling in one of the tunnels. The craftsmanship was remarkable, considering it was all built by slave labor.
We then drove over to the National Museum of Naval Aviation. It was huge! Since we wanted to go to the 2 p.m. tour of Fort Barancas (another fort in the defensive network), we only had about two hours to look around. We started on the second floor, then made our way down to the Cubi Bar Café for lunch. There used to be an Officers’ Club at Naval Air Station Cubi Point in the Philippines where Navy and Marine Corps units gave plaques to the club to hang up when their deployments were over. When that place closed in 1979, they donated all the plaques and emblems adorning their walls to the Naval Aviation Institute. They were considered items of historical significance, so they replicated the club in the Cubi Bar Café. It was very pleasant, although the food was kind of bland.
At 2 p.m. we arrived at the Ranger led tour of Fort Barancas. Another fascinating place! The Spanish built a Water Battery in 1787 which the U.S. added to by building the fort. We so enjoyed being able to explore almost every part of the fort – the tunnels, the parade field, the powder magazines, the guard room – all of it. So many places have major areas closed off because they don’t want wear and tear to ruin the facility. This place was wonderfully preserved and in excellent condition.
Next on the docket was the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum. (All of these places are located right on the Navy base.) The lighthouse is the longest continuously working lighthouse in the U.S. It is still working. After we climbed up the tower (177 steps of spiral stairs), the light was on and turning. The view was spectacular. The sign said you could see for 27 miles from the top. I’d say you could see all the way to the horizon where the earth curved.
Returned to the RV, had dinner, and skyped with our grandson and his mom. The rest of the night was spent watching the Olympics. What talent! Just love the ice skating.
7 Feb 2014 (Fri) – Reveille sounded at 6:30 a.m. right outside the window. Ugh. Got up at 7 a.m., had breakfast, then packed up to leave.
The ride was almost four hours long. We left Panama City at 9:30 a.m. and arrived at Blue Angel Recreation Area & RV Park in Pensacola, Florida at 1:10 p.m. It turns out that there is a campground on the base and one off the base. Paul wanted to stay on the base but we wound up going to the off-base campground. The clerk called over to see if there was any space available over there, but there wasn’t. We signed in and drove over to our area. This campground is divided into two parts – Battleship Row and Anchors Cove. Battleship Row has full hookups so we chose that at $20 a night. Anchors Cove has electric and water, but no sewer and is $13 a night. If we were staying only a few days, we’d go there. But since we are staying here a week, we took the full hookup.
The campground is right on Pensacola Bay. We did not take the front row looking at the bay because we felt the wind coming off the bay might be cold. We took a spot in the middle of the campground. The site has a concrete pad, a picnic table, and small bushes on both sides. We think this is a new campground, only built in the last year or two.
After we got set up, we drove over to the base. As we were driving along, we passed what we thought was an old fort so we pulled over to take a look. It turned out to be an Advanced Redoubt. It was huge! Most redoubts we have seen are little more than fortified dirt mounds meant to delay the attacking force. This redoubt had fall back points, a moat, overlapping fields of fire for muskets, cannons, and underground tunnels. The only way to overtake this place would be to conduct a siege.
There was a sign saying a tour of the redoubt would be given Saturdays at 11 a.m. We drove over to the visitor center to confirm the day and time but it was closed. The same sign that was at the Advanced Redoubt was posted at the visitor center.
We drove over to the campground on base to see what it looked like. It was much older, and not all had sewer hookups, but they were full. I think there were about 50 campsites. We then stopped at a place called CashSaver – a food store that sells everything at 10% over cost. We picked up milk and wine (what a combination), then returned to our camper. Had dinner then spent the night watching the Olympics.
I had not been able to sign onto the Internet for two days. When I checked the records, I found that the monthly payments for the Internet access and the DISH Satellite service were both on autopay. When our credit card was compromised and cancelled, I forgot to contact those merchants. I called and gave them another credit card number. Service has been restored and all is good.
6 Feb 2014 (Thu) – Man, it was cold today! It never got past 47 degrees and it was rainy off and on all day. Sure glad we threw the electric blanket back on the bed last night. Sorry we took the flannel sheets off. Thought we wouldn’t need either of these until we hit Alaska. We were wrong.
The base call to wake up came blaring over the loudspeaker right outside our bedroom window at 6:15 a.m. this morning. The fighter jets starting screaming overhead a little after 7 a.m. We were surprised they started so early. Guess the residents in the area don’t complain.
Left for Panama City Beach at 9:30 a.m. Went to the Man in the Sea Museum. What a great place! They had underwater everything – breathing apparatuses, various types of equipment and machinery, pictures, and videos. There was a fascinating video about underwater cave diving that surprised me when they found the remains of a mastodon (giant prehistoric elephant) inside one of the caves. There was another video playing about the Sea Lab project that the astronauts trained in back in the 60s. There were three Sea Labs before the program was discontinued in the early 1970s. The only criticism I have is that the museum, while well thought out and extremely comprehensive and inclusive, was kind of rundown and seedy. They need an infusion of money to perhaps put the displays in a bigger building and refresh all the outdoor displays. They were covered with rust and the descriptive signs were faded.
We left the museum and drove down the old route 98 into Panama City Beach Pier Park. They sure do like their colorful buildings! It reminded us of Aruba. There was a partly completed mall like the Tanger Mall in Deer Park – all outdoor. With the rainy weather today, they didn’t have many customers shopping at the stores. We went over to the IMAX 16 movie theater to see what was playing. It was only noon and the first movie we could get into didn’t start until 1:30 p.m.
We left to have lunch at the Olive Garden. The service was really slow. The general manager came over, apologized for the long wait, and gave us 25% off the bill. The other day when we ate at the Bonefish Grill, there was a delay in taking our order. That manager came over, apologized, and gave us a card for free Bang Bang Shrimp. I guess slow service is a big issue down here.
We went to the movies and saw “Lone Survivor.” It was a great movie and a wonderful tribute to the men who lost their lives during the mission. They kind of exaggerated some things – I would say it was for entertainment’s sake – but the story was compelling and the scenery breathtaking.
The movie was over at 3:45 p.m. and we drove back to the campground in the rain. We got back at 5 p.m. Walked the dog, fed the animals, tried to get on the internet but couldn’t get a signal. It didn’t make sense because we were able to get on yesterday as well as this morning.
The base played the Star Spangled Banner over the monster loudspeaker at 6 p.m. We had dinner then watched the first games of the Olympics. The base played taps over the loudspeaker at 10 p.m.
5 Feb 2014 (Wed) – Got up, packed up, had breakfast, then hit the road for Panama City. It was almost a 3-hour ride through occasional rain showers to Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) FamCamp. This is a winter campground for snow birds. They have a large community center with lots of planned activities. Many of the folks we spoke with have been coming here for 10 to 15 years. They spend the winter here and then return to various places around the country, including Nebraska and Alaska!
We did our laundry. The machines were just $0.75 each. Aside from the free machines we experienced elsewhere, this was pretty cheap. After we finished the laundry, we took a ride around the base. There was a park with four jet fighters on the plaza with descriptions of what type aircraft they were and for how long they were flown at the base. There were flags flying for all 50 states and plaques in dedication to different people in the area. It was quite nice.
Tyndall AFB has recently been designated as a training base for F-22 Raptors. They were screaming by all day long about every 15 to 30 minutes. The poor cat was so stressed, she hid in the closet. When they flew by, the jets rattled the windows and you had to shout to be heard over the noise.
After dinner, we went to the activity center and played darts. Then we walked over to the common area and sat around the fire pit. It is a screened-in pavilion with a pit in the center of the room with a chimney running up out of the center of the roof. The fire was burning brightly and about a dozen people were sitting around the circle exchanging stories about their various trips around the world.
Had to turn the clocks back one hour today. We are now in the Central Time Zone.
4 Feb 2014 (Tue) – Woke to a foggy day. Paul took some gorgeous pictures of the area.
After breakfast, we worked around the camper a little then went to the Florida Capital State Park. It is closed Tuesday and Wednesday. We drove into town to see the historic buildings. Perry used to be a big deal in its heyday, but today there are many businesses closed or abandoned. It seemed like we drove by motel after motel that was boarded up. Someone told us that the main route changed and many of the businesses moved over there. The historic district was all of two blocks long. It was over before we really got started.
Decided to drive over to the shore and have lunch there. If anyone is afraid the country is overpopulated, all they have to do is come down here to Florida and drive off the beaten path. There are forests waiting to be culled (paper mills are a main industry), ranches with cattle or horses grazing, and large, swampy, uninhabited areas. There were many dilapidated shacks with garbage on the lawns and fences falling down. We never found a restaurant – the waterfronts of the towns we drove through were not developed. Back home, they would be worth a lot of money and have loads of condos surrounding the shoreline.
Drove back to town and stopped back at the Chamber of Commerce to get more information. The clerk was surprised to hear that the museum and park were closed. She said the old homestead display was open even though the museum was closed. We were really interested in looking at a Florida Cracker homestead so we went back to the museum. There was a fence all the way around the homestead, so we didn’t really think it was open but we climbed over the fence anyway. Most of the buildings were locked up so we couldn’t look inside. The homestead was supposed to represent the homes of early settlers from Spain in the 1500s. The house was on stilts and built with mud and wood planks. There was a smoke house, a chicken pen, an outhouse, and a few other unidentifiable buildings.
We discovered a veterans memorial park in town. They spent a LOT of money on this thing! There were pillars for each war from WWI through to the Gulf War, and a blank space with a sign saying it was reserved for future use. There were granite stones with the names of everyone in town who served in the military carved in the stone, along with the conflict they served in and the years they served.
We came back to the camper. At 5:30 p.m., we walked over to the Elks Lodge thinking they would be serving dinner. We were wrong. The bar was open so Paul had a couple of beers. There were all of four people in the bar. We returned to the RV and had dinner, then skyped with our son, his fiancé, and grandson. Man! They are just getting pounded by winter storms. Sure glad we left when we did.
3 Feb 2014 (Mon) – The day started with a light fog around the campground. It was lovely. We finished packing up and drove over to the SmartWeigh station to get our rig re-weighed. After days of giving away stuff and redistributing the weight around the camper, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference in the weight. Paul is scratching his head and trying to figure out a solution.
Left at 9:45 a.m. and drove to Perry, Florida. We are staying on the lawn next to an Elks Lodge. They have electric and water hook-ups for 20 RVs. The place was closed and there is no one else camping here. It’s kind of funny. We just pulled up and parked on the lawn next to the lodge.
After we parked and set up, we drove into town to see what there is to see. We found a Chamber of Commerce and picked up some tourist pamphlets. Had lunch at a small café. Returned to the campground and watched TV/worked on the computer.
2 Feb 2014 (Sun) – Went to the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary in Tampa. It was an hour drive and a difficult place to find. The roadway into the place was potted and unpaved. When we got to the gate, we found several young teens in blue shirts waving everyone in. It kind of felt like falling into a teeny bopper clubhouse. We walked around the gift shop then joined a group of 21 people taking a tour of the sanctuary. It was like a zoo for big cats. Each cage we stopped at, the tour guide played a pre-recorded description of the cat and how it came to be at the park. Every recording included a plug for some kind of political action, or called for activism, or asked for donations to support the park, or subtly hand slapped the listener for buying animals.
I am upset that there are people in this world who could abuse animals – domestic as well as exotic. I am so glad there are people out there who step forward to help these poor creatures. I understand the need to always have to seek financial support wherever you can. I support the call to action to get legislation that stops ownership of exotic animals. I just don’t like being hammered over and over about it. I always do my part to help where I can – I don’t pay for my pets (I adopt), I spay/neuter all my animals, I make donations to numerous animal organizations, I encourage all my friends and family to do the same, I have volunteered at various animal organizations. The point is that I do what I can. I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for someone else’s actions. I think the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary could lighten up a little.
After the sanctuary, we went food shopping at WalMart. Then stopped by CVS to fill a prescription and pick up various sundry items. We stopped at a Bonefish Grill on the way back to the campground. Yum! Can’t get enough of that Bang Bang Shrimp.
It was Superbowl Sunday. Everyone from the campground was in the activity center, having a chili cook-off and watching the game. Since we are moving tomorrow, we stayed in the camper and began preparing for the move. We watched the game in between packing and cleaning. What a waste! That was the worst game I ever watched. It was like the Denver Broncos got paid to throw the game.
1 Feb 2014 (Sat) – What a beautiful, sunny day! Now, THIS is Florida. Ahhhhh.
Went to breakfast at the activity center. Paul had biscuits and gravy and I had scrambled eggs. When we came back to the camper, Paul decided to adjust the RV hitch to lift the camper a few inches. This will result in better balance as well as less weight on the rear axle. It was funny to watch. Paul went out to do the work but couldn’t find the right tool. He unloaded the basement compartment of the RV. Nope, wasn’t there. He tore the truck apart looking in the truck bed and the back of the truck. Nope, not there either. As he stood there scratching his head trying to remember where he put those tools, another guy came over and asked what he was doing. When Paul explained that he was looking for socket wrenches, the guy said he knew who would have them and went off to get his friend. The two of them came back with a third guy interested in knowing what was going on. Another man walked over from a camper next to ours. Soon there was a gaggle of guys standing around watching Paul and one other guy adjust the hitch. Just like state workers! Two guys doing the job and the rest of them standing around, watching.
The whole scene reminded me of a seminar we went to years ago at Life on Wheels. The speaker said if you are having a problem with your car (or camper), simply open the hood, stand there scratching your head, and someone will wander over to help. Soon, you will have a group of men gathered around offering suggestions on how to solve the problem and even making the repairs. It’s so true!
Stayed around the campsite all day. Let the cat play outside for an hour. After days of being cooped up inside because of the rain, she was very happy to get out. The only worry is the big birds around here. You have to stay close to her to be sure some big bird doesn’t try to carry her away. Worked on creating a business card for us to hand out to people we meet. Scanned some more receipts and documents into the files.
31 Jan 2014 (Fri) – Another cold, rainy day in Florida. Ugh. We had breakfast and then puttered around the camper. When it became evident the day was not going to clear up, we took a ride to the post office to mail off some souvenirs to folks back home. Then we drove over to Dade Battlefield Historic State Park. It is a small park with a $3 admission fee that you pay on your honor by putting the money in an envelope and dropping it in a box. After you drive through the gate, there is a visitor center a short way into the park. We saw an 8-minute film that described a battle that took place in the park in 1835. The Seminole Indians ambushed a group of soldiers that were on the way to capture them and ship them off to Arkansas. The Indians killed all but three of their attackers. In the end, the Seminoles lost the Seminole War, the Second Seminole War, and the Third Seminole War. The Seminole nation claims they are the only Indians to never sign a treaty with the white man.
After the video, we looked at some of the artifacts on display that were recovered from the area. Then we walked along the route where the combatants marched and fought. The trees in this area are amazing. They grow so big and their limbs stretch way out in curving, jutting, kinky ways. Most of the trees in the area are covered by ferns and moss. They are beautiful to look at during the day; I think they would be scary in the dark.
When we finished exploring the battlefield, we drove to Crystal River Archaeological State Park. It was over an hour drive. Had we known it would take so long, we probably wouldn’t have gone but then again, we didn’t have anything else to do today except sit in the camper and listen to the falling rain.
There was a 3/4 mile walk around the park that wound around six mounds dating back to pre-Columbian times. They found artifacts that date back to 200 BC. The mounds (of varying heights) really didn’t have anything special to see – just a pile of dirt covered by grass. The way they described it, it sounds like they were garbage heaps. Will someone come to New Jersey in two thousand years and marvel at the “mounds” containing all our artifacts?
We walked around the park in the cold, wet rain. There was one really high temple mound that we climbed up. There was just a platform up there that looked over the area. They think some kind of ceremonies took place on these mounds but don’t know what. The mounds kind of reflected the Mayan pyramids and there is some speculation the Mexicans sailed over and influenced this population.
We left for the campground. Stopped at an Outback Restaurant and had dinner, then returned home. There is a swamp in the back of the campground. Paul came in a few nights ago and said that there were all kinds of sounds coming out of the swamp. Since then, it’s been raining so the wildlife has been quiet. Tonight we walked by the area and picked up some sounds. They still are not as loud as Paul claims they were when he first heard them, but some of the sounds, I have to admit, were a little scary. Probably frogs, gators, birds, and insects all buzzing, croaking, and chirping away in the night. If it is not raining tomorrow, the sounds will probably be louder. We will keep an ear out for it.
30 Jan 2014 (Thu) – It was a cold, dreary, rainy day. Certainly not Florida weather! Went over to the office and extended our stay here through to Monday. With the cold snap up in the panhandle, we aren’t too eager to head that way right now.
After extending our stay, we threw the laundry in the washing machine. While waiting, we got to talking to a couple who have been to Alaska three times – the first time in a fifth wheel, the next two in a truck camper. That guy whetted our appetite for the trip. We can’t wait to go! Picked up a lot of great tips for traveling the Alaskan-Canadian (ALCAN) Highway. Threw the laundry in the dryer and kept picking the guy’s brain about Alaska. He gave us a tour of his newly purchased truck camper.
After we were done, we returned to the camper and poked around all day. Paul worked on cutting and redistributing the weight in the RV. We gave away a lot of canned foods. We eat fresh or frozen vegetables all the time; canned vegetables are just a backup. We don’t need that many canned items around here. There are plenty of stores close by that make it easy to pick up what we need quickly. It will be different in Alaska.
I spent the day scanning piles of receipts and documents with our Neat scanner. I barely made a dent in the pile; have lots more to do. Ugh. At 5 p.m. we walked the dog, fed the animals, and then headed over to the activity center for a dinner of Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and éclair cake. Yum.
29 Jan 2014 (Wed) – Went to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park today. I can remember watching the mermaids show on TV when I was a kid and was eager to see the performance in person. Newton Perry, a Navy Seal, started Weeki Wachee in 1947. It was later bought by ABC Studios. In 2001, the state of Florida acquired the park and refurbished it. The spring that the mermaids swim in is the deepest natural spring in the United States. It is a constant temperature of 72 degrees and the water is so clear, it is amazing!
We first started out with the Wilderness Cruise on the river. It was cold and raining today, and the difference between the temperature of the air and the water resulted in a light fog hanging over the water. There were no manatees or alligators to be seen, but we did spy an eagle’s nest, a grebe, and a stork. It was so easy to see the fish swimming in the river as the water was so crystal clear. We were the only two people riding on the boat. The park was very lightly attended today.
After we got back to the dock, we walked over to the café and got coffee to warm up. We then needed to kill time until the mermaid show started at 1:30 p.m. so we went on Tranquility Trail – a short circular walk around a few trees. We then walked over to the outdoor amphitheater to look at the peacocks hanging out there. There were about a dozen of them and they seemed to be happy to peck at the dog biscuits I found in my pocket. We then wandered over to the gift shop and picked up a few souvenirs to send back home to the kiddies.
Finally, it was time to go to the show. There was a small enclosed seating area in front of the glass enclosed spring. There were four mermaids performing in the show. Just fresh off our 2-week vacation at Disney World, we were worried we would not be as appreciative as we should be. That was not the case. The young women swimming in the tank were very talented – lip sinking with the opening song, eating a banana underwater, and smiling and making the whole thing look so easy. I panic when I have to hold my breath for ten or fifteen seconds; forget about two and a half minutes! The show covered some of the history of the park, and allowed us to see some of the apparatus the girls use. We enjoyed the park very much.
We left Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and drove to Jersey Café for lunch. The menu was very reminiscent of New Jersey diners, and the food was just as good. We then found a WalMart superstore to do some grocery shopping. Returned to the campground and fed the animals. We went to a bingo game at the campground – Paul won $4. Since it cost $4 for the two of us to play, it was a break-even night (except for the ice cream cones we bought at half time. Oops.)
28 Jan 2014 (Tue) – We spent the morning sorting through some of our stuff, trying to determine how we can lighten the camper. Gave away our 3-piece wrought iron frying pans and griddle, a bag of kitty litter my brother gave us that weighed 40 pounds, and some bug repellent lanterns. Let the dog and cat play around outside the camper for a while.
We took off for Tampa and after enjoying lunch at Cracker Barrel, went in to look at Lazy Days RV Store and Park. Just like a snowy hill attracts skiers, and a blue sea attracts swimmers, so Lazy Days is an attraction for campers. If you are in the area, you MUST stop and check this place out. They have 120 salesmen, 500 total employees, 200 service bays, a restaurant, a lounge area for shoppers, an exchange area for buyers to transfer their belongings from their old RV to their newly purchased RV, a camp area for new buyers to stay a couple of days in their new RV so they can learn everything about their new rig, and a campground with 299 sites. There is also a Crown Plaza camp area for owners of RVs worth more than $200 thousand. Lazy Days claims to be the biggest RV dealer in the entire United States. It sure looked like it!
A salesman took us on a golf cart ride around the 155 acre area over to the truck campers. They didn’t really have many that would fit our truck but we looked at some Lance and North West campers to get an idea of what they have in them. We also wandered in and out of some of the fifth wheel RVs they had on display in front of the place. We got a brochure describing the Lance truck campers which we will use to go online and shop for one on the west coast. It turns out Lance campers are manufactured in California, so that will save us some shipping costs.
We left Lazy Days and drove down the road to Camping World. Walked in and out of several fifth wheels, then went inside to shop in the store. We picked up some items we needed then drove back to our campground. All in all, we enjoyed the day and were quite impressed with Lazy Days.
7 Jan 2014 (Mon) – A mystery has been solved! We had heard that Florida is among the largest cattle producing states in America. Yet, every time we passed a large area, there would only be a few cows – four, five, six, ten at most. Why were there so few cows? How could anybody make a living with that? We discovered that Florida gives a discount for having cattle on your land. All the property we have been passing apparently isn’t the large cattle producers. Just the little guys trying to save a buck.
We arrived at Sumter Oaks RV Park in Bushnell, FL at 11 a.m. After we checked in, we went over to the scales to get our rig weighed. It is a service provided by the Escapees RV Club (for a fee). We got the truck weighed, the camper weighed, and the entire rig with truck & RV was weighed. We have to make some adjustments in order to redistribute the weight load.
We set up, had wine and cheese sitting by our camper outside, then walked around the campground. They have an indoor heated pool, an activity center, a weekly crafts day, a Laundromat, and an ugly looking swampy area adjacent to the campground. This is a nice site and we are looking forward to relaxing for a few days before we head north. Hopefully, we will miss the snowstorm on the way that is scheduled to hit the panhandle.
26 Jan (Sun) – Brought some eggs to Greg and he cooked breakfast for everyone. Afterward, we went to services at Shining Light Church. It was a very energetic service with a band composed of a fiddle, three guitars, a keyboard, two drum sets, and about a dozen singers. The minister was a very gifted speaker who we enjoyed listening to.
After church, we went back and changed our clothes. Then we went to the Myakka River State Park. It is a 55 square mile wildlife preserve full of alligators, vultures, eagles, exotic birds, etc. We walked over to a spillway and counted about a dozen alligators floating in the river. There were trees full of vultures, eagles, and osprey. A small boy was fishing at the edge of the water catching small fish. We were appalled to see no parent nearby. Here was this boy catching gator foodstuff right at the end of water filled with alligators. It wouldn’t take any effort for a gator to jump out of the water and grab that boy. The whole experience of being so close to these guys without any cages or fences was both scary and exhilarating at the same time.
We left the spillway area and walked along the William Boylston Nature Preserve on the canopy trail. The forest of palm trees looked so wild and overgrown. It had a feral feeling to it. We came upon a canopy tower. We climbed up four flights and walked across an aerial bridge to another tower that went five or six stories higher. The platform at the top of the tower projected far above the top of the forest canopy, giving an incredible view for miles around.
We drove to a bridge that crossed over the river where Potsy said the “big boys” hang out. Sure enough, there was a large alligator lying by the shore with what looked like a dead fish on the ground in front of it. There was also a bunch of fish up on the bank wiggling around – large fish weighing 2 or 3 pounds to little guys barely bigger than minnows. They looked like they were working their way back to the water. A large egret (or stork) saw one of the little fish moving and flew over from the other bank to eat it. The bird walked warily around the gator, eyeing the fish sitting in front of it. A couple of birds strutted around the gator looking at the fish, but none came close enough to try to grab it. Finally, the alligator gave up and ate the catfish. How horrible! The fish squeaked when the alligator picked it up then there was the sound of crunching bones and blood running down the sides of the gator’s mouth. The gator then dropped its snout into the water to rinse its mouth out.
It turned out that the group of fish that were wiggling around up on the riverbank were walking catfish. These exotic fish are not native to the area and there are signs posted warning that if you catch them, do not return them to the water. Someone had caught a bunch of fish, had taken them to the side and sorted through them, then left the bad fish (uneatable walking catfish) stranded on the riverbank.
Greg had to get back to the house to pack up and return to Palm Beach where he is working during the week. We said our good byes then took Potsy to Rev-El-Ry for dinner. We met her son and his wife, Gregory and Kat, where we had a delicious meal. All in all, it was a most satisfying day.
25 Jan (Sat) – Left Margaret & Rich’s in Port Charlotte and headed off to Sarasota to visit with Melody’s brother, Gregory. Stopped at Cracker Barrel for lunch. Arrived at Greg & Potsy’s house at 11:30 a.m. We parked the camper on the lawn and hooked up to water and electric. Melody’s brother, Christopher, happens to also be in Florida visiting a friend so they stopped in to visit, too. We all went to Poblano’s Mexican Restaurant for a late lunch. Afterward, we returned to Greg & Potsy’s for coffee and cake. Chris left and we watched Captain Phillips on TV with Greg & Potsy.
Today was my son’s fiancé’s bridal shower. I tried to Skype in but it was so noisy - nobody could really hear me. I asked them to call back when Samantha began opening her presents, but they called back when she started opening my presents. It was still too hard to hear, so I hung up. We spoke again later at 7:30 p.m.
My brother, Timothy, called from Georgetown. He has had some interesting problems during his sailing adventure to the Bahamas. It was good to hear his voice and to be reassured that he is OK.
24 Jan 2014 (Fri) – Went to visit with our friend, Laurie, in Englewood for lunch. Her friend’s husband, Jay, joined us. We had lobster bisque and sandwiches at Mango Bistro. It was an enjoyable day as we walked up and down the main street and strolled along Lemon Bay. Laurie has done marvelous things with her new house (she moved down from New York a year ago). Made a quick stop at Publix to pick up a few things, and then at the gas station to top off the tank for tomorrow’s move to Sarasota.
When we got back to the camper, we walked the dog then went in to visit with Margaret and Rich. She made steaks and salad for dinner, and a coconut pie for dessert. We had a wonderful evening eating, drinking, and reminiscing. Sorry we couldn’t stay longer.
23 Jan 2014 (Thu) – Got up early and drove to Kars RV Campground to watch the Atlas V lift off from Cape Canaveral sometime between 9:05 and 9:45 a.m. When we got to the campground, we noticed no one around (there should have been a crowd). We asked the guard about it who said he thought the launch was going to be at 9:05 tonight.
Disappointed, we turned around and drove to George’s shop. He’d gotten a new, custom built AR15 and offered us the opportunity to fire it. We got to shoot that and a pistol. What a great experience! It felt like being in the Army again.
Returned to the camper and finished packing up. Pulled out at 11 a.m. and headed for our friend’s home in Port Charlotte. Paul used to work with Margaret at the New York State Department of Transportation until her retirement from the state in 1996. Margaret and her husband, Rich, graciously allowed us to hook up at their house. She also cooked a delicious pot roast dinner. Yum!
At 9 p.m. we walked out onto the lawn and watched for the Atlas V launch. It finally lifted off at 9:40 p.m. We finally got to see a NASA launch!
When we pulled up the a toll booth today, the toll collector said to Paul, “Your truck matches your trailer.” Needless to say, we were impressed that someone should notice it so quickly.
22 Jan 2014 (Wed) – Drove to the graphics design place at 8:15 a.m. but they weren’t open yet. We drove to a diner and had breakfast, then drove back to the graphics design place at 9 a.m. George was there talking to his friend. We left the truck and George drove us back to the campground. We did laundry and began packing up to move tomorrow. Had lunch in the Moose Lodge. The designer texted to say the truck would be ready at 1:30 p.m. Advised George, who picked us up and brought us to the shop at 2 p.m. The design is very nice.
Went to George & Linda’s for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Their son, Neil, and his girlfriend and baby joined us, as well as their neighbor. Everything was delicious and we enjoyed the company.
21 Jan 2014 (Tue) – Drove to George’s shop at 11 a.m. to meet them for lunch. We went to Jabber’s down the road. The baby was really fussy when Linda tried to change him (she watches her grandson during the day). I tried to console him but he would have none of it.
After lunch, we dropped the guys off back at the shop and Linda and I went to the hairdresser. Got my hair washed and cut. It cost $35 (plus tip)! Back home, my hairdresser only charges $17 for a wash and cut. And I thought New York was expensive.
Got back to the campsite and Paul was leaving to track the distance from the camper to the graphics designer. The designer sent the graphics for the truck to us today and will put them on tomorrow. Paul will meet George there at 9 a.m. He spent all afternoon cleaning the truck to get it ready. He is so excited.
Went to the Lodge for drinks at 3:30 pm. Played table shuffleboard. Paul is very good. He beat me hands down. Returned to the camper, made dinner, and began preparations to depart on Thursday. Skyped with our son and daughter in law tonight I finished scanning another photo album. Where did all these pictures come from? Oy vay!
20 Jan 2014 (Mon) – Did some housekeeping duties around the camper today. I lined two more shelves (after Paul went out to pick up more double sided tape). We did the laundry. The Moose Lodge has one washer and one dryer on the patio that campers can use for free. That is really convenient!
Went to the lodge for lunch. Paul had a club sandwich and I had tuna salad. The cook quit so the menu was very limited in choices (the new cook refused to make certain items). After lunch, we drove to Publix and did some grocery shopping. Paul picked up tape at Home Depot and an electric blanket at Target. I put the flannel sheets on the bed. It was so hot last night! We never needed any electric blanket.
19 Jan 2014 (Sun) – Met George & Linda at the Moose Lodge for breakfast. After breakfast, we went to the 11 a.m. service at the Methodist Church. The minister was a very gifted speaker – he didn’t use a single note to follow during his sermon. I can’t do that!
We returned to the camper for a while. Had Bloody Marys at the lodge. At 2 p.m. we drove to Walgreens to get a birthday card and gift certificate for George’s son, then drove to George’s condo, where he drove us all to The Grill for a late lunch/early dinner. George’s daughter and her husband and son, and George’s son and girlfriend with her son joined us at the restaurant. Afterwards, we went to their daughter’s house for cupcakes. Left at 6 p.m. Stopped at WalMart on the way home and bought flannel sheets. It’s been so cold, we wanted to buy an electric blanket. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find one so we settled for flannel sheets.
Called Las Vegas and spoke with my cousin, Bonnie. Found out that my aunt had a massive heart attack on January 12th. She was in the hospital until she passed away yesterday. They plan to have her body cremated. All her children are flying to Vegas.
18 Jan 2014 (Sat) – Made breakfast, then drove to Port St. Lucie to visit a friend. Dan was one of Paul’s customers in New York and is down here in Florida making repairs to his winter home. We had a pleasant visit for a half hour, then took off for Fellsmere where they were having their annual Frog Legs Festival.
We had to park at an off-site then take a shuttle bus to the festival. It was a combination carnival and craft fair. The town started the Frog Legs Festival a few years ago as a fund-raiser. It was so successful, that they now have it every year. They serve about 7,000 dinners, plus other food stuff that is available to buy (turkey legs, hot dogs, corn dogs, etc.). The menu included a pound of frog legs, frog legs alone as a dinner, gater tails alone as a dinner, or a combo of frog legs and gater tails. We bought the combo for $14 that also included hush puppies and cole slaw. We also had to buy a bottle of water for $2. This was after we first got there, saw the line wrapped around the tents, and bought chicken on a stick and lemonade for $28.
The frog legs were kind of sweet and had a faint fishy taste to them. Its texture was very much like chicken but not its taste. The gater was very tuff to chew and tasted nothing like chicken.
We returned to the camper, walked the dog, and fed the animals. Then we went into the Moose Lodge for drinks. It was Spanish night and they were serving salad, pulled pork, and Spanish rice. We bought one dinner, took it back to the camper, and split it.
It’s funny. Everywhere we went in Disney World, the bathrooms had paper towels to dry your hands. During the Backstage Tour, we learned that Disney has a strong recycle program that includes composting. They must be sending the paper towels to the compost along with the foodstuff they throw out. There are many places outside Disney today where they use those jet engine hand dryers that threaten to blow your clothing off if you stand too close to it. Your hands are dry in ten seconds. Is it really more efficient to use the paper towels than to use the hand dryers? It would be worth investigating.
Got a phone call from my cousin in Connecticut saying my aunt in Las Vegas passed away. She was the last of all my mother’s sisters and brothers. A whole generation gone.
17 Jan 2014 (Fri) – Took it easy today. Toodled around the camper all morning, then went to the Moose Lodge for lunch. We both had chili for $6 a bowl, and drinks (beer and cocktail) for $5.25. After lunch we went to the post office to mail packages home, to Auto Zone to buy diesel exhaust cleaner, then to an ATM to put some cash in our pockets.
Went to the Moose Lodge for dinner at 5 p.m. They were running a bingo game from 4 to 6 p.m. so we sat at the bar for an hour. When the bingo game was done, they served dinner. We got two buffet dinners for $6 each. Two couples sat at our table with us and we had a delightful conversation about camping and New York. One couple was from Schenectady, NY, and the other couple’s husband grew up in Flushing. At 7:30 p.m., a DJ started playing music. Many couples got up and danced. Some of them were quite good. We left at 7:45 p.m. and came back to the RV to skype with our son.
16 Jan 2014 (Thu) – Left Orlando and headed back to Merritt Island (good-bye Disney World!). Hooked up in the camping area behind the Moose Lodge. You can’t really call it a campground. It is fifteen sites with water and electric hookups (no sewer). The campsites are in a line in the back of the lodge. The lodge is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily and Saturday, and 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. They serve lunch every day, and dinner Tuesday through Friday and sometimes Saturday, as well as breakfast every Sunday morning. There is a full bar and a very nice lounge area. There is a bathroom and free laundry but no showers. That is a problem with no sewer hookup. We are back to using paper plates and plastic silverware, and limiting toilet use to first or last thing in the day. We will probably drive back over to Kars Park (the stinky campground) to take showers.
Arrived at Cousin George’s body shop at 12:30 p.m. A guy he knows who does graphics came over at 1 p.m. to look at the camper and truck. He will produce some designs to put on the truck that will match the RV. He will email the design to us for review and approval, then George will apply the graphics to the truck. What a sweet setup we will have going down the road! Whoooeeeee!
Left George’s and returned to the campsite. Completed set up then went into the Moose Lodge to check it out. The bar was open so we had drinks and a snack. We came back to the trailer and took naps. Seems we were pooped after our two weeks at Disney World. We are able to stay here for six and a half days for what it cost us to stay at Disney for one day. What a cost difference!
Went to George & Linda’s at 6 p.m., had drinks, then went to the Bonefish Grill for dinner. Everything was delicious. The company, as always, was just as enjoyable. Finished, made plans to go boating on Sunday, and returned home.
15 Jan 2014 (Wed) – This is our last full day at Disney. It is funny. You want to avoid the crowds so you come at off-season times. While you don’t suffer wall-to-wall bodies (a wonderful convenience), there are drawbacks. Several attractions have been closed for refurbishment (a major inconvenience). We understand that Disney must refurbish and repair its attractions during off-peak periods. It is just disappointing not to be able to experience those particular attractions. Trade-offs.
Went to the Magic Kingdom this morning and went on the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Run Away Train. Returned to the campground and did some laundry. Also started packing away stuff for our move tomorrow.
Went to Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada for dinner. We had to eat early – at 4:30 p.m. (everything later was booked until 9:30 p.m.). We finished and decided to go to France for coffee and dessert. Since it was so early, we took the long way around, arriving at France around 7:00 p.m. We had coffee and dessert (de-licious!), then walked up and down the showcase for two hours until the Illuminations Fireworks Show began at 9 p.m. The show was great!
Returned to the camper about 9:45 p.m. and prepared to pull up stakes.
14 Jan 2014 (Tue) – Woke with my throat on fire. When will this stupid thing go away? Arrggghhhhh!!!
Showered then headed off to Hollywood Studios. Went on the Star Wars ride, the Tower of Terror, the Movie Ride, and Toy Story Mania. Snuck into the Indiana Jones Stunt Show to see the ending (it wasn’t working when we went). Picked up a Disney Christmas decoration for our tree (when we decide to come off the road and move back into a sticks and bricks house).
Got back to the RV around 4 p.m. Walked the dog and fed the animals. Did a quick change and hurried off to the Polynesian Resort where we had tickets for the Spirit of Aloha dinner show. Checked in, got a lei, had our picture taken, and were seated. The food was family style and consisted of tossed greens, mango slaw, noodle salad, and pineapple for appetizer; followed by pulled pork, barbequed spare ribs, roast chicken, and mixed vegetables for dinner. Dessert consisted of pineapple bread pudding with a caramel drizzle. The show was fabulous with lots of hula dancing by men and women, and a fantastic fire dance by Chief Cody.
After dinner, we went up to the second floor of the resort, got drinks at the bar, and walked out to the beach. Dried off the lounge chairs (it rained today), relaxed into position, and watched the fireworks. All in all, it was a very lovely evening. A great day.
13 Jan 2014 (Mon) – Woke at 6 a.m. with a bad coughing fit. Got up and sprayed some Chloraseptic in my throat. Looks like my tonsils are swollen in addition to the sinus congestion. Blah!
Went to the Animal Kingdom today and took the Jungle Safari. It was pleasant (besides the rough ride) and most of the animals could be seen. After the ride through the refuge, we walked through the discovery trail and saw more animals on exhibit.
Then we went to the Everest roller coaster ride. After looking at it, I decided not to go. Since we had fast passes to the ride (there was a 30 minute wait), Paul used his fast pass first then took my magic band and used my fast pass. I contentedly sat and watched the cars filled with screaming tourists roar by. Paul thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and I even got a picture of him plunging down the mountainside – arms raised overhead and a big grin on his face.
We walked over to Dino Land and rode the Dinosaur. It was a ride through very dark displays with different kinds of dinosaurs popping out between roars, screams, and flashing meteors. Some of the animatronics and lights were not working properly. Disappointing.
At 12:45 p.m. we arrived at the Rainforest Café for lunch. The entire ceiling in the place was covered with tree branches and vines, and numerous animals were sprinkled around the room – all of which came alive and roared, screamed, and made ungodly noises every 15 minutes. Several aquarium tanks, filled with all kinds of exotic fish, were also located in several spots throughout the café. We found that the café is not owned by Disney, although it is located on Disney property. The waitress talked us into signing up for a membership in the Landry Select Club. They have about 20 different name restaurants located across the U.S. (including Bubba Gump Shrimp, Rainforest Cafe, and Morton’s, to name a few) and offer many benefits for belonging to the club.
After lunch, we took the Kali Rapids Ride and got soaking wet. Luckily, the weather was not cold (could have been warmer) so we were not uncomfortable (other than wet, heavy clothing hanging on your body). Stopped at Dino Land again and rode the Twirl and Hurl (a small coaster kind of like the Mouse at Coney Island but the car twirled in circles). Sat in on a show featuring many of the exotic birds at the park. Walked around the Tree of Life, saw a show about a bug’s life, looked at more animal and birds around the park, watched the parade, and then left for home around 5 p.m.
Got back to the RV, fed the animals, walked the dog, played with the cat, then barbequed some dinner. We were able to Skype with our son for a while. The baby had already gone to bed, although we did get a peek at him when daddy had to go in and reassure him.
At 9 p.m., we fixed ourselves a drink and walked down to the lakeside. We relaxed in the lounge chairs on the beach and waited for the lakeside parade to float by. The parade came floating by at 9:40 p.m. They have some phenomenal sound system! The music was awesome, as was the electric light parade. They ended with an Americana theme by displaying many flags and playing patriotic songs. Quite enjoyable.
12 Jan 2014 (Sun) – Woke with my sinuses congested and puffy eyes. Why won’t this virus go away? Arrggghhhh! Went to EPCOT. The marathon runners were finishing their race through the park, ending at the globe. There were traffic cones down the walkways on which the runners were kept to one side and we (the tourists) were kept on the other side. Rode Spaceship Earth and Soarin’. Walked over to the American Adventure and watched their show. Stopped in at Italy and had drinks. Wandered through the shops in China, Norway, and Canada. Got back to the campsite around 3:30 p.m. and took a nap.
Had dinner at the Wave Restaurant in the Contemporary Resort Hotel. Afterwards, we walked through the lobby and searched for the five legged goat (we found it), and the three legged chicken (it was nowhere to be found). [During our Backstage Tour, the guide told us that there were this chicken and goat at the Contemporary Hotel and you could see them on a mural when you came into the hotel by monorail.]
Tried to find our way up to the restaurant on the top floor. Figured we’d have a drink and look out over the Magic Kingdom. Turns out access to the top floor is controlled by a concierge. He told us they were at capacity and he couldn’t let any more people up; however, if we came back after 10 p.m., he would be gone and there would be no control on the elevators (wink, wink).
Left and took the launch back to the campground. While we were waiting at the pier, we saw the lakeside parade floats out in front of Wilderness Lodge, then move to Fort Wilderness. We will have to be sure to walk down to the lake to see it close up.
11 Jan 2014 (Sat) – Paul and I are still suffering our colds – Paul has aches, I have the sniffles and sinus congestion. Took showers this morning then went to First Watch for breakfast. Delicious! Afterward, we headed for Universal Studios. Half way there, we decided we really didn’t want to go (we’d seen everything we wanted), so we turned around and went to Disney’s Blizzard Beach Winter-Summerland mini-golf. Thought there would be some animatronics but there weren’t any. There were cute little poems at each hole describing what to do. The decorations were very Disney. Paul golfed a 41, I got a 49.
Left the mini-golf and returned to the camper. I did some housecleaning, Paul greased the wheel bearings on the camper. I discovered some water on the floor in the kitchen. Paul found that the clean-out hose for the toilet leaks. The joint is behind the shower wall, making it impossible to repair it. We should be alright as long as we don’t use the hose.
Took a bicycle ride around the park. Stopped at the concierge to pick up mail and clarify a charge on our Mastercard. It is just like on a cruise ship – you register your charge card at the beginning of the trip, sign for all your drinks and purchases throughout the cruise, then get hit with all the charges at the end of your cruise. We have been using our Magic Bands to charge meals and purchases, and they finally got them on our card. Ouch!
We had hotdogs for dinner, then waited for the campfire movie to start at 7:40 p.m. Unfortunately, it began to rain and the campfire and movie were cancelled. The fireworks didn’t go off at 8 p.m. because of the rain, but they did go off at 9 p.m. There was no lake parade tonight.
10 Jan 2014 (Fri) – Had breakfast at First Watch – a very interesting breakfast/brunch/lunch place that sells good-for-you food made from scratch. There are several avocado dishes available, and not at exorbitant charges. Paul and I had eaten there when I came back from Iraq in 2005. It was remarkable that Paul remembered where the place was.
Went to Universal Studios. It was $16 to park in a garage then walk what seemed like miles over moving and stationary sidewalks. We went on several rides – Shrek 4D show (too annoying), Transformers 3D ride (too fast), Twister (amusing), Revenge of the Mummy (an indoor roller coaster that was OK), Disaster (took a subway ride that suffered an earthquake, fiery crashes, and a flood), Men In Black (a ride through alien land where you have to shoot as many aliens as you can), Terminator 2 3D show (hasn’t changed in 20 years), and the Horror Make-Up Show (very funny). We had lunch at Finnegan’s Bar & Grill. Left at about 6 p.m.
9 Jan 2014 (Thu) – Paul wasn’t feeling well today. He woke at midnight with indigestion, then at 3 a.m. with cramps, then suffered indigestion again at 5 a.m. About 8 a.m., he got the chills. He went back to bed and slept till noon. When he got up, he took Dayquil. A miracle medicine! Within five minutes, the chills went away and Paul stopped feeling feverish.
Picked up a package at the concierge desk – mail forwarded from the Escapees RV Club. Drove to the Disney Boardwalk intending to walk the boardwalk and play mini golf. It started raining so golf went by the wayside. We had lunch at Big River Brewing Company on the boardwalk. Afterward, we drove to Downtown Disney to go to the movies. The schedule was not convenient so we just walked along looking at the storefronts. Pleasure Island was completely blocked off. Wonder when they closed that? There were loads of shops and some eateries. We stopped at a place called T-Rex for drinks and snack. The place was great! There were animatronic dinosaurs, jellyfish, and wild plant life all around the place. There was an ice cave and a couple of aquarium tanks with exotic fish. The bar was backlit with a blue light, making it look like it was carved out of ice. Every 15 minutes, a meteor shower supposedly hit the earth and all the dinosaurs in the place started roaring. What a noise!
After T-Rex, we walked further along the waterfront and came to the Rainforest Café. This place was built to look like a lava flowing volcano. Flames were shooting up ten feet high out of several places in the volcano. We took a quick walk through the place. The ceiling was covered with trees and vines to look like a rain forest. There were animatronic animals scattered around the restaurant. A couple of aquarium tanks were placed throughout the café. It looked very appealing to youngsters. Paul said he thinks the café has a thunderstorm every 15 minutes (like the meteor shower in the T-Rex).
We caught the boat across the lake to save having to walk back to the parking lot. Got home a little after 7 p.m. Spoke with our daughter and reviewed mail that had come to the house. Spoke with our son and reviewed his wedding plans. Everything seems to be coming together nicely.
8 Jan 2014 (Wed) – Got up late today. My throat was raw. Took a shower and did some work on the computer. Left around 11 a.m. Stopped at post office, ATM, and then Cracker Barrel for lunch. Got to Universal Studios around 2 p.m. Our tickets worked perfectly (we had bought them at the ITT office back at Fort Bragg, just like the Disney tickets). Turns out they have two parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Since we have never been to Islands of Adventure (and everyone was raving about the Harry Potter ride), we went there. It was quite entertaining. We walked through the Dr. Seuss area and took a ride on the trolley. I can imagine that – for a kid – this is a wonderful place. It certainly brought a smile to my face!
We wandered through the next area and got on line for Poseidon’s Fury. It was an hour wait and the thing was a joke. Definitely not worth the wait. We went on to Harry Potter’s ride. It was another hour wait. Winding our way back and forth, up and down, in and out of the lines, we found ourselves mooing. We passed the time by looking at everyone’s shoes. It is SO amazing to see the variety of colors and styles among sneakers.
The ride was definitely worth the wait. There were talking pictures, and floating candles, and all kinds of things right out of the Harry Potter books. The ride was so incredibly real. You were lifted in a chair and twisted and turned all kinds of ways as you followed Potter and friends on a wild ride around the Hogwarts Castle and quidditch field. We are going back tomorrow!
Stopped at the Three Broomsticks for dinner. It was modeled on restaurants like the Ponderosa where you look at the menu then place your order at the register, then pay, get your food at the counter, and finally sit down. The place was decorated very nicely and all the workers were wearing costumes.
Left the park and returned to the campground. After walking the dog and feeding the animals, we walked over to the lake and watched the fireworks show. Then we went to Crockett’s Tavern for drinks and snacks.
7 Jan 2014 (Tue) – Went back to EPCOT today. Paul again had a problem with his magic band when he tried to enter the park. We went right to guest relations where we were told once more that the problem was fixed. Sigh. This is getting so ridiculous. There is an arctic front crossing the U.S. Every state has been experiencing freezing temperatures. It got down to the low 30s last night. We dug out the electric heater and wore warm jammies to bed. It didn’t get over 46 degrees today. Everyone at the park was dressed in coats, jackets, hats, gloves, and blankets. It was kind of funny to see.
I was not feeling well this morning. Managed to pick up some kind of bug. I have a tickle in the back of my throat causing me to cough. Paul let me sleep late this morning, thinking it would make me feel better. It didn’t really. We didn’t get to EPCOT until almost 10 a.m.
Went to the Test Track ride. While waiting on line, the ride broke down and everyone was sent away. They gave us a free fast pass to come back with. We walked over to the International Pavilion. Stopped at Norway and rode the Maelstrom ride then watched their film. Continuing on, we stopped at Japan and watched the drum show. We continued on to Canada and watched their film. Got back to the Living Seas and took the Nemo ride before going to lunch at the Coral Reef. The restaurant was really interesting. You sat at your table and looked over at a huge aquarium tank filled with sharks, sting rays, and all kinds of fish. There were three divers in the tank, cleaning the coral. One guy swam by throwing out food for the fish.
After lunch, we returned to the Test Track and took the ride. They have upgraded the attraction. It was great. We left there and returned to the campground. There were port-a-potties lied up by the dozens in the parking lot, along with traffic cones, barriers, tents, and signs. We asked a cast member what was going on and he told us they are hosting all kinds of runs over the next four days (5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon). I’ve never seen so many port-a-potties lined up in one place like that. The line seemed to go on forever.
Got back to the camper, fed the animals, and walked the dog. Afterward, we did the laundry, then skyped with our son. We heard music coming from the lake around 9:45 p.m. We thought they stopped the water parade but apparently not. It was freezing today. It must have been some cold on that water.
6 Jan 2014 (Mon) – Went to EPCOT today. Had a problem with the biometrics on Paul’s magic band. The agent at the station entered some information in his iPad and Paul was able to get into the park. Stopped at Spaceship Earth first. They redesigned the entire ride. They started with the first caveman etchings and followed the progress of communication all the way through to today’s computers. We really enjoyed the ride. Paul’s magic band wouldn’t work on the rides but the ride operators overrode whatever the computer was saying and passed him through as my guest.
We went on other rides, then stopped at Mexico for lunch. The meal was delicious and the waiter very attentive. After lunch, we took the boat ride in the Mexican pavilion. It always seemed weird to take a boat ride through a restaurant where people were actually eating a meal.
We went over to The Land and the Universe of Energy and rode some of the rides there. Stopped by guest relations to get our magic bands and entrance cards fixed (again). The agent told us the last two people who had worked on our account had messed things up and he was going to fix it. We took his word with a grain of salt. We’ll see what happens when we try to get into the park and rides tomorrow.
Left the park at four, hurried back to the camper, fed the animals, changed, then went to Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian. It was a huge place based on an elegant Floridian mansion of the 1940s. Our reservation was for 5:45 p.m.; we were seated about 6 p.m. The hostess told us the fireworks were at eight and could be seen out the window. We tried but we just couldn’t make the meal last that long. We were finished about 7:40 p.m.
Walked back to the hotel from the restaurant (the restaurant was on the lake), then took the monorail around the WDW property. Hoped to catch the fireworks during the ride but it didn’t work out. Got back to the Grand Floridian hotel and walked around the second floor looking at the shops. Walked out to the parking lot and drove back to the campground. An arctic front is moving in and it was cold – down to 46 degrees. The wind was cold! It is supposed to drop to 31 degrees by tomorrow morning. Brought out the electric heater tonight. Brrrrrrrrr.
5 Jan 2014 (Sun) – Went to the Magic Kingdom today. Took the boat launch across the lake. Had trouble with the Magic Bands (again) and had to go to guest relations to get it fixed. Took almost an hour. The castle was beautiful! They had loads of white lights on the castle that looked like icicles.
Went to Frontierland and rode Splash Mountain, the Run Away Train, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, and Buzz Lightyear shoot out. Had lunch at the Be Our Guest Restaurant. How very interesting! Disney sent us an email asking us to participate in a test program with the restaurant. We had to make reservations online and make our menu choices ahead of time. Then we were given a time period to show up at the restaurant to pick up our meal.
When we got there, the line was so incredibly long. I don’t know how parents could keep their kids waiting so long for food. We went to the Fast Pass lane and were ushered right up front, then right into the restaurant where we checked in with “Joey.” After Joey entered us into the record, we were directed to the service line. After waiting a while, we were directed to a kiosk where a waitress asked us to verify our menu choices and had us pay for our meal. Then we were told to go sit down and they would bring the food to us. We found a small table in back of the room in the corner and sat down, wondering how in the world they were going to find us. The room was a recreation of the Beast’s ballroom (from Beauty & the Beast). Within three minutes, our food arrived. We asked the waitress how she knew where we were sitting, and she told us it was part of the Disney magic (there is probably a tracker in the magic bands.) There was another room that was decorated to look like the Beast’s bedroom, painted dark with ripped hangings and slashed paintings, and a rose in a glass dome. Another room was decorated to look like the library with the Beast and Bell dancing in the center of the room. There must have been over 200 seats in the entire place.
We ran back to the camper to feed the animals and walk the dog. Spent an hour and a half at the RV, then rode back to the Magic Kingdom to have dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern. They still had a holiday dinner on the menu – it was a family-style meal with salad, three kinds of meat, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and Johnny Appleseed cake for dessert. We got to watch the electrical parade through the window as it passed by on the street outside.
Went on a few more rides then returned to the campground around midnight.
4 Jan 2014 (Sat) – Woke at 7:30, took a quick shower, and then headed off to Hollywood Studios. The guy parking cars didn’t know what he was doing. They parked us in a lot far from the entrance and the trams were not running. Hate to start the day off aggravated. Argh!
Stopped at Guest Relations to synchronize our Magic Bands with our entrance cards. Turned out we had two accounts opened. The agent synced them up. Went on the Tower of Terror (it was not as bad after taking that Backstage Tour yesterday), the Great Movie Ride, Toy Story Mania, then watched the Stunt Show, Davey Jones Locker, and the Indiana Jones Stunt Show. Had lunch at the 50s Prime Time Café. Interesting place. Very 1950s looking with TVs playing shows from that time period.
Left at five, ran back to the camper, fed the animals, walked the dog, had dinner, and headed back to Hollywood Studios for the Fantasmic show. Arrived at 6:15 p.m. and they were parking cars about as far back as they could. We would never make the 6:30 show, so we decided to leave. Went to Downtown Disney and saw a movie – “Saving Mr. Banks.” Excellent show.
There was a bar serving cocktails right in the theater lobby. Since we were early, we thought we would have a cocktail before the movie. I had not brought my purse in with me and when the bartender asked for ID, I couldn’t produce any. He refused to serve me so we left and went to an outdoor bar next door. As we stepped up to the bar, I looked down and saw a wallet laying on the ground. I gave it to the bartender and then we ordered drinks. The bar comped Paul’s beer for turning in the wallet. That was very nice of them. The customer that lost the wallet came back to claim it later. He was very glad someone had turned it in.
3 Jan 2014 (Fri) – Got up at 6:30 a.m. Fed the animals, walked the dog, ate breakfast, and headed out to EPCOT where we met our tour group for our Disney Backstage Magic Tour at 8:30 a.m. We went to four parks – EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. There were 39 people on the tour, with two guides, and the bus driver who took us from park to park. The whole tour was seven hours long with a stop at the Wilderness Lodge for lunch at the Whispering Canyon Café. We saw loads of stuff behind the scenes where they create sets, characters, costumes, signs, topiary, parade floats, etc. The most fascinating thing was to see the utilidors – utility corridors that run under the Magic Kingdom. This allows the cast members to move around out of sight of the tourists.
After the tour was over, we drove into town to do some grocery shopping. Picked up some potato soup and crusty French bread for dinner. Yum! The temperature never went over 50 today. Combined with a steady wind, it was cold. Many of the tourists wore gloves, hats, and winter coats. We kept reminding each other that the folks up north were getting hammered with winter storm Hercules that was bringing six to ten inches of snow today. It still didn’t make it any warmer.
After dinner, we sat around the table and set out our schedule for the two weeks – made dinner and lunch reservations and planned for a break from Disney midweek to visit Universal. About 9:40 p.m. we heard music playing again (same thing happened last night). Melody ran out to the lake to see what it was. Turns out that they have an electric light water parade on the lagoon every night, followed by fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. You could see them across the lake.
2 Jan 2014 (Thu) – Woke to the sound of fog horns on the river this morning. The fog was so thick; you couldn’t see two feet in front of you. It burned off by 9 a.m. It’s interesting how used you get to your conveniences. We used to hike the trail and camp in lean-to’s along the route. Then we moved to a tent. Then we got cots in the tent. Wow! That was luxury. Then came a pop-up; then a bigger pop-up. Then we got a fifth wheel and then moved up to a bigger fifth wheel. During most of our camping years, we had no running water or toilet in the camper. We had to use the campground bathhouse facilities. With the move up to our fifth wheel RV, we have enjoyed all the comforts of home in our “rolling house on wheels.” This week has been a challenge with going back to using the bathhouse because we had no sewer hookup. We had to conserve water use so we didn’t fill our tanks. We did it by using paper plates and plastic silverware, conserving water, and using the bathroom for our “other activities.”
We took the Bee Line from Merritt Island to Orlando. It was $12.25 total. What a rip off!
Got to Walt Disney World at noon. The campground is very full and the campsites are very close to each other. We are on a concrete pad with some trees in-between the sites. Some people have an insane amount of decorations on and around their trailers. There is one trailer that has so many of the blow up figures and lights that they must bring another trailer with them just to carry all the stuff!
We were given a handful of documents when we registered – information about Disneyworld and its events and parks. There is a whole page dedicated just to reviewing regulations regarding Christmas decorations at campsites. We looked over the material we got and were disappointed to find important information omitted. We were mailed Magic Bands for a new program Disney is implementing. By waving the bands over a special port, you can charge your meal or ticket, make a reservation, and gain access to certain areas around the park. We have not had an easy time making these things work. Trying to go online has not been as easy as you would think it should be either. For instance, their website has a link called “Contact Us.” But when you click on it, it takes you to a page of most asked questions. There is no phone number to call. Seems to be something simple but a huge oversight on the part of Disney.
After we set up, it started to rain. It stopped and the sun came out. Then the clouds moved in and it started raining again - this time, on and off for the rest of the day. Had to walk the dog in the pouring rain. And there is no readily identifiable place to walk the dog. It’s isn’t clear where to take her.
Went to dinner at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge. What an amazing place the lodge is! It has a huge entry way that goes up the entire seven floors. Railing surrounds the hallways on each floor. There is a huge fireplace on one side of the room and totem poles and carved posts reaching all the way to the roof. Each floor seems to also have a fireplace burning in a common lounge area. There are a couple of pools outside, and a giant geyser that erupts every few minutes.
We came back to the campground and Paul promptly began to decorate our RV. There was noise over by the lake at 9:30 p.m. It was some kind of parade on the water. At 10 p.m. we heard several booms. They were fireworks going off. We need to get a schedule of events from the concierge tomorrow.
1 Jan 2014 (Wed) – It has been so interesting watching Port Canaveral across the river. Two or three cruise ships a day come in and out of that place. I am amazed that so many people are cruising; so many as to make cruising a profitable business. Where is the recession the news keeps reporting?
Went to George & Linda’s at 3:30 p.m. for corned beef and sauerkraut dinner. Everything was delicious. We sat and chatted for a few hours, then returned to the campground. Began to pack up for our move to Disneyworld tomorrow.
31 Dec 2013 (Tue) (New Year’s Eve) – Went to Diane & Chris’ house for snacks and drinks at 5:30 p.m. Left around 8:30 p.m. and went back to George & Linda’s condo. Watched the Times Square show on TV, wished each other a Happy New Year, then returned to the campground.
The campground was a party place. All kinds of campers and tents were set up with campfires and lights and decorations. The folks here really enjoy celebrating.
30 Dec 2013 (Mon) – Went to Kennedy Space Center today. What an experience! Besides the historical aspect of the center, it brought back memories of events that took place during our growing years. The Atlantis space shuttle was on display, as was the lunar command module from an Atlas mission. There were displays that showed space suits, the international space station, descriptions of the many different missions and how astronauts live in space (sleep, eat, and poop). We watched an IMAX 3D movie about the Hubble Telescope and took a bus ride to the launch control area. We spent the entire day there from 9 to almost 5, and could have stayed longer. The admission fee was steep ($46 per person), and you could buy some tours if you wanted for another $30 to $50. We had lunch at the Orbit Café and shopped in the gift store for souvenirs.
We hurried back to the campground, fed the animals, walked the dog, changed our clothes, and met George & Linda at the condo. Drove to Carrabba’s where we met Denise & John for dinner. The restaurant was very busy; we waited almost an hour for a table. The food was good and the company, as always, was enjoyable.
29 Dec 2013 (Sun) – Met George & Linda at the Moose Lodge for breakfast. It was only $6 for all you can eat. They had scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, French toast, sausage, gravy, biscuits, and grits. It was all quite good.
We then went to a United Methodist Church on the Island that Linda has been wanting to go to. It was a pretty building. Many of the windows had colored panes and there were many poinsettias along the front altar. The website said they had three services: 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00. We opted for the 11 a.m. service, but when we arrived at 10:45 a.m. we discovered there was no eleven o’clock service because of the holiday. There was only a ten o’clock service. What little part of the sermon we caught was nice, followed by communion, and a hymn.
We then went over Denise’s house. We spent a pleasant hour visiting with Denise & John. We stopped at George’s body shop to see his boat, meet his dogs, and admire the recent paint job in the office. Afterwards we returned to the campground and did some laundry. While sitting at the table, I looked outside and spotted a large rainbow. The colors were very intense and the rainbow seemed to sit right on the water. It was stunning. After we initially spotted the rainbow and were oohing and aahing over it, we realized we should be taking pictures. I grabbed my iPhone and Paul ran over to get his camera, then we both dashed outside to start snapping photos. The cameras just did not capture the beauty and grandeur of that rainbow.
28 Dec 2013 (Sat) – There were two ships in port today. It rained overnight but it did not help to chase away the smell. Peeyew!!! There were dark, threatening rain clouds on the horizon all day and it rained a little.
Met George and Linda at their condo. Paul and George went off to do their thing; Melody and Linda picked up Diane and baby Ryan, then drove to Kohl’s to exchange a wrong-sized belt Melody bought for Paul. After Kohl’s, we went to Grill’s for lunch. After lunch, we drove to Appleseed, a health food store. Then we dropped Diane and Ryan off at home, and met the guys back at the condo. The guys apparently also had lunch at a Grill’s (the place to go for lunch). They went to George’s body shop, looked at the boat but did not go out because the weather was unpleasant (George is an avid fisherman). They also went to a jewelry shop to exchange a gift George had bought for Linda, stopped at the canal lock at Port Canaveral, then stopped for a beer at the oldest bait shop on Merritt Island. We made plans for breakfast and church tomorrow, then returned to the campground after a quick stop at the supermarket to pick up pet food.
We went to do laundry but the room was closed up for the day (hours of operation are 9 to 6). We both took showers at the bathhouse then went back to the RV for dinner.
27 Dec 2013 (Fri) – Had a most delightful afternoon when my cousins came over for a barbeque. This is the first time we have entertained anyone in the RV since our trailer warming party in 2011. Had to have Linda bring two plates because we only have four place settings (have to keep the weight down in the camper). We would use paper plates but steak doesn’t cut well on those. Cooked London broil, baked potatoes, and grilled asparagus. The wind was kind enough to blow in the other direction so we did not have that awful smell while we sat outside and enjoyed the meal and each other’s company. As we were winding down, the wind began to shift and the smell started seeping into the area. By 10 p.m., the smell was so bad, we had every window and vent closed up tight and the air conditioner on. It was making me gag!
Miranda called and we reviewed the mail she has received for us. She sent us a video she and Kenny made of the baby in his Superman outfit. Funny!
26 Dec 2013 (Thu) – Took off for the Kennedy Space Center today. It was $10 to park the car and there were loads of people there. We were looking at the information board to see what tours they offered when an employee announced that all tours were booked for the day. We got to talking with him and found there were eleven thousand people there (the normal number of visitors in a day is three thousand). We decided to come back after the new year. Less people will mean no lines, and nobody in the way when trying to look at a display.
Left the Space Center and drove over to Patrick Air Force Base. We had planned for the base to be an alternate camp site if KARS Park had been full. Patrick AFB was large and the campground was nice – at least it had full hookups. The sites were close together with some palm trees interspersed throughout the campground. There was a golf course and a marina right next to the campground. We went into the marina clubhouse to see if we could get a bite to eat. A guy at the bar told us the officer’s club burned down so there is none on the base. The marina serves hot dogs and burgers. The golf clubhouse serves hot dogs, burgers, and chicken nuggets. We left base and stopped at a Denny’s for lunch. The service was soooooo slow. OMG. It took an hour to get our food. Our waitress told us she was new when she took our orders, but it was clear they were short staffed. There was only one cook in the kitchen and another waitress came in to work shortly before we left.
Tried to find a stationary store where we could pick up a flash drive. Paul wanted to download pictures he had taken at Denise & Chris’ house yesterday. There were no nearby Staples or Office Max. We tried asking for electronics, computer, or stationary stores but Siri couldn’t find anything close. As we were pulling a U-turn, Paul spotted a sign for Office Depot. Sure enough, Siri gave us directions to that. Isn’t Office Depot a stationary store? Stopped at a Publix and picked up some charcoal (for barbecue) and vinegar (for ant bites).
Returned to the campground and took Bonnie for a long walk around the park. They have an area for miniature airplanes and scouting groups. The site has the nastiest little stinging gnats. They come right through the screens. You spend a good deal of your day swatting and scratching. We also got bitten by ants. Their bites leave little welts that turn into itchy whiteheads two days later (I joked that the ants laid eggs in there). Don’t think I especially care for this campground.
25 Dec 2013 (Wed)(Christmas Day) – The day was cool and partly cloudy. Since we have no sewer hookup, we have to be careful about using the water. Consequently, we are using paper plates and plastic silverware, and using the park’s facilities. Walked over and took a shower, then returned and made breakfast. Paul worked around the camper on various projects, and Melody worked on the computer. Took a walk down to the pier after lunch. There was another cruise ship in port – we think it was Carnival (it was gone later on in the day). We walked by the marina and saw the noses of some manatees poking up now and then. There were signs around warning you not to “water the manatees” and not to feed the alligators.
This reminded us of our trip to the Florida Keys a couple of years ago. We were staying in a friend’s house on a canal, and a pod of 7 or 8 manatees came swimming along. My cousin said they like to drink fresh water, so we lowered a hose into the water. Sure enough, they came over and started drinking from the hose. It turns out that manatees only drink fresh water, despite the fact that they swim in a salt water environment. They treated the water like candy and wouldn’t have stopped drinking if we hadn’t taken the hose out. It was one of the coolest experiences we had ever had with wildlife. We later found out that it is against Florida law to interact with the manatees.
At a little after two o’clock, we left for George & Linda’s daughter’s house for Christmas dinner. We met their 9-month old grandson, Ryan, and greeted Diane & Chris (their daughter and son (in-law), and Neil (their son). My cousin, Denise, arrived later. We exchanged gifts and then enjoyed a very pleasant lasagna dinner. We returned back at the campground around 7 p.m.
24 Dec 2013 (Tue) – Woke to a drizzly, overcast day, but it cleared up in the afternoon. Ran to Home Depot to pick up some repair items. When we arrived here yesterday and opened the slides, a package got in the way of the living room slide and popped the molding off. Paul had to nail it back on. This is a reminder that we must be ever vigilant about making sure to secure everything before moving.
We went to Home Depot to pick up some repair material, then to Publix to get some food stuff. Returned to the campground and Paul was able to repair the molding. Then he strung Christmas lights in a tree shape along the back outside of the camper. We put a solar lighted cross at the top of the tree. It was beautiful. Paul also put a string of Christmas lights inside across the top of the living room slide. It looks very festive in here.
You can see Cape Canaveral across the river. There was one cruise ship there when we arrived yesterday. There were two ships there today – Norwegian cruise lines and Royal Caribbean cruise lines. They left sometime during the day.
We drove to my cousin George’s place, and then met Denise and John at the Discovery Christian Center for Christmas Eve services. It was a very big, warehouse looking place. They had a slide screen that projected the words to songs in the front of the room, and a few members of the congregation (including the pastor) were playing musical instruments. A woman and young girl were singing, and various members of the congregation came up and read the Christmas story from the scriptures. They had communion – you just walked up, took a piece of cracker the size of a grain of rice, drank the grape juice, picked up a candle, then returned to your seat – then we stood in a huge circle around the room with lighted candles and listened to Oh, Holy Night being played over the speaker. Then we all sang one verse of Silent Night and it was over. It seemed so impersonal, not like back home.
Afterward, George, Linda, Paul and I went to the Bone Fish Grill for dinner. We had something called “Bang Bang Shrimp” that was outstanding. Paul had crab cakes and I had broiled salmon.
23 Dec 2013 (Mon) – We heard a loud ship’s blast in the canal way in front of the campground at 8 a.m. We ran out to see what it was. A barge was spraying its fire hoses to each side in a welcome gesture (two fire trucks did the same thing when my plane taxied onto the runway in Texas returning from deployment in the Middle East). A Navy ship was coming into port with all the sailors lined up along the rails on deck. The ship was sounding its horn regularly. Soon, all the ships in port at the Navy base began to blast their horns. Two hours later, another ship came in the same way – blasting its horn as if to say “Maaaaaa, I’m home!” The answering blasts said “Welcome back.” A Navy port is very noisy when ships come in. Wonder if it’s the same way when they leave port.
Finished cleaning and packing up everything and was on the road by 10 a.m. Stopped at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. I was on the phone for an hour with the insurance company; Paul used the time to Christmas shop in Cracker Barrel’s store. We had 3-cheese grilled cheese and green tomato & ham soup. It was quite tasty.
Arrived at the campground around 3:30 p.m. It used to be for the exclusive use of the employees of the Kennedy Space Center, and only recently opened to the military (active and retired). It is located on a wildlife refuge area and our campsite is literally on the banks of the Banana River. Three big steps will put you right in the water. The very first thing we noticed when we arrived was the stench. The tide was out and the rotting seaweed seemed like rotten eggs. It was strongest right in front of the door. Ugh! We have to watch out for alligators, snakes, wild boar, and other critters. Guess we’ll keep Sheba indoors for now.
As you look across the river, you can see the Kennedy Space Center standing tall in the distance. It is the perfect place from which to watch a space shuttle launch – IF there was going to be one. Unfortunately, NASA is no longer doing these so it’s just a big building on the far shore.
Drove to my cousin’s place and had dinner with George; his wife, Linda; his sister, Denise; and her boyfriend, John. It was a delightful evening! On the way back to the campground, we spotted a live armadillo on the side of the road. There was also a huge tortoise. It’s like being in a zoo without walls. Cool! Coming from the suburbs of New York, the only wildlife you usually see is a dead one on the side of the road.
22 Dec 2013 (Sun) – Took it easy today. Did some housekeeping duties. Shopped at the PX and commissary. Did some laundry. Packed away the cold weather clothes. Brought out the lawn chairs and, with wine glass in hand, watched the sun set in the west. It was a great day. Ready to jump tomorrow. Headed to Merritt Island.
21 Dec 2013 (Sat) – Woke to a beautiful, balmy day. Took Bonnie down to the beach. Let her off the leash and she took off, ignoring all calls to come back. Fortunately, I had brought a chicken wing with me in case she did just this thing. I kept waving it and calling that I had a treat. Finally, she caught the scent of it and came running back to me. Good thing, too, because we had taken her pet tracker off so it wouldn’t get wet in the ocean. It would have been tough to find her if we ran off.
The ocean was vast. We watched a container ship sail by on its way somewhere far across the ocean. The tide was going out. The water was cold. I had forgotten how loud the ocean can be with the waves crashing on the shore. There were two or three fishermen on the beach – that was it. We could have been standing on the beach at Atlantique on Fire Island. The sand was filled with crushed shells.
We brought Bonnie back to the camper, dried her off, and left for the ITT Office. They said the only place worth seeing around here is St. Augustine. They had tickets for the trolley tour and a holiday light tour that takes place at night. We decided that St. Augustine would be more appropriate for a walking tour, so we didn’t get any tickets. St. Augustine is the oldest established city in the continental United States. It was founded by the Spanish; taken by the British; taken by America in the revolutionary war; given back to the Spanish for their help in the war; then purchased by America for $5 million.
Got on the interstate and headed down to St. Augustine. Much of the ride was like driving along Ocean Parkway on Fire Island or Dune Road in the Hamptons. There were many beach houses along the shore, sometimes so narrow that you could see the water behind the houses on both sides of the peninsula as you drove along the road.
Arrived in St. Augustine and it was immediately clear that we were there on a weekend. People were everywhere. We went to the visitor center and got information about the sights. Walked across the street to the Castillo de San Marcos. It was a fort built by the Spanish in the late 1600s to protect the city. Quite old and fascinating. There was a cannon firing and the volunteers were getting ready to fire their muskets when we left. The tour of the old fort was so interesting.
We left the fort and walked down the street in the Colonial Quarter. It was a brick lined street with some of the oldest buildings in the city. There would be store after store with vendors hawking their wares, then there would be an historic building right in the middle of everything, with a plaque explaining its significance and maybe an admission fee, then back to the vendors. We found a place to eat, then resumed our tour.
We walked down Aviles Street which is purported to have the oldest established area in the United States. The street was cobble stoned and many of the buildings certainly looked very, very old. We stopped at the Government House and toured that facility. There was a display describing the very earliest settlers in St. Augustine dating back to 1565. Another part of the museum talked about the building but we were out of time and needed to get back home.
Walked back to the garage, retrieved our truck, and returned to the campground.
20 Dec 2013 (Fri) – Left the campground at 9 a.m. with the temperatures in the low 50s. As we moved south, the temperature slowly climbed until it was in the high 70s. It was interesting to watch the topography change. The low country of South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida is swampy and open. Trees are covered with hanging moss, and there are many pine trees. They are different from the pine trees in New York – taller and thinner with few branches on the lower part of the tree.
We stopped for lunch at Cracker Barrel at 11:30 a.m. The parking space for RVs was too small to fit our rig and truck, and we stuck out a little bit into the passing lane. Sure enough, we got into the restaurant and a delivery truck for Cracker Barrel arrived. The semi was too big to fit past us so Paul went out to move our RV. After lunch, we found we had a hard time getting around the truck that was parked to deliver supplies. We managed to maneuver around it and get back on the interstate.
Shortly after we got back on the road, Sheba (our cat) began to start pacing and crying. We tried stopping and putting her in the cat box thinking maybe she had to go to the bathroom. She only jumped right out of it and ran to the door like she wanted to go out. We put her back in the truck and continued on our way but she continued to be quite agitated.
We finally arrived at the Pelican Roost RV Park on the Mayport Naval Station at 3 p.m. What a nice post! The campground is on a peninsula jutting out into the St. Johns River. It is right on the navy base and looks over at the port area where naval and cruise ships dock. The laundry is free, as well as coffee served all day long. There is WiFi and cable offered for free also. The campground is immaculate with about 50 spaces in three rows all facing the river. The campsites are well spaced apart with palm trees interspersed among the sites.
The first thing we did after setting up was to throw open all the windows. A balmy breeze was blowing in from the water and the sun was shining down. It was just beautiful. I am beginning to understand the mindset of the snowbird. We let the dog and cat explore the area before we took off to explore the base. There is a large beach that looks just like Fire Island or Jones Beach. We got to drive by the docks and look at the ships up close. The USS New York is in town. It was kind of thrilling. We found the NEX (Navy Exchange) and bought some wine. Returned to the campground, grilled some dinner, and investigated area attractions for tomorrow. Skyped with both the kids.