Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Restful Days in the Florida Keys

Before heading down to the Keys for a few days, we finished up our round of visitors. There was a lot, and I mean A LOT, of golf played while our friend Ed was down from New York. The weather really cooperated by being very sunny and nice, with temperatures usually in the 70s. Another friend of ours from New York, Alan, who now lives in Beverly Hills, FL., joined the two of them for a few rounds as well. We all went to their lovely home one night for dinner, and enjoyed tasting some of the wine he now makes, as well as my first (and last!) tiny sip of moonshine.

Al's Mohs surgery for a spot of basal cell skin cancer went very well, with the first scraping getting all of the spot and leaving behind clean margins. It's just a little peculiar looking at him, with half of one eyebrow shaved off :-)!

The trailer repairs went off without a hitch! I was so happy :-). The parts that were ordered from Grand Design arrived at Register RV within a week, and we scheduled the actual work to take place starting March 9. We stopped in two days later, as we were going by after the surgery, and were delighted to see that it was all done except for some last detailing and caulking. We arranged to pick it up the following Monday, plenty of time to get ready to head down to lovely Marathon, Florida. I highly recommend Register Rv in Brooksville for anyone needing RV repair work. So much better than Lazydays last year!

I was so lucky to have happened upon an opening at one of the beautiful state parks down in the Keys, at Curry Hammock State Park just north of Marathon. Being that it is over a 400 mile drive from here, we decided to leave the day before and stop in Naples for the night. I would have loved to have stayed at Collier-Seminole State Park, but it is closed for renovations, and the chances of me getting a last minute site were pretty slim anyway! We did find a spot at the KOA in Naples, and it was nice enough, but, as is typical of southern Florida campgrounds, it was pretty tight and the sites very close together. They do allow big dogs, though, so I was happy about that! It did take us longer than I expected driving that day; the traffic on I75 south of Tampa was awful. Several accidents, along with construction work, led to some very long delays.

We left Naples and drove the very interesting Tamiami Trail Scenic Highway across the state. For a short trip like this, I didn't follow behind Al with the Trailblazer, riding shotgun in the truck with him instead. As a result I was able to sightsee, and saw plenty of birds all along the way. I didn't see too much else in the way of wildlife, just an alligator that unfortunately did not survive his trek across the roadway. The road was fine for a big rig, and we did not find too much traffic along the way at all. THAT we found once we turned south onto first the Florida Turnpike, then US1. I dislike driving near big cities, but unfortunately you have to from time to time.

The drive down to Curry Hammock was so nice. We used to vacation quite often in the Caribbean, and I just love the color of the water. It was so relaxing to watch the water turn to that beautiful seafoam color. It was pretty busy traffic-wise; I had completely forgotten about the fact that it was spring break season. Being in no particular rush though, we just went with the flow and enjoyed the view as we headed ever further south. Once we arrived at Curry Hammock and got settled in for the next five days, I just felt my entire psyche relaxing :-).

One thing I find particularly vexing is my tendency to forget things. Moving between the house and the trailer in the wintertime causes me to lose track of where things are. In this instance I forgot two pretty important items: our blue boy tote ( no sewer hookups here) and...drumroll...my camera! I couldn't believe it, and felt like a total moron :-). So there aren't many pictures, just a few shots we snapped with the iPhone.

We didn't have a lot of plans, just planning to relax and do some lazy exploring of the area. I do have a project that I'm working on, which I don't plan on revealing until I've graduated, so I was going to do some work on that as well. Once I "checked in" on Facebook, I had friends suggest things to do as well. So our first day, we decided to take a tour of  the Turtle Hospital. We called ahead for reservations, and booked the 12PM tour. The tour lasts about 90 minutes, and talks about the history of the hospital, shows the medical facilities, then introduces you to many of the current patients. It was very interesting.

First was a short lecture, and a movie. Then we were shown the hospital room. The whole facility used to be a motel property decades ago.

Then we went back to the rehabilitation tanks. If you notice, each turtle has their name written on their shell. They are typically named by the person who called the rescue organization.

Then we went back to the "waiting rooms", where turtles that had been recently treated or are awaiting treatment are housed.
It was very interesting, but I felt the group of about 40 people was too large for the tour guide to effectively reach. In the classroom, it was fine, but once we got out to the tanks, everyone was stretched out to far away to hear what she was saying. It's good that there is so much interest and they are making enough money to keep the rescues going, but it would have been nicer with a smaller group. Oh yeah, it was spring break, wasn't it?? I do think it was worth visiting.

After the tour, we stopped at Keys Fisheries, recommended by our friend Diane Crawford. You can see the line at the ordering window, and then you take your food out to one of their picnic tables on the dock. Al was really torn as to what he wanted, but ultimately decided to go with their specialty, the lobster Reuben sandwich. It sounded really weird, but he said it was very good.

The lobster Reuben, definitely worth ordering.

The view from the dock wasn't too hard to take either!

I will admit that the beach area around the state park wasn't very awesome. We drove down the road a bit, to Cocoplum Beach, so the dogs could go for a swim. Unfortunately, they are not allowed on the beach at the state park. 

We also drove down and visited Sombrero Beach in Marathon, and that was a much nicer beach. There's a very nice boardwalk all along the park, with play areas and picnic areas as well. It's also dog-friendly, making it a good thing for us :-).

We also visited Crane Point Museum and Nature Trails. This is a small but interesting park on Marathon. We elected to take the trolley tour included in the admission fee, and the volunteer guide was very interesting and enthusiastic about the park. We walked around two of the nature trails while waiting for the tour and found some of the HUGEST spiders I've ever seen in my life. Called the golden orb spider, they were all over the place, so just take heed if you are not a spider-lover. The museum was small, but very well done, and I would recommend this attraction for a pleasant diversion for a few hours. 

A visitor to our campsite one afternoon.

Went out to dinner one night at The Hideaway Cafe, just a few miles away from the state park. We had been here about 12 years ago, and remembered it as being very good. It still is, and we highly recommend a stop here if you're looking for a delicious dinner. Just don't let the ratty-looking motel that it's part of scare you....the Rainbow Bend Resort is an old motel with "atmosphere", shall we say!

Another day, being very windy and quite cool, we decided to take a drive down to Key West. It took us over two hours to get there from Marathon. Having packed a picnic lunch, we parked at Smather's Beach to enjoy it. Parking was easy; there weren't too many people around with the wind as bad as it was! We decided to drive down to the Southernmost Point buoy to check it out.....
this is as close as we got! There was a line at least a block long of people waiting to take their picture with it. No thank you! We drove, slowly, agonizingly slowly, through the business area, looked at each other, and said "We're done!" We headed back to Marathon and the peaceful campground. Spring break!!

Our last day there, Al went on a fishing charter out of Islamorada, leaving me to my project for the day while watching the puppies. We really enjoyed our lazy days on Marathon, and all to soon it was time to pack up and head home. We did break up the drive once again, this time heading up the east coast and stopping at Jonathan Dickinson State Park for the night. Our objective here was to visit with more friends from New York, Mark and Keira Poitras, who come down to Jupiter in March to visit family. Being as Mark is also my financial planner, I accomplished my annual financial update as well. After a great steak dinner at the campground, and a long visit, we parted ways until October, when we will see them again when we visit Long Island.

So we are back in Homosassa again, and our plan to leave this coming Tuesday has been slightly delayed until next Friday. A couple of medical issues, nothing serious, popped up that need to be addressed before we leave. This knocks St. Augustine off of our travel list, so next Friday we will be heading to Hardeeville, SC., just north of Savannah GA. We will be visiting family as well as Savannah for a few days, and we are looking forward to getting back on the road again. I just hope I can remember to get everything repacked into the trailer!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Disney Days

Our family reunion at Walt Disney World is finally over, another year in the books. This reunion has become very important to Al's family, as none of us are getting any younger. We are pretty much "the babies" of the group, and it is wonderful to get together with his family and some friends for this 12 days every winter. I will fully admit, however, that 6 days at Disney, a weeks' break, then 12 more days at Disney has put me on "Disney overload"; I truly did not think such a thing was possible, but, there you have it! I think we are finally rested up, and am ready to write about our stay.

The cast of characters, from left to right:
Cousin Denise, BFF Patti, Al's sister Ginny, Cousin Bill, Al, friends Jimmy and Judy, and Al's sister Susie, who, being different, is the only one in front of the sculpture. Absent from the picture that morning were cousins Fred and Kathie, and myself. One day we had a visit from our friends Dan and Jonell as well (who spent time with us here last year).

We always have a great time, going on rides, watching shows, and, of course, going out to dinner! Doesn't it seem as if the older you get, more social occasions revolve around food?? Some restaurants are tradition for us. The first night we always go to the restaurant at Fort Wilderness campground, The Trail's End. It is a buffet, and actually one of the better deals for your dinner-dining budget here in the World. We go the breakfast each trip over at The Polynesian Hotel, at The Kona Cafe, where we have picture-taking fun each year.
Cousin Bill makes sure he has a photo op with each group of cousins, as well as a table of complete strangers! So far, he has always found a table willing to play along with him. It sure has family members not traveling with us scratching their heads, wondering who those folks are :-).

I will say, planning a trip to Disney is getting more and more complicated. The more popular restaurants need to be reserved 180 days in advance, although we've had some luck at short-notice reservations at times. That's mainly due to the fact that many of our favorite spots to eat are off the beaten path, and we do tend to eat at off-peak times sometimes. Plus, many of the table service restaurants are getting darn expensive! We've learned to eat out for a late lunch, then just have a simple meal for dinner back at the campground. We also eat most breakfasts at the campsite, and this year I brought my own water bottle into the parks, partly to make sure I stay hydrated and partly to save money. Really, a bottle of water costs $2.50, so if you buy only one per day, that's $30.00 over the 12 days!

There's also the matter of rides now. Many of the rides are so popular that the wait times to ride them can be obnoxiously long. You can now actually reserve times to go on up to three rides a day, 60 days in advance, if you are staying at a Disney property. The downside to this is that you have to try and figure out WHICH park you want to go to and each particular day, and what TIME you think you want to go on that ride. It's nice to get out of a long wait line, but it really takes away the spontaneity of each day. I haven't decided if I truly like it or not. I am so grateful to Al for taking the time to plan out the schedule for each day, coordinating restaurant reservations with ride reservations, and keeping us all together as much as possible. The 60 day mark comes right at peak season at Amazon, and I can barely keep my mind together just for regular daily functioning, never mind coordinating all that :-).

The nice part of having so many days at Disney is that we are able to spend at least two days in each park, enabling a slower, more relaxed pace. Being Disney veterans of many, many years, we have our favorite rides and shows that we always like to see, and we always try and see any new attractions that have opened over the past year. My favorite this year was in EPCOT, at the Imagination pavilion. The former attraction, Captain EO, was retired, and a brand new 3D movie called Pixar Shorts was brought into the theatre. The animation was wonderful, and I highly recommend going to see it if you headed that way.

A new adventure this year was a trip off-property, to the World of Chocolate on International Drive. I had seen a Groupon for 1/2 price admission, so I thought it would be interesting. The museum was very interesting, with a tour guide telling us the history of chocolate, starting with the first liquid version that the Pre-Columbian Mexicans used to drink. The taste was very bitter, not at all what everyone was expecting! At the end of the tour, you exited into the gift shop and cafe, where there was a myriad of chocolate delectables to choose from. 

Of course, we selected a small box of chocolates to take home, and devoured the most delicious triple chocolate mousse right there in the cafe. I would go back there just for that!

It was a wonderful time, and came to an end too soon, as we said our fond farewells to everyone. We are already planning next year's trip, which we are actually cutting down to 8 nights. We are finding we are getting more and more busy each winter, and, let's face it, Disney is getting pretty pricey. I still love it, but I do feel as if they are really starting to push the envelope with how expensive everything is. We may even, *gasp!* start investigating other areas to have our reunion. Time will tell.

Back home, we've been getting down to business. We had some maintenance to do on the fifth wheel, and stayed at the Escapees campground in Bushnell for a few nights to accomplish these tasks. We really wanted to give it a good cleaning inside and outside. While Al worked on some outside projects, I cleaned and sorted, finishing with a good scrubbing of the wood floors, then moving the furniture off the carpets and cleaning the carpets with a cleaning machine we rented from Publix for the day. It did a really good job. We also had ourselves weighed (the rig, that is) while there, and were quite pleased to find we are well within our limits, and the trailer itself is about 1400 lbs. under the GVWR. The insurance adjuster had come out to inspect the blow-out damage to the sidewall, and approved the estimate for the repair. I was thrilled to death that once the parts were ordered from Grand Design, the repair shop (Register RV in Brooksville) had them in-hand in a week, and we are scheduled next week for the work to be done. I will have to say, I am extraordinarily pleased with the customer service we have received from Grand Design, and so far Register RV has been head-and-shoulders above Lazydays. We haven't had to wait two hours just to speak with a service representative, they have been on top of the work order, and always return a phone call. 

We are currently in the middle of entertaining visitors from New York. My brother and his fiancee arrived last week and stayed for several days. It was very nice getting to know Dottie, and we will be heading back to Long Island in October for the wedding. We currently have our good friend and Al's golfing buddy Ed here for the next week, and yes, there is a lot of golf going on! After Ed leaves, we have a few things on schedule, with Al needed some Mohs surgery on a spot of basal cell on his forehead. We also plan on a day at EPCOT for the Flower and Garden Festival, and March 17 we leave for a week with the trailer for a visit to Curry Hammock State Park in the Florida Keys. 

Our departure date from Florida is set for April 5, and we will be visiting several spots along the coast before heading out west. At this time we have the following plans set in place:

4/5 - 4/8: St. Augustine, FL
4/8 - 4/12: Savannah, GA
4/12 - 4/16: Charleston, SC
4/16 - 4/20: Asheville NC
4/20 - 4/27: Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, KY
4/27 - 4/29: Lithia Springs COE, IL
5/4 - 5/9: Custer State Park, SD
5/10 - 5/13: Cody, WY
Arriving to the ranch around 5/14.

That should bring everyone up-to-date with our activities and plans at this time! We hope the winter is being kind to everyone, and I will have more to post after our trip to the Keys :-).