Foggy start to the day

Monday October 31st 2016

This life style has its moments of total disorientation. When you first wake up in the morning the interior surroundings are familiar, but beyond that it takes a few moments. Now that it is cool enough over night to have the windows open, I often hear road noise or people talking when I wake up in the morning. Trying to figure out where the sounds are coming from takes time.

The first thing I remember is where I’m staying. Following this is an understanding of where the roads are in relation to the campground. Finally comes the concept of where in the campground I am in relationship to other campers and the roads. At this campground figuring out where I am in relationship to other campers and the road is taking a little longer. The last time I was here I was at the other side of the campground facing the other way.

I suppose I could just look out the window, but that takes more energy than I want to expend at that moment. This morning it wouldn’t have helped. The day started out with heavy fog that didn’t lift until around nine thirty. The fog set my mood for the day. I didn’t get dressed or open the shades until it had lifted. It also played havoc with the television reception. The signal from the Jacksonville transmitters wasn’t strong enough on several stations until close to noon when the air had dried out a little. I ended up listening to the Boston Sports radio stations on the internet. They were doing a bang up job bashing the Patriots performance yesterday.

Most of the things I was going to get to today ended up meeting Mr. Procrastinator. He’s a real good friend of mine. He seems to be around whenever I want to goof off or do nothing for the day. The only real consequence of his visit today was that I don’t have anything interesting to write about tonight.

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This little critter on the tree trunk watch my every move for a good five minutes. I’m not food, so I must have been a threat.

I took several walks around the campground and watched the sites fill up for the night. There are about 4 rows totaling about 25 sites that turn over regularly. The other 50 or so sites are longer term residents. The arrivals start around two and continue until around six.

Sunday Sports

Sunday October 30th 2016

Today started with an early morning rain shower. It wasn’t a heavy rain. It just lasted long enough to get my attention. Had it not been almost time to get out of bed, I probably wouldn’t have woke up. By the time I actually did get up, the sun was breaking through to stay for the rest of the day. It was a little cooler and less humid than yesterday.

The activities for the day were pretty much driven by the NFL. I started watching the Bengals Redskins game from London during breakfast. It had enough action to make in interesting including an overtime period that ended in a tie. The New England Patriots were playing at 1PM, but the local stations carried the Oakland vs Tampa Bay game. To get my Patriots fix, I needed to take a drive in my car listening to the Sirius/XM radio coverage of the game.

The satellite radio carried the Bills radio network coverage today. It is interesting to here the Buffalo bias in the call. It seemed like every Patriot successful play was lucky and every Bills success was because a brilliant out maneuvering of the Patriot defenders. Bills failed plays were because of bad calls or dirty play be the Patriots. I’m sure a Buffalo fan would hear bias in the Patriots call, but I don’t think it is as extreme as this sounded. Even coverage by national announcers that is supposed to be unbiased, will often have some bias. I can live with it as long as I get to here what’s happening on the field.

While I was driving around, I stopped at several stores to browse for things that I’m going to need to buy soon. Some call this shopping. I look and look then suddenly commit and buy. I’m never sure when that event happens. Sometimes it is driven by need and other times impulse. Today was just a browsing kind of day during half time and a little bit of the third quarter.

After the Patriots game I returned to the campsite to watch more TV. I took a break from football to watch the NASCAR race from Martinsville VA then it was back to football. Now I’m watching the Worlds Series Game 5 from Chicago as I’m writing this blog entry.

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Large section of the middle of the campground was empty by 11AM this morning. By 6PM about half of the empty spaces were filled.

The campground, which was full last night, emptied out significantly this morning. It turns out that most of the sites were taken by a camping group. I am learning that Florida camping groups do most of their yearly camp outs in the fall and spring. During the summer it is to hot and in the winter the snowbirds take all the places. October thru early November weekends are prime time for these groups. Another, even bigger group, is here next weekend. That is why I couldn’t get a site after Thursday.

Hurricane Damage Observations

Saturday October 29th 2016

The humidity has returned along with seasonal normal temperatures in the 80s. The good thing is that it goes down into the 60s over night. Today started out hazy, maybe even foggy, but cleared off quickly about the time I dragged myself out of bed.

I went for a drive to check out the area and the storm damage. The area around the campground is probably 10 miles inland from the coast. If you look closely you can find evidence of damage. Most often this is in the form of a pile of debris waiting to be taken away. Occasionally you can spot a big old tree down in open area like a front yard. In general this area isn’t in bad shape.

As you get closer to the coast more damage starts to appear. In addition to even bigger piles of debris, billboards and signs show damage. The billboards that are higher than the tree tops were subject to very high winds. Some are half gone others are completely gone. The ones protected by the trees didn’t get visibly damaged.

Other types of signs show damage as well. Lots of street signs are twisted. They no longer face the correct direction for drivers to follow. The signs for stores and restaurants also took some damage. One McDonald’s sign had holes punched through the middle of the red plastic and the golden arches above sign weren’t complete arches anymore.

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Downed fence, debris piles and lots of sand off the beach.

In St. Augustine Beach there was sand where it didn’t belong. In some areas the sides of the streets have banks of sand. It almost looks like snow piled up after a  snow storm. I know they don’t have plows so it probably got there by traveling cars over time. The parking lot for the fishing pier still had areas with 3 to 6 inches of sand over the paving. It’s not enough to get stuck but it made for interesting driving and parking.

Out on the beach you could see where the sand came from. The further toward the water you walked the less visible sand you encounter. Pebbles and broken seashells are the predominant surface. The tide was out when I was there, but even at high tide it looks like some of the rough surface will still be visible.

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Lots of surf at low tide

At the edge of the beach a great deal of damage can be seen. Signs and sign posts are completely broken off. Fences are broken down or have totally missing rails. Piles of debris are here as well. A great deal of clean up has happened, but the debris has yet to be carted away. I passed several huge dump trucks full of storm debris on the way to whatever magic disposal site they are using.

I didn’t look much south of the St Augustine Beach pier. This area has residential property closer to the beach so more damage probably occurred. I’m not really looking to see a disaster area. I’m more interested in seeing evidence of the storms force than property damage.

Travel in Construction Zones

Friday October 28th 2016

I got packed up and underway by 11am this morning. The weather was not fully cooperating. It was a sunny day but the wind was strong from the northeast. High profile vehicles, like motorhomes, react to every gust.

My travel route for the day was I-4 east to I-95 north to St. Augustine. It was only 150 miles, but I-4 was recently named the worst interstate in the country. The criteria was number of traffic deaths per mile. I’m sure the statistic was heavily influenced by the fact that from south of Orlando to I-95 it is one big construction zone. The 70 mile stretch of highway mostly travels through congested business and retail areas. These were the areas under construction while the more rural areas didn’t seem to have much construction.

The average speed through the construction zones was around 30mph. Most of the time it was three lanes of stop and go travel. When it was clear travel, the road surface was so rough, the RV was bounced around like a ping pong ball in boiling water. I would give the road the worst rating based on the bumps.

As I got closer to the coast in the Daytona Beach area, the storm damage from hurricane Matthew started to be evident. There were piles of dead trees all along the north bound side of Interstate 95. Across the highway on the south bound side the downed trees were leaning back into the woods. It didn’t look like that side had been addressed yet. Other indicators of the storm were mangled road signs and torn billboards. I would say they made a lot of progress in the three weeks since the storm passed this area.

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Site 55 at the Stagecoach RV Park.

I got the last available site at the Stagecoach RV Park when I called yesterday. The park is full tonight. It doesn’t seem to have taken any damage from the storm. It looks the same as it did in August when I was last here.

Preparing for Travel

Thursday October 27th 2016

I had two objectives today. The first was to slow down after yesterday’s heavy tourist focus. I’ve been in a fairly heavy tourist mode for the last couple of weeks. It goes with the territory. Orlando is after all a tourist mecca.

The second objective is to prepare for a travel day tomorrow. My two weeks here at Tropical Palms is ending. I’ll be moving north to the St. Augustine area for a week or two. So far I’ve only been able to secure a reservation for 6 nights, but I have a couple of other places to check.

When I’ve been in one place for more than a week, the travel preparation is a little more complicated. For shorter stays I generally put stuff away as soon as I finish using it and some things just don’t come out of their storage area. Over a two week or longer stay things seem to come out and stay out until it’s time to move on. Since I’m only moving about a hundred and fifty miles, I don’t have to rush in the morning. I will have time to finish packing things before the 11AM checkout.

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Five or six foot alligator in the pond at the campground.

On my daily walk around the campground I finally saw an alligator in the pond. All of the warning signs on the fences raised my suspicions that I might see one. On my last walk about the campground, the gator crossed the pond to get a good look at me. It was almost like it was expecting me to feed it. I hope others haven’t been feeding the alligators.

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Spooky looking head of the turtle under the surface of the water.

I also saw the big turtle again. I’m more impressed by the turtle than the alligator. Although this is the first alligator I’ve seen this fall, they are more common than the turtle. Both creatures look very much like the ancient dinosaurs they evolved from.

I made one more grocery run this afternoon to restock the refrigerator and cupboard for the next few days. While I don’t believe there are any issues, I am traveling into an area that hurricane Matthew impacted heavily.

A Visit to the Magic Kingdom

Wednesday October 26th

This afternoon I made my last visit to Disney for this stay in the Orlando area. I’ll be back for 5 nights in December staying on Disney property at the Fort Wilderness campground. Visiting the resorts and parks at Christmas time is a fun experience.

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Cinderella Castle

Today’s visit was to the Magic Kingdom. I secured my three Fastpasses earlier in the week for Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin and the Haunted Mansion. The plan was to arrive late and stay late for the Fireworks. The first part worked out but I didn’t hang around for the fireworks. The park was crowded and the standby times at the various attractions were mostly 40 minutes and up. I couldn’t find a good way to spend the 2 plus hours I needed to wait for the fireworks.

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Lamp post decoration

The park is decorated for Halloween. On alternating nights the park has a special Halloween themed separate admission event. Most of the street lamps on main street have some form of Halloween decoration and the flower beds are in Halloween colors. In the theme areas the Halloween decorations are not as obvious, but plantings are still very fall themed.

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I’m the guy hiding under the hat in the back row of the log on the Splash Mountain plunge.

I chose Splash Mountain and Buzz Lightyear as Fastpasses because I didn’t get to ride them last winter. It was to cold to get wet on Splash Mountain and Buzz was closed for repairs. The last time I road Splash Mountain was fifteen or twenty years ago. The queue areas has been expanded and enhanced since then. I remembered the theme for the ride chasing Br’er Rabbit through the briar patch, but anticipating the 50 foot drop I really didn’t pay attention. I don’t like roller coasters, but this is a log flume ride. At least, that’s what I kept reminding myself. I didn’t hate the ride and will probably ride it again.

In addition to the Fastpass rides I rode the steam train around the perimeter of the park and I rode the Journey of the Little Mermaid. The Mermaid ride is a cute underwater simulation of the events in the Little Mermaid move. A couple of things I noticed. The song is as haunting as the It’s a Small World song and for some reason this ride is not getting as much attention as other rides. It only had a 5 minute standby time. I enjoyed it.

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Little Mermaid ride.

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Ariel greeting visitors to her ride.

I also had supper at the Columbia Harbor House restaurant. The menu has been updated since last winter. I had the fried shrimp and a lemonade. The fish and chips I’ve had in the past are no longer on the menu.

I was back at my RV home a little after 8PM.

Evening at Disney Springs

Tuesday October 25th 2016

I spent most of the day in research and planning mode. I need to add details to my general plans for the winter. I’ve known for some time that I want to stay in Florida until the end of January then head west for Arizona in March. I made reservations through December 30th last June, but I haven’t gotten around to completing my plans. I need reservations for January in Florida and March in Arizona assuming I’ll be traveling west during February.

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A couple of visitors to the RV park this afternoon.

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An RV park observer.

Soon after I made the November and December reservations I went into intense sell the New Hampshire house mode. It really is only in the last couple of weeks that I’ve slowed down to a more relaxed life style. Shortly after closing on the house I traveled to Alabama to get warranty work done on the RV. I got back to Florida in time to run to Georgia away from hurricane Matthew. The last two weeks I’ve been playing tourist as the realization set in that I could slow down.

So far I’ve been met by three obstacles in my search for a place to stay in January. The obstacles are high prices, lack of availability and repetition. The repetition element is a desire not to stay in the Orlando area where I spent time last winter and for the last two weeks. Ideally, I’d like to be on the Gulf coast from Tampa south during January.

The fact that all of the parks I’ve checked in my target area are more than twice what I paid last winter for a monthly rate has me annoyed. Just for the heck of it I checked the place I stayed last winter. That’s where the repetition concern comes into play. Interestingly, they still have similar prices, but don’t have room in January unless I’m staying for three months or more.

I’m working my way through a short list of parks starting with the lowest price acceptable park. To determine acceptability, I look at internet reviews, blog comments by other full time RVers and a check of the area and site layout using Google Maps. So far I have two places that don’t have availability on the New Years weekend, but are ok for the rest of the month. One other place is in the process of expanding and their new area is “planned” for completion before January. Tomorrow, I’ll try more parks at higher price points and further inland.

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Sunset at Disney Springs

This evening, I decided to check out Disney Springs at night. I wanted to see the lighting in the new areas. The floating lanterns in the river separating the Landing area from Town Center had drawn my interest during the day. They turned out to be less than spectacular at night. In general, Disney Springs comes alive with entertainment at night, but the lighting isn’t all that impressive.

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Living Statues in Halloween attire at Disney Springs.

For a weekday evening in October, there was a lot going on. There were street performers, bands and solo artists in gathering areas throughout the complex. Music also drifted out of the bigger restaurants like House of Blues. The crowds were thick around the entertainment, but judging by the empty spaces in the parking garage, many more people can visit the park before it will be consider close to full. The new Town Center area is about one third of the total space so the complex is considerably bigger than it used to be.

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One of many bands at Disney Springs.

I will have to remember that night time is a better time to visit Disney Springs than the afternoon. Since I don’t plan to go back during my stay at Fort Wilderness in December, I’ll have to remember until 2018 when my next opportunity to visit id likely come up.