Anna Maria Island

Wednesday December 21st 2016

Today was the first official day of winter. Appropriately the day started foggy, progressed to cloudy and late in the afternoon the sun broke through. The wind was out of the northeast providing an additional level of chill. Once the sun broke through shortly before sunset the temperature peaked around 70.

It was hard to get started today. It was as if the clouds sucked all the energy out of me. Late in the morning I got in the car and headed west. After passing through the center of Bradenton and over a draw bridge, I ended up at the gulf coast on Anna Maria Island. I turned north toward the mouth of Tampa Bay.

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A Blue Heron holding his head close to his body to stay warm.

Anna Maria Island and the town by the same name have many older single family homes and small businesses. The area along the gulf coast has vacation rentals, single family homes and few newer condominium type buildings. I think it is more laid back than some of the areas further south.

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Sunshine Skyway bridge across Tampa Bay about 8 miles from Anna Maria Island.

I stopped near the northern end on the eastern shore of the island near the Anna Maria Pier. The water was rough and the wind was blowing in off the bay. I wasn’t dressed to stay long. Despite the haze, it was possible to see the Sunshine Skyway bridge crossing the bay from St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg skyline.

My journey continued to the south. I stopped at a couple of gulf beaches on Anna Maria island. They were very poorly populated today. I only saw a couple of sets of bathers. The cloud cover and the wind made the beaches unremarkable at best. A nice sunny day at low tide or a nice sunset would heighten the experience greatly.

As I continued south onto Long Boat Key the population became more high scale. Golf Courses and gated communities became the norm. Access to the gulf was not obvious. I continued south until I could return to the east over the bridge into downtown Sarasota. The traffic quickly thickened and my progress was slowed as I made my way back to the campground.

I think the campground has finally filled for the Christmas holiday season. The park was full last weekend, but during the week a site here and there was available every night. Late this afternoon there was a steady stream of arriving campers. I’ll take a walk through the park to check things out tomorrow.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas

Tuesday December 20th 2016

It was another cloudy humid day. The sun managed to break through a few times during the afternoon, but not long enough to make it oppressively hot. The high temperature was in the second half of the 70s.

After a long day traveling and sightseeing at Disney, today was a day of rest. I lingered over coffee and TV watching this morning. In the afternoon I went out long enough to get caught in Christmas shopping traffic. Other than killing time and seeing a couple of new areas, it wasn’t a productive excursion. The trend continued on my afternoon walk around the campground and state park day use areas. The only wildlife I saw were squirrels. The shore birds and other inhabitants of the lake shore were no where to be seen.

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Minnie and Mickey Mouse in the front window of my RV home.

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My fiber optic Christmas Tree

For pictures in today’s blog, I have tried to capture my Christmas decorations. Darkness, glare and other aspects of poor lighting have conspired to make it difficult. I have Christmas Minnie and Mickey Mouse in the front window with a string of 20 lights. Behind them, primarily for my enjoyment inside, is a two foot tall fiber optic led light tree. So far I haven’t added any ornaments to the tree. I’ll take another picture when I do.

A Day Trip back to Disney

Monday December 19th 2016

It was another hotter than normal humid day. The partly cloudy day topped out around 85 degrees. My travels today took me back to Disney World to check out more Christmas decorations. This time I was sharing the experience with friends.

The plan was to start at Disney Springs then check out a couple of resorts finishing up at the campground. This blog entry has some of the pictures from the adventure.

The first resort stop was at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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Lobby Christmas Tree at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

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Thomson Gazelle at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

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Giraffes feeding at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

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Zebra at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

The second resort stop was at the Wilderness Lodge.

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Great Egret greeting people arriving by boat to the Wilderness Lodge

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Disney Character Totem at the Wilderness Lodge

The tour finished up with a walk through the Fort Wilderness campground to see how some of the campers had decorated their sites.

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Mickey and Minnie blowups at the Fort Wilderness Campground

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Chilly Polar Bear

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Football Day

Sunday December 18th 2016

Weather wise the day was a clone of Saturday. It was hot for the season and very humid. The TV weather people were talking about near records again. Still better than the bitter cold up north, but not particularly comfortable.

The biggest focus for the day was watching football on television. The NFL season is in the run up to the playoffs. It seems like every game has an impact on the finals. The other good thing was that the Patriots Denver game was on the national broadcast. Not being able to see any Patriots game I want has been a big adjustment. I could by a DirecTV package to see all the NFL games, but I’m not that addicted.

In the morning before the games started I went out to explore the area. I found Christmas shopping traffic. Anytime I drove into an area with stores, the traffic became stop and go. Since I was exploring the area I didn’t know where the stores were located. It became a real challenge just to get back to he campground. Strangely, I didn’t have a similar problem on Saturday.

At half time of the early set of football games I went for another walk around the state park. I know believe that the burned area of the park was intentional. There is a sign that discusses the advantages of prescribed burns and more significantly, all of the developed parts of the park are not burned. Either way, it has been enough time since the burn that you have to look very close to find evidence of the burn as opposed to clear cut logging.

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Anhinga dries its wings

There were more boats on the lake with fishermen today. At the boat launch I saw three boats taken out and one put in. It’s very entertaining watching the operation. As with many similar things, some people have it down pat and others struggle. Backing the twisty single axle trailers seems to be the biggest challenge. The acrobatics people go through not to get wet while loading the boat is a close second. I had to try hard not to laugh while I was watching.

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Little Blue Heron in the weeds

Yesterday I didn’t see any birds around the shore of the lake. Today I saw a few. Near the day use area an Anhinga was drying its wings and a Little Blue Heron was having lunch in the weeds.

Lake Manatee State Park

Saturday December 17th 2016

The weather across most of the United States sounds terrible. Here in the Tampa Bay area it was at the opposite extreme. The temperature was near a record high at 83 and the humidity was very high. I am not going to complain, but it was uncomfortable in the direct sun.

Today’s focus was on replenishing the refrigerator and getting familiar with Lake Manatee State Park. During the last week at Disney I went through many of my routine supplies. My habit is to stop at a grocery store every two or three days, but I didn’t do any food shopping while at Walt Disney World. It has been over a week since I saw the inside of a grocery store. That doesn’t mean I was starving. The freezer and the cabinets had plenty of food. I was out of things like bread, milk and non-frozen meat.

I stopped at a Super Walmart without thinking about the Christmas shoppers. Even when the parking lot was very full, I didn’t think twice about it. I had a mission. It didn’t turn out badly. The store had many check outs open and I found one without a line. It was only on my way out of the parking lot that it dawned on me that it was Christmas shopping time.

The trigger for this revelation was a huge array of new bicycles for sale. They were lined up nicely in front of the Walmart Liqueur store. I wonder if you needed to pay for them in the Liqueur store or the main store. Florida is the first state I have seen Walmart with Liqueur stores. They are a standalone store attached to the main building. It is fairly common down here.

After my shopping trip I spent time getting acquainted with the park. The park is situated on the shore of Lake Manatee. The lake was formed in the mid 1960s by damming the Manatee River. The lake serves as a water supply for the nearby cities of Bradenton and Sarasota.

I walked the trail from the campground to the lake. The campground is located in an area of tall trees and heavy vegetation. Other areas of the park are more open scrub pine. There are signs that a forest fire went through much of the area some years ago.

The lake is long and narrow as befits a lake created by blocking the flow of a river. A beach area in the day use section of the park is currently totally full of water plants. It is not currently usable as a beach. The weed filled beach looks like a good hiding place for alligators as fairly new signs warn.

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Water plant filled beach at Lake Manatee State Park.

A little was east of the beach area via one of many trails through the scrub is the boat launch area. This area was getting used for fishing and by a couple of brave swimmers. The water plans were heavy in this area as well. The parks web site implies that the water plan invasion is seasonal.

Walking some of the trails between the boat launch and the campground I saw a few of natures creatures and heard a few more. At one point I heard something bigger than a squirrel in the undergrowth beside the path. I stood still and listened for two or three minutes but never got a peak at the noise maker. Later on the walk I saw a gopher tortoise heading into the brush on the side of the path. That was the big find of the day. The other creatures were small birds that flew from tree to bush and serenaded me on my walk.

Travel to Lake Manatee State Park

Friday December 16th 2016

It was sweatshirt weather when I got up this morning. The overnight low was in the 50s, but it warmed up quickly. Today was moving day. My stay at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort was over.

Getting ready to leave was a little different today. I never unloaded the bicycle from the car. The CR-V had just sat since I arrived on Sunday. Walking and Disney transportation was my means of transportation this past week. The other difference was connecting the car up to the motorhome. There was no room to complete the task near the site. Disney provides an area for hitching and unhitching toad cars on the entrance road. These work great for couples that can drive between the site and the hitching area separately. I needed to find an area that I could put the car then return to get the motorhome. My solution was putting the car in the main parking lot near the check-in area and using the bus to get back to the rig almost a mile away. This took an extra half an hour or so. I got underway shortly after 10am.

Disney always seems to have an ongoing road construction project or two. To get to Interstate 4 I had to navigate new bridge construction and a new bus lane construction project. The width of the lanes required careful navigation. The concrete barriers were close to the sides of the motorhome. I wonder if Florida road construction rules apply on Disney property.

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Site 29 at Lake Manatee State Park.

My destination was the Lake Manatee State Park in Bradenton Florida. It was mostly interstate highway travel on I4 and I75. The area between the Orlando area and Lakeland was smooth travel. It is not heavily congested. From Lakeland to south of Tampa on I75 the traffic was very heavy and unpredictable. How traffic exceeding the speed limit can coexist with traffic 20 mph below the speed limit is beyond comprehension, but it does. I had to do a lot of lane changes to maintain a speed about 6 mph below the speed limit.

After about 2 hours of travel I arrived at the state park. I a site reserved for the full two limit. Check in was smooth and easy. I am on site number 29 out of about 60. Exploring the park and the area are on the agenda over next few days.

Disney Hollywood Studio Day

Thursday December 15th 2016

The day started cloudy and warm and ended sunny and cooler. The temperature is predicted to continue to fall overnight with highs tomorrow below seasonal norms. As has become my pattern, I spent the morning in the campground enjoying a slow start to the day.

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Christmas Tree at the entrance to Disney Hollywood Studios

In the afternoon, I went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. With all the construction going on this is more like half a theme park. All of the back lot, streets of New York and the stunt car show have been leveled for the construction of a new Star Wars area and a Toy Story land. If you aren’t into thrill rides or motion simulators there isn’t a whole lot left to see.

I road the Great Movie Ride and the Toy Story Mania shooting gallery ride. The Movie Ride was only a 20 minute wait. This is short wait for this ride. Perhaps the fact that the ride was somewhat hidden behind a stage for a Star Wars show was the reason for the short wait. This park already has an excess of Star Wars attractions and they are building a whole new area of the park just for more Star Wars. If they weren’t building the new Toy Story land as well, I’d think they were going to re-brand the park as Star Wars Land.

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Mary Poppins scene in the Great Movie Ride

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John Wayne on the Great Movie Ride

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Giant View Master disc from the queue area for Toy Story Mania ride

After a relatively short visit to the Studios, I took the launch over to the International Gateway to EPCOT. I had Fish and Chips at the British Pavilion while listening to Father Christmas explain UK Christmas traditions. There is something really strange about a Green Coated Santa Clause.

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Fountain lite with Christmas Red at EPCOT Imagination Pavilion

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Mickey and Minnie Topiary at the entrance to EPCOT.

I took my time walking through EPCOT to catch the bus back to the campground. The crowds seemed to be in a supper time lull. When I got to the entrance there were plenty of people arriving.

My last Disney act for this trip was a walk to the campground waterfront to watch the Holiday Wishes Fireworks from the Magic Kingdom. Of all the night time shows at Walt Disney World the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom is my favorite.

Magic Kingdom Day

Wednesday December 14th 2016

Today started foggy like yesterday. It took until almost nine before the sun burned through the fog. I spent the morning at the campground and the late afternoon into the evening at the Magic Kingdom.

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Cinderella’s castle

My plan was to arrive at the Magic Kingdom in time for the parade. I succeeded in arriving before the parade, but unfortunately too early. The launch from Fort Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom was nowhere in sight, so I took a boat to the Contemporary Hotel then walked to the Magic Kingdom. I easily beat the launch and was more than half an hour before the Parade would start at the back of the park. To kill time while waiting for the parade I went into the Mickey’s PhilharMagic show. When I came out the last units of the parade were visible in the distance.

My first FastPass was in Tomorrow Land about an hour from the end of the PhilharMagic show. While I waited for the FastPass window to open for Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin, I road the People Mover and watched the Carousel of Progress show. I first saw the Carousel of Progress at the New York Worlds Fair in 1965. It impressed my childhood self then and continues to intrigue my adult self. It has been updated over the years. The last scene is supposed to represent the turn of the 21st century. When the show first opened it was set closer to the then current date. I think they have taken enough liberty with the time line that it is consistent with the current time sixteen years into the century. For example, the virtual reality gear they are using is only just becoming a thing this year, but the computer looks like something I had in the 1990s.

After riding Buzz Lightyear, I road the Riverboat around the Rivers of America, saw the Country Bear Jamboree and finished up with a FastPass to the Pirates of the Caribbean. Having a FastPass for these rides was a big help. The standby times for most rides were well over an hour. For the shows, you really don’t need FastPasses.

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Cinderella’s Castle draped in lights

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Christmas Tree in Town Square

I came to the Magic Kingdom to see the Christmas decorations. There is a big Christmas tree in the Town Square as you enter the park. The street lamps all have wreaths hanging below the lamps and the big centerpiece is the castle wrapped in white lights. In the heavily themed areas the decorations are subtle to non existent as it should be. One down side is that the Country Bear Jamboree no longer has a special Christmas show.

Marathon Disney Day

Tuesday December 13th 2016

Today started out foggy. It was so foggy the boats and launches to the Magic Kingdom were not running. It caused a bit of confusion in the campground, but not for me. I didn’t get underway until close to noon when it was a bright sunny day.

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Wilderness Lodge Christmas Tree

I had a marathon Disney day with resort hotel visits and two theme parks. It started with a boat ride to the Wilderness Lodge. Massive upgrades and expansion are underway, but the lobby hasn’t been impacted. The tall Christmas tree is impressive.

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Mickey Mouse Topiary at the Contemporary Resort.

From the Wilderness Lodge I continued on via boat to the Contemporary Hotel. There are a few small traditional Christmas trees in the lobby, but no big center piece trees. On my way to the monorail, I stopped to admire the confectionery creations the hotel has on display instead of gingerbread houses.

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Confectionery castle at the Contemporary Resort.

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Christmas tree at the Grand Floridian

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Full size gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian

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Christmas Tree at the entrance to Animal Kingdom

I stopped at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian hotels to check out the Christmas Decorations then caught a bus to the Animal Kingdom from the Magic Kingdom bus stops. I had a Fastpass time for the Lion King show. I missed the time window for the pass but got in the general setting area to watch the show.

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Simba in the Lion King show

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Flying Monkeys acrobats in the Lion King show.

After the show I toured the animals of Africa and Asia while I waited for my Fastpass time for the Kilimanjaro Safari. The safari ride was not one of the best I’ve had. This particular driver didn’t pause often or travel slowly to allow for good pictures. The animals were also not plentiful. I think this is the first time I didn’t see any elephants.

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Male Gorilla

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Animal Kingdom’s idea of what Mt Everest looks like.

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Asian tiger

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Hyena on the Kilimanjaro Safari

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Zebra on the safari

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Lion asleep on the rocks

From the Animal Kingdom I took a bus to the Boardwalk hotel. I walked the boardwalk around the lagoon to check out the Yacht and Beach club resorts, then entered EPCOT from the International Gateway. EPCOT was very crowded. I caught the first half of the Candle Light Processional standing in the walkway in front of the America pavilion. Meredith Vieira was the narrator. I continued my walk around the world showcase when it became apparent that here voice couldn’t be heard from my vantage point. The carolers voice were amplified much better. The line for the seating area for the next performance had already reached Japan.

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Boardwalk hotel Christmas tree.

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Gingerbread encrusted carousel at the Beach Club resort.

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EPCOT Christmas tree

My original plan was to stay at EPCOT and watch the Holiday Illuminations performance, but I was getting tired. I returned to my campsite for the night.

Second Disney Day

Monday December 12th 2016

Today started with clouds and humidity and ended with sun and humidity with near record high temperatures in the region. The cloudy day reflected my energy level today.

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Fort Wilderness Christmas tree at night

Yesterday I was on the go all day. First with the move from Jetty Park and then with touring here at Disney World. I was dressed for the daytime temperatures not the evening temperatures that got into the 60s. I fear I might have started to catch a cold. My plan for today was enjoy the campground in the morning then go to EPCOT for the late afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, after walking around the campground this morning I lost my enthusiasm for dealing with the crowds at the theme park this evening. I’ve taken it slow and easy all day. Hopefully I can fight back any oncoming cold.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities this year to enjoy the rides and attractions at the parks. I last visited three of the four parks in October. What I’m really here for is the Christmas atmosphere. I get plenty of that in the campground. I would guess more than half of the sites are decorated. The level of decorations range from simple, like my 20 light string of colored lights, to the extreme. Some sites have 10 or more blow up Christmas characters with lights and music. Keeping in mind it is still early in the Christmas vacation season it will only get more intense.

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A well decorated site

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Very big Santa Mickey

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Sad reindeer with Olaf on his back

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Santa Clause in his trailer

Last night and tonight I went down to the campground beach to watch the nightly fireworks from the Magic Kingdom. Last night it was the Holiday Wishes show and tonight it was the regular Wishes show. The aerials are clearly visible across the lake and the music is played on the beach speakers. Before the fireworks I saw the Electrical Water Pageant both nights.

Below are some of the better attempts at pictures of the fireworks and water pageant.

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Electrical Water Pageant lead dragon

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The only good alligator in the lake. They say it’s a crocodile

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Patriotic ending to the Electrical Water Pageant

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Lots of Green

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These look like lollipops