Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Negligent Blogger!! Our snowbird Travels

Guilty as charged. Writing a blog entry is one of those things that is hard to begin, especially if one feels that their activities are not very interesting.  This winter we have more or less just lived day-to-day, week-to-week; not doing any of the tourist type of things.  Other bloggers that I read seem to find time to blather on and on about their visits to the grocery, to the laundry, to a restaurant, or about repairs to their RV or trailer. I hate to bore the reader with such mundane activities. 

We made a few interesting stops this Winter and we have shot some videos which will take some time to edit and post. In this blog entry I just want to chronicle our snowbird travels so far this winter. In previous snowbird trips we have avoided the I-95 interstate route in favor of the slower coastal highways like US-17. This year we used mostly I-95 and the Florida turnpikes.  For the most part the driving was pleasant with the exception being the I-95 corridor from the DC area south to the North Carolina border (characterized by heavy semi-truck traffic and rough roads).

We left our home in Virginia a little later than normal, as we had some routine medical prescriptions to fill and appointments to complete.  In the last three years of snowbird travels (in an effort to avoid the freezing night-time temperatures), we have always departed within a a day of two after Thanksgiving.  An early spate of freezing temperatures could require me to winterize the RV.  Fortunately, this year the temperatures remained unusually warm through our Dec 7th departure. 

The first leg of the journey concluded with a two day stop at the Twin Lakes RV resort near Washington, North Carolina.  The resort is an Encore park and appears to be a really nice location for a fishing and boating vacation during warmer.   It was cool and rained during most of our stay.  Most of the time we seldom stop for just an overnight stay.  A two or three day stay allows us to do a little exploring/shopping.  We found the the Washington, NC area uninspiring with a Walmart being the major store in town.

Our next stop was another two day stay at the Swamp Fox Campground near Florence, South Carolina.  This independent campground offers reasonably priced full hook-up sites without the amenities of a so called "resort" (e.g., no pool, meeting room, excercise room, etc.).  The campground, however, was well maintained with most of the residents appearing to be long term or "seasonals".  Seasonal's are the core cash source for most small campgrounds like Swamp Fox.  Other such seasonal campgrounds can tend to be populated by trashy old trailers and RVs.  This one was comparatively well maintained with most of the residents keeping their sites reasonably tidy.   After an afternoon of visiting the local Florence shopping mall, we journeyed southward toward The Oaks RV Resort near Yemassee, South Carolina.

Using our Thousand Trails (TT) membership we stayed for four days at The Oaks RV Resort.  Although our membership allows us to stay for up to three weeks at a TT park, we cut our seven day reservation short due to wet muddy conditions in the park.  The Oaks is heavily wooded and reasonably quiet offering many full hook-up sites, a pool, clubhouse, etc.  However the campground is built on very swampy ground.  For unfathomable reasons, the park management has chosen to leave the roads in the park as dirt while paving most of the sites with gravel.  The roads among the sites were mostly a muddy mess making it difficult to even walk the dog.  Perhaps the management will wise up and buy 20 some dump truck loads of gravel. With gravel road, the park would be much more attractive for a return visit.

Anyhow we were able to expand our reservation at the Kings Bay Naval Base campground  arriving a couple of days earlier than planned.  The Kings Bay campground was very clean with fully paved roads, and large concrete full hook-up sites.  This is typical of the majority of military base campgrounds where we have stayed (a definite benefit of being a military retiree).  The base facilities were also typical with a relatively small commissary and Naval Exchange.  The surrounding community was unremarkable with one or two small strip  malls. While our TT membership parks are free of charge for members, the military parks run $20-$30 per night (still a bargain).

In nearby St. Marys, we found a picturesque small tourist and fishing oriented town with several nice restaurants, a submarine museum, and the port for the ferry service to Cumberland Island National Seashore.  I'll publish a separate blog post on our visit to the Cumberland Seashore.  We spent most of one day visiting and hiking the unspoiled shores of Cumberland Island.

On December 20th, we packed up  camp and headed southward to the Orlando Thousand Trails RV Resort.  we spent Christmas and New Years at the Orlando resort.  The Orlando park is one of the larger of the Thousand Trails 88 park system with approx 900 RV sites.  Amenities include, two pools, a hot tub, exercise room, meeting hall, minature golf course, and two good sized lakes.  The resort is very busy during the winter season with membership stays limited to two weeks at a time. During our stay we spent Christmas with our son, Daniel and his significant other, Monica.  Our visits were interspersed with the required shopping trips to the many Orlando area malls and thrift stores.

On January 3rd, we broke camp and made the relatively short trip northward to the Three Flags Thousand Trails resort at Wildwood, Florida. the Wildwood campground is probably half the size of the Orlando park. The park's streets are paved and the sites are all grass with full hook-ups (about 30% are 50amp with the rest 30 amp).  We have stayed at both Orlando and Wildwood parks a number of times during the past three snowbird winter trips.  Like Orlando, Wildwood is limited to a two week stay during the winter (a three week limit April-November).  While at Wildwood we attended the large Tampa RV show which is held each January. Tampa show has also become and annual event for us during the last three winters.  The show is probably the largest RV show in the country with every conceivable RV and RV related item on display.  As you can see, there is also roving entertainment.  For us it is an opportunity to see new motorhomes which we would consider as a future "used" RV purchase  (if we replace or current RV).

Due to the heavy demand this year I was unable to get reservations to immediately return to the Orlando park.  A two week stay at Orlando was available only 12 days after our scheduled departure from Wildwood.  We decided that this would be a good opportunity to see Key West (since niether of us had ever been there).  Key West is also an area in very high demand during the winter season with commercial campgrounds booked full and demanding top dollar (at least $60-$100 per night).  The Naval Aviation base at Key West has a military campground with is likewise booked full throughout most of the winter.  The base however, has several hundred overflow (or dry camping sites) with no hookups.  A check of the various RV blogs indicated that the base was still accepting RVs in its overflow sites.

We headed southward on January 17th. stopping at the Miccosukee indian casino just west of Miami. The casino has a large parking lot and they allow RVers to park over night.  We merely had to obtain a parking pass at the casino's security desk.  Although crowded for the Martin Luther King holiday, there was sufficient room to park at the far end of the parking lot along with about 20 other motorhomes and trailers.  This was our first stay at a casino.  Ina was not that enamored with the idea.  However, the lot was well lighted and the presence of the other RVs eased her worries.  The weather was pleasant.  With  night time temperatures in the mid 60's we had a comfortable stay. I left the audio track intact for your amusement.  I guess I talk to myself a lot when driving.

The next day, after a good breakfast, we again headed south.  The drive on the overseas highway with its many island hopping bridges was a slow but pleasant one.  The highway has mostly a 45 mile per hour speed limit for the bulk of the hundred and some miles.  The bridges reveal absolutely gorgeous views of the ocean and the islands.  Noteworthy is the old seven mile  bridge where scenes from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "True Lies" was shot.

When we arrived at the Naval Base, there were only three campsites available for a rig of our size.  We were lucky because the next day a number of arriving RVers were turned away with no space available.  the lesson learned is the next time we visit we'll obtain a reservation 4-5 months ahead at one of the Encore parks (part of our TT membership).  Anyhow our stay at the Navy base has proven the viability of our RV's solar and inverter installation.  The system seems to be correctly sized for our usage.
During our  stay (with no hookups) we were forced to run the generator only when using the microwave or the coffee pot for cooking.  On sunny days the solar array maintained sufficient charge on the batteries to run the television with it's satellite  receiver/DVR for about 4-6 hours each day while allowing almost  constant laptop and ipad usage.  The cloudy days required running the generator to recharge batteries for a couple of times per day for about an hour and a half each.  Doubling the 400 watts of solar panels would not appreciably improve things without also increasing our batteries from 4 golf cart size to 6 (e.g. too much additional weight).

At this writing we are poised to leave Key West tomorrow bound for a return to the Orlando park (and a subsequent Wildwood stay) with another overnight stay at the casino.  I'll be posting more on our stay at Key West as well as our visit to Cumberland island.