Another Winter in Florida

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The winter of 2004 was spent mostly in the Orlando and Okeechobee areas. We didn't do much roaming, but we did get to visit with lots of folks during the winter months.

We left the Atlanta area right after Christmas and headed to Florida for the winter months. As we have done the past few years, our first stop was in White Springs at the Suwannee Valley Campground to spend the few days around New Years visiting with Diane's brother and his wife. Jerry was as big a Lord of the Rings fan as Diane and I were, so we went to see the Return of the King with him to wrap up the trilogy. It was the third viewing of the movie for me and Diane (I would classify myself as a LOTR that story and those movies).

Our next stop was in Ocala to spend a few days visiting with my mom. She spent the holidays with my brother in Port St. Lucie. She loves the movies, so we took her to see some movies and told her our travel plans for the year. Then it was time to move further south for the winter.

As we have every year we've been on the road, Diane and I planned to go to the Tampa RV Show. The staging ground for that has always been the Encore RV Park near Disney World. This year we would hook up with the Veaches (John & Libby) and the Doughtys (Pappy & Cecile) and drive over to the RV show together. Diane and I got there early to take care of some routine maintenance on our motorhome at Independence RV in Winter Garden. They continue to have a nice service facility and always show a caring about their customers. We have never had a bad experience there.

We were put in touch with a couple from England, Keith and Marie McQuinn-Roberts, who were vacationing in the Orlando area and were RV wannabes. Keith and I traded several notes and set up a meeting so we could get acquainted. They came over to the RV park and then we went out and enjoyed a nice lunch together. We now have two new RV buddies to stay in touch with as we travel. Hopefully, when they come back to the USA to travel in an RV we'll be able to hook up somewhere on the road.

The Veaches and Doughtys arrived at the RV park on January 12 to hook up for our caravan over to the Tampa RV Show. Prior to our going there, someone set up a dinner at the Golden Corral of some 16 folks who mostly all knew each other from the RVAMERICA bulletin board. The Souders, whom we haven't seen in quite some time, were there, as were the Bobers and the Churns. We had never met the Churns, also known as Big Bad John and Runaround Sue (per the mural on their motorhome). It was a great evening of food and camaraderie.

We had made plans to go with the Veaches and Doughtys to see the Cirque du Soleil show, La Nouba, that is resident at Disney World. Diane and I had seen it before, but decided we'd go see it again. John coordinated the tickets and got us some great seats up front and close to the stage. What a great show.

It was time to head over to the RV show in Tampa and we now had a five-rig caravan as the Bobers and the Churns joined us for the drive to the fairgrounds. It was an easy and uneventful drive and we all got set up very close to each other. Diane and I like coming to this show because we love to kick tires to see what's new and it is also a social event as each year we've been there with different RV friends. Also at the show this year were the Holders (Don, Liane, Tom), and Dirk Harrington. As in past years, we had a great time visiting with everyone and checking out the new rigs. We all fought the temptations to buy a new rig, but Pappy and Cecile did drive home in a different rig after trading in their trailer for a pre-owned class C. They were ecstatic about their new rig and we all wished them many happy years of traveling in it.

Being at the show also allowed me to pay an annual visit to my Aunt Mary and cousin Jay who I missed seeing last year, as well as a former colleague, Dave Fuson and his wife, Jacque who moved to Florida from Texas last year. It was great to see everyone again.

After the show, we drove to Zolfo Springs and the Escapees park. We've done that the past couple of years and used it as a base to visit our friends, Paul and Diane Andrus in Avon Park. It has become a sort of January tradition to stop in the area to visit and play the two golf courses in their community. It was nice to see them again.

This year we had an extra pleasant surprise in being able to also visit with Bob and Donna Eberly and Dick and Kay Ackerman who just happened to be workamping up the road from Zolfo Springs. It had been a while since we'd seen them all, so we drove up to the park in which they were workamping and then Diane and I went golfing with Bob and Donna. After the round, we all hooked up for a meal at the Pioneer Restaurant in Zolfo Springs. The last time we saw Bob and Donna, I think, was back in 2001 at the last RVAMERICA Y2K party in Arizona, and the last time we saw Dick and Kay was in the Savannah area when they invited us to a marvelous "low country boil" at Kay's sister's place on Easter Sunday in 2002. Since we last saw Bob, he had a cochlea implant done to allow him to hear. Wow. It was great to see Bob able to hear everyone and carry on a conversation without having to read lips. It's amazing what can be done these days in the medical area. We were so happy for Bob and Donna.

John and Libby Veach were staying on their pad at the Big O in Okeechobee, so we headed there for a few weeks. Pappy and Cecile were also there for a while and it was great to see them again before they headed back to Georgia. We had many nights enjoying dinner at the Old Habits Restaurant in the area. Good food, good prices. We always tried to get a table serviced by Tracy. We had lots of laughs along with great service.

Shortly after we arrived at the Big O, John and Libby started selling Alfa's at a local RV dealership, so we didn't get to see much of them during the day. I did get to play a couple of rounds of golf with John and his son, Sean.

On the spur of the moment, I asked Diane if she would like to fly out to Phoenix to visit her sister and her family. We were able to get a good airfare out of West Palm Beach, so we left the motorhome at the Big O and we flew to Phoenix for a week. It had been three years since we had seen them and Diane was very happy to get out there for a week. We had a great time, including another viewing of the final Lord of the Rings movie.

We knew that Tom and Mary Williams were down in Casa Grande, so we drove there one day for lunch and a visit them in their new Dutch Star. We had last seen them in Michigan at the Newmar rally last summer when they had just purchased a new Dutch Star.

It was also a great opportunity to visit with Ron and Barb Hofmeister who had come off the road after 14 years and built a house in Gold Canyon. Barb was getting ready for a play in which she was going to perform, but was able to take a break as we all went out for a nice lunch and visit.

Then it was back to Okeechobee for the rest of February. Diane and I took a few walks up on the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee. There are some 60+ miles of paved road on the dike, which is great for walking or biking.

We did have some excitement in the park a couple of evenings with a large alligator that made his home in the pond behind our motorhome. I was walking back from the clubhouse one evening and saw something large under our motorhome. It was the gator. When a bunch of people gathered around the motorhome, he turned and hightailed it back into the pond. Diane was inside at the time and said she heard something knocking from under the motorhome, but didn't think much of it. Good thing she didn't decide to come out to dump the holding tanks because that's exactly where she would have been greeted by the gator.

About a week later, there was all this excitement we could hear going on outside the motorhome. I looked out the window and saw the gator coming between our rig and our neighbor's rig. He nonchalantly walked across the road and between two other motorhomes and down into the rim canal that encircles Lake Okeechobee. He was a big one, too. I subsequently heard from John that the animal control folks finally came to catch the gator and get him out of the RV park. Good thinking.

We wanted to visit my high school buddy, Frank Pesile while we were in the area, so we made plans to meet in Port St. Lucie for a round of golf. Frank and I played golf with one of his buddies while Diane went shopping for the afternoon. Then we spent the night at Frank's place in Palm City. As usual when we visit with Frank, it was a great time along with some interesting chats. On the way back to Okeechobee we decided to take in a couple of movies at the theater in Jensen Beach (Girl with the Pearl Earring; Against the Ropes).

One of our favorite RV parks is the Encore park in Orlando. We decided to spend the month of March at that park. Given that we had treated ourselves to annual passes to Disney World, this gave us an opportunity to use the passes. It was great to just be able to go to any of the parks we wanted when we wanted. I love small world stories and we had one at Disney World one day as we were going to the MGM Studios park. We were at the Swan/Dolphin hotel complex waiting to board a boat to MGM when I hear a lady's voice say "Rich?". In the other line for the boat to Epcot was Jenny Cobb. I worked with Jenny back in the late 80s and early 90s when I was traveling to California on business. She was attending a conference in the complex and had some free time to visit the parks. I mean, what are the chances that we would meet in a line at Disney World? Small world.

Staying at the Encore park allowed us to visit many times with Ray and Earline Greer. We got some big news that they were selling their Dutch Star and coming off the road. They purchased a house in King's Ridge up on US 27. Diane and I went to play golf on the executive course at King's Ridge and liked the area.

Also at the Encore park for a few days after we arrived were Mike and Gale Nagy in their new Kountry Star. It was nice to see them again. We got to visit and go out to eat with them and the Greers. I'm sure you can tell that we love hooking up with folks as we travel around the country.

We had other opportunities to hook up with RV friends while we were in the Orlando area. When we learned that Steve and Amy Turney were going to be in the area getting some work done on their Dutch Star at Independence RV, we made plans to visit and they drove to the Encore park to go out to eat and visit. Likewise, when we learned that Don and Gloria Martin were passing through the area, we drove up to Winter Garden to see their new Horizon and go out to eat.

We hadn't seen Tom and Tish McGonegal since we went through Maine on the way to/from our tour of the Maritimes last summer.  They were spending a week on Amelia Island, so we picked a place about half way and met there for lunch. 

So you see there wasn't much excitement over the winter, but it was relaxing, sunny, warm, mostly dry, and filled with visits with friends along the way.

Well, I guess maybe there was a little excitement other than the gator at the Big O. One day after playing golf at King's Ridge, we saw a couple of helicopters hovering around the campground. We learned that a couple of guys had just robbed the jewelry store across the street in the Publix shopping center. The guys took off on foot and they were looking for them, including hovering right over the campground. That was a bit scary.

That pretty much summarizes our winter in Florida. We would stop in Ocala to visit with my mom before driving to Atlanta. We didn't have much planned for second quarter other than driving over to the coast of South Carolina to visit Charleston and Myrtle Beach and then to Southport, NC to visit some friends. More on that in the next travelog.

Until next time, safe travels.....

Copyright © 2004, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved

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