Monday, December 28, 2020

Orlando, FL - December 2020 - Disney during Covid

I'm not sure if you can be a resident of mid Florida and not visit Wal Disney World. Granted we are not annual pass holders (well, it seems no one will be with the "new normal") and we do not run off to WDW on a regular basis, but this year was special. 

Beth's son lives in Michigan with his girlfriend and their daughters (11 and 14). We had originally thought of taking everyone on a cruise again (we had a great sailing right before the supposed pandemic shut it all down). Once we looked at alternatives and some research I realized we could do 3 park Disney passes for all and lodging them in a cabin at a campground. Of course I got the park passes and made our reservations to make sure we could visit the parks.

KOA Kissimmee

As a note reservations for this trip were made in June, 2020. For us, we got a nice pull through site next to the cabin we reserved for the family. They were in the Goofy cabin that had a loft with two beds for the girls and a separate queen bedroom along with a small living area, kitchen and bathroom. The cabin was clean and ready. 

Since we pulled the RV in the day prior to their arrival, after I checked in to the cabin Beth promptly went in and did some Christmas decorating for them. I of course got all our inflatables up and running. 

We have stayed at this KOA before and enjoy it. It is very clean and kept up. The staff and workampers are all friendly and helpful. Its location is great to get to all the parks - Disney, Universal and the rest. We have enjoyed Disney Fort Wilderness but to be fully honest their prices, especially during holidays is ridiculous.

Disney Animal Kingdom

Our first park to visit this week was Animal Kingdom. The temperature was a bit chilly, but the sun was shining and that made a big difference. The Disney parks were operating at about 35% capacity and many usual events and attractions were not operating. Shows and character encounters were all non-existent. Entering the park was organized and there was several cast members and police observing. Everyone had to have a face mask (or face diaper depending on your preferred terminology 😄). They took your temp and had "Cool down" tents you could use if you had a fever. Within the park they had areas deemed rest areas that you could sit and remove your facemask. Facemask were not required while eating or drinking, but one had to be stationary. 

We enjoyed the safari and several other rides. Avatar Flights of Passage is a simulator-type ride but the experience is excellent as you ride individually. Expedition Everest roller coaster was very popular with the girls - they rode it about 4 times in a row. The walking exhibits in each of the areas was very well laid out and had excellent habitat displays. Although they did not have character encounters they had recurring boats in the water ways with different characters waving. 

After having some good experiences we had reservations at the Rainforest Cafe for lunch. The food and service was excellent and highly recommend. It's a bit pricey but we believe you get a good value for the meal. Beth and I were done with the park and had to get back to RV for the dogs, so we hailed an Uber and headed back. The rest of them stayed until almost closing time, enjoying the Tree of Life at night.

Disney Hollywood Studios

After a great day at Animal Kingdom we got some sleep and arose to great sunny weather and ventured to our next park - Disney Hollywood Studios. We had attempted to get into the virtual queue for the Star War's Galaxy Edge attraction - as soon as the opening time hit I made and attempt and was put in a stand by group - well away from a possibility of getting into the attraction. I'm not sure how they manage the virtual queues but it seems impossible that we ended up that far down when we tried to get on line immediately. I feel they have some type of shenanigans going on that allows certain people in line and other are at the mercy of standby.

Even with that disappointment we started our great day. As with Animal Kingdom, masks were required and temperatures were checked prior to entering. Shows were not running and character visits not allowed. The one thing I really missed were the boulevard characters they used to have on the entrance street. They did have an occasional very small "parade" of characters through the street on a recurring basis. 

I, personally, had been very excited to get back to this park for one simple attraction - Twilight Zone's Tower of Terror. It was great to ride this again and take the girls. The eldest almost backed out after we got seated but she was a trooper and made it - and in fact wanted to do it again after it was over. The Aerosmith Rockin' Roller Coaster was nearby and was worth the small wait. The Star War's area is very well done and quite the experience. The Smuggler's Run simulator was enjoyable and requires some interaction with the ride to enjoy it at its fullest. 

Dining was a bit more difficult here than in Animal Kingdom. All the places were booked solid and had been for a couple months prior to our visit. I had hoped to get into the Prime Time Cafe but it was simply not to be. We ended up going to PizzaRizzo and had a very tasty personal pizza and Caesar salad. The "new normal" did not allow counter service as once was - we had to make an order on our phone, pay fr it via phone and we got notified when the order was ready and what counter lane. We then were able to enter and go the counter and pick up the order and proceeded outside to a table.

As with the earlier day Beth and I chose to head on back to the RV by hailing an Uber. All the parks have a ride share area right outside the main gates.

Gaylord Palms and Christmas Day

The next two days were Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For Christmas Eve we ventured to Gaylord Palms to see their Christmas displays and eat dinner at their Villa de Flora buffet. Te resort is always a great visit with their different areas (St Augustine, Key West, Everglades). The Villa de Flora had just re-opened with their new décor and the food was fantastic, as always - except they no longer had their wonderful bread pudding for dessert.

Christmas day was spent at the RV where I prepared a turkey in our oil-less turkey fryer and a ham in the convection oven. The instant  pot got its workout as I also made loads of mash potatoes. We all caught our breadth these two days to prepare for the next park.

Magic Kingdom

The day after Christmas was met with a 36 degree morning - but we had our park reservation so off we went. Parking and entering was the same as the other parks, no real issues. We went up the ramp to take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom. No way were standing on the ferry in this cold.

Again, as with the other parks, masks and temperatures were checked prior to entering. Also, shows were all cancelled as were character encounters. After walking onto main street there was a group of characters on the train balcony waving and welcoming everyone (the train was out of commission in order for construction of a new attraction could occur).

The Magic Kingdom has some great attractions and it was always fun to watch the girls, especially the eldest as she had never been there. We made the rounds of all our favorites - Enchanted Tiki, Country Bear Jamboree, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean. The riverboat was not in the basin and the water had been drained for maintenance. It was kind of odd not seeing or hearing the riverboat make her journey. 

After experiencing some attractions it was time for lunch and I had gotten us reservations at the Crystal Palace - it had just re-opened the week prior. Food was good - not exceptional considering the price. 

After some more attractions and walking the stores on Main Street, Beth and I head off to Uber back to the RV and left the rest to enjoy the park more - they went back on Space Mountain about 4 times and revisited a lot of others.

Disney Springs

Our last full day in the area was spent at Disney Springs. This is a great shopping and dining area with a lot of things to see. There was quite the line to get into the Disney Store (which is huge) but the line moved rather quickly. All stores were limited the number of guests inside but as got there as they opened we did not have to wait. Later in the day when we went back to some stores there was a small line that had to be used. 

For our lunch, we all agreed that we had the best meal of the week at House of Blues. The restaurant is at the far end of the complex and offers indoor or out door seating. We all had different things and we all agreed it was the best meal of all the parks. Service was fantastic and we will definitely be back.

Monday, November 30, 2020

St. Augustine, Florida - November 2020

For the fourth year in a row we took the RV up to St. Augustine for Thanksgiving week. This year we decided to change our normal RV park and we booked into Compass RV Resort. This is a Sun RV Resort property that had been named Indian Forest Campground.

We have usually stayed at the KOA on Anastasia Island due to the convenient shuttle to take to town. The Old Town Trolley in St Augustine has a shuttle that goes from the island hotels and campgrounds into town with stops at the Alligator Farm and Lighthouse. The shuttle runs hourly, making it fairly convenient. We decided to change campgrounds this year for the simple fact we do not really like the KOA (most we do like but this one has some poor sites). We gave up the hourly shuttle, but Compass RV Resort does sell Old Town Trolley tickets and there is a shuttle at either 9am or 10am. A return shuttle can be arranged from old town if you get to Stop 1 by 5:30pm.

As far as the campground is concerned, we will definitely be returning. We had our rig in spot 105 which is a pull through on a corner by the storage yard. We had a nice area out front to give us more space and the traffic was minimal. Lots of dogs going by which was a challenge with our Boston Terrier, but no incidents occurred. Do to our outings in town and the temperature we did not take advantage of their very nice looking pool. Everyone there was friendly, courteous, and very helpful.

Old Town

St Augustine was, as usual, a great place to be for the holiday. They had their annual Night of Lights event that runs through the season and is a site to see. Over 3 million lights on all the businesses and in the main avenue park. Walking St George street for all the little shops was enjoyable as well. We made sure we ate at one of our favorites, Meehan’s Irish Pub. For Thanksgiving we had dinner reservations at one of St Augustine’s oldest restaurants, The Raintree. Service and food were impeccable and we’ll be back next year (make reservations early).

In the past, we would take the Old Town Trolley special Night of Lights tour. This year we decided we would try and get a horse drawn carriage after Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately for us the wait time was an hour and half. So we chose to look around a bit on foot and then returned to the campground.

We did take the time to visit the Fountain of Youth this year and it was a really great decision. There are many things to see and experience – well worth the admission price. Next year we have decided to go into the original Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.

Although we did not visit this year one of our recommendations is to see the Medieval Torture Museum on St George Street. A truly educating and enlightening museum that exposes a little discussed part of our human history. The museum is a private collection and some may be surprised at the devices and methods used – and may even see some still used today.

So as it stands, St Augustine for Thanksgiving has become our tradition. I’ll be making my reservations in the spring to ensure I get the site I want and we will enjoy our time there again. Feel free to check out some our pictures in the Gallery or send us a message with questions.

Check out St Augustine Tours

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Inverter Saga

The one item we truly enjoy about our rig is the residential refrigerator. The double door fridge and freezer drawer allow us to stock supplies for the long term – much longer than the little two-way fridge we had in our previous rig.

During our Savannah trip in September 2019 after dropping shore power to get ready to leave the inverter, located above the propane tank began beeping and the lights in the coach started flickering. Removing the panel I found the inverter flashing an error code and the voltage (which was more than adequate). The ProWatt 2000 inverter error code indicated it was overheating. Mind you the inverter had been off for 6 days. Since we were headed home I simply turned the inverter off and we’d deal with the mostly empty fridge items later.

The coach went in for service at our local Camping World (yes, I know, most would say not to go there but they sold us the rig and i still had an expensive extended warranty I decided to use.) They found the inverter to have a burned capacitor and replaced it with the same model (warranty covered it.) When they started testing it the GFCI outlet onboard the inverter kept tripping whenever the fridge compressor started. It was only pulling the expected 2amps. The attempted further diagnosis but then simply shrugged their shoulders.

As I usually do, I started an intensive online search about the issue and it all came down to one thing – the GFCI outlet was simply too sensitive for a residential fridge of this size. And more than one post or solution was to replace the GFCI breaker with a standard outlet. The other option was to spend about $500 on an upgraded Xantrex inverter. I opted for the former.

I removed the inverter from it’s tight home above the propane tank and removed the front panel. After disconnecting the GFCI outlet I wired the new one and replaced the front panel. I turned the battery shutoff back on, manually started the inverter and used my outlet tester – it showed “Good.” I then re-connected the remote start wire to the inverter and shutting it off manually. Next I pressed the remote inverter switch inside the coach and in a few seconds saw the front panel of the refrigerator light up and start displaying its status. I checked the inverter and it showed no error codes and flashed the voltage which was a little low but expected as i had yet not had the rig plugged in to charge batteries.

So ends the inverter saga and hopefully no issues. We have a trip planned to Saint Augustine, Florida and will see how it does during that journey.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Welcome to Our Dream

This site and it’s hopeful great future has been a wishful target for some time. As we started our RVing experience and also began our plans for retiring in our RV fulltime; there has been a need to somehow both share our experiences with friends and family as well as provide knowledge to others that may desire this lifestyle. We hope to exposer the lifestyle, budget tips, maintenance tips and, of course, destination reviews along with pictures.

As of this publishing we are not yet living and traveling in our RV fulltime. We do try and use our rig at least once a month for a week or so at a time. Currently Jeff works remote which allows him the flexibility to work from anywhere he has internet access. We do have a jetpack for wifi along with a cellular boost antenna that ensures we have a strong signal.

The current goal of going fulltime is just over a year away. Jeff will be able to start claiming social security, Beth will be close to her pension and hopefully our investment nest egg will be robust by then (although we see no need to be dipping into it on a regular basis with our current budget outlook).

We want to thank everyone who stops by and hopefully we provided some insights – more are on the way. Feel free to contact us with questions, comments, and requests.