After a fantastic month in the Keys, we headed up the west coast of Florida through the Everglades to Naples. We had booked a week at the Naples KOA and had received a call while in Key Largo letting us know that they were still under construction repairing the damage from Hurricane Ian from back in September 2022. They had 5 FEET of water in the park and were getting a complete rebuild from the ground up – new bigger sites, new buildings, beautiful rebuilt pool – it will be gorgeous when it is done. We decided to still go to the campground as we really wanted to support the area with our $$$ to help them finance the rebuild and it also gave us some entertainment watching the construction workers! Though it got a little noisy occasionally as they brought it truckloads of dirt, etc.
One of the reasons we wanted to stop in Naples is it is pickleball central. The Naples Pickleball Center is where they hold the US Pickleball Championships and it is quite impressive with 80 courts separated by skill level. We held our own on the 3.0 courts then went over to the 2.0 courts to play some more relaxed games. If you want to really improve your game this is definitely the place you need to go!
When we were not playing pickleball we got out to do some hiking. We drove northeast of Naples to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp and Nature Center. This was an amazing place! We saw soooo many animals & birds – Great Egrets, White Ibis, Wood Storks, Little Blue Herons, a Raccoon, Brown & Green Anoles, Snowy Egrets, Anhingas, Red Bellied Woodpeckers, a night heron, two Barred Owls – a momma & her owlet, Alligators a momma with their year-old babies, vultures, beautiful plants and flowers – Definitely one of the best nature preserves we have visited!
After our hike we stopped off in the little town of Ave Maria for lunch. This was a very interesting community as it was originally founded by Roman Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza fame, who created the town to hold his Ave Maria University. We had a delicious lunch at The Pub and Grill on the square then walked over to explore the large Catholic church.
We took the long way back to Naples going over to Ft Myers Beach where we saw SOOOOOOO much damage from Hurricane Ian. It had only been 8 months since the storm ravished the area and they are still struggling to get the debris removed and are slowly starting to rebuild. As we drove down the coast it reminded me so much of what Pensacola Beach looked like after Hurricane Fredrick hit back in 1979 when I lived there with my mother.
As with the night kayaking when we were in Key West, we are always looking for unique experiences. And boy, did we find one in Naples! If you ever have an opportunity to try a CraigCat, you should really jump at the chance to drive one! These are soooo cool! Think 2 paddleboards tied together, throw on a couple of seats and attach an outboard motor and the adventure begins!! They were a hoot to drive, and we were able to cover so much more water than when kayaking going all the way out through the mangroves to White Horse Key. We saw two dolphins, a shark, and two osprey nests with several chicks. Our guide Erick, from Backwater Adventures was great at navigating the waterways and we had a relaxing stop to go shelling and for a swim on White Horse Key. This was just plain FUN!
On the road leading into the KOA campground is the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center so one day we rode our bikes over to take a look around. Turns out they had a well-staffed visitor’s center with knowledgeable docents who knew all about the estuary and the wildlife. They even offered us a few free squirts of bug repellent before we tackled the trails. And boy, was that appreciated as it was a VERY buggy, and quick, hike through the woods! Oh, and the Rookery also has a great Farmer’s market on the weekend where we got some great produce before we left to head up to Sarasota.
Since it was an easy 2 hour drive up the coast to our next stop, we asked for a late checkout at the KOA leaving just after lunch. As I book campgrounds (I use RV Trip Wizard), I have seen many of the Sun Outdoors resorts around the country, but we had yet to stay at one. We decided to try Sun Outdoors Sarasota, and Oh My, (said with my best George Takei impression) – this place was HUGE! It was quite impressive with two very large pools (one indoor), a very
large gym, multiple lakes, and I think I counted 12 pickleball courts. Everything a snowbird could want! For us it was almost too big and way to busy and this wasn’t even the high season! We met the couple next door who also play pickleball soon after we arrived, so we arranged to play with them the next day before they moved on. The second day we played pickleball again, this time with some of the local residents, rode our bikes around the resort, and then spent the afternoon in the mega outdoor pool and relaxing by the bar.
Then it was off to the Circus! We were told a stop in Sarasota would not be complete without a visit to The Ringling Museum. We got in a full day of walking around the grounds, in the museums, and the mansion. This is an amazing place, and you need to plan lots of time to see it all. The grounds are beautiful, the museum was fascinating – especially the miniature circus – the mansion is gorgeous (yes, the tour takes you all the way up to the top of the tower), plus the restaurant serves a very tasty lunch.
The last several weeks had been great fun with lots of upsides of new adventures and exploring new places. But what goes up must come down – literally! Like down on my butt!! While I was cooking
dinner, I went to fill Jon’s water glass at the automatic dispenser on the frig. I was paying attention to the skillet on the cooktop instead of the glass and without knowing it the water hit the ice and sprayed out of the glass and on to the floor. As I turned to put away the spices I had used, my left foot hit the puddle of water, and in my best cartoon imitation, went straight out from under me. As I landed on my bum somehow, I caught my right foot as it did not move when the rest of me did as I went down. I immediately iced it but by the time we had finished dinner it was still hurting a great deal so we took off to an urgent care and got it x-rayed. They said I had broken my 5th metatarsal bone and they put what is called a glass splint on it and told me I would have to see an orthopedic doc in 4 days. The pain got worse through the night and finally I woke Jon at 5 am to take me back to the ER. They re-wrapped it which helped to alleviate some of the pain. I was really fortunate that I did not break a hip or crack my head open.
We had already made plans for our next stop to be a return to Umatilla for a week to check out our new site at Olde Mill Stream and have it measured for the new concrete pad that is being installed over the summer. I spent the morning after the fall calling around to find an orthopedic doc near Umatilla where I could get an appointment the next week to have a cast/boot put on the foot. And because that appointment had to take precedence, I also had to change a number of appointments we had already schedule during that week. Since I couldn’t enjoy the resort in Sarasota anymore, we decided to leave a day early and headed back to Umatilla.
While we waited for the orthopedic doc appointment, we checked out our new site for next year. We had wanted to get out from under the oak trees at our old site and change the direction we faced to improve the direction of the sun hitting the coach, so we chose a new site when we re-upped our contract. We really think we will like this new site next winter.
Things started looking up again when the orthopedic doc said that my foot was not broken! YEAH! He put me in a walking shoe and told me to stay off it for a week. This was really good news as we had planned a week at Disney’s Ft Wilderness Campground before we started heading north. We really debated as to whether we should cancel this part of our plans, but we decided to carry on as we knew that Disney was very accessible.
We love Ft Wilderness and enjoy the nice large sites and all there is to do in the campground. One of the
reasons we decided to camp is that, though we have come down to Disney often over the last couple of years, we usually do not stay for the late-night shows as it would have us driving back to Umatilla quite late at night. By staying at the campground, we had easy access to all the nighttime park events and could still be in bed before midnight! Usually there is quite a bit of walking required at Disney and the campground is no exception. They have buses to take you to the transportation depots but even they are a bit of a hike from your site. I tried riding my bike and found I could easily do so with the walking shoe so that was my mode of transportation around the campground getting down to the boat dock and over to the bus depot.
We spent the first afternoon relaxing before going to the Hoop De Do Revue for dinner which always has a very fun Vaudeville style show. We then took the boat over to the Magic Kingdom for the Happily Ever After fireworks show. We found a place to sit to wait for the fireworks and light show on the castle which was awesome as always then took a quick ride at the Haunted Mansion before called it a night. Since my foot was slowly getting better I tried to go with just a cane and without the walking shoe which was a mistake as I was in a good bit of pain by the time we got home so I wore the shoe for the rest of the time we were in the parks.
This time I did get a new view of Disney – of all the butts in front of me! Our first full day was at Animal Kingdom where I was able to rent an ECV scooter. I am proud to say I never ran anyone over, and we just won’t mention those two walls I hit trying to navigate the tight waiting lines on a couple of the rides! We saw the bird show, did the Avatar & the River of Na’vi rides, Kilimanjaro safaris, Gorilla Falls Exploration trail, took the train out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and had lunch at the Harambe Market. We took the Maharajah Jungle trek and then had dinner at Tiffins before returning to the coach. It was a really fun but tiring day so we decided to not stay for the night show as my foot was killing me again.
The second day we changed tactics and took a boat over to the Magic Kingdom and caught the monorail to Epcot. We learned our lesson to not spend all day at the parks the day before so we went over early so that I could rent the ECV scooter (they usually run out of scooters by noon but if you get one early enough, they will hold it for you if you want to leave the
park and come back.) In the morning we rode our favorite rides, Spaceship Earth, Soaring, Figment’s Imagination and watched the Short Films and Awesome Planet. We went back to the coach for lunch, and we watched, a new to us movie, Encanto. After a nice long break, we went back and rambled/rode around the Epcot Showcase. We went to the Talk with Crush show and road the new Ratatouille ride before having a very nice and light dinner at Spice Road Table. Then we found a spot to sit, and people watch until the Harmonious fireworks display. I have to say I was not impressed with this new show, definitely not one of the better ones we have seen at Epcot.
Next up was Hollywood Studios and again we went over early in the day to rent an ECV scooter and spent the morning enjoying some of the rides – Mickey’s Runaway Train, Star Tours, and the
Muppet Theatre then it was back to the coach for lunch and a break. To extend our rest period we watched another Disney movie we had missed as our children were grown by the time it came out, Mauna. We returned to Hollywood studios in the late afternoon and dived into the Star Wars universe doing both the Star Wars rides – Rise of the Resistance and The Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run. We did Star Tours again as each time you ride you can get a different experience as there are 27 different possible planets to explore on 3 different itineraries for well over 17,000 combinations! For the Fantasmic light show we snagged a dinner and show combo reservation, so we had reserved seating at the show. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the park before dinner at Mama Melrose’s. One of the reasons I love eating at
Disney parks is they have done a wonderful job creating tasty gluten and dairy free meals including pasta! I can rarely find Italian restaurants where I can eat so it was quite a treat. After dinner and a bit more of a ramble/ride through the shops and a bit more people watching we headed over to Fantasmic. We have always enjoyed this show and we were glad once again that we only had a short bus ride and then bike ride back to the coach.
We have been coming to Disney for over 42 years, so we are always looking for new experiences. When
we saw the sign to the right we immediately signed up! Our last full day we spent the morning creating a beautiful wooden sign that we will hang at our site at Olde Mill Stream in Umatilla. We were able to choose the stencil we wanted from about 8 different options as well as the stain and paint colors. Then I got to work while Jon gave advice and kept me supplied with food and drink. As we are not great drinkers anyway and 11 am was a little early for us so we gave our drink tickets to the couple across the table from us which the gentleman realllly enjoyed while his wife worked! We got great instructions from the staff, and I was very happy with the results!
After the crafty morning we headed over to the Magic Kingdom but unfortunately all the ECV scooters
had been rented so Jon had to push me around in a wheelchair. The first thing we wanted to do was to ride the train all the way around the park. It had been closed for four years as the track around Tomorrow Land had to be moved as they built the new Tron ride, so it was fun to be able to return to one of our favorite rides. I was a bit disappointed as unfortunately they took away some of the dioramas that used to be along the ride, but it was still quite nostalgic to ride the train just like we did back on our honeymoon 41 years ago . Then we headed
over to the Liberty Tavern for an early dinner. Again, eating at the Tavern was quite nostalgic as it was the restaurant we ate in while on our honeymoon, so I always try to get at least one reservation there each time we visit the Magic Kingdom. We were cutting through one of the back ways over to Liberty Square and the restaurant just as one of the parades had started and we were trying to get around the closed streets and found a wonderful place out of the crowds where we were able to watch the parade from a bridge with a great view! After dinner and a bit more time browsing the shops, we took the boat back to the campground. We had beautiful weather the whole time we were there and even though we were there over the crowded Memorial weekend, and I was dealing with only being able to walk short distances, we had another great visit to Disney.
It was now time to start heading north. I had been promising my sister, Cat, for several years that I would help her go through the boxes of our mother’s photos and memorabilia, so we made a 3-day stop in
Tallahassee staying at our favorite RV park there, Big Oak. It was fascinating going through the items our mother had collected over her 89 years of life. Jonathan spent the entire time scanning family photos, over 1,100!!!! While I sat on the floor reading old love letters, finding family history I never knew, and coming to understand my mother a lot better. I even found my grandfather’s diary from WWI! I got it all sorted and organized (my superpower!) by family members and re-boxed up so that Cat can easily access information for that book about our family she has been promising to write. While we worked Cat kept us supplied with plenty of refreshments and delicious dinners. While Jon finished up the scanning I helped Cat hang pictures, put together furniture, and got her settled just a bit more in her new home.
After our brief stay, we continued north for a quick one night stop at the Backyard RV Resort. This campground is pretty basic but great for a one night stop on our way to the Mother Ship, yep, another stop at the Tiffin Service Center.
We had several items on our to do list for our time in Red Bay. Since we never know how long it will take to get things done, we prepaid for a three-week stay at the Red Bay RV Campground. At $25 a night you just can’t beat it, plus after all the activity over the last few months we could really use a little down time.
The first project was to have the sagging fabric replaced on the large awing on the passenger side of the coach. We had contacted one of the After-Hours techs, Charles Coburn, and had arranged to have the replacement fabric shipped to him ahead of our arrival. He came out the same afternoon we called to let him know we had arrived and, in an hour and a half, he and his friend, another Charles, had replaced the fabric. Without realizing it they had ordered black fabric, but it will look so much better than the old light grey one and as a bonus will not show the stains that we got on the original.
I think the most amazing part of our stay here was that we got a call the day after we registered with Tiffin that we would be in a service bay the next day! No long wait this time, or so we thought! So, the upside was we got into the service center in one day, which due to our coach’s age can only be for a three-hour appointment in the Express Bay. We had a short list but they were serious issues, our Aquahot heating and hot water system needed repair and a bedroom slide was making worrying noises. Eight hours later the only thing on our list they completed was fixing the aquahot. It took them that long to get it fixed and it is one of the things we love about Tiffin is that they will work until the job is done even though it was supposed to be only a three hour appointment. The downside was, though they did look at the slide that is a problem, actually two of the problems, but one was intermittent, and they couldn’t make it happen again, and the seconded require us to order parts. They also needed to order a part for the front windshield sunshade controller. Lovely supply chain issues! Anyway, even though officially we can only get one 3 hour appointment every 6 months, they were nice enough to leave our ticket open and they said they would call us when the parts came in which they said would be within two weeks.
With all the down time while we were waiting for the parts to come in, we started on our projects around the coach. There are always things that need fixing and when we are constantly on the move, we really need these quiet days to get everything shipshape. I put the clear coat on the sign we made at Disney and also made a carry bag so, if we do take it with us, it will be protected. Max, our traveling bear ambassador, also needed a bit of work. Because he sits outside at the front of our site to greet visitors in all types of wind and weather, he had gotten a few cracks on his head, plus he needed a nose job to repair some peeling varnish. It took a couple of tries to get the cracks filled, sanded, painted, and re-stained the correct color but he is now back to his original cute self.
Jon tackled several projects – he got the bathroom door fixed by replacing the locking rod and replaced the broken hose guide ring in the shower. One of the fog lights that had gotten broken on the Alaska trip last summer had been discontinued so with the help of a friend who is also a Tiffin owner, Mike S., we were able to find a replacement that was a pretty good match. Jon was able to put them in with only having to drill one new hole for each.
One of the items that has been on my wish list was to replace the very uncomfortable couch in the coach with two recliners and a desk. The fabric that Tiffin used on the furniture the year our coach was built was defective and started peeling a while ago. We debated having the recliner and couch re-upholstered but it was just as expensive as getting two much more comfortable chairs. I had made covers for the driver and passenger seats and a cover for the top of the recliner a while ago but the peeling on everything just got really bad. So while we were just sitting here waiting for the work to be done at Tiffin we went down to the Bunk House Conversions here in Red Bay and purchased two new recliners. The next day we went to their shop where they removed the old couch and put in the new chairs. WOW, what a difference it makes in the coach! It feels so much more roomy and we now both have a comfortable place to sit. Now to just find a little desk to put between them so both Jonathan and I have a work space.
One of projects Jon had to tackle was replacing a piece of wallboard. Tiffin did not put the floor molding behind the couch and since there was an electric recliner as part of it, there was a hole that needed to be covered. We were able to go to the Tiffin Lumber Yard to get what we needed to make the repair and the Cabinet shop made us a piece of the molding so it looks like new.
After waiting for over two weeks, I started to get antsy about the parts we needed. We went back to Tiffin to get the part numbers, but we couldn’t source the parts ourselves, so we contacted another one of the After Hours techs and he said he could fix it but it would be several more days. By the last week we were planning to be in Red Bay I was worried that we wouldn’t get the slide fixed in time or we would have to extend our stay even longer.
In the past our trips to the Tiffin Service Center have been satisfying experiences. We were always impressed with the service techs and with the way we were treated. Tiffin was bought by Thor in 2020 and I do not know if some of the issues we had were because of the new owners, and the 2 layoffs they have had, but I can say there was an undercurrent of unease at the Service Center. I am hoping that as things settle down that Thor can bring back the excellent service we have gotten in the past.
At least the month-long stay was great for my foot which has completely healed and we are back to getting our exercise. There is not much to do in the small town of Red Bay while you wait for service but we took lots of long walks when the heat permitted and we took several shopping trips to Russellville, Muscle Shoals, and Florence and one to Tupelo. The only grocery in Red Bay is a Big Star and it has very limited gluten and dairy free options so we had to drive over an hour to get to the larger towns with major grocery chains. Plus, we were able to hit Joann’s for fabric and Home Depot for hardware for the projects around the coach. We ate out very little but on one of our trips up to Florence we had a delicious lunch at the River Bottom Grille.
We did have all of our summer celebrations with my birthday, our anniversary, and the 4th of July. The Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia, AL had been recommended to us every time we came to Red Bay and we finally took the drive over on our anniversary. The ambience was great, the music was really good, and the food was delicious. Also, the church across from the RV Park had there own fireworks display that same night so we even got our own private show! Great way to celebrate our 41st!!
Well, it took 37 days for Tiffin to finally come through but in the end they once again gave us great service. The After Hours tech we contacted also had incredible difficulty trying to track down the parts we needed and in the end we just paid him for the hours spent on our behalf and for the two parts he did find which we will now keep as spares should they be needed. Eventually Tiffin was able to get all of the parts for the slide and the motor for the windshield sunshade so in one day they fixed everything that was outstanding on our service order. Also, though we were supposed to only have a three hour express bay service due to the age of our coach, we were in the bays twice for a total of 16 hours of work.
One of the other upsides of being here in Red Bay was that we met another couple who were here for service. Peter and Susan are from PA and will actually be at the Brandywine Creek Campground in Philly in July and August while we are there for Alex’s wedding – it really is a small world!
So things have really been up and down over the last few months but we are ready to get back on the road. Since we had to extend here in Red Bay we had to cancel a few of our reservations and change our route up to PA. Now with a couple of quick stops in TN and VA we will be back on track and will be getting to PA right on schedule for all of the wedding preparations but more on that later….