It happened again!  The plan was to give the car a thorough vacuum and wash on Saturday, pack it full on Sunday and pull out bright and early on Monday February 11th.

But that all changed on Saturday morning.  "What if we left on Sunday?" Carol asked.

 

"Well," I replied, "Maybe we could go as far as Binghamton New York to shorten up that long drive to Wytheville Virginia."

 

"No," she said, "What if we went all the way to Wytheville on Sunday instead of Monday, then went to Brunswick Georgia on Sunday rather than Monday.  That would let us spend a night near Blue Spring State Park and we could see the manatees that live there."

 

"SOLD!" I cried.  I got right on the phone to make all the changes and set up the reservations we needed.

 

Then we both scrambled around franticly as we tried to get everything ready for an early departure!


February 10, 2019

 

I rolled over and opened my eyes at 3:45 in the morning.  I was surprised to see light shining in from the hall.  Carol was up and had the kitchen lights on!  I picked up my tablet from the bedside table and sent her a Facebook message, "Can I go outside and play?"

Her reply was immediate, "I thought you'd never ask!"

 

We had gone to bed early and Carol had trouble sleeping.  She had been up since 3:00 a.m. and was planning to call me at 4:00.

 

We got ourselves, and the three dogs, prepared as quickly as we could.  The things which would have frozen overnight in a cold garage were tucked into the spaces we had left for them, some cold drinks and sandwiches went into a couple of small coolers and we pulled away at 5:00 a.m.  It was a full hour earlier than I had expected.

 

There was absolutely no line at the border and after two very quick questions we were southbound and the US Customs Officer was once again engrossed in his paperback.

 

We encountered a bit of 'lake-effect' or 'lake-enhanced' snow in the snow-belt zone between Watertown and Syracuse New York.  It slowed us down to about 50 MPH instead of our normal 75 MPH, but we soon drove out of it.  There were periodic showers all day and a few times it rained quite hard, but traffic was very light and we made very good time.

 

The dogs settled in fairly quickly.  We learned last year on our way to Fort Wilderness that things worked out best if Jak was able to curl up in a box that was strategically place so that it forced Blue to stay in the middle of the back seat.  Jake just goes with the flow, so he's OK wherever we put him. 

 

We stopped at a few rest areas to walk the dogs, stopped to refuel the car several times, and enjoyed a couple of Carol's sandwiches for lunch during one of the rest area stops.  The miles seemed to fly by!  We hadn't expected to get to Wytheville until about 7:00 p.m. but because of our early start and the light traffic, we rolled up to our motel at 4:45.

 

Once we were checked in we spent some time with the dogs; they needed a good stretch and so did we!

 

We really enjoy a Chinese restaurant in Wytheville so I drove over and picked up a take-out dinner while Carol fed the puppies in the room.

 

After a tasty dinner we settled in front of the TV and watched a bit of the Grammy's . . . but by 9:45 our long day on the road, 733 miles of travel, had caught up to both of us!

 

We were off to bed early!


February 11, 2019

 

Once again we got an early start.  I was beginning to rouse when I rolled over and noticed that Carol was also awake.    "What time is it?" I yawned.  She looked at the clock, it was 5:15 so we decided to get another early start.  I had a quick shower, then took the dogs out while Carol got their breakfast ready.  I had a toasted bagel at the motel's complimentary Continental Breakfast and when I got back Carol and the dogs were all set to go.

 

We loaded everything in the car and pulled away at 6:30 a.m.  By 7:00 we were heading down that seven mile-long hill at Fancy Gap Virginia.  There are four or five runaway truck ramps along the slope and we plummeted down at 70 MPH in a light fog.  It's really odd to me that Carol was always frightened to go down that hill in the motor home, even at 63 MPH on a clear and perfect day, but on a foggy day she didn't have a care at 70 MPH in the car.  Very strange!

 

We had our only slowdown of the day as we approached Charlotte North Carolina.  It was about 8:15 a.m. and we agreed that construction and rush hour is a bad combination.  But we soon got to the I-485 bypass, skirted the city and crossed into South Carolina.  From there on the day was flawless.  There were a few light showers, just enough to rinse off the car and flush away all the salt residue from yesterday!

 

As we passed by Columbia South Carolina Carol said, "Wow, look at that!" and pointed over at the northbound lanes.  Two large semi trucks had just collided and slid to a halt.  Both had jack-knifed and the cab on each was obliterated.  There was wreckage scattered everywhere so it was hard to tell if any cars were involved, but it's hard to imagine how any vehicles nearby could have avoided damage.  We were very lucky that we weren't there while it was in progress, but we passed by before the collision began to bring traffic to a halt.  There had to have been fatalities and our hearts go out to the families!

 

Once again we had a few gasoline stops, a few rest area stops and we ate a quick homemade sandwich for lunch along the way.  Our only shopping stop was at a tacky roadside fruit stand in Georgia.  Yes, Georgia is the "Peach State" so we allowed ourselves to be suckered by a series of splashy roadside billboards.  It turns out that the "Fabulous Peach World" shop the billboards proclaim is actually a lean-to set on the eastern wall of a gas station.  While it wasn't as 'fabulous' as we were led to believe . . . we did enjoy tasting a few of their samples and we bought a jar of very nice peach jam.

 

Then our 453 mile drive was over; we pulled into the hotel at 2:45 but our room wasn't ready yet so we improvised!  We unloaded the dogs and tried to give them a bit of exercise as we waited.  Their tennis balls are buried in the back of the car, beside the spare tire and under hundreds of pounds of our vacation gear.  Rather than unpack it all to pull out a ball we tried to amuse them by tossing a pine cone.  As you might expect, they weren't terribly impressed!

 

We hopped back in the car with the pups and went off in search of a Post Office outlet so Carol could mail a few things to her aunt in Reno Nevada.  Our GPS gave us explicit directions to a Post Office about 2 miles from our hotel, so off we went!  We pulled into a gravel lot, as the GPS directed . . . and spent a few minutes looking around.  There was no USPS office in sight.  In fact there was no office of any kind in sight, just a couple of derelict sheds.  I pulled the car around to the front of one of the sheds and Carol hopped out of the car to look around.  After a few minutes she spotted it two doors down the street.  She walked over and I followed in the car.  I waited a few minutes then Carol came back and chuckled as she told me the story.  The Post Office shares space with a Lube Shop and Car Wash.  As the postal clerk took care of Carol's needs she also had to solve problems for the car detailers and answer questions from the grease monkeys.  Gotta be the strangest Post Office ever!

 

We made a quick stop at a Dollar General where Carol picked up a proper toy for the dogs and when we got back to our hotel the room was ready.  We spent a while settling in and resting with the dogs, then went out and tossed the new toy for them until they were pooped!  After two days in the car they were happy for some exercise.

 

We kept a close eye out the window, watching the dogs who waited in the car while we had dinner at Popeye's just down the road from the hotel.

 

We enjoyed a quiet night of television, and we even stayed up later than 9:45!


February 12, 2019

 

I think it’s a corollary of Murphy’s Law . . . The morning when you have absolutely no reason to get up early always follows the night when you have insomnia!

 

We had a very short travel day planned, only 193 miles from Brunswick Georgia to Lake Mary Florida.  We had an opportunity to sleep in so naturally we were both wide awake at 5:30 a.m.  I said to Carol, “You’re not snoring.”   She replied, “Neither are you!”  Because we’ve been together for over twenty years, those six simple words conveyed a much more complex message between us.  ‘Resistance is futile - it’s time to get up!’

 

We were up by 5:45 and savoured a few cups of coffee while we browsed on our computers and caught up on the news of the past few days.  Carol took the dogs out for their first walk of the morning, then I took them out again a while later.

 

I had a toasted bagel at the Continental Breakfast just off the lobby while Carol fed the puppies, then we loaded them up in the car.  It was 7:30 when we pulled onto southbound I-95.

 We crossed the Florida State Line at 8:00 and as usual, pulled into the Florida Welcome Centre for a glass of orange juice.  Somehow the Minute Maid always tastes better there than it does at home!  I asked one of the attendants in the Tourism Booth about the manatee at Blue Spring State Park.  She said, “Ah yes, you can read all about that in the State Park brochure.” as she pulled one off the shelf and handed it to me.

 

Carol unfolded it in the car and discovered it was nothing more than a map, showing how to find the park.  It didn’t tell us what to expect!  Google told us a great deal more than the Welcome Centre did!

 

It wasn’t long before Carol said, “I just saw a pair of cranes!”

Florida Sand Cranes? I asked and she replied, ‘No, just a pair of big white cranes with black heads.”

 

Just a few minutes later she cried out as she spotted some wild hogs along the side of the road; it looked like a mother and two young ones.  How did she know they were wild hogs?  Silly question, it was obvious because they were dressed in black leather!

By 9:45 we had arrived at Blue Spring State Park, about 5 miles west of I-4 near Orange City.  The park is situated along the shore of the St. Johns River and contains a fresh water spring that feeds water into the river.  The spring water is a constant 72° year around and in cold weather manatee from the river flock to the park to find shelter from the cold in those warm spring waters.

The park’s web site describes it like this!

 

The park brochure says that ‘in the winter Blue Spring State Park is home to over 200 manatees.’

Alas, that is not what we saw today.

 

The 2,600 acre park is stunningly beautiful!  Tall old oak trees are draped with Spanish moss and they provide an almost continuous canopy over the warm water spring and the 1/3 mile-long boardwalk that follows the stream from the St. Johns River to the lagoon where the spring boils up from below.

On our walk upstream from the river to the spring we didn’t see a single manatee.

 

Nada!

 

There were plenty of fish and a few turtles, but none of those interesting sea cows we had come to see.  It was apparent that on an 82° day the water was warm enough for them in the river.

We walked the banks of the stream from one end to the other, then Carol went on her own to the spring.  Dogs weren’t allowed along the final leg of the boardwalk as it approached the lagoon where the spring boils, so I waited by the gift shop with the dogs while Carol went off to the spring, just to be sure there were no sea beasts hiding there.  Sure enough, there were none!

We were dejected as we approached the parking lot. just after noon.  We stopped at a picnic table to give the dogs a drink before loading them back in the car, then on an impulse we popped into the boardwalk viewing station closest to the river.

As I took a picture of some cormorants perched on a fallen tree I spotted a couple of large grey blobs under the surface . . . it was a mother manatee and her calf.  Hooray!  We stood for about a half hour watching.  They barely moved, but we saw them each rise and break the surface to breathe several times.

Carol was craning her neck to spot a turtle the folks beside us were talking about when she spotted a big grey tail out in the middle of the stream.  It was another manatee and this one was on the move, heading toward the river.

 

I’m sure glad we made that impulsive stop along the boardwalk before we left.  We weren’t shut-out after all!  Hopefully we will have a chance to get back to Blue Spring someday . . . and we’ll definitely plan to go in cooler weather!

It was after 1:00 when we left the park and headed to Lake Mary, about 15 miles further southwest along I-4.  We pulled off at Exit 98 where our home for the night, La Quinta Inn & Suites, is located. 

 

Hey!  Look!  It’s Chik-fil-A . . . we love Chik-fil-A!  Let’s have lunch.  I headed into the restaurant to pick up our lunch while Carol chatted with the front desk at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground.  They were trying to find a campsite that our three dogs would be happy with!  The boys decided years ago that campsites which are surrounded by cypress trees are not happy places for long-haired dogs.  Those pesky cypress fronds lead to a lot more combing than Jak, Blue and Jake like!

 

So we’re heading back to the 800 loop tomorrow and we’ll be in a campsite we’ve stayed in before.  All is good!

 

I made a quick shopping foray at Home Depot to pick up a few extra parts for Mickey Mouse lamps then we headed to our hotel.  Our room was ready and we were all checked in and settled by 3:30.

 

The dogs were bushed after their three days on the road and the long walk at Blue Spring, so we all enjoyed a soothing nap!  There was a thunderstorm and quite a downpour while we rested.

By 6:00 p.m. the dogs had been fed and walked again, it was time for the humans to go in search of dinner!

 

We drove up and down Lake Mary Boulevard, just a few blocks from our motel, and saw every fast-food chain.  Nothing seemed to appeal to us!

 

Then we spotted BurgerFi . . . we didn’t know what that was!  It turned out to be great!  We sat outside on the patio where we could keep an eye on the dogs who were snuggled in their familiar spots in the back seat.  Aren’t they cute?

 

Carol looked them up on the Internet while we waited for our food.  It’s a small local chain with five outlets in the Orlando area.  Carol had a cheeseburger; I had a bacon cheeseburger and we shared a combination order of fries and onion rings.  BurgerFi was a good choice, the food was terrific!

 

We took our ‘road-warrior dogs’ home and settled in for the night at about 7:30.  We have a quick 38-mile drive to Fort Wilderness tomorrow morning.  I’m sure the dogs will be happy to stay out of the car for he next three weeks!

 

Golf cart rides only . . . Yip, Yip, Hooray!


February 13, 2019

 

Today we slept in . . . until 6:30.  There was no need to rush; we really didn’t want to approach Downtown Orlando until 9:00 a.m..  The endless construction on I-4 is now entirely focused on downtown Orlando and the morning commute is absolutely terrible!

 

So we took it slow and easy.  I took the dogs out for a stroll in the rain, then once their business was done we enjoyed a few cups of coffee in the room.  I headed to the lobby for breakfast while Carol fed the dogs, then we slowly re-packed the car and loaded up the dogs.  It was about 8:45 when we pulled onto I-4 at Lake Mary.

 

The 38 mile drive took an hour and a quarter.  It was 10:00 when we pulled into Fort Wilderness in a light drizzle.  Carol had used the online check-in option, so we drove directly back to our assigned campsite, #833 and found that it was empty and clean.  As we sat in our car looking at the site the cast member who takes care of the 800 look cruised past on her golf cart.  She confirmed that the site was ready for us, she had just let the front office know, so we should be getting our text message very soon.

 

Carol dashed off a quick text to Mike and Terri at Wilderness Camper Rentals.  They promptly replied, “We’ll be there in 30 minutes.”

 

We decided to head to the nearest grocery store to pick up a few essentials, then hurry back to see if we could help Mike and Terri with the set-up.  We pulled in  at about 11:00 a.m. and they were getting ready to pull out.  They were all finished, and the trailer was all hooked up and waiting for us.  We chatted for a few minutes then they were on their way.

The dogs recognized the trailer immediately . . . it’s the same one we had last year.  They all hopped up the steps and assumed the sleeping positions they had gotten used to last year!

 

Carol went inside and got to work.  I pulled everything out of the car and handed it up the stairs to her; she stowed everything away.

Once the car was empty I assembled the three Mickey Mouse lamp posts we brought along, stretched rope light strings along the sides of the campsite’s concrete pad, laid out the patio mat and set up a timer for the lights.

 

Carol made us each a sandwich for lunch and after we had eaten she joined me outside.  We hung a string of lights on the awning and then moved the picnic table.  By 2:00 p.m. we were all done!  The place is looking good!

We went out to pick up our rental golf cart, then took a few minutes to relax with the puppies.

 

Our friends Scott and Judy have been vacationing here for 17 days and are leaving for home tomorrow.  We had arranged weeks ago to meet them for dinner today so at 3:15 we drove the golf cart to Pioneer Hall where they were waiting on the veranda in a couple of ever-so-cozy rocking chairs.

We spent about an hour back at our campsite catching up on all the fun they’d been having, then at 4:45 we boarded the golf cart once again and headed to Trail’s End for our 5:00 p.m. dinner reservation.

 

We enjoyed a good meal and a few more laughs with old friends.  It was a terrific way to spend our first evening at Disney!

   

After dinner we enjoyed a fabulous sunset over Bay Lake before riding in the golf cart back to our campsite, then transferring to the car to drive Scott and Judy back to their hotel.  They’ve been staying at Port Orleans French Quarter which is almost next door to the campground.  If they took the boat to the Magic Kingdom then the bus to their hotel it would have taken about an hour.  We had them home in five minutes!

 

Once we were back to The Fort I sent a text message to Tom and Krista from Sackville New Brunswick.  They are fellow Canadians and fellow Disney campers.  We have met them several times in the past here at Fort Wilderness.  They are leaving in a few days and wanted to pick up a Mickey lamp before they left.

 

After a short visit with Tom and Krista we settled in for a quiet night with the dogs.  This will be a stressful night for them as they re-adjust to the noises of the nightly routine.  Two separate fireworks shows and the nightly water pageant keep them on edge for the first few nights, but they quickly get used to the routine.

 

It wasn’t long before we were yawning right along with the dogs.  Sleep came early!


February 14, 2019

We slept in until 6:45 a.m. and before long we were both sitting outside, behind the trailer, watching the dog-walk trail that follows the canal directly behind us.  There’s always something going on back there.  Sometimes it’s squirrels scampering, or turkeys wandering.  Sometimes we spot a few deer or armadillo and there are regular Segway tours!  It’s a very peaceful way to greet the day!

We walked the dogs again at about 8:45 and hopped in the car to head off to Disney Springs.  Carol had a voucher for a 5-day pass she got by cashing in some Air Miles reward points.  She needed to visit Guest Services to swap that 5-day pass for an Annual Pass.

 

We had a nice breakfast at Earl of Sandwich, then made a quick stop at the Pin Station.  There was a new release that morning and Carol had to pick one up.

Then off we went toward Guest Services with a few quick browsing stops along the way.  Guest Services was crowded by the time we got there, and we waited close to an hour before they finally called our names.  Marlene from Kingston Jamaica took good care of us.  It took a while, but it worked out well, they gave Carol a credit of $315 toward her $952 pass.  She studies all the angles and takes advantage of every discount she can when buying tickets.  Carol often describes her strategy to me . . . but it always sounds like Sheldon Cooper when he talks about string theory.  I guess that means that my Valentine really is a ‘Disney ticket genius’!

 

Once she had the annual pass then they began the process of matching the FastPass+ booking Carol had made using my Annual Pass with equivalent ones on Carol’s new pass.  You would think this should be easy to do . . . but it’s not!  It had to be done one at a time and it was 12:30 before the process was complete!

 

Carol stopped at the Forever After shop, near the Lime Parking Lot, and picked up the Alex & Ani Lady and the Tramp bracelet she had been reading about, then it was time to head back to the dogs.

The skywriters were putting up a personalized Valentine message from me to Carol as we left Disney Springs!

When we got back to our campsite there  was a note from John and Sharon, friends from Lakeside Ohio.  They had dropped by while we were out.  We enjoyed sandwiches in the lawn chairs behind the camper, then loaded dogs in the golf cart and drove over to John and Sharon’s campsite in the 1800 loop.  They weren’t home, so we changed the names on the note they left us and stuck it in their door.

 

Carol shopped at both Trading Posts, the Meadow and the Settlement on our way back home.  The dogs convinced us that it was time for a nap!

 

Carol had just gotten up and I was beginning to rouse when John and Sharon rolled up on their bicycles.  They had been to the Magic Kingdom and were just heading home.  We sat on the patio and visited with them for about an hour and then Blue began to remind everyone that it was dinner time for the dogs.  He can get pretty insistent!

John and Sharon rode on home, we fed and walked the dogs and by 6:00 p.m. we were on the boat to the Magic Kingdom.

We picked up Sorcerer Cards as we passed the Fire Hall then found a table at Casey’s Corner for dinner.  When Carol saw the line in front to the restaurant she said, “Yikes!”  We gave our table to another family and carried on.  We had a FastPass at the Mine Train and couldn’t wait for that line!

We walked through the castle and stopped for a hot dog and a bratwurst at Friar’s Nook, just across from the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  It was good, don’t know why we don’t stop there more often!

 

By the time we were finished dinner the end-time for out FP+ was approaching so we hurried across the concourse and joined the line.

It really is a cute ride and we both prefer it at night, our eyes adjust much better to the light when we go indoors to the mine scene!

When we finished the Mine Train it was still too early for our FastPass+ at Peter Pan so we rode It’s A Small World.  We have a new camera this trip and I fiddled a bit with the low-light setting.  It seems to take decent low-light pictures.

Then we took our spin through the recently refurbished Peter Pan’s Flight attraction.  It’s been repainted and brightened up a bit, but it’s still the same old classic ride we’ve been enjoying for decades!

 

We took a stroll through Frontierland where Carol looked at pins while I grabbed a pineapple float at Aloha Isle.  Carol went directly to Sunshine Terrace for a Citrus Swirl and we sat on a park bench and enjoyed them while we watched the Happily Ever After fireworks display.

 

Then it was time to go!  We rushed to Main Street to beat the crowd, then used the backstage shortcut to Town Square.  We boarded the boat back to the campground and were home with the puppies at 9:30.

 

After a bit of TV it was bedtime!


February 15, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Festival of the Arts - dinner at 'Ohana

February 16, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Pin Trading at Holiday Inn - Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

February 17, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - brunch at Art Smith's Florida Homecoming

February 18, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at 'Ohana

February 19, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at Teppan Edo

February 20, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at Mario & Enzo's

February 21, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - lunch at Ale & Compass - dinner at Chefs de France

February 22, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - lunch at Plaza Inn

February 23, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at Chefs de France

February 24, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at The Edison

February 25, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at Beaches & Cream

February 26, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - lunch at Plaza Inn

February 27, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at Nine Dragons

February 28, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Pin Trading at Disney's Contemporary Resort

March 1, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - 1:05 p.m. Toronto Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves - dinner at Tony's Town Square

March 2, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at 'Ohana

March 3, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - lunch at The Boathouse

March 4, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground

March 5, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - dinner at Trail's End

March 6, 2019 - Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Flower & Garden Festival

March 7, 2019 - 680 Miles - Red Roof Inn, Wytheville, VA

March 8, 2019 - 733 Miles - Home