Saturday, February 27, 2016

Space Coast and Friends

We have had a whirlwind time here the last couple of weeks with friends and exploring.  Before we left for the cruise we had one last dinner with Joe and Kathy.  The day we returned we had a long lunch with Cal and Marie, who we know from Betty's.  Then Mike and Sherri flew down from WashPA for a five day visit and on our last day here we met our friend John in New Smyrna Beach for a long, getting caught up lunch.
 Our last dinner with Joe and Kathy at Fishbone Willy's, a neat and very good local restaurant in Melbourne.  We had a great time with them in the Keys and in Christmas and are looking forward to seeing them on our next cruise in April'
The day after we returned from our cruise we drove to the other side of Orlando to have lunch with Cal and Marie.  Lunch turned into a three hour event of getting caught up with each other's travels.  We were sad to hear they were not going to be able to make it to Betty's this year. 
On Wednesday I went to the office to let them know that our friends Mike and Sherri were coming to stay with us for a few days.  I don't know if their visit and these pictured vehicles were connected, but they both showed up in the park shortly after I left the office.
Sherri and Mike were happy to be in the sunshine state even if they did bring some cooler weather with them that required long pants and jackets.  Even when it is chilly, having the sunshine makes a big difference,
We went to Coco Beach for a look at the Atlantic and to check out the fishing pier.  It was sunny with too much wind but we still enjoyed a stroll along the water.  We stayed busy and never did get a chance to fish.
Our next stop was Port Canaveral where we saw this pelican strutin his stuff as he waited for fishermen to toss him some scraps.
True friends Sherri and Nanc sharing the big chair.
Check out the sign.  How cool!!  And, very true.  Of course the picture of Mike and me has him reverting to middle school behavior, using his fingers to make it look like I have horns.
We watched two cruise ships setting sail out of Port Canaveral where we had sailed from the week before.  This is the Disney Magic. 
 SpaceX, a private company, had a launch scheduled for the evening Mike and Sherri arrived and we did not want to miss it.  It was postponed the first day so we returned to New York New York, a local restaurant that is a good place to watch a launch from Cape Canaveral.  We were all bundled up against the cool, windy weather.  And we were disappointment again as the launch was cancelled until a fueling issue was resolved.  What a bummer! 
The launch was rescheduled again for Sunday.  We returned to New York New York and waited, only to have a short delay caused by a boat being in the restricted area.  After almost an hour the countdown began again and went all the way down to zero only to have the computer deny the launch because of some other glitch.  Another big bummer!!!
We did get to see this osprey and a pod of dolphins while waiting for the launch.  Each evening after dinner we played a little guys against gals euchre and I'm happy to report the guys came out on top three of the four evenings.
Other days we visited the Kennedy Space Center, The Merritt Island NWR and the Canaveral National Seashore, all stories for other blog posts.  On Tuesday Mike and Sherri left on a coast to coast drive across Florida to Bradenton so they could take in a Pirate spring training game. 
We had a three hour lunch with John at the Yellow Dog Eats.  It was great hearing about what has been happening with his family with three new grand babies since we last saw him in September.  John and I coached together so we also got the inside stories about what was happening in the high school basketball scene in Western PA.  As we say so many times, seeing friends on the road is one of the best things about our roaming lifestyle.

We know many RVers who say their rigs can host eight, feed four, but only sleep two.  We have found that sleeping four is not a big deal and we love having friends come and a visit.  That said, we sometimes have issues like we did when Mike flooded the water closet with the sprayer and  Sherri broke the clip that holds the closet door shut.  These were no big deal because things like that can happen anytime.  But because they are such good friends, we really had to give them a hard time about them:-)  We are already looking forward to sharing our RVing adventure with others when my brother Rick and his wife Denise and Tom and Georgie visit while we are at Betty's in the spring. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Enchantment of the Seas and the Bahamas

This was our first cruise and I can say we had a great time and, overall, were very happy with the experience.  That said, most of our vacations since we have been on the road have been to all-inclusive resorts and for us the cruise does not compare to those experiences.  The number one reason was so many kids.  When we go to the Secrets resorts they are adults only.  On this cruise there were over 250 fifteen year old girls from Argentina who were on there quinceanera trip.  This is a celebration of their transition from childhood to young adult.  While they were generally well behaved, they were everywhere. Another big difference was the food.  On the cruise you had the choice of eating in the dining room at an assigned table and time or going to the buffet (not a choice we like) or paying extra for a different restaurant.  The menu included ten or so choices with one or two being different each day and entrees like lobster came with an additional $30.00 charge.  At Secrets there are six or seven restaurants, each with different cuisines, where each menu has ten or so choices and you can eat any time you wish.  Another big difference is the drink selection, even bottled water and pop.  Prices started at $20.00 per person, per day for water and pop up to $60.00 for unlimited alcohol.  On top of this an 18% gratuity was added.  We did the pay as you go plan where a beer was five or six dollars and a glass of wine ranged from seven to twelve dollars.  We did not feel this was too far out of line, but one wine Nanc drank was a brand we purchased in the Keys for $8.00 a bottle and included a 25 cent per gallon fuel discount with the fuel perks card making the real cost about $3.00 a bottle.  That wine was $11.00 a glass on the ship.  Way over priced.   
Our trip started with one of those wow kind of moments.  When we were checking in at the park and cruise lot the clerk asked if I knew Rick Tidball.  I said I did (he's my brother) and was waiting for her to tell me how she knew him.  She proceeded to introduce us and obviously this Rick was not my brother.  As all Tidballs are related Rick has to be a distant cousin.  We talked a bit when we returned and learned he is a native Floridian and his father was not aware of any other Tidballs.  We have only met a couple others in all our travels.
Our ship, Enchantment of the Seas, was built in the mid 1990's and in 2005 the ship was cut in half and a new 72 foot section was added.  There are ten levels which  included five with passenger cabins and one for the crew.  The other decks were all public areas with entertainment venues, bars, and dining.  Another example of something we felt was way overpriced was $150 per person if you wanted a tour of the workings of the ship.  Seems to me they are trying to discourage people from taking an inside look at the ship and it worked for us as we did not take the tour. 
This is one outdoor pool area with hot tubs and a spray area for the kids.  There is also an indoor pool area.  Because the weather was a bit cool and the pool was very crowded with kids, we never put on our bathing suits.  This was another big difference from the Secrets resorts, which all have at least two very large pools.  I understand that that is not possible on a ship.
Since we are only 30 miles from Port Canaveral we got on board early so we could explore the ship and have lunch and a bon voyage toddy.  I was happy they did have a good selection of beer.
A half hour before departure all passengers had to report to their assigned lifeboat muster area to get instructions about what to do in an emergency.  We were thinking this was a good idea after the first night was very rough.  Happy to report that Nanc, who was worried about getting seasick, did fine even without the motion sickness wrist bands she brought along.  
I would say the high point of the on board activities was the music and entertainment.  There was music from early afternoon to late at night.  There were three different bands and a couple of piano players who played at several different spots.  They were all outstanding. 
The second day we were at sea all day and they had many activities to keep us busy.  Of course you can also find a quiet corner to read and soak up the sun.  We opted for a couples massage in the spa and it was wonderful.
Day two was the formal dinner and I got about as dressed up as I do.  There was a big show each evening in the Orpheum Theatre.  One was music and dance from Broadway shows, another was popular music and the last night was a wonderful Farewell show.  The singers and dancers were very, very good. 
The captain and officers were introduced and then the International Parade of Flags was held to show the many nationalities of the crew members who come from over 50 countries.  All the crew was great.  They work seven straight months, seven days a week and then get two months off.
The Centrum was our favorite bar with different entertainment every evening.  One night there was  70's - 80's music, another 50's - 60's, another karaoke, and also jazz.  There was something for everyone at several venues.  The only music they did not have was country. 
When we woke up on day 3 we were in Nassau, Bahamas where we took a historical tour of the city.  Of course there were many places to shop.  Other than a tee shirt for me and a bit of jewelry for Nanc we escaped with our wallets in pretty good shape.
In colonial times the Bahamas were a hot bed of pirate activity so there were three forts to protect the harbor in Nassau.  The tour included stops at two of the three.  This is Fort Fincastle that has this unique ship prow shape on the back side. 
There were only three cannons and a couple mortars in the fort that was built in 1793.  It was on the highest point of the city about 165 feet above sea level. 
To get to the fort the Queen's Staircase was carved from limestone by slaves in 1793 as a short cut.  There are 65 steps that are now covered with bricks.  It's hard to imagine all this work being done by hand.
Fort Charlotte was built in 1783 by the British colonial government.  As with many old buildings in the city it was constructed with limestone.  Of course there are vendors at each stop of the tour.
Three cruise ships and the Atlantis hotel, an upscale hotel and waterpark, from the fort.  Nassau has a small, but deep, harbor where the ships need to turn around either coming in or when they leave.  The two on the right are Royal Caribbean ships and the other is a Carnival ship which came in after we did and left before us.
For those who wanted some beach time this beach is a short walk from the dock.  This was the only time Nanc got in the water.
The final stop was at the Atlantis on Paradise Island.  As you can see this is the playground of the rich and famous.  This is a place where a guy with a 75 foot yacht can be envious of his neighbor's bigger boat.
After the tour we walked around Nassau to check out some things that were pointed out by our guide and browsed the tourist traps.  This is Sir Milo Boughton Butler, a local businessman and politician who held several positions in the government.  When the Bahamas became independent in 1973 he became the first Bahamian Governor-General.
This is the Bahamian Parliament building.  The flag indicates that that branch of the legislature is in session.  The statue of Queen Victoria reflects the Bahamas continuing allegiance to the the British Crown as a member of the Commonwealth.  In per capita gross domestic product the Bahamas is the third richest country in the Americas after the US and Canada.  
WOW, check it out a tropical brewing company that makes great beer.  I enjoyed their IPA and the two for one special for Royal Caribbean customers.  I got Nanc to drink a beer and four beers only cost us $12.00, by far the best deal of the trip.
While I did not know much about Bahamian history I have always admired the picture of the sharply dressed police officers I have seen.  They look great in the neat white tunics and blue slacks.  All that and they are very helpful to the tourist.
Another great headliner show in the Orpheum Theatre was Olympic gymnast Lance Ringnald.  He has combined his gymnastic skills with a comedy routine that was very good.  
While this was supposed to be a free cruise through our vacation club we did upgrade to a room with a view rather than an inside cabin.  At that we were only one deck above steerage where the crew lives.  But we were able to see this from our room as we left Nassau near midnight.  The pilot boat traveled alongside our ship for several miles and then moved in close enough to pick up the pilot who had taken the Enchantment out of the harbor.  Very cool.
Day four was supposed to be a stop at Royal Caribbean's private island, Coco Cay, where passengers would be tendered on a small boat to the island for a day of beach activities.  Great!  Our plan was stay aboard the Enchantment and enjoy the pool without the many kids who would be at the beach.  Bad news!  Strong winds cancelled the stop so it was another day at sea with the kids.  We understand why they cancelled because we talked to a couple in Nassau who had been to Coco the day before and when a storm blew through they spent two hours on the tender bouncing in heavy seas.  Downside, we had another day with kids.  Upside, we had a table with a great view for breakfast. 
The last evening we were treated to a wonderful sunset.  It was a great way to wrap up our first cruise.  While, in our opinion, cruising does not compare to our stays at Secrets resorts, we still enjoyed our time away and a chance to add another country to our list.
That evening the entertainment teams farewell show was great.  They are a very talented group.  Even though we enjoy the all inclusive vacation more than the cruise, we are still looking forward to another cruise in April.  We will be sailing from New Orleans to Central America and Joe and Kathy and Paul and Trudy, who we met at the Elks, are on the same trip.  We are sure it will be a fun time with fun people and it will be interesting to compare cruise lines, as this one will be with Norwegian. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


We moved out of the Keys to Christmas, FL for a one month stay.  The day we left we drove through very heavy rain in Miami so it took us over seven hours to go 300 miles.  The high point of the day was buying fuel using our fuel perks card.  We got 40 gallons of diesel for less than $16.00, an all time record low.  We chose to stay here because we are taking a cruise out of nearby Port Canaveral later this month.  Weather wise it has not been a good decision.  For the first three days there were record highs with temps in the 80's, but since then it has been wet and cold.
We are staying at the Christmas RV Park and that has also not been a good decision.  First, they charged us $90.00 more than we were quoted just six weeks ago.  Our friends Joe and Kathy came here on January 10th for a month long stay only to discover they only give the monthly rate if you come in on the first.  They are paying for a week at a time at a rate that will cost them $500 more than what we are paying at the newly inflated monthly rate.  The next thing we discovered was we did not have a clear sight line through the trees to connect our portable satellite dish.  That would not be a big deal if there were not sites where we could connect, but walking around we see many places with dishes out and many other sites unoccupied.
We discovered the third problem when it rained on Saturday and we had a lake right outside our door.  The rug is not under water because it is floating.  The water was at least six inches deep.  Once again there are many empty sites that were high and dry.  We are not very demanding when it comes to RV parks, but this has been one of the worst experiences we have had in almost nine years on the road. 
We did get to see and hear a rocket that was launched from the Kennedy Space Center.  We did not go into town to watch but we had a view in the park.  There is going to be another one at the end of the month so we hope to go to Titusville to watch it.
On a brighter note, we got together with Joe and Cathy for lunch at Grills in Cape Canaveral.  Joe wanted to try the lionfish and got the last order.  As you can see you get the whole fish and it is VERY ugly.  They are an invasive species that have poisonous spines (that are removed before cooking) and are only caught by scuba divers spearing them.  There is no limit as they are trying to get rid of them.  We all had a bite and were surprised at how tasty it was.  
After our late lunch Cathy and Joe came to our place to celebrate Cathy's birthday.  We had a wonderful evening swapping lies and sharing a toddy.
As I said, we are here to take a cruise out of Port Canaveral.  We checked out the port and I think this is the ship we will be taking for our first ever cruise.
Just kidding!  This is the Enchantment of the Sea, the Royal Caribbean ship that we will be taking for a four day cruise to the Bahamas.  We are looking forward to our cruise experience and touring Nassau.  Sure hope it's calmer for us than the Royal Caribbean ship that was hit with hurricane force winds and 30 foot seas and had to land here rather than continue to the Bahamas this week.  Nanc wouldn't even look at the pictures.  So it will be interesting to see what happens.  Here's hoping for clear skies and calm seas. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2015 Travels and Campground Reviews

This is a link to where we visited and the campgrounds we stay in during our 2015 Travels.

Friends, Family, Miami Beach and Sunsets

Our last week in the Keys was very busy with more crazy but best in the nation weather, sunsets, friends, a trip to Miami and a surprise visit with family.  
One day, even though we had blue skies, the west wind was blowing really hard.  The RV closest to the water had bay water being driven right under their rig.
It was so windy I could lean into the wind and not fall over.  While the weather has not been ideal, I did manage to achieve my January goal of not wearing long pants for the whole month.
The sunsets this year have been disappointing.  You can see how different they were comparing this shot with the picture on the blog header.  Still very neat but no where near as great as those we have seen the other times we have been here.  I guess we can blame it on El Nino.
Great view even without the blazing red sky.  We never get tired of looking at this beautiful view from Opus.
Every evening when there was even a small chance of a great sunset we gathered at the tiki hut to soak up the warm rays and take pictures.
The sailboat came in right on time to add to this view. 
I think one of the big differences with the sunsets this year was that the windy weather was making the bay rough so we did not get a lot of color reflecting off the water.
We did a day trip to Miami Beach to check out the South Beach waterfront and the Art Deco buildings.  It was a beautiful day for a stroll on the beach and soaking up some sun.  Nanc insisted on wearing long sleeves and slacks even though the temperature was very warm.
The beach here is very wide and easily accessible after you find a place to park.
While checking out an art gallery we found this print that would be very appropriate for us if we had room to hang it.  It's called, "1969, The Year that Changed Everything."  Look at all the things that were happening that year.  I remember them all so well and that was the year we were married so it was the year that changed everything for us.
Just walking along Ocean Drive you see one beautiful building after another.  It is now a National Historical District so even though many of the buildings are only about 50 years old they must be preserved with their original appearance.
Of course the colors are a big part of the Art Deco scene.  In this area the buildings are directly across from  Lummus Park and have a nice view of the ocean and beach.
Most of the buildings are hotels with street level shops, bars and restaurants.  Being there during the day we missed out on the whole South Beach club scene which was okay by us.
Even the names of the hotels are right out the 1940's and 50's.  It would be neat to see all them at night with their neon lights bringing out the colors even more.
Even the newer high rise buildings carry out the Art Deco theme.  A trip to Miami Beach is well worth it to see this beautiful, well preserved area.
This is The Villa Casa Casuarine, a very up scale hotel and restaurant on Ocean Drive.  It was built in the 1930's by the son of The Standard Oil Trust treasurer, Alden Freeman.  It became more famous when it was bought by Gianni Versace.  If you want to see real up scale, check out the rooms and restaurant prices on the web site.
The gang at the Elks gathering to soak up the sun during happy hour.  George. Linda, Gary, Nanc, Ray, Laurie and my shadow. Look who is the only person wearing long sleeves and slacks.
We got a call early in the week from Scooter, who we met at Betty's a couple of years ago.  He is an Iraq war veteran who travels fulltime in a Casita.  He was staying in the middle of the Keys, so we met him in Marathon for a nice long lunch getting caught up with all our travels.  So I can say it once again, meeting friends on the road has become one of the best things about our lifestyle.  
On Saturday, when Nanc and I were not together, I got a call from our niece Sherry.  I told her Nanc would call her back on Sunday because we were going to see Scooter on Saturday afternoon.  She said Sunday was not good for her because they were flying to the Keys.  How about that, they were heading to Key Largo!  So we ended up meeting them at their hotel.  In addition to Sherry and her husband Chuckie, her son David, who lives in England and who we have not seen in years, was going to be there with his wife Stephanie, who we have never met.  We had a great time getting caught up with them while enjoying a outdoor lunch in Key Largo.  So I can say it again, meeting family on the road has become one of the best things about our lifestyle.  And it was a great ending to our month in the Keys.