Saturday, December 31, 2016

'16 Travel Review / '17 Outlook

It is really hard to believe that our retirement and RV lifestyle is now in its tenth year. While we still don't have an exit plan we have started to give serious thought to at least finding one place to spend the winters. Having a monumental birthday, turning 70, makes one realize that you cannot go on forever. That said, we are not planning on hanging up the keys any time soon. In 2016 we put 7496 miles on Opus and 9,809 on the CRV. We started the year at the Elks in the Keys and are ending it in Mesa. In between we spent a month in Christmas, FL and then headed to Betty's for a couple months. From there we meandered through Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio where we visited friends and added a couple state capitols to our list. After a week in WashPa and fishing at Pymatuning we headed through New York on our way to Quebec to celebrate our friend Mado's birthday. Next we went to Vermont to tour and attend the Escapade before returning to WashPA for our two-month stay. We left there at the beginning of October and headed to Michigan and Indiana for RV repairs and service. From there we went to Springfield, IL and Topeka, KS to tour capitols and then on to Ojo Calienta.  After Ojo we drove to Mesa where we will be until 2017. Our average travel day was 197 miles. We stayed in 38 places, four for a month and two for two months, so we only traveled a total of four months, a new low. We spent an average of $20.38 a day for RV sites. While RV parks are getting more expensive, we also stayed in free places (friend Wally World and service shops) a total of 15 nights which helped lower our average cost a good bit. We averaged “only” $2.19 a gallon for fuel, by far the least we have spent in our time on the road.

We had a fun time in the Keys for a month to kick off 2016. Many of the same folks whom we met there were back this year. It turned out to be the first of four times we would see Joe and Kathy. In February we stayed at the Christmas RV park and crossed it off the list of future stays. Joe and Kathy were there for part of the month and Mike and Sherri and John came south for a visit. We took our first cruise while there to the Bahamas, an experience that did not impress us. We then moved to Cedar Key, a very neat old Florida town on the west side of the state. We added it to our will return list if they have recovered from the hurricane that did heavy damage in the fall.

It was then on to Louisiana for our annual visit to Betty's. On the way we stopped in Breaux Bridge and were surprised to find Joe and Kathy who were there waiting out the weather in Texas. We had our usual fun time at Betty's with so many RV and local friends we can't list them all. Tom and Georgie and Rick and Denise came down for visits and we got to share a bit of Cajun culture with them at Touchets, Museum Cafe, Tabasco, Cafe des Amis, Fred's and many other places. We always love staying at our friend Betty's. While there we took our second cruise out of New Orleans to Mexico, Belize and Honduras. When we were in the Keys we learned that Joe, Kathy, Paul and Trudy were going on the same cruise, so we had a fun time with them. Right before we left Betty's I had some kind of reaction to something which resulted in a rash all over my body that required a couple of visits to the ER. It all turned out fine. On the day we left, the alternator on Opus died and we ended up only making it 45 miles before having to stop for a repair that meant a few days stay in Breaux Bridge while we waited for parts. Just a small bump in the road, but enough to change our travel plans.

We headed north to Memphis where we checked out Beale Street and the National Civil Rights Museum. We then stopped at Charles' and Sandy's for a wonderful visit with two of the greatest hosts. They took us to a Styx concert, Arrington Vineyard, and the George Dickel and Prichard Distilleries. In Frankfort we toured the Buffalo Trace Distillery and the state capitol before moving to Ohio to tour that capitol. Next we stopped in Seneca Lake to see Jim and Darlene who retired and moved into a beautiful new place at the lake. We were near WashPA so we did a whirlwind four days to see many friends and check out our favorite old eateries. Then it was on to the Sharp's cabin for a bit of fishing with Mike and Sherri.

During our stay in Campbell, NY we watched the Pens take another Stanley Cup, HOORAY!!!!! From the Catskills we toured the site of Woodstock in Bethel Woods, the Franklin Roosevelt sites in Hyde Park and then went to West Point where we visited the grave of John Caldwell Tidball. From Schenectady we visited the New York capitol in Albany and Saratoga National Historical Park. In upstate New York we checked out Lake Champlain and Plattesburg and did a day trip to Montreal. Next we moved on to Quebec City where we toured the old city and the Citadel. From there we went to Petit Lac Ha Ha to see our many Quebec amis and to celebrate Mado's 80th birthday. While there I got to fish, we toured the Saguenay Fjord and climbed to the top of Mt. Du Four with Rick.

From Quebec we headed to Vermont where we toured the capitol, Ben & Jerry's and attended the Escapade near Burlington. While there we got to see many Class of '07 mates and other RV friends. We also had dinner with Michael McCormick, a former student who works there. It was then back to WashPA for our annual two-month stay for doctors and dentist appointments. As we get older we have more of those and already have appointments scheduled for 2017. We had a fun time with many friends and family, again too many to list, enjoyed dining at our old favorite haunts and rooting on the Pirates. Of course we had John's great pizza and went out with the retirees' lunch bunch. Tom, Georgie, Rick and I cheered for Nanc in the Great Race where she finished fifth in her age group. While we were in WashPA we did a trip to Lake Norman, NC to Rick and Denise's place for a week. We were joined by Betty, Brett, Dylan and Samantha who brought several tons of Cajun food from Louisiana. Back in WashPA we did a couple RV projects, removing the Diamond Shield and replacing the microwave/convection oven. We loved our time in WashPA but by the beginning of October the temps start to cool down and it is time to hit the road.

We had two scheduled stops for Opus service and repair. We first headed to Spartan Chassis in Michigan for annual service and inspection where they found we needed new airbags. While there we toured the state capitol in Lansing. We next went to Duncan RV Repair in Elkhart where we had several issues dealt with including a bad toilet valve (new toilet), broken door lock (new lock), batteries not holding charge (new batteries) and neither AC/heat pump working (minor repair). From Elkhart we headed west, first stopping in Springfield to tour the Illinois capitol and the Frank Lloyd Wright Dana Thomas House. We then moved to Topeka to tour the Kansas capitol and the Brown v Board of Education NHS. Next was a few days at Ojo Calienta Mineral Springs in NM to soak our bones before going to Mesa, AZ. We ended 2016 in Mesa where we got together with many friends and just kicked back and enjoyed retirement. Also while in Mesa we went on vacation to Secrets Silversands in Mexico. Being here for two months has made us decide that when we look for a place to spend the winters it will be in Florida and not the Southwest. We like the weather there much better than here.

As we look forward to our 2017 travel plans we will be going to Yuma to have the peeling clear coat on the top of Opus repainted. We then have a reservation in San Diego until the middle of February. Next we are going to Tucson for five or six weeks ending with the 57th Escapade. When we leave Tucson we will be meandering to the Northwest to visit Nanc's brother Dave and his family while adding a couple state capitols and National Park Service sites to our list along the way. When we leave Washington we will wander cross country back to WashPA for our two-month stay stopping at state capitols and other points of interest along the way. After our stay there we plan to spend some time on the Outer Banks on our way to Florida for the winter. Of course as always the plans are written in the sand and subject to change with the incoming tide.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dealing with RV Issues

I have posted a couple blogs since the beginning of October about RV issues; installing a new oven and getting the AC/heat pump repaired. Well, both of those things where not completed satisfactorily until recently, so here is the story. 
This is where we were when I last blogged about the new oven that Tom and I installed in September. When we turned it on we got an error message that a vent was not operating properly. 
On September 26 the GE repairman took the oven apart and found the wire controlling the vent had not been connected during assembly. He connected it and we tried the microwave that day and it worked fine. We had not used the oven before we left WashPA on October 1. That evening we turned on the oven to bake a pizza. In a short time it got so hot the smoke alarm went off and fortunately it just died before I could unplug it. We called GE to explain what happened and that we would not be in one place for almost a month. They told us to call when we arrived in Mesa and they would send a serviceman out. I failed to get a picture of the first serviceman's visit on October 30, but after checking it he said he needed to order parts.
On November 7th GE sent two servicemen to install the new part and test the convection oven. Guess what, more bad news, the convection oven still did not work so they needed to order more parts.
They did at least fix it enough that we could use the microwave without fear of fire until the parts arrived. Three days later on November 10 we got a call from GE telling us the parts would not be in until December 9.  So much for having an oven for Thanksgiving. At that point I called our GE customer service rep and got them to agree to replace the oven with a new one. They agreed but it could not be delivered during the ten days before we left for vacation. When we got back from Mexico there were three packages of parts waiting for us leading me to think we were back to repairing the oven. I was not happy.
Another call to GE and we were assured we were getting a new oven and it was delivered and installed on December 19. But our GE saga is still not over.  Two of the three packages of parts (on the drivers seat) are still waiting to be picked up by FedEx for return, probably some time in 2017. 
Hooray, only a bit over three months after picking up our oven in Pennsylvania we were able to bake a pizza. It was a long and frustrating ordeal but we do want to give a shout out to our GE customer service rep Jason who was very professional and went to bat for us to get the new oven.
The second ongoing issue was the AC unit that we had repaired at Duncan RV Service in Elkhart in October. We were happy with Duncan's service but when we got to Dodge City, KS I noticed the AC shroud was gone. We have no idea when or where it blew off. Fortunately, I was able to buy a new cover at an RV dealer in Dodge. Unfortunately, it was not the right part as it was not vented like the old one. When we got to Mesa I called Duncan and they agreed to pay for not only the the shroud we bought in Dodge, but a new, properly vented one. It did take a couple more calls before we got the check, but that was an inter-office issue so we are giving a shout out to the service we received at Duncan. They did not cut us off because we were so many miles away.  So, although it was a long, slow, frustrating slog, both companies did the right thing by us and we thank them.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Secrets Silversands 2016

Many people think we are on vacation all the time because we live in a house on wheels and travel to places that many only dream of going. That is like saying if you live in a stix and brix near Disney World you are on vacation all the time, not. When we are in our rig we do our own cooking, make the bed, clean the place inside and out and deal with repair issues, just like everyone else. When we vacation someone else does all that and more so we now try to get away at least once a year. A while back we bought into the Unlimited Vacation Club that gives us good rates at nearly sixty all-inclusive resorts. Our favorites are Secrets, because they are adult only kid free zones.
We have been to five different Secrets and liked them all, but we decided to return to Secrets Silversands because we like the location, the food and most of all, the people. This was part of our view overlooking the resort and one of the eight pools.
On this trip we opted to stay for two weeks and were joined by Rick and Denise the first week. In the center is the spa that we all took advantage of three different times. We both had massages and love the hydro cycle that includes steam and sauna rooms, a hot whirlpool and cold dip pool and an outdoor pool with five different water stations, all very relaxing.
With all those pools you can pick one with an Caribbean Sea view, one in a quiet corner, or the main pool where most of the fun activities and the swim up bar are located. We opted for the main pool most of the time.
This is our view of the sea. Every morning and evening we could see the cruise ships sailing into and out of nearby Cozumel. Being here and seeing the ship out at sea just reinforces the fact that we really prefer the all-inclusive resorts over the cruise 
Every evening there was a different show. Of course, because we were there for two weeks, they did repeat, but there was still plenty to keep us busy. The rock show was music from our era, the best rock music ever.
One evening was the managers' reception with food, drinks, entertainment and gambling (with their money). We have found the management to be very open and interested in any concerns or issues people have about the resort.
The circus evening was very entertaining with acrobats......
.....doing what would be death defying acts to us.
The Secrets sensuality show with scantily clad ladies and guys was a big hit. 
Denise, Nanc, Rick and I took the bike trip lead by Jonathan from the entertainment team into nearby Puerto Moreles one morning. It was a fun four mile ride passed other resorts and some private homes on a back road. 
It included the mandatory stop at the local market and a walk to the beach. Check out the lighthouses, one turned into the Leaning Lighthouse of Puerto Morelos so they left it in place and built a new one right beside the old one. 
An activity we highly recommend is the kitchen tour. They are very proud of the food service and the tour gives you an inside look at how they prepare three meals a day for 600 to 800 people. 
Of course part of the tour is getting to sample the food. Our guides were Ramiro and Ana (on the right) whom we met on our first visit to Silversands.
One of the bonuses of the kitchen tour is they offer a special meal to those who take the tour. Since the special seating can only accommodate twelve people they draw names if there are too many people. Our tour had few enough people at the end we all were treated to a great meal. And how about this?  Seated across from us are Ron, Kay, Jerry and Kris whom we met at Secrets Akumal a year ago. It was a great evening getting caught up with them over a fantastic meal that started with an assortment of appetizers, soup, surf and turf and ended with a flaming dessert. Of course as they always do the had a veggie entree for Nanc. 
At all Secrets you have your pick of seven restaurants for dinner offering steak, seafood, Mediterranean, Italian, French, Mexican, and Asian. Every meal is presented with all the flare of the finest restaurants. Antonio did the flaming desert at the special dinner, chocolate domed creme brulee (top left) and another evening flambe over ice cream just for us at Ratatouille. The food is another reason we chose to return to Silversands.
Another reason is the super excellente' activities and entertainment team. They have something going on all day including yoga, aqua cycling, water aerobics, Spanish lessons, dance classes, volleyball and much more. Here is Nanc with Nico, Ana, Jonathon and Emmanuel at the Mexican Fiesta night. 
Of course, many of the fun things are in and around the pool. Here we are with the entertainment team Nico, Mayra, Cesar, Rodrigo, Jonathon and Ana. They are a great team who made our stay a lot of fun.  Thanks to you all!
Nanc with Ceci, who just started the week we arrived, and Moreno who remembered us from last year. Prizes are given to the winners of the competitions and crazy games the team does.
Rick throwing darts blind folded!  What could possible go wrong? Darts also were thrown with the opposite hand, through your legs and three at a time, all in good fun.
Nanc won at darts one day and the prize was fish therapy, a flesh eating treatment at the spa. A very weird experience that she would not have paid for and does not plan to do again.  Too creepy!
She also won a bottle of tequila at bingo that we brought home.
On our beach walk one day we went passed this scene at a local snorkeling and fishing tour company. Seems one of their boats sank overnight.  With a lot of man power and a tractor they got it righted and drug it to shore. 
Nanc, Rick, Denise and me having a toddy before dinner. Being an all-inclusive, unlike a cruise, everything is included without any additional cost. 
Rick and Denise at Himitsu, the Asian restaurant. We went twice for the sushi and were the only people at the sushi bar where they served the food on a conveyor belt. It was a unique experience for all of us. I know many people have concerns about the food and water in Mexico, often with good reason, but Denise and Rick have been to Mexico several times and she said this is the first time she did not get sick.
While the daytime activities are around the pool and a bathing suit is the uniform of the day, the restaurants require that you dress up. Nanc sure does a great job of dressing up.
Yoga every morning was on the gazebo over the water. Nanc went many mornings and loved it.
A couple days each week a local trainer brought his Harris Hawk to the resort. He would release it and then walk around and call the bird to land on his glove. Very neat way to get an up close look at this beautiful rapture.
What is a trip to Mexico without a tequila tasting. After getting an explanation of the whole process we got to try several different kinds. One thing we learned was make sure your tequila is 100% blue agave. That Jose brand that is so popular in the US is not.
Nanc doing water aerobics. They also had aqua spinning in the pool.
The beach here is very nice and the water is shallow with almost no waves because there is a coral reef just off shore that breaks the waves down. The reef helps protect the Riviera Maya from hurricane storm surge.
Nanc on the beach. As you can see there were very few people on the sand or in the water. We spent most of our time at the pool, another reason I like the all-inclusive over a cruise.
While I did do a few activities, this is where I was most of the time, soaking up the rays in the pool. We had great weather every day with highs in the mid 80's and lows in the 70's. It never rained for very long but a couple of days there was a wind chill that made it feel like 81.
On the last Sunday we opted for a room service breakfast with mimosas. We had a wonderful stay and really enjoyed getting to spend a week with Rick and Denise. While we may go to other Secrets in other countries, we both agree when we return to Riviera Maya we will be at Silversands. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Giving Thanks

We had another busy week with Thanksgiving, birthdays, saying good bye to some friends and getting ready to fly to Cancun for vacation.
On Wednesday we went to see Alan and Sharon's new to them RV. They replaced the old fifth wheel with an Itasca motor home. It is in great shape and they are already planning to meet up with us in Tucson in February.
They new rig looks great with two slides and plenty of storage.
On Thursday we went back to their place for Thanksgiving and were greeted by Elsie their princess and shaggy Murray their wonderful dachshunds. They always give their dogs names related to Australia where Alan was born. 
Alan getting ready to carve the bird and make the gravy.
As you can see we had a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving dinner and a bit of football, even a Steelers' win.
On Friday we said good-bye to Mikko and Cathy who were heading to Benson. As you can see Mikko is a man who only has one drink a day.

We spent the weekend celebrating our birthdays and packing for our birthday trip to Cancun. We are sure happy to be away from Mesa where the long range forecast is for highs in the 60's and lows in the 40's. This big difference between high and low temps is one reason that we like Florida better than the Southwest. 
Here is our view at the Secrets Silversands for the next two weeks. We are looking forward to some serious fun in the sun on the beach and by the pool. This is our sixth time to a Secrets resort and our second visit to Silversands.
Since this is a continuation of our birthday celebration they greeted us with champagne, balloons and rose petals. We sure love the way we get pampered when we visit Secrets resorts. 
Rick and Denise joined us from Pittsburgh for the first week and we are looking forward to getting caught up with them while soaking up some sun. We truly do have much for which to be thankful.