Monthly Archives: February 2015

Florida 2015: Leg 4 – Cape Canaveral (Sort Of)

8-9 February: Theoretically, there are four kinds of breakdowns one can experience on the road (excluding mental breakdowns, which is pretty much my normal state of affairs):

  1. Environmental (floods, storms, plagues),
  2. Human (accidents, illnesses),
  3. Pet (same categories, but more heartrending), and
  4. Mechanical (ranging from routine maintenance to disabling failures)

Although we certainly wouldn’t plan to learn how to deal with such things by deliberately precipitating a breakdown of some sort, we fully expect that learning how to deal with these is an inevitable part of life on the road. So, with that as background, good news: we’re fully immersed in two of the four breakdown categories! Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Pet breakdown: Sally, our little (8 pound) miniature dachshund (AKA Wunderhund), has come down with some awful digestive thing. We called the vet in Atlanta, who thought it might be stress-related, so we put her on incredibly teeny doses of Immodium and hoped for the best. Not to happen. So, on Tuesday, 10 February, it was off to the local vet in Palm Bay (more on why we’re in Palm Bay below). This vet concluded it’s likely a bacterial onslaught in her GI tract, so she’s on broad spectrum antibiotics, special easy-to-digest food, and probiotics. And we took a $600 whack in the process. The good news, though, is that after a day or two, the antibiotics and other measures seemed to have worked and she’s almost back to her normal (albeit pesky) self.

Mechanical breakdown: On the first day of the trip, I noticed a couple drops of pink fluid on the pad at the Georgia Coastal RV Resort. At Anastasia State Park, nothing, although it was a sand pad so it may not have been visible anyway. At Disney, a few more drops. I checked the fluid level (engine running) and it appeared full. En route to Cocoa, Florida, though, we smelled a terrible burning odor, pulled over at a toll booth, and I could see transmission fluid on the exhaust pipe shield. Again, I checked the level and it was down to about 60%. We made the call to limp on to the next stop (Sonrise Palms Christian RV Park) and call for roadside assistance there.

Good Sam dispatched a truck repair truck (in case problem were just a loose line or some such thing fixable on the spot), but nope: a blown transmission seal, causing a leak that the mechanic described as “substantial.” Ugh. So, because the chassis is still under the original warranty, we called Ford. First bit of good news: Ford has great customer service, handling all of the details of finding a dealer that could both handle motorhome repairs and transmission work, arranging for the tow truck, and checking with us periodically to be sure everything was proceeding according to plan. I guess that’s not surprising since Ford was the only auto company that could actually manage to run its business without a federal bailout (see $20.2-Billion-Taxpayer-Fleecing), but a pleasant experience nonetheless.

So, Sunday night, knowing we’d have to have ACE towed the next day, we headed off to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the SpaceX rocket carrying the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). I had managed to secure tickets to watch the launch from the LC-39 gantry, which is 3.4 miles away (the closest viewing point because, in the event of a worst-case explosion at ignition, the blast radius would be roughly 3 miles) (hmmm).

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At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

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But then, with roughly 2-1/2 minutes to go, the launch was scrubbed. Something about “down range tracking.” G-r-r-r-r. So, back to the disabled RV we go, ready to deal with that issue the next day.

And the next day, the tow truck showed up…

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…and towed it to Palm Bay Ford, where we had the great and wondrous opportunity to spend a few days here, holed up in the Holiday Inn Express, waiting for repairs to be concluded, which we understand include not only a new transmission seal (actually, it turned out to be a cracked pump assembly), but a new torque converter, thankfully all under warranty. Well, almost all under warranty. Weird thing: the way motorhomes are built is that the manufacturer buys a bare chassis from, in this case, Ford and then drops the coach down on top of it. Works great, except, as luck would have it, part of the coach blocked access to the bolt on the member supporting the transmission–no removee bolt, no removee tranny. To the credit of Palm Bay Ford, they were able to figure out a workaround, but since it didn’t involve the drive train per se, I’d have to pay a couple hours labor to get it done. Deal.

And, due to the time it took to work all of this out, the Key West leg of the trip turned out to be impossible. Oh well … there’s always next year.

10-12 February: And while all of this is going on, I learned there’s actually a fifth kind of breakdown. Call it a “planning breakdown.” I thought I had been able to delegate a business trip to Washington to another attorney, but for a variety of reasons that delegation broke down. So, in the middle of this circumnavigation of Florida, which had already gotten scrambled due to the pet and mechanical breakdowns, I find the trip now has to be further scrambled to allow me to jump on a plane, fly to DC, spend the night there, attend a meeting, and then fly back.

So I spent several hours cancelling one set of reservations and making another set that would put me close enough to an airport to enable the trip, which was difficult to do, not surprisingly given that we’re trying to find open places in Florida during the peak of snowbird season. So, the Naples and Cedar Key legs of the trip got cancelled, and replaced with Bradenton, with a flight to and from DC out of Tampa.

But here’s the deal: for some reason I’ll have to work out someday, none of this feels bad. Maybe it’s because I’m getting mellow in my old age (not likely), or maybe it’s because, with nowhere to be at any particular time, any breakdown in the process ultimately doesn’t matter. Either way, the trip will resume when it does, and we’ll go wherever we go, and we’re fine with all of that, whatever it is.

I’ve heard several people who take their yachts cruising around the country say something like, “If you can’t deal with bad weather, breakdowns, unpredictability, and an endless list of things to tend to, don’t even think about a cruising lifestyle.” I guess the same is true for “land yachts.”

So, here’s the bottom line on the costs of our unexpected breakdowns:
Pet: $686.83 (vet fees, lab tests, medicine, and special food)
Mechanical:  $1327, consisting of repairs ($239.63), hotel ($837.20) (not entirely accurate since we saved on some campground fees, but less cancellation costs), and meals (about $250) (again, not really accurate since we would have eaten anyway)
Planning: $148, consisting of cancellation fee for already made reservations ($98) and a purchase of a shirt and tie for the trip ($50)

Now … on to Lake Okeechobee!

13 February: But … not to be. We got as far as the Flying J in Ft. Pierce, ready to gas up and head down to Lake Okeechobee, and the transmission was kaput. Again. So, once again we called Ford roadside assistance, and once again had ACE towed to Palm Bay Ford.

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Mark, the transmission guy, put ACE up on the lift and concluded that he’s got to pull the transmission. He was quite candid that he doesn’t know what the problem is. He road tested the motorhome after the original repair and it was fine … dry as a bone. He can’t tell why it would spring another leak without pulling the transmission again and finding the problem.

Everyone at Palm Bay Ford is appropriately apologetic. Well, mostly. Steve, the service rep, has a tendency to make off-hand remarks that are more aggravating than helpful, but that’s probably just the way some people react to a difficult situation.

But, apologetic or not, there’s nothing we can do to get ACE back on the road until next week. And now there’s little point in pushing on. We’d miss the trip to the Everglades, which is the only worthwhile element of the original plan remaining, and there’s little point in heading to Bradenton so Wendy can sit in the motorhome for two days while I fly to DC, and then return to her only to make a long two-day drive back to where we started.

So, the best thing now is to quit while we’re ahead. It’s a bit of a hassle to drive back to Atlanta now, but not much. We are, after all, the kind of folks for whom the prospect of a 500-mile road trip sounds like fun!

I’m pretty disappointed, but not devastated. We had a great trip (for as far as we got), and having to terminate a trip early is hardly the worst thing on earth. And, besides a great week in Disney World, and besides being way warmer than our brethren in Atlanta, we did accomplish our original purpose: learning the important lessons of life on the road. To which we can add two more:

Lesson 5: To paraphrase the cruising adage, life on the road means that one just can’t get flustered by bad weather, breakdowns, delays, and an endless list of things to tend to.

Lesson 6: It’s better to disengage than to push a bad position.

So, we’re headed back to Atlanta, leaving ACE here, and we’ll figure out how to get down here in two or three weeks to pick it up and get it home. The important thing, though, is that we’re headed back to Atlanta happy.

February 2015: Leg 3 – Fort Wilderness, Walt Disney World

4-5-6-7 February: Fort Wilderness and the Disney Theme Parks

We started off Wednesday morning with a breakfast with princesses in the Akershus Dining Hall in EPCOT. Well, first Michelle and Rachel had to get suitably attired:

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It would be easy to adopt a cynical eye that would see the whole princess thing as nothing more than a brilliant marketing strategy crafted to suck even more money out of an already overspending population of Disney visitors. Even avoiding cynicism, for those of us whose children experienced Disney in the 80’s, it’s easy to ask, “Where did this whole princess phenomenon come from?” I mean, 8:00 in the morning and the EPCOT lines are filled with dozens of little girls in various princess outfits. I heard one mother recounting her daughter’s visit to the Bippity-Boppity-Boutique to get her hair done prior to the princess breakfast. Really?

But then at breakfast it hit me … whatever else one might say, this really is magical. Somehow, this experience creates the purest form of unadulterated, starry-eyed joy in young children, something you can literally see in their eyes. And if someone sits in the middle of this miraculous occurrence and can focus only on the corporate economics of the whole thing, there’s something wrong with that person’s soul.

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And then, of course, for the rest of the day, EPCOT is, well, EPCOT. Soarin’ is beautiful, Test Track is a ton of fun (although, near-terrifying to the Little Darlings), and the other attractions (Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land, and I can’t remember what else), are all appealing in different ways. And ending it at the French Chefs restaurant, at Michelle’s insistence, was the perfect way to end. Michelle even insisted on ordering, and trying (!), snails.

Thursday it was off to the Magic Kingdom. More rides, and more insights into why Disney deserves every penny the company makes. The People Mover ride broke down–I don’t know how a ride that is nothing more than little rubber-wheeled trollies that run on a concrete track could break down, but it did. We sat there for 15 or 20 minutes before someone came by and escorted us out of the ride. But as we exited, each of us was given a FastPass+ ticket good for any ride in the park. For those not familiar with the concept (a group that included me just a few days ago), a FastPass+ allows one to pre-reserve a preferential entry at the most popular rides. Some of the FastPass+ available slots sell out immediately when available (which is, I think, 60 days before arrival). There’s a limit a limit of three FastPass+ reservations that one can hold. And the passes can only be replenished once all three are gone and then only one at a time and only if slots for a ride are available. So a FastPass+ for a popular ride is a very valuable commodity, and Disney gave one to each of us just for getting stuck for a couple minutes! Really! This is great!

Oh yeah … and more princesses.

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Friday: Hollywood Studios. I’m told that I once visited this park, but if so, the memory of it has disappeared into the crevices of ossified brain tissue. More fun rides and a very clever play area mimicking Honey I Shrunk The Kids.


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And of course, more princesses. But this one, the Frozen sing-a-long, was magical in a wholly different way. While telling the story of Princess Anna and Queen Elsa with live actors and clips from the movie, the account was interrupted from time to time with bouncing-ball sing-a-long songs from the score, and the auditorium was filled with hundreds of children singing. By the time they got to Let It Go, the voices were accompanied by gestures, all synchronized and perfectly matched to the movie on-screen. Like a ballet performed with the hands … What a sight to see.

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Finally, to close out the day and the trip, a return to an old family favorite: the Hoop-Dee-Doo-Revue. It was of course a foot-stompin’ good time, but the Little Darlings liked it most of all, literally laughing out loud and clapping their hands, an experience enabled in large part because we were literally sitting up against the stage.

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Saturday — nothing but chores and getting ready for the next leg of the trip. So, we did 6 loads of laundry, cleaned out a week’s worth of accumulated dust, tended to a few items, sat around in the sun, and toured around Fort Wilderness on our bikes. Besides–we had no choice anyway. Our little dog Sally has come down with some terrible digestive affliction and, believe me, you don’t want to know the details. The bottom line, though, is that we definitely do not want to leave her alone in the RV for any extended period of time.

Overall –Due largely to the efforts of my daughter, this trip came together in a way that I never could have done, starting with the idea of doing the time when the girls are at this age. And the selection of attractions (and pre-arranging the correct collection of FastPass+ tickets), and the decision as to when to call it quits each day (“Better 10 minutes too early than 10 minutes too late…”), also made the experience completely perfect.

I once met someone who attended the Disney Institute, a corporate training and development organization that teaches companies the secrets of the Disney model: “We pay extraordinary attention to the details surrounding general business processes. We strategically place emphasis that is both greater than and different from what is typical in corporate best practices.” Other companies out there: go do the Disney thing!

Maybe that’s why I love this place. I really do. I love everything about it. The campground is the best implementation I’ve ever seen. Every aspect of the theme park experience–the attractions, the “cast members,” the layout, the entertainment, everything–reveals attention to excellence. I know I’m repeating myself from the initial post, but it’s worth noting again the truth of what one visitor happened to remark to me: “I guess if you’re not happy here, there aren’t a lot of places where you’ll be happy.” Truer words never uttered.

The Disney Photo Album is located here.

Info for the trip:
Campsite: 7 nights at $82.00; 2 nights at $87.00
Park tickets: Approximately $50/day (based on 5-day rate, although we only used 4 days)
Incidentals, souvenirs, meals: $ (infinity) +/-
Value: Priceless

February 2015: Leg 3 – Fort Wilderness, Walt Disney World

Several months ago, my daughter called up and said, “Dad, we really ought to make another trip to Disney World while it’s still magical and before it’s just fun…” So, as part of our circumnavigation of Florida, here we are.

2-3 February: Drive down and set-up; Behind-The-Scenes Tour

Normally, a drive down would be nothing to write home about, but this drive did indeed have something worth noting: 20 mph cross-winds. So, with passing trucks, swirling winds around clearings, sideways blasts from overpasses, and so on, it was a pretty tiring exercise. Actually, it sort of reminded me of flying in turbulence: not dangerous, but constant attentiveness and manipulation of the controls. After two hours of that, I was beat. Lesson 4: When driving along the edge of a passing cold front, expect a demanding trip.

But we’re here, and who cares? Since we’ve been here before, and we’re such old hands, we could actually navigate the campground, in the rain, and back in in 27 seconds. Here’s proof:


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So, after tending to a variety of chores (getting water delivered to Jennifer’s hotel, picking up Hoop-Dee-Doo tickets, and checking on reservations), and after relaxing for a few moments, we went over to Narcoosee’s restaurant at the Grand Floridian for dinner. Wow. Steak, crab’s legs, lobster bisque, and sour dough bread with butters covered in sea salt. Not exactly “on the diet.” Oh well, the step counter will be active tomorrow and maybe it won’t matter.

And I’ll try not to repeat everything about why Disney is such an amazing place (see my original post on the topic), but one moment did crystallize the essence of this place. Just as we were snuggling in to tap out for the night, at 9:45 or so, the most cheesy electronic music started blaring from the lagoon. The “electric light parade of boats.” No kidding. We both started laughing out load. We had this image of parents all over the campground, dealing with kids in that half-zonked/half-wired state of total physical and emotional collapse, just finally getting the Little Darlings settled in and ready fall asleep, and BLAM! electric light parade! What a place.

And then the next day, Tuesday, after a good night’s sleep and dropping off the doggies at the local pet boarding facility, we headed over to the Magic Kingdom for our “Keys to the Kingdom” behind-the-scenes tour.

Our guide, Nicholas, starting the tour on Main Street:

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These recurrent observations I’ve had about the invariable excellence of Walt Disney World in everything it does are starting to come together. It turns out that WDW is built on four “keys”: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. Each of these operates in different ways that were illustrated to us as we toured the park (including the areas normally closed to the public). For safety, for example, the curbs are always a different color than the sidewalks and roadways, so that even excited guests, not paying attention, can see a curb coming up. The concrete sidewalks have pieces of recycled tire to provide a good grip, even when wet. Each of the floats has an emergency stop button on each corner.

For courtesy, each “cast member” (employee) wears a name badge with his home town on it. Each goes through the same intense training (1-1/2 days), followed by 1-2 weeks of training specific to the task. Every day, each receives a printed update with resort information so that answers to common questions are readily at hand. The physical design of the park reflects the same idea. Somehow, Disney discovered that when a roadway branches off towards two different areas, a disproportionate fraction of people go right; so, the roadway on the right fork is two feet wider than the left.

For “show,” it was explained that all of the Disney “imagineers” came out of the film industry, so the idea is that the theme park experience is essentially a 3-D interactive film experience. Main Street uses “forced perspective,” with the upper floors of the buildings proportionately smaller, and the farther-away buildings smaller, to provide the impression that Cinderella’s castle is off in the distance. Music pervades all areas of the park, but the music in one area gradually fades out as the music in another fades in, leading to a seamless transition. Even where people would never notice, the quality of the show is paramount–in the Hall of Presidents, if the president wore glasses, his replica does too and the prescription in the glasses matches that of the president on the day he was inaugurated. No one could possibly know that, but that kind of attention to detail in what doesn’t show is what makes for excellence in the things that do.

And for efficiency, the park is built around not only efficiency in its own operations, but in the guests experience as well. The hub-and-spoke layout allows guests to transition easily between areas. The underground network of open utility corridors allows maintenance and repairs to be made quickly, without shutting down any area of the park. The park operates on a 24-hour basis, with upkeep and replenishment occurring overnight when the park is closed.

Besides all this, we were treated to 5 full hours of stories, anecdotes, secrets of each ride, all of which culminated with the famous tour of the underground “tunnels” (except that they’re really not tunnels–groundwater doesn’t permit such a thing in Central Florida, so the “utilidors” were built at ground level and the Magic Kingdom built, no kidding, one story up with excavated dirt). We even learned things I wish I didn’t know–like the turkey leg in Frontierland packs a walloping 2400 calories! Mostly, thought, the tour was the story of five people: Walt Disney (the creative force), Roy (his brother, and the businessman), Claude Coats and Marc Davis (two of the original imagineer geniuses behind the implementation of Disney’s creative ideas), and Card Walker (the “justice of the peace” who often mediated the differing visions of Walt and Roy).

I’m aware of some criticisms of the tour that it’s too long on trivia and not enough on meaty facts on operations and processes. Ignore such sentiments–those people are morons. Bringing a grand vision to reality is largely a practice of focusing on smaller things. Excellence doesn’t fall out of the sky fully grown–it evolves through an infinity of details. That’s what the tour shows: there is so much magic in the small things that the collective effect is greater than its parts. A truly magical place on all levels.

Tomorrow, the Little Darlings arrive and Phase II of the adventure begins.

  1. LaGrange to Coastal RV Resort, Brunswick, GA
  2. Brunswick to Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, FL
  3. St. Augustine to Walt Disney World, Fort Wilderness, FL
  4. Walt Disney World to Cape Canaveral, Jetty Park, FL
  5. Cape Canaveral to C.B. Smith County Park, Miami (Pembroke Pines), FL
  6. Miami to Key West (Summerland Key), FL
  7. Key West to Flamingo Campground, Everglades National Park, FL
  8. Everglades to Naples RV Resort, Naples, FL
  9. Naples to Cedar Key RV Resort, FL
  10. Cedar Key to Carrabelle Beach Outdoor Destinations, FL

February 2015: Leg 2 – Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, FL

1 February: Floride, nous sommes arrivés! And, just as we hoped, the temperature hit 77-degrees, with crystal blue skies. What a welcome!

Anastasia State Park is very nice. So nice, in fact, that we decided to bag the trip to St. Augustine and instead just enjoy the warm weather and peaceful surroundings. All set up at Site 65:

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(Which confirms something we suspected at the very beginning. I certainly wouldn’t want to try this campground with anything longer than ACE. In fact, we saw lots of small trailers, and a few Class C’s, but no other motorhomes. And I think for good reason … it was a challenge getting in here.)

We went for a walk on a nature trail through the hammock:

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And down to the dunes:

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Before preparing a feast and settling down to watch the Super Bowl, 20150201 Anastasia SP IMG_1079 (Custom)

Unfortunately, we could get all of the Jacksonville over-the-air stations except for NBC. Not to worry, though, I logged on to the NBC website and we watched over our broadband connection (sucking data, but heck, it’s the Super Bowl). So we watched through the 3rd Quarter before turning in for the night, confident that Seattle had won. Oops.

Tomorrow, off to Disney World and Fort Wilderness!

Fuel in Brunswick: 38.1 gal @ $1.909 (7.85 mpg–about right when pulling the toad)
Distance traveled: 112 miles
Campsite cost: $28.00

  1. LaGrange to Coastal RV Resort, Brunswick, GA
  2. Brunswick to Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, FL
  3. St. Augustine to Walt Disney World, Fort Wilderness, FL
  4. Walt Disney World to Cape Canaveral, Jetty Park, FL
  5. Cape Canaveral to C.B. Smith County Park, Miami (Pembroke Pines), FL
  6. Miami to Key West (Summerland Key), FL
  7. Key West to Flamingo Campground, Everglades National Park, FL
  8. Everglades to Naples RV Resort, Naples, FL
  9. Naples to Cedar Key RV Resort, FL
  10. Cedar Key to Carrabelle Beach Outdoor Destinations, FL

February 2015: Leg 1 – LaGrange to Brunswick, GA

31 January: We’re off! Today was just a get-out-of-Dodge day, heading to a point where our Florida stops are within reach, but it was exciting to be on the road. As noted above (Prelude), besides seeking out warmer climes, and getting to spend a few days with the Little Darlings at Disney World, a principal purpose of this adventure is to learn how to do long trips. And yesterday was certainly, um, a “learning day.”

First, I had adopted a 3/300 rule that I read about somewhere: travel no more than 300 miles and get off the road by 3:00 pm every day. This trip was actually 320 miles (not too much of an infraction), but we didn’t get off the road until 4:30 pm. Way too long a day! Why? According to my trip-logging GPS, our moving time was 6:07 (51.8 mph), which is exactly what I expected since I travel at 60 +/- mph, but we chose the non-freeway diagonal down to Brunswick, and with lots of 55 mph zones, small towns, traffic lights, and so on, the average would never get much above 50. What I did not work into the equation was 2;30 of “stopped time.” Lunch in Tifton (in a Wal-Mart parking lot) (necessary to do some shopping–see below), dog stops, a long gas stop screwing around with the radio (see below), and so on. Lesson 1: We don’t go as fast as we think we do, and for “making miles” days, stick to the fastest possible route.

Second, given that we have checklists up the wazoo, it’s amazing how many things we didn’t have with us. Nothing major, and mostly the kinds of things that everyone has around the house, but typically aren’t in an RV. Like a big piece of cardboard to block out the doggie window. Hence the stop at the Wal-Mart in Tifton. Our oft-repeated conversation opener became, “You know what we didn’t bring?” Lesson 2: The model for what we need on a long road trip is how we live at home, not how we “camp.”

Third, our newly installed Alpine radio is detestable. The first one didn’t work at all and had to be returned to the factory (a 6-week process), and then the replacement revealed a string of operating quirks that would challenge Bill Gates (like that fact that it hates Apple products), and finally the new one doesn’t seem to work anyway. All of which we discovered sitting at a gas station, trying to get the blasted thing to work. Lesson 3: Learn how to use the on-board “features,” or decide they’re unusable, but either way do so before hitting the road.

But, in the grand scheme of things, we are well-equipped, getting along very well, these are all just nits. We’ve dreamed about being able to tour the country since we were a couple of 20-something hippies, camping in National Parks en route to Connecticut to get married. And now, we’re on the road, we’re excited about and already made of list of things we’ll do at the next stop (St. Augustine), the rest of the trip is before us, and we couldn’t be happier.

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Coastal Georgia RV Resort (Brunswick, GA): Site #307. Nice facilities, clean restrooms, easy access to/from I-95 (but with a lot of road noise). Fine for an overnight stop, and maybe longer if part of a club gathering or using this as a base to explore Brunswick or Jekyll Island.
Cost: $37.20/night
Total Miles: 321 / Total Travel Time: 8:37
Fuel cost: None (we didn’t fill up, but we did by gas for $1.87 in LaGrange)

  1. LaGrange to Coastal RV Resort, Brunswick, GA
  2. Brunswick to Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, FL
  3. St. Augustine to Walt Disney World, Fort Wilderness, FL
  4. Walt Disney World to Cape Canaveral, Jetty Park, FL
  5. Cape Canaveral to C.B. Smith County Park, Miami (Pembroke Pines), FL
  6. Miami to Key West (Summerland Key), FL
  7. Key West to Flamingo Campground, Everglades National Park, FL
  8. Everglades to Naples RV Resort, Naples, FL
  9. Naples to Cedar Key RV Resort, FL
  10. Cedar Key to Carrabelle Beach Outdoor Destinations, FL