Merry Christmas

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

We ventured out in our home area to learn about a “wildlife drive” on the North Shore of Lake Apopka that is immediately North of Winter Garden and our RV resort. The drive took about 2 hours because you creep along the 11-miles very slowly. We were not aware of this when we started, but we did enjoy it because of how active the wildlife were during our tour. We saw at least two dozen alligators sunning themselves and even the “circle of life” demonstrated graphically in front of us with a take down of a bird by an alligator. This free drive is part of the St. John’s River Water Management District.

“This 11-mile, one-way drive opened in May 2015 with the goal of providing visitors an opportunity to explore the wildlife and natural systems found within this incredible network of wetlands, levees, and canals…The land that you are driving on was once underwater, as it was part of floodplain wetlands along Lake Apopka’s northern shore. Farming operations in the 1940s drained 20,000 acres of wetlands and the resulting agricultural runoff, combined with other factors, contributed to the lake’s eventual decline. While many of the former fields still have pesticide residues, their decline is being managed. The St. Johns River Water Management District acquired farm lands within the Lake Apopka North Shore between 1988 and 1999 with the goal of restoring water quality and fish and wildlife habitat within the lake and also the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin.”

Source: St. Johns River Water Management District

After leaving Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, we made our way to Atlanta and then down to our semi-permanent spot in Winter Garden, Florida. We left Pigeon Forge on Saturday, December 1, going around the Western side of the Great Smoky Mountain national park. Our reservations in Winter Garden started on December 1, so our target was to push our way through. Much of the day was in the rain and that makes for taxing travel, so we fell shy a few miles from the Georgia Florida border before deciding to call it a night in Lake Park, Georgia.
Lake Park Campground had advertisements by Camping World for many miles before it, but they are NOT associated with Camping World anymore and they do NOT take Good Sam discounts. The campground is immediately South of the Camping World store and apparently were actually owned by Camping World up to about three years ago. There was some story about fighting Camping World to take down the signs and such, but we are not sure we believe it. Nothing like huge multiple billboards you are supposedly not paying for to bring in the traffic, that’s why we stayed there. For just an overnight pull in spot, it was a bit expensive and most of the sites are not level. We told the office we didn’t want to unhook for the night and wanted a level site, they gave us a site that had almost a 3 foot difference in elevation from front to back. We had to negotiate with the office to move to a more level site. Ultimately, it all worked out but it was a very tight fit too. It served us well not needing to unhook and we could be on our way in the morning easily and arrived in Winter Garden around noon.

Last year we stayed at the Winter Garden RV Resort because of our Thousand Trails membership. As we left in the spring we were offered the option to sign on for a “seasonal” spot in the park for the 2018/2019 season. In Wisconsin most season spots are from Memorial Day to Labor Day, in Florida the season is the opposite with the peak being December, January and February each year. We had to prepay for the first month to hold the site until now and then on arrival we had to pay the rest of the two month balance. The seasonal rate calculated nightly on a value site is about $21/night, which is pretty decent price for full hook-ups, including cable TV, and access to two pools, a fitness center and events that occur in the park. We are well positioned here with really good Verizon LTE coverage and easy access to the “back side” of the Disney parks only being 20-30 minutes away. We applied for some sites in the spring and got the third on our list assigned to us.

Fortunately, when we arrived it looked like a war zone from their ongoing electrical upgrade project. There was not a single blade of grass near the site and the dirt was not even compacted. At one point we stepped and sunk a foot into the dirt, there was no way we could get our rig into that site. We say “fortunately” because in working with the office they found us a much nicer site with some Southwest shade from a beautiful tree. It was a stressful arrival but all in all we got a better site including 50 amp upgrade and the tree for the perfect afternoon shade. Unfortunately, we caused some minor damage trying to back in and up the site taking the spare tire mount off of the back bumper of the trailer. We had planned to go out and explore weekends but we really are “beached” in this spot until March now. So we have decided that is a good omen that we should try renting some class B van’s for our explorations. We are looking forward to that after the new year. Plus, now we have “first rights” to choose this site should we decide to plan for a 2019/2020 season here.

Winter Garden itself is a cute little historic district with shops and some great food options including the regional chain Burger Fi and a local amazing favorite including Melt’s on Main. We have a great sushi restaurant just across Colonial Drive and just down the road is what has become our favorite BBQ restaurant the 4-Rivers Smokehouse.

We kicked off the Christmas Season back in Pigeon Forge with a couple of Christmas shows, we continued the Christmas season with the Home Free Vocal Band from Minnesota here just 20 minutes from home. That was a great concert in our backyard, it was even a little chilly that evening to give us a little sense of winter. Since we left “home” in September on this leg of our journey, with every playing of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” we hear it seems to be tugging on the heart a little more. In addition to those Christmas celebrations, we were at the the first ever live streaming of a Christmas Candlelight Processional (the 60 year anniversary of this Walt Disney creation) hosted by Neil Patrick Harris at Epcot Center.


We renewed our annual passes with Disney for another year, as Florida residents. This past year we have made countless trips to the parks for either full or partial days. We really believe that we have gotten our money’s worth, especially since the “break even” point is only about 5 days at a full rate. This coming year we went even less expensive on the passes and bought only the weekday passes for Florida residents. We went once to the Magic Kingdom last year on a Sunday and said never again, so week days only it is! The break even point then is only about 2 days, so no issues with getting our money on the next year.

We celebrated our 20th Anniversary a little early with a special dessert party viewing of the Magic King fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle. We sported our “Happily Ever After” buttons all day and in the evening we enjoyed a dessert party hosted (for an extra charge) at the Tomorrowland Terrace, with a variety of deserts and beverages. We reserved seating right of the edge of the terrace where we could see the entire show unobstructed, including Tinker Bell zip-lining over our heads! We could not actually celebrate on our anniversary because as Florida resident annual pass holders our anniversary is a “black out” date where crowds are too high and we cannot (and don’t want to) go to the parks. We will do some more low-key on the actual day, but this honorary event was amazing between the desserts and the marking of 20 years we can joyfully celebrate together in a place we love.

With 20 years of marriage now behind us, and now almost a year and a half of full-timing, what might be in store for us in the future? We continue to research options for our future home on wheels. Since we are now in that Disney black out zone we used a Saturday to go out driving and check out different types of RVs at the many dealers in our area. One of the things we now are looking for as we get older is the avoidance of having stairs inside the RV. Having to contend with stairs as we traverse from the day living space up to the bathroom and bedroom. It would be nice to have everything on one level once we get inside the rig. So we thought it might be interesting to check out some “class A” rigs. What we did agree that we do indeed prefer the one level plan, but at the same time we found the class A rigs are huge and bring a lot more maintenance with them at higher cost. At least one more engine and a bunch more tires to maintain. So we continue our diligent review of the RV Trader website looking for just the right class B van format. No purchases yet! However, to make it easier to title and pay taxes on a new rig we will probably do something before we leave Florida in March. Leaving the state and trying to do the title will be a challenge, we already ran into that a couple of times on some offers we worked on over the last year.

Winter Garden RV Resort

We have stayed here now a total of three separate times over two different winter seasons. (Jan 15-28, 2018) (Feb 18-Mar 3, 2018) (Dec 3, 2018 - Mar 3, 2019)
Feature1st Stay 20182nd Stay 2018Winter 2018-2019
CampgroundWinter Garden RV Park
13905 W Colonial Dr
Winter Garden FL 34787
(407) 656-1415
Encore Resorts Property
Nights Stayed13: January 15-28, 2018
14: February 18 - March 3, 2018

(12 nights, we left on Friday and did not stay to the very end of our reservation. 14 in the "system" officially.)
90: December 3, 2017 - March 3, 2019
Parking SiteSite 191

Site is not too bad, it is small but the East side of the site is up against an older park model home. This actually secludes the space and there are some shrubs too. The full time seasonal neighbors to the West were nice, quiet and working day/night shifts. CATV was not good. There is an extra sewer connection in the way of the outdoor kitchen. Good distance to the dumpsters and the bathroom that serve the area of the park. Up on a hump, level once you are up on the hump. Not really walking distance to the pool from here. It was pretty quiet here, with the exception of the working neighbors who were very courteous to their door slamming as they come and go.
Site 279

Stayed this time on the Trails Collection add on package. 279 is a tiny little spot in the Northeast corner by the fire station and is 5 speed bumps from the front entry. The electrical system at this site is very old. The CATV is not available here, had to run a cable over to the neighbors site. The 9th Street to get to this site is really beat up, no speed bumps but the entire road is such a mess it might as well have tons of them. Really tight to get into sites on this row because of the storage units that are on the North side of the road. You may or may not have space for swinging into your site on the South side of the road. Not walking distance to the pool from here. Other than the fire station this is a quiet spot.
Site 169

We were to be on site 191 but when we got here it was a complete mess. They had recently dug it up for an electrical project and the entire site was loose dirt. There was no way we could be in there and not sink in, so they allowed us to move to site 169. 169 actually has afternoon and evening shade from a tree on the west side of the lot line and turned out to be a much better site.
WELS ChurchesCrown of Glory
2101 S. Apopka Vineland Road
Orlando, FL 32835-5802
Less than 20 minutes away is Crown of Glory
2101 S. Apopka Vineland Road
Orlando, FL 32835-5802

About 45 minutes to the Northeast is King of Kings , a larger church with a bigger school but it is farther.
Remember for Next TimeCamping World is about 2 miles to the East, but is old and tiny.

Book a full two weeks and not 13 days, their discount for weekly rates is deep vs. the daily rates.
Winter Garden RV Resort is an Encore park and is then available as the Trails Collection package.

Tampa airport is about 1h45m from the RV park with good traffic. With bad traffic it can be over 2 hours away.

Access to Magic Kingdom through the 528 route south from Highway 50. About 20 minutes and you come at it from the Contemporary Resort side.
Great Super Target in Winter Garden Village, Lowes next door. Publix is across Colonolio Drive from the RV park.

Camping World is now closed locally and is their cheap RV brand America's Choice RV.

Showcase of Citrus, Highway 27, Clermont, Florida - do not be afraid of the corny roadside attractions, the produce is all from their orchard. If you want you can grab a bag and head out to the trees to pick the fruit for yourself.

Indenpendence RV - Newmar dealer where we bought the 2008 Kountry Star 3916 - an amazing dealership!
AT&T Coverage4G LTE very good, low latencyAT&T is turning out to not be the better of the two carriers this time. Using the Weboost with the hotspot.
Verizon Coverage4G LTE goodVerizon is doing very well using the external antenna in the window. Weboost not as effective with this right now.
WiFi CoverageNone at the sites, only at the recreation buildingWiFi is available for a charge at the sites, otherwise it is free at the recreation bulding
Anytime FitnessThere are two Anytime Fitness facilities in either direction about 2 miles out main entry. One to the East that takes twice as long to get to but is half as far as the one to the West. The Eastern gym in Winter Garden has more modern equipment but the Western gym in Clermont has less stop lights. There is also a third a few more minutes to the South.

Campground has a good fitness room with low-end fitness grade equipment. Also there are well paved roads in the park are good for biking and walking. There are two warm pools in the park.
There is a 3rd Anytime Fitness center to the South, with better access during traffic.
Mail ServicesCan receive packages via USPS and UPS at main address, First Class envelopes are accepted. Must have the site number and the name in the address. The "Wi-Fi" room at the main office building has mail slots, you have to check there to see if you have a pack slip in your mailbox. You can also steal other people's mail there if you are so inclined.

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