On December 1st, we made our way back from the Gold Coast of Florida to what seems to have come the defacto winter home of Our Next Chapter. This now ends our total of four and a half months of being in the State of Florida! We made our circle from Winter Garden in October, down to the everglades of Central South Florida and over to Fort Lauderdale and the Gold Coast before returning back to Winter Garden for three months.
We have wintered in Winter Garden for the last three years and it has included the Winter Garden RV Resort now for two seasons. Having stayed here now for three more months (December 2019 as well as January and February 2020) it has really become our winter “home” away from the cold “winters” ironically. This will be our last winter here as we have decided to not return in the 2020/2021 winter due to some growing concerns around the Winter Garden RV Resort and what seems to be a metropolitan Winter Garden area. Over the course of 90 days, we were in the office at least 20 times to ask about something to get done and ask again and it rarely did without additional prompting.
Quick Links in This Posting
Bekemeyer Family Farms (Winter Garden, Florida) – Fresh strawberries for much of the winter months, they also say they have you-pick peaches in the spring.
Hearing hundreds of manatees come up for air was really cool at the Blue Springs State Park.
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive – takes about 2 hours to drive through the wildlife management area, see up close huge alligators and numerous other wildlife including some spectacular birds.
Showcase of Citrus (Clermont, Florida) – we have only bought citrus products here, never did their big truck orchard tours. However, those do look to be fun!
Ditched the Kids (Illinois) – Ann and Mike, have been on the road about a year, posting about import lessons learned on their blog. We met them in Winter Garden at the RV Love book signing and have kept up since!
Winter Gardens Farmers Market (Winter Garden, Florida) – get there early, the parking lot will be completely full by 10AM. Numerous vendors including artists, food stands and fresh produce.
Celebration Tavern (Celebration, Florida) – in the planned community of Disney, the Tavern has some very good seafood and desserts. But at Disney prices!!
Citrus Tower (Clermont, Florida) – built in 1950s to market the orchards in the area, now a quick “roadside attraction” worth checking out.
I Love NY Pizza (Clermont, Florida) – great selection of pizza options, as well as very good stromboli and calzones.
City of Winter Garden, Florida
Located on the Northwest side of the Orlando downtown area out on Highway 50, West Colonial Avenue is Winter Garden. Winter Garden was established in 1880’s (incorporated in 1908) and has a small historic downtown that mimics that history, but at the same time is trying to be more “hip” with including the Plant Street Market and numerous other chic small-town shops and eating. This all in contrast to the relentless and never-ending sirens of the Winter Garden Fire Station #24 or the constant metro like traffic on West Colonial avenue.
Our perception is that crime is increasing in the area, even though the numbers do not currently reflect it. This feeling was especially pointed when one day we recognized the street corner of our RV park from the live video feed of the sheriff’s helicopter. They were in “hot pursuit” of 6 fugitives that bailed out of their stolen vehicle on foot in our neighborhood. They were apprehended and arrested. Yikes!
Winter Garden RV Resort
All in all, we love the location of the Winter Garden RV Resort. We can be to a Disney property in just a few minutes, but we had some issues with the park and the staff this year. When we arrived at our site it was not cleaned, literally still had the previous tenant’s socks and underwear lying around on the ground! No grass for two months at our first site. Our picnic table was stolen one night and the office sort of chewed Jason out for expecting to have one.
Then in the third month, we had to move to a different site. This was because we added a month to our reservation, we had originally planned to leave at the end of January. We were forced to move because our site from the first 2 months was supposedly not available, we never did see anyone in that site the entire month of February.
We also had to complain a number of times to the office for fire ant hill treating to get done. Each time a new excuse, usually about management not buying the chemicals for maintenance. We ultimately went and bought our own chemicals to treat our and our neighbor’s anthills. At our second campsite, which actually had grass, it was a good trade-off since our neighbor was mowing our lawn since the campground wasn’t doing it.
The second site also did not have any cable TV for the first half of the month, it took four tries to get someone out and it never happened. The office “emails” the cable people and you never hear from anyone. It is bad enough trying to book your own appointment much less work through someone else. Jason tracked down and begged a poor cable guy one evening to stop over and he did even though he was off the clock. Eventually, the appointed guy did stop in unannounced during the day a week later. He said he had to replace the connectors and then he attached our cable to their pole with a security device. Jason had to cut our cable to leave on the last day, even after we stopped into the office four times to warn them of this. Over the course of 90 days, we were in the office at least 20 times to ask about something to get done and ask again and it rarely did without additional prompting. That just seems to be too much for just 90 days.
To add injury to insult, in January all of the shade trees along South Park Ave had been cut down by Duke Energy and there is no longer any shade on the west side of the park anymore.
In our three years with Winter Garden RV Resort we have seen the management of the parked tank. The staff out in the park are rude and head the other way if they see you walking toward them, much less not even a wave back if you wave at them when driving by.
We have identified other sites nearby that we will be checking out next winter to use our “free” two weeks of Trails Collection opportunities.
Barb and her sister explored a great area new area on the Gulf of Mexico that amazing seafood, gorgeous sunsets and some of the most amazing dolphin play ever seen in the wild. Inn on the Gulf in Hudson, Florida, was an excellent location, motel, and restaurant for their stay.
We were also able to touch base over pizza with some fellow fulltime RVers that we had met from the year before across the country! Both FollowthePahlows and Ditched the Kids were headed to their winter destinations in the area when we met for an evening.
It is so great to be able to have people visit from the North when we are in Florida. We met up for two visits with our dear friends who are Disney Vacation Club members and had a blast together.
And of course, we had an amazing week with our Grand-daughter Cece! (Oh yeah, she brought her mother and her Great-Grandmother too.) Over that week she got to experience her first Manatees at the Blue Springs State Park and see real-life Florida Alligators on the Apoka Wildlife Drive. Oh, and she got to experience her first Disney experiences on the monorail, ferry and friendship boats. It was tough to see her (and of course Allie and Lurene too) leave at the end of the visit.
Since we did not go North this year to visit at Christmas, it was heartwarming to have these people cross our path while in Florida. We even got a chance to visit with some great church friends from River Falls who were in the area at the same time, having a quick meal with them was great to catch up.
Holidays In Florida
Holidays can be difficult when we are away from Wisconsin, especially in the warmer climate. More than once we said we wished we had seen some cooler fall up North before coming to Florida in mid-October. We usually miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and our anniversary with friends. Since most of the holidays fall in the cold months then we are south of Wisconsin. We do the best we can and try to connect over Facebook Messenger whenever possible, however, it is just not the same. We have some holiday decorations from our past stored in the basement of the motorhome and those come out to remind us.
Disney traditions help to bring the Christmas spirit back, especially when it is might be 90+ degrees during the day. Sometimes the weather is cold and rainy, sometimes it is hot and humid. The constant is Walt Disney’s celebration of Christmas. You hear carols throughout the parks, the decorations are amazing and there are performances like the Candlelight Processional that has been a Disney tradition for almost half a century.
Disney, Disney, Disney!!
We estimate that we visited Disney about 44 total times over the course of the four and a half months! With our $350/year/person Florida annual pass, that is about $8 / day for us to visit! Yes, there is actually something different to see every time. Some of those visits were to the parks where the ticket is required, some of those visits to Disney Springs (which we have a new appreciation for now) and some to the various resort properties.
Jason worked 6 AM to 2:30 PM Central time, which means he was done between 3:30 and 4:00 PM our local Florida time. Depending on the property we were headed to, we could be there in 20 to 30 minutes from Winter Garden. It is why the location works so well as a base. Our annual-pass does not work on the weekends in the four main attraction parks (and we would not want to fight the crowds of Disney on weekends anyway) so we would check out things in the area or around the Walt Disney World. The last half of December is also blocked out because of the Christmas business, also a time we don’t want to be there. However, this year we did a lot of that resort hopping to see the Disney Christmas perspective from different angles.
It was great to spend some of those nights with our Flat Stanley visitor from the North, we had so much fun and love to see Disney through the eyes of others. Although, we hear though that Flat Stanley is still traveling North and may be seen sometime in the future after the COVID-19 crisis is past.
Anything Other than Disney?
Oh sure, there are many things other than Disney but that is our main focus there since we enjoy it so much. We, however, avoid the International Drive tourism area with a passion. The weekends are a good time to run errands after getting our fresh produce for the week from the Winter Garden Farmers Market, get caught up on other household duties and check out the local farmers market or get some fresh oranges at the Showcase of Citrus in Clermont.
Clermont is just a little further Northwest of Winter Garden. We did the “tourist” thing and we went up to the top of the Citrus Tower, a marketing “gimmick” built-in 1956 to market the citrus groves in the area. This was built more than 20 years before Walt Disney World opened!
We also visited Seaworld with our Northern friends, we gave it a mighty try but we were very disappointed. The day was fraught with numerous customer service fails on their part. The value of the day was simply not there and we won’t be returning again. Fortunately, the ride failure was on the penguin ride and Barb our penguin lover got to spend oodles of time on her favorite ride!
We also found a great niche restaurant at the Celebration Tavern. Celebration is a highly planned Disney community where you can “live at Disney” but not really. The Tavern there sells great seafood, including calamari and you can end with an amazing Boston Cream pie for dessert. (You should eat there, we took our dessert home and it would have been better fresh.)