Fort Myers, FL

5/17/17 to 6/5/17

Wednesday 5/17/17     We finally left home today to start our next trip!  We kept changing our minds on where we wanted to travel. We wanted to head out west toward The Grand Canyon but also wanted to go south to Fort Myers, FL and visit Michael, Caline, Leila, Liam, and Luca.  We decided to go south and get there as soon as possible before it became too hot.  (We are probably too late.)  As I am writing this we are camping near Tampa, FL and it's 92 degrees) We left home and planned on driving between 300 and 400 miles a day, stopping to camp each night. So the next couple of days will be just driving and overnight camping.

For the first night I had picked out a campground just south of Lexington, Kentucky which was about 400 miles away from home, but during that drive, our plans changed.  As we were driving on Interstate 75 in Kentucky I saw a sign that said "Ark Encounter Exit 154".  I've heard about The Ark from my sister, Nancy, and it was on my list of things to see but I really didn't research where it was because we wanted to get down to Florida as soon as possible. But after I saw the sign we pulled into the next rest area and looked up RV campgrounds nearby.  We called Three Springs Campground in Corinth, Kentucky and made reservations for two nights. From Three Springs Campground, it was about a 15-minute drive to the Ark.

Three Springs Campground was a really nice place. It's a small family run campground with about 22 sites. The owner was very friendly and she even walked down to guide me as I backed into the site. We set up the trailer and relaxed the rest of the night. Our drive for the first day ended up being 324 miles.

Thursday 5/18/17     Today we visited The Ark Encounter.  This is a full-size replica of Noah's Ark.  It's a Christian Evangelical and fundamentalist park that opened in Williamstown, Kentucky on July 7, 2016.  The centerpiece of the park is a full-scale model of Noah's Ark from the Genesis flood narrative in the Bible which is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. It is the largest wood structure in the world. The inside shows how the animals were housed and fed and how food and water were stored. There are lots of displays to walk through with explanations on how everything worked. It also shows the living quarters of Noah and his family. There are movies playing on each floor that last about 15 mins. The workmanship of this whole project is amazing. Overall this is a good attraction for anyone (Christian and non-Christian) and worth seeing if you are close by.  Of course, some won't enjoy it simply because of the strong Biblical theme.  I thought the admission price was high, $31.00 each for us "seniors" ($40.00 each for adults) and $10.00 to park.  This would be pretty expensive for a large family. In my opinion, young children wouldn't get much enjoyment from The Ark Encounter and would probably get bored fairly quickly.  There is also a buffet style restaurant on site but we skipped it.  The ark is not an amusement park.  I would consider it more to be a museum of history.  There is a lot of reading to do inside.  There are some replicas of animals that were on the ark to see as well.  Some of the exhibits do get crowded and sometimes the lines move slowly.  It is set up for large crowds and wasn't very busy when we were there but it still took us about 5 hours to see everything we wanted to.

Friday 5/19/17     Today we packed up and headed further south. I had called a campground near Chattanooga, TN the night before and made a reservation. The campsite was called Holiday Trav-L-Park and it was a large (140 site) commercial campsite. Nice place but we only spent one night there. Traveled 306 miles today. Pulled in, set up, ran out to fill the truck with fuel and relaxed the rest of the night. Lots of big rigs parked here. It amazes me on how many large, expensive motorhomes we see on the road. Most of them are also pulling a car. The only complaint I had about this campsite was the noise at night. After hearing tires squealing and motors revving I did a search on Google Earth. There was a drag strip about a quarter mile away and we were here on a Friday night. This went on well past midnight. 

Saturday 5/20/17     Packed up in the morning and headed further south. Called ahead and made a reservation at Pines RV Park in Tifton, GA. Nothing special about this place but we were just stopping for the night. Small campground right off Interstate 75. Easy in and easy out. Again set up camp and found a gas station to get fuel and relaxed the rest of the night. Drove 289 miles today.

Sunday 5/21/17     We still had three days before we needed to get to our reserved spot in Fort Myers so I called ahead to a campground near Tampa, FL and reserved 3 nights there. Distance today was 269 miles. The park is called Happy Traveler RV-Park. It's a pretty big park and looks like a lot of snowbirds stay here in the winter. They have a pool, clubhouse, and activities. A lot of the sites were empty but there were also a lot of people still living here. Not too many overnighters. But since it's offseason for Florida campsites the price was cheap. When I checked in the man showed me a map of the place and pointed out a few empty spots and asked me where I wanted to park. Looking at the map I picked out a place near the back, by a road that I could pull into and then back straight back into an empty site. Looked good on paper and I had no trouble backing in but after we got set up we saw that it was a mistake. After we got set up we walked around the campgrounds. About 75% of the sites were under trees and shaded. The one I picked was right out in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no shade. And every day we were there it was sunny and in the high 90's. RVs are not very well insulated and our air conditioner ran continuously. 

Monday 5/22/17     We didn't do too much today. Not used to this heat and humidity yet. We slept in a little, had a leisurely breakfast and walked around the campgrounds for a while.  Later we drove to the post office and then kept on driving just to explore the area. 

Tuesday 5/23/17     Before it got too hot we drove to Flatwoods Park. We saw this park the other day as we were driving around. It has a blacktop bikeway that runs in a 7-mile loop. There are also dirt trails through the woods for bikes and hikers. We got there early in the morning before it was too hot. It was cloudy the whole time we walked but it was still very humid. We walked almost 2 miles into the park and then turned around and walked back to the truck. Did just under 4 miles but we are still not used to this heat and humidity and couldn't go much further. We headed back to the trailer and the air conditioner. Had lunch, washed some clothes and just relaxed the rest of the day. 

Wednesday 5/24/17     Since we didn't have far to go today we hung around the campground until the 11:00 AM check out time. We had reservations for 13 nights at a campground in Fort Myers called Calusa Cove RV Park. We took our time and stopped for lunch to waste some time because check-in time was 2:00.

I use a couple of different websites to decide where we are going to camp and we belong to a couple RV discount clubs. There is one called Passport America which gives members 50% off normal fees. Each campground has their own restrictions such as no discounts at certain times of the year or the discount is only good for so many days. It's tough sitting at home on the computer trying to find a decent place at a decent price. I found Calusa Cove through Passport America and their listing said I could stay a max of 14 days at 50% off their regular $40.00 a night. $20.00 a night is a good price. This is what their listing says.

25 total RV sites. Can accommodate RVs up to 48'. 30/50 amp service, full hookups, pull-thrus, wireless internet, picnic tables, BBQ grills, laundry facilities, boating, canoeing, skating, store, tennis, fire rings, bike/walking paths, nature watching, restaurant and adjacent to Estero Bay Preserve State Park. Located 5 miles from Bonita Beach. RV storage.

Well, let me say this was a big lie. When we pulled into the "campground" there were a couple old trailers in tall grass and a couple of houses. We didn't see an office to check into and had no idea where to go. We drove down a side road that had a couple of mobile homes on each side and circled around. I parked the truck and trailer on the road and started walking around. I did find the office. There was a small sign in the window of one of the houses. As I walked up the steps I could see a couple of electric/water hook-ups in the side yard and there was a sheet of paper on the window telling me to call a number. After I called the number Maria came to the door. She welcomed me but told me that the Passport America website was wrong and the current discounted rate was $31.00 a night.

We have stayed at a lot of different campgrounds and this one had no amenities. No restrooms, no showers, no laundry, no pool. We were basically going to park in their side yard and hook up electricity, water, and sewer. I argued with her a while but she wouldn't budge and at the time I had nowhere else to go. So I paid her for two nights and told her I'd let her know if I wanted to stay longer.

As soon as we got set up I got on the computer and started looking for another place. I wrote a couple addresses down and we got in the truck to check them out. Right down the road was a place called Shady Acres. This is a large campground that has a lot of snowbirds staying here all winter but at this time of the year, 75% of them are gone. We pulled in and talked to one of the workers and she said we could stay there for $25.00 a night for up to 21 days. We drove around the park looking at the sites and amenities. This place had it all! Nice restrooms, showers, laundry room, rec hall, a pool and a small store. I told her I would be back tomorrow to pay for 11 days. The funny thing is that this campground did not show up on the Passport America website but they accepted it.

Friday 5/26/17     Today we moved the trailer to our new location. It was just down the road. We got the OK to come in early so we packed up around 9:30 and moved to our spot at Shady Acres. This RV park is so much nicer than the last one and less expensive. They let us pick our site so we found one that had some shade and was pretty close to the office and showers. There were empty spaces on both sides of us so we had lots of room. Like I said before, there weren't too many people staying here. This is the off-season for camping in Florida so we almost had the place to ourselves. We are staying for 11 nights and spent most of our time visiting Michael and the kids just about every day. Leila and Liam slept in the trailer whenever they had the chance.

Monday 5/29/17     Today the kids decided to take us to the beach. One of the nicest beaches in this area is on Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. We got to Michael's around 9:00 to get an early start but it wasn't early enough. Because today was Memorial Day it seemed like everyone else in the area had the same idea. Michael had a couple great places in mind but when we got there the parking lots were full. We had to go further and further before we found a place to park and ended up at Bowman's Beach. It was a great beach, just sand and ocean as far as you could see. Not a building in sight. Although it was a long walk from the parking lot to where we set up. With all the beach gear we brought everyone was carrying something. We stayed at the beach for about 3 hours and it was hot.  The sand was so hot that you couldn't walk back to the parking lot in your bare feet. Once we got back to Michael's house we swam in his pool for a while.

Wednesday 5/31/17     With Leila still in school and the two boys in their school we had a day to ourselves so we decided to take a ride to the Everglades and go on an airboat ride. I did some research online and found that there are a lot of companies that offer airboat rides. Most of the reviews say that the rides in the grassland swamp area are a little boring. Stating that everything looks the same and the boat just zips along and does a couple of figure eights. I found one that offers not only the grassland tour but also a Mangrove Tour. If you don't know what mangroves are they are small salt-tolerant trees or shrubs that grow in the swampy coastal area. A couple of years ago Michael took us kayaking through the Mangroves near Marco Island, FL. They're like a big tangled forest of trees with thin paths and openings mixed in. You can get lost paddling through them.

Once you get a little south of Naples, FL the road narrows down to two lanes and there is nothing but swamp on both sides. We went to Captain Jack's Airboat Tours in Everglades City, FL. which was about an hour and a half south of where we were camped. We chose the Mangrove tour. Total cost was about $70.00 for the two of us and lasted an hour. This also included admission to the "Animals and Alligator Show" which was a couple miles down the road. All in all the Air Boat ride was fun, something I always wanted to do. We had 4 people on our boat plus the driver. The driver really had to have some skills to navigate through the mangroves and he would stop every once and awhile to discuss some of the interesting facts about the Everglades. He even stopped to give some water to one of the baby raccoons that lived there but we didn't see any other wildlife. After the ride, they have a small alligator you can hold and take pictures with. Of course, we had to do this. After the Air Boat ride, we drove to the Animals and Alligator Show which was a little disappointing. This was nothing but a small run-down zoo that housed a lot of alligators and a couple other animals. The conditions of the cages and the animal facilities were terrible. They had a cheesy alligator show where one of the staff played around with a large alligator, passing his hands through its mouth showing how fast his jaw would shut. He also explained how the Seminole Indians hunted and captured alligators. (Their main food source at the time). With the condition of the place, we really felt sorry for the animals that were there. We didn't stick around too long because the mosquitoes were eating us alive. 

Air Boat Ride #1

Air Boat Ride #2

When we were driving around the on route 41 we came upon this oddity. This is the smallest Post Office in the United States. It sits just off the road and we actually drove past it before we realized it was an actual Post Office. We turned around and stopped to check it out.

Ochopee, Florida, This closet-sized, 7x8-foot building used to be an irrigation pipe shed for a tomato farm. It was pressed into service after a fire destroyed the Ochopee general store -- which also housed the post office -- in 1953. The town, which sits on the edge of the Everglades, and which reportedly has a population of 11, has been happy with it ever since. It was so small that I didn't believe there was a clerk inside so opened the sliding doors and she was sitting in there. I asked her a couple of questions about the Post Office. She said that there is one letter carrier for the area that drives a 132-mile route. 

Thursday 6/1/17     Happy Birthday Rose! Well, we had nice plans for Rose's Birthday but things didn't work out. The last couple of days I could hear a grinding in my front right wheel. I knew from the noise that I needed new brake pads. I found a place in Fort Myers that had good reviews so I called them in the morning and they said I could come in this morning. We had plans to go to Leila's awards ceremony on her last day of school so I made an appointment for first thing Friday morning. Leila's ceremony only lasted until noon so once we got out I called again and asked if I could bring it in. He said he would have room for me at 1:30. Right across the street from the repair shop was the Edison Mall so we walked around there for awhile and at 1:30 I left Rose and took the truck over. Of course, after they looked at the truck I needed all four wheels done. New brake pads and new brake rotors. They told me it would take about 3 hours. So I left the truck there and walked back to the mall. Michael had made reservations for dinner to celebrate Rose's birthday at a place called The Rodizio Grill, a Brazilian Steakhouse at 6:30. No problem we should be able to make it. After hanging out at the mall for three hours we walked over to the repair shop. The truck was still being worked on. We sat there watching TV in the waiting room for another 2 hours. The shop closed at 5:00 pm but they weren't done with the truck until around 7:00. Then it took us 30 minutes to get to the restaurant. Michael and his family got there at 6:30 but we were an hour late. The food was great, they have a salad bar and also a side dish section. Then all night long waiters come around the tables with skewers of different types of meat. If it's something you like they cut off a piece and put it on your plate. You can eat as much as you want. After dinner, we headed to the trailer and had a small birthday celebration with a small chocolate cake Caline brought. 

Friday 6/2/17 to Monday 6/5/17     We spent the rest of our days in Fort Myers visiting Michael and the kids. We went to another beach in Naples, FL, the kids slept in the trailer and we got to swim in Michael's pool again.

Tuesday 6/6/17  We had a great time in Fort Myers and it was great to see Michael, Caline and the Grandkids. The 11 days in Fort Myers really went by fast! Today we packed up and headed to The Florida Keys and Key West.

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