A mixed experience with Allegiant Air

I’ll get to the details of the trip next post, but to keep this on point: We scheduled a flight from Central Florida to Indianapolis to visit my dad and step-mom, Marcia, whom we had managed to miss during our mutual RV travels, partially due to our continuous mechanical difficulties. So before continuing our trip towards Maine and, based on their RV plans, probably miss them again until late this year, we did some research, found an affordable though not dirt cheap flight on a discount airline, Allegiant, on which we had never flown. We also paid for it with points from a recent credit card sign up bonus, so it was sort of free.

We probably would have taken a major carrier since the price wasn’t that different, except that the Allegiant flight was out of a Sanford, a satellite regional airport to Orlando International.  Located far closer to where we would be keeping the RV, and without the crowded drama that major airports entail, it was the best option, even if it meant getting nickel and dimed for every aspect of a discount airline itinerary.  So we paid the extra baggage fees, avoided the extra ticket fee by printing our passes at home, and boarded without drama or complaint.

After we took off and leveled out at cruising altitude, a cameraman stood up and recorded one of the flight attendants as she announced a special surprise: As part of a kind of compensation for tax day, Allegiant would be refunding the entire cost of the itinerary, including the return flight and whatever upgrades and special fees anyone had incurred, for everyone on this flight!  Though we had paid for the trip with some flexible travel points, we would get all of those back to use on another trip. Man what a deal. We were encouraged, of course, to share all about it on social media, and were provided with a flier with the details and preferred hashtags to use, so yeah, it was just a publicity stunt, but heck we benefited and were grateful.

So that’s the good side of our Allegiant experience…

For our return flight my Dad drove us the one hour to the Indianapolis airport and dropped us off about 90 minutes before the 5 PM flight.  Indy was not at all crowded, giving us plenty of time before needing to go through security, so we headed for the USO club.  These places are fantastic benefits for any active or retired military person or family, providing an oasis from the airport hassles, free snacks and (non-alcoholic) drinks, TVs, computers, video games, books, the works.  Most of it is donated our purchased with donations, and the club is staffed by volunteers.  If you have access and aren’t using them, your missing out, particularly if you don’t have entry to one of the various executive airline lounges.

Just before entering the USO, we checked the flight board and discovered that our plane was already delayed by an hour.  Ah well, we settled into the lounge for a slightly longer stay than planned, happy to at least have their amenities.  After an hour, we checked in again, and the flight was delayed another hour!  And then another hour!  Now we were looking at a four hour delay.  Finally, around 8:30 PM, they cancelled the flight out right.

Since we were not at the gate when they announced it, we had to hunt for the details of the cancellation, running into one of the passengers at the sparsely manned Allegiant counter. Together with her information, customer service rep on the phone, and that of the person at the employee unofficially providing information at the counter, we pieced together a somewhat confusing picture involving a replacement flight the next morning at 9:30 AM, and that we were to find our own hotel reservation, though two of the sources suggested that Allegiant would refund the cost up to $200 or more bucks, and might also provide a $100 ravel voucher as compenstation.

Back to the USO, and with the help of the on duty volunteer we hunted for a close by hotel with a shuttle service.  This was surprisingly hard because the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 was coming up soon, and thus a lot of places were full.  Uncertain of the vague information we were giving about the hotel refund, I picked the cheapest option rather than the first, but it still cost us $140 after taxes for a one night stay at the airport Quality Inn.  After a half hour wait for the shuttle, we settled into the room and made the best of it: a night cap, some TV, and a marginally usable free wifi connection.  The next morning after our complementary breakfast, we took the shuttle to the airport and caught our return flight without further incident.

Since then I have tried to call Allegiant customer service, which after about five minutes of fighting through the phone tree and listening to a detailed list of airline related rules, informs me that I have another 20 minute wait to speak with a representative.  So I used the “contact us” form on their website, and now after nearly three full days I am still awaiting a response concerning reimbursement for the hotel and the $100 voucher.

So there you have it, a mixed bag with Allegiant. Yes, a cancelled flight with some as yet to be resolved costs, but it was a free flight to begin with, so hard to complain to much.

Hunting and breeding in Trimble Park, Mount Dora

When we swung through Central Florida on our way south this last winter we camped at Trimble County Park for a few days, and loved it so much we vowed to come back for a longer stay if at all possible.  It made for a reasonable home base from which to visit our many family members and friends in the region, and is a real hidden gem in terms of natural beauty.  The challenge is getting reservations for more than a few weekdays, even now that the winter peak season is over.

The park only has 15 sites total, and with a maximum reservation window of 45 days in advance, we were only able to secure three days, arriving on a Monday.  However, as we learned last year, the park holds back a couple of spots for walk ups, which are also available to existing campers that wish to extend.  And so we did, giving us a full week there.

We had an even greater profusion of wildlife sightings than during our last visit, which is part of the explanation for the post title:  No, we did not hunt or kill anything other than midges, mosquitoes, and maybe a few spiders while in the park, but we saw a whole lot of nature, red in tooth and claw.  Nearly all day we could see up to five ospreys soaring over Lake Carlton, occasionally splashing down to snag a fish and haul it back to shore or to a nest.  We watched swallowed tail kites hunting insects over the lake, scooping a drink of water from the surface while in flight, never landing, as they filled up for their return flight to Central or South America.

Brian, Ashley and I looking at the hawk nest.

In the morning as we sat at the edge of the lake 50 feet from our RV, we would frequently catch sight of the prehistoric jaws of Florida gar piercing upward through the water surface as they hunted feet from the shore.  That section of the lake edge was also the preferred night spot for a small, maybe three foot, alligator, that we frequently observed cruising by into the tall lake weeds or up onto the dead vegetation behind the RV next door.

The bullfrogs and squirrels were noisy and active during most of the day, the latter enticing a red shouldered hawk nesting behind one of the RV sites to make several low altitude runs directly through the campground, at one point passing within five feet of Rosemarie perhaps a yard off the ground.  The ranger that walked us over to her nest, pointing out the two chicks visible through binoculars, reported that he had witnessed the hawk snatching a squirrel off the ground during such a maneuver.  As if on cue she flew by again, landing on the campsite marking post two down from ours.

One of the hawk chicks practicing some wing flapping on the edge of the nest.

Pad Kee Meow was in hunter’s heaven, stalking the lizards near our rig, only her leash and our intervention preventing her from killing, or at least conducting an “enhanced interrogation,” of a dozen reptiles during our stay.  Though I tried to point it out to her (cats don’t seem to understand the concept of pointing) she completely missed the small black racer that slithered through camp one morning.  Though the mosquitoes were present in less abundance than I expected, the harmless but annoying midges congregated in the thousands around our outside night lights, teaching us to turn them off at dusk or risk an intrusion in the hundreds if we opened the door for a few seconds.

One morning as I was positioning our folding chairs I spotted a complete bird nest, with a tiny egg no bigger than a thumb nail in the lined pocket of the chair.  The ranger swung by and carefully moved it, informing us that it was likely a Carolina Wren, which will apparently build a nest on you if you hold still for more than five minutes.  Sure enough we spotted the culprit all throughout the day looking for the nest, and failing that just laying a second egg directly into the pocket despite the lack of a nest.  I moved it to the repositioned nest, but we left without knowing if she found it.

This visit we had more time to explore the park, including the various docks, picnic areas, boardwalks and trails.  The easy one hour stroll down the point between Lakes Carlton and Beauclair is particularly nice, covered almost the entire way with Spanish moss covered oaks, cypress trees, and palms.

Lastly, when we were packing up our folding table, which had spent the entire week next to the palm trees a few feet from the lake shore, I had to clear 20 spiders from the underside of the table and associated cloth, yet another lesson that should have been unnecessary since we had commented several times about the abundance of webs filled with midges and other bugs in that specific location.  Take note, future Trimble Park campers, don’t leave your gear next to the lake!

It wasn’t all about the lower animals, we had plenty of the higher ones come visit us while there.  We met Anthony and Anita, the friends that caught us trying to sneak through Mount Dora last year without coming to see them, at a cute cafe in popular and historic downtown area.  We hosted a evening BBQ at which my son and daughter-in-law (Jackson and Andrea,) cousin and cousin-in-law (Brian and Ashley), and one of Rosemarie’s friends (Nancy) recently transplanted to Mount Dora were able to join us.

We also put a good number of miles on Loki visiting everyone who was available in the region.  Son Jackson in Deland, Aunt Judy and Bill in Lake Mary, and Nancy in Eustis.  We missed visiting the Pineras, hopefully we will catch them early this winter when we come back to Florida, and the Nealy’s who could not secure one of those difficult to get Trimble Park reservations, probably because of all of us weekday guests extending though the weekend, heh.

Aunt Judy’s cats, which I insisted on petting, whether they wanted it or not.

Our last full day in Trimble we wore our ALS Walkathon Shirts, in solidarity with Team Linda, which crushed all opposition with the most money raised and most participants at the Virginia Beach event.

As part of our “prepare for the future research,” we swung by Kelly Park/Rock Springs  (another Orange County park, like Trimble) to check out the campground as an option for a future stay in the region.  Basically, we need a few more options since Trimble Park, though wonderful, can be difficult to reserve, and is just a bit too far away from Jackson, Aunt Judy and a few others to be an ideal base for our Central Florida excursions.

This coming winter we are thinking about splitting it up, a week in Trimble/Mount Dora/Rock Springs, a week in Blue Springs State Park (closer to the above mentioned kin) and a couple of days at Uncle Bob’s and Aunt Terri’s in Geneva.  As always, we would love to hear any recommendations for the area.

Backtracking just a bit for another stay on Sanibel Island

After we left the disappointing Turtle Beach Campground on Siesta Key, we headed back down the road half an hour to Venice, Fl to stay with Gloria and Bill for a couple of days.  When visiting their area we like to split time between parking the RV in their driveway and staying at nearby parks. Turtle Beach is simply the latest experiment in our ongoing exploration of alternatives to our preferred Rambler’s Rest RV Resort during the months they do not take the Passport America rate.  So far we prefer the difficult to reserve Oscar Scherer State Park, but we will probably try the Myakka River State Park next winter.

Coconut Fish Rosemarie made for Gloria’s garden.

We always love coming to the Bayba’s, welcoming as they are to us and our cat, who has the run of the house and large screened in pool deck.  We also took the opportunity to give Pad Kee Meo her monthly bath and next day flea treatment.  You can tell from the picture she loves this just as much as every other cat.

Gloria always makes a variety of Puerto Rican dishes, usually starting with bacalaitos, a type of cod fritter.  While there we got to see Rosemarie’s brother, niece, soon to be sister-in-law, and her son, that’s Jerry, Laura, Kim, and Andrew, respectively.

I had planned to go on a salt water fishing outing with Bill, but the weather intervened and the charter captain rightly cancelled. This was actually quite a good thing, because I had developed a rather nasty stomach problem, and rocking and rolling at sea for six to eight hours in cramped quarters would have been uncomfortable at best.

After four days of suffering I consulted with Uncle Bob, a family practitioner, and he recommended I go straight to a walk in clinic, which in this town are rather numerous. The Gulf Coast Medical Group‘s urgent care facility saw me with only a short wait, issued a script, took a variety of tests, and said to call back each day for the results so as to adjust the medicine if needed.

Sure enough, 48 hours later they ordered me to stop taking the issued prescription, which had provided some symptomatic relief but was actually interfering with my body’s attempt to fight off the cooties, and immediately start on a course of antibiotics to combat a nasty bacterial infection.  Unfortunately this particular medicine is a close cousin of disulfram, aka antabuse, a drug used to treat chronic alcoholism by making it very unpleasant to consume alcohol.  So I had to completely forgo the divine juices for the 10 day course of treatment, which was more difficult than the actual sickness, heh.

Our Latest spot at Periwinkle Park

Because of this ongoing illness and associated treatment we extended our stay at the Bayba’s from two to three days.  We called Periwinkle Park to inform them of the delay in our arrival, they understood the circumstances and did not charge us for the day or a change fee.  The next day I felt sufficient to the task of managing the two hour drive, so we backtracked south by 80 miles towards Fort Myers, crossing the expensive ($12 for the rig plus tow vehicle) toll causeway onto Sanibel Island.

Which had a tree positioned perfectly for PKM to climb even while attached to her lead.

We had scheduled this latest stay in order to allow Rosemarie to go on Pam Rambo’s shelling excursion to some of the other little islands reachable only by boat.  Pam is the owner of I Love Shelling, one of the local mainstay’s in Sanibel well known for her expertise and love of beach combing.  The haul was not as much as Rosemarie has taken on a good day on Sanibel after rough weather has stirred things up, but the outing was fun and informative.

Roseann and Anthony came to visit us for the weekend, and we enjoyed showing them the island, especially Friday morning exotic bird presentation right in the park.  Since we know the area reasonably well now we are also able to take guests to the best beaches, shops, and a couple of affordable but good restaurants.

We finished up our five day stay, saying goodbye to both Sanibel and the Gulf Coast until we return to Florida late in the fall.  Turning north east, we headed back to what has become one of our favorite places, Trimble County Park near Mount Dora.  Since Sanibel involved a bit of backtracking, in a way this marks the true beginning of our northward journey up the East Coast.  We look forward to meeting up with family and friends along the way, so if we are passing through your hometown or RV location, let us know and hopefully we can meet up.

15 Months Fulltiming, March 2016 Report

Almost everything is going so well we hesitate to mention it lest we jinx it, heh.  This month we finally started working our way north through Florida, with stops to visit relatives and friends in their respective towns.

The Distance: 329 miles, bringing out 2016 total up to 791.  We are picking up the pace a bit from our leisurely 20 miles traveled in February.   Based on our loose plan for the year, w expect that mileage to increase in April and again in May as we race up the east coast towards Maine.

The Places:  Five places, six if you count a return to Key West Naval Air Station in the midst of our state park visits.   We closed out a 43 day stay at NAS Key West before heading up the Overseas Highway for a couple of short short, back to back stays at Curry Hammock and Long Key state parks.  After which we returned to NAS Key West’s Sigsbee Campground for a five day stay until our surprise opening (Thanks Nealy’s!) at Bahia Honda State Park.  From there it was on to Coral Springs and then across the state to the Gulf Coast and Turtle Beach on Siesta Key, near Sarasota.  We spent the first 23 days with at least power, usually with water as well, and a few days with sewage to boot.  We spent eight days dry camping; six in the traditional sense at Key West plus two days driveway camping in Coral Springs.  Another way of breaking it down: We spent 29 days on government/public land (14 military, 10 state, 5 county) and two days on private land.

The Budget:   After two months under budget we couldn’t hold on this month, and ended up 12% over.  The big killers?  A $270 tire replacement while in Curry Hammock and the overpriced ($62/night) stay at Turtle Beach.   We are still under for the year and have cracked down a bit this first part of April, but it was disappointing none the less.

The Drama:  As mentioned above, we had totally dstroyed RV tire, but we also mananged to get a flat on one of Loki’s rear wheels while in Coral Springs.  Fortunately we have a good spare, and once we got across the state to Venice, Rosemarie’s brother Jerry plugged the damaged rubber for us.

We continue to track the repairs on the Big Kahuna, with Pioneer Transmission Service reporting they are a week or so away from complete and ready to ship the transmission back to Charleston.

The Improvements:  Nothing significant to report again, and I may even drop this section for future monthly summaries.  Unlike the old bus, Serenity is mostly good to go, and we need to avoid spending money on improvements until we get our finances back in order, which probably will not be until The Big Kahuna has a new owner.

All of our monthly reports, as well as our first full year report, 2015 in Review, are linked below.

2016 Reports:

2015 in Review

To the Gulf Coast! Coral Springs and Turtle Beach

We have left the keys and begun a leisurely trek north, with stops planned at the towns of many a friend and relative.  First up: Coral Springs to spend two nights in Xavier and Joy’s driveway.  After departing Bahia Honda we headed up the Overseas Highway and onto the Florida and Sawgrass Turnpikes, arriving in the later afternoon, along the way having been reminded how little we miss Miami traffic.  We were able to visit not only with Xavier and Joy, but also Uncle Carlos and Auntie Joan the day after our arrival.

Our schedule had been determined by a special event, Roseann and Anthony’s surprise engagement party. The party was the surprise, not their engagement.  They already knew they were engaged.  Their friends Rosalee and Vinny created an outstanding event in their backyard, with a ridiculous amount of gourmet and Italian food provided by several guests. I think this was the single most Italian thing to which I have ever been.  Of the 13 men attending, there were four Anthony’s, three Vincents, two Josephs, and two Salvadores. Oh yeah, Ivan and I also attended, everyone else was Italian.

Monday morning we headed across Alligator Alley towards Naples before turning north towards Sarasota.  A bit under four hours later we crossed the bridge onto Siesta Key for a six day stay at the Turtle Beach County Campground.  Reservations during peak season are difficult to acquire, and the prices are quite steep, perhaps the most expensive place we have ever stayed with the exception of our desperate night at a resort near the Coachella festival.

Thus we were that much more disappointed by what we encountered: major construction and beach renovation directly in front of the campground.  The county was going all out to restore the beach after years of major erosion, and trying to get it all done before the start of turtle egg laying season in May.

Accordingly, bulldozers and other heavy machinery were in operation all day, and getting to an undisturbed or quite section of the beach required a bit of a hike.   Having paid through the nose for a scarce spot we felt a bit tricked; no one mentioned the project when we made the reservation, and the refund policy required you to request it days before your arrival, even if you simply wanted to shorten the stay.

The campground is medium-small with only 40 spots, but they are crowded in a bit tightly, and if it wasn’t for the empty spot across from ours, making the backing turn into our site would have been difficult.  The place is full hook up, including sewage, and offers free “RV campground typical” wifi, which is to say, partially working part of the day.  You are paying for beachfront access here, but even without the restoration project, I am just not sure it is worth the $62 per night after taxes.

We made the best of it though, hiking up the beach to get clear of the construction, drives through the rich neighborhoods, and exploring the two restaurants across the street.  We can report that the draft beer happy hour special may be better at the Turtle Beach grill, but the food was top notch at Turtles Waterfront Restaurant.  We can strongly recommend the crab meat nachos with a carafe of Pinot Grigio.

We also crossed back over the causeway bridge to visit the local Moose Lodge.  This is one of the better ones from the dozen or so we have seen.  A thriving club with plenty of regular members, the affordable prices we are used to, and a calendar full of special events.  We liked it enough to come back the next evening for wings and trivia night.  I am proud to report that even though Rosemarie and I were the only two on our team (most teams had a table full of people, six or seven) we still tied for third place.

We closed out our last day with a couple of miles of “shell hiking” along the beach before rigging our home for the short trip to Gloria and Bill’s the net morning.  Next year we will take a pass Turtle Beach and manage our Venice area stays between The Bayba’s driveway, Rambler’s Rest and a couple of the local state parks.   Any recommendations appreciated.

Bahia Honda, our last stop in The Keys this season. Our favorite state park but they sure could use better signage.

While spending what we thought would be a full week back at NAS Key West, we got a text from The Nealys indicating that they would be cutting their stay at Bahia Honda short and cancelling their last three days there.  They were willing to give us a text just before they finalized the cancellation in the hope that we could be ready to pounce and hopefully beat the profiteers to the spot.  Success!  We picked up a two day stay in our favorite Florida State Park at the exact end of our planned time in The Keys.  Thanks Jennifer and Deas!

1 cat

PKM obviously stressed out by the 35 mile drive.

So Wednesday morning saw us breaking camp, stocking up on a few things from the base commissary, dumping tanks, and topping off our water before making the 35 mile drive north.  Now that is the kind of distance between campgrounds I love, a lot less strenuous than six hours or more in a big motorhome with a car under tow.

2 Line to enter

The line to get in visible from both directions.  At this point we are mostly through it.

Of course, it just can’t be that easy, right?  Something has to add drama, especially when driving in the Keys at peak season.  Earlier in the month when we passed by Bahia Honda on the way to Curry Hammock, and again on the way back south to NAS Key West, we noticed the line of cars at the entrance, most of them waiting to get in to the day use area, interspersed with an occasional RV going to the campground.  As we approached this time, the line was already quite long from both directions, so we resigned ourselves to a long wait.

3 Nealys

Passing the Nealy’s on their way out.

I know the park has a maximum capacity, and assumed that the line was organized such that if a car came out, the next in line would go in.  Not so!  They were simply letting every single car pull up to the ranger station, where they were individually informed that the park was full, they would need to turn around, and if they came back in a few hours they should be able to get in at that point!  Why? Why would they do this rather than have a sign out front saying “Park Day Use Area Full”?  Hundreds of people waited in line 45 minutes just to be told they couldn’t come in, all of the RVs that had reservations or working vehicles with business in the park had to wait in the line as well, and the rangers and volunteers had to explain the same thing over and over and over again.  Seems ludicrously inefficient.

Ah well, we suffered through it, and our timing was fortuitous enough that we got to wave goodbye and exchange a few words with Jennifer and Deas when we passed each other on the entrance road.  The spot that we inherited from them was one of the best in the park: large and right on the water.  The only downside?  We once again encountered a water connection that was too far for our 25′ hose to reach since it was located at the very front near the road and about half way over to the neighbor’s site.  This is why we have gotten much more consistent about topping up on water before we move to a new campground. Sure, we are a bit less efficient carrying several hundred pounds of water around, but you never know what you will find at the next stop.

We had great weather while there, taking advantage of our two day stay to swim in the designated bay area, in the not so designated area right in front of our site, and on the far side of the island as well.  The cat loved the site as it had a good amount of lizards to chase and plenty of shade under the foliage.  Next winter we will tray again for a longer stay, hopefully with better luck on the reservation system so we don’t have to rely on one of our RV friends to cancel and give us their spot.

6 Seahorse Jewelry

Rosemarie used our time here to make and organize some of her jewelry.

7 Sunset