Saturday, January 29, 2022

1/29 Disney World Fort Wilderness

I have been to Disney World several times over the past 50 years and decided to come back here this year for a few days to see the changes that have taken place since my last visit about five years ago.  I had even made reservations a couple of years ago, but then backed out because of the cost.  

I arrived yesterday about 11 am and checked into my campsite at the Disney Fort Wilderness quickly so I could head to the Magic Kingdom around noon.  (This is my third time staying at Fort Wilderness, and I will post more about this in a day or two.)  Unfortunately, I could not have picked a colder four days to stay here.  Highs yesterday were in the low 60s, but today, we barely made it to 50 degrees, plus it has been windy.  Yesterday, I wore a windbreaker over a zip-up sweatshirt, but today I ended up wearing a light sweater and a winter jacket.  Tonight it is going down to 32, but at least tomorrow it is supposed to get to 58 degrees, and Monday will hit 69, if we are lucky! 

I was originally going to post each day about the park I had visited that day--Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot.  I have taken quite a few photos, but I decided today that I would post about the changes, mostly negative, I have seen in the last two days instead.  So here goes my observations and personal opinions that might prove helpful for anyone else planning to visit Disney this year: 

  • Disney has always been expensive, but it seems to have gotten even more expensive, almost unreasonably so.  I made a reservation for four days at the campground, Ft. Wilderness and bought a five-day pass.  I know the final cost, but since everything is now sold as a "package," I do not know the divided out cost for the campsite or the tickets.  That bothered me, and still bothers me.  Prices vary depending on the day of the week, but a basic non-park-hopper ticket for five days is about $550 this time of the year.  In the past, the prices per day became substantially less the longer you stayed, but that no longer seems to be the case.  The price I paid is about double what it was nine years ago, but there is more to the story, and that will be described below. 
  • My memories from several years ago are that food prices were higher than outside the park, but not horribly unreasonably so.  Maybe I am remembering incorrectly, but I paid $4.50 for a medium soft drink and $6.00 for a double scoop of ice cream in a cup.  I passed on a $11.95 hot dog.  (Admittedly, it is hard to pay $12 for a hot dog when I have a refrigerator full of food I like better in my motorhome in the nearby campground.)  Today, I stopped in a sweet shop and took a photo of a case of fancy, but regular-sized cupcakes that were priced at $5.29 each!!  (Did not buy any because I had a small cake in my refrigerator, and I just can't ethically pay that much for a single cupcake.)
  • I specifically chose late January to come here because it was supposedly a less time of year and slightly less expensive.  I did not want to experience the crowds and difficulty getting onto attractions as the last time I was here during spring break time.  My surprise was that while it may have been less busy than then, it certainly has NOT been a "slow" time here in the past two days.  
  • Now, the really bad part.  One of my reasons for coming here was to have a relaxing few days of fun and visit some of the newer attractions that have been added since I was last here.  Disney has a new cell phone app called Genie that helps you plan your day by telling you the wait times for each attraction.  Great, right???  Except, they have added something called Genie+.  Genie+ enables you to pay an extra $15 per person per day to get access to something called a "Lightening Lane."  Basically, this means that early in the day, you can look at the attractions and sign up to skip the regular line for attractions that typically have long wait lines.  Here is the link that describes genie+, and as you can see, it is missing some detail:  Genie+  Some problems with this:
    • First, you cannot schedule an attraction until 7 am the morning of your visit to a specific theme park.  Also, you do not get a choice of times--you are given what is supposedly the next available time and must pick it or not.  If you skip it, you need to try again later and hope the available times are not closed for the day.  This makes it hard to plan your day.   
    • Second, you can schedule a specific attraction only once per day.  No getting off a ride and getting back in line
    • Third, you are limited to when and how often you schedule an attraction using Genie+.  I am still not sure of all the rules because the rules are not clearly described, but once you schedule something, you cannot schedule another attraction until you complete that ride or unless it is at least two hours before that ride.  So, if you schedule one ride at 10 am, you cannot schedule anything until you complete it, except if you want to schedule something very late in the day.  For example, I schedule one ride at 1 pm and then was able to schedule another at 6:30 pm.  However, that meant I could not schedule another ride until after the 1 pm ride was done, and it also prevented me from scheduling a third ride until 4:40 pm or two hours before the 6:30 pm ride.  So, I had to wait until 1:30 pm to schedule something at 3:30 pm.  Basically, that meant unless I wanted to spend a later night, or get there right after opening, I could only schedule three attractions in 8 hours. 
    • Now, obviously, you can just stand in line and skip the Lightening Lane options, but those waits might be as long as 115 minutes for a very popular ride, if it is available at all.  And you just paid an extra $15 for the privilege, so it is a bit irritating to not be able to use it easily.  I have no idea what happens during a busy time!!!  I did use this to identify attractions with a short wait time, which was nice. 
  • Now, did I mention you have to use your cell phone for all of this checking wait times and scheduling??  The really big problem is that there don't seem to be any cell phone charging sites at the theme park, let alone an electrical receptacle anywhere.  The first day at the Magic Kingdom, my phone ran out of power by about 3 pm.  Not only could i not double check about scheduled times, but I couldn't schedule any more attractions.  I asked a couple of the many Disney employees standing around to direct visitors, but the only suggestion I got was that I could buy a charging pod at a couple of gift shops, but in checking those, I found they cost $30, which I passed on because I thought it was an unreasonable price to pay to charge my cell phone!!   

I have difficulty standing in line for a long time because my back starts going into spasm and really hurting.  A couple of times, I had a wait even in the Lightening Lane, so was told to talk to the disabled guest customer service people who can be found under blue awnings throughout the park.  You can also access this service ahead of time through a zoom call, by the way, but they want to discuss your problem and evaluate each person individually. 

This service does not allow you to skip lines, but it does allow you to make a reservation for a time based on the regular line estimated wait time, but go elsewhere while you are waiting and the return at the expected time.  A young man did give me this privilege, and I used it once for Pirates of the Caribbean, which had a 70 minute wait time.  It enabled me to schedule an entry time and then go find a place to sit until then.  Had I wanted to, I could also have stopped for food or gone on a shorter ride while I was waiting.  At the appointed time, I got into the Lightening Lane and zipped into the ride.  

More tomorrow....


1/18 Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Jupiter, FL

 I've been coming to this state park for several years.  It is a pleasant place with several local attractions and lots of good shopping.  It is a big state park with lots of roadways for riding a bike.  There is also a boat tour of an old trapper's cabin, but I did not take that this time--mostly because it was chilly and rainy most of my stay.  The old trapper, by the way, donated most of the land for this park in his will after his death. 

I rode my bike the 2-3 miles to the visitor center and rode through the old river campground, but unfortunately did not take very many photos.  This is the park road.  You can see that the land is a combination of pines and scrub growth.

I really liked that the visitor center had a row of very comfortable chairs on their front porch!

I took this photo of one of the windows because of the storm shutters.  Notice that they have five hinges instead of the usual two.  You cannot see it here, but there are latches to close them if a storm is predicted.  And of course, they are metal, not wood.  

Nice bike path back to my campground!

The campground is only about 10-12 years old because it was rebuilt on the site of an area that had most of its trees wiped out by a hurricane.  When I first stayed here about 9 years ago, the full-hookup campground, which was the newer area, had no trees and hardly any shrubbery, so you could see the entire campground from every site.  A lot of people complained about the lack of shade.   

Lots of privacy between sites now.   They still need to plant more shade trees, probably the local slash pines shown in the photo of the bike trail above, and the ranger said they were trying to raise the money to do this. 

I took a drive one sunny day to visit a local Loggerhead Turtle sanctuary. 

Unfortunately, the center was under construction, and they had only two turtles.  This shows the blocked off new area.

It will certainly be nice when it is finished.  They have not accepted any new turtles because of the construction, but they expect to accept many within the next couple of months. 


This is the current temporary tank area.  

On the way back to the campground, I went through the entrance gate and was about to turn left to the campground.  However, I saw a couple of cars pulled off the roadway to the right taking photos of something, so I turned right instead of left to see what was happening.  

A family had stopped to help this gopher tortoise cross the road.  It was headed into the grass and probably towards its burrow.

She should not have done so, but the older daughter grabbed the tortoise so her dad could take some better photos.  Notice that gopher tortoises have tall, oblong shells.  They live in burrows that they dig, not swamps or lakes.  They lay their eggs in the burrows and prefer dry, sandy soil.  They are considered a valuable species because many other animals use their large burrows.

Anyway, I got a few good photos also, and then we let him or her continue on his/her way. 

This photo below shows an observation tower in the state park built during WWII on this small hill, which is actually the highest place in southern Florida, even though it is only about 125' above sea level!!

Monday, January 10, 2022

1/10 Parksdale Market in Plant City

Plant City is famous for being the world's largest winter supplier of strawberries.  As you drive into the town, you pass dozens of large fields full of strawberry plants.  This is just the beginning of the winter picking season, but farm workers were in the fields picking already.

The Parksdale Market is famous for its fruits and vegetables, but also for its strawberry shortcake and strawberry covered ice cream.  I bought several jars of jam to give as gifts, but skipped the shortcake.  The owners of this market also own many of the local strawberry fields, so you can be certain your berries have been picked that morning.  I got there early, so had no problems finding a place to park my motorhome, but I would have had a problem after noon.

They offer a lot more than strawberries. Everything is bright and nicely displayed.

This is the counter where you order your strawberry shortcake.  I had come here several years ago with a group of other women who drive RVs.

You can eat outside or under this picnic area. 

And, of course, I did buy some strawberries.  Not only were they beautiful, but they tasted terrific with my dinner later on. 

1/8 Colt Creek State Park, northeast of Tampa

I am back in Florida after visiting family in Ohio.  Colt Creek is one of the newest state parks in Florida and is very peaceful because it is isolated and far away from traffic.  There is a river and small lake where you can kayak and several hiking trails, but mostly it is a place for rest and relaxation. 

So here are some photos of the campground.  You can see it is mostly pine forest:

These are very nice, large campsites with electric and water hookups.

Sites are not only large, but nicely spread out.

While tenters can occupy an RV space, this is a separate tent area with several of the nicest tent sites I have ever seen.  You park at the entrance and carry your equipment to your site.

This also is one of the tent sites.  Lots of room and privacy.

I liked the very nice, modern restroom facility, which was just across from my site. 

Note the outdoor washer and dryer, plus a family restroom in the center.

And this was my site.  Very convenient to doing laundry!