Winter in Florida – Month 3 (March 1 – 31, 2021)

On Thursday, March 4th, we went to The Whispering Oaks Blues Fest at Whispering Oaks Winery in Oxford, FL.  Over the next three hours, we enjoyed three outstanding musical groups as they performed the blues.  First was Steve Arvey; then Memphis Lightning; and finally, Alex Lopez and The Xpress.  We sat at a table with a couple who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and who had lived in The Villages for 10 years.  We enjoyed flights of Whispering Oaks wines and dined on BBQ flatbread.

At the end of the evening, all three headliners appeared on stage together for an incredible jam session. We managed to capture most of it on video.

On Saturday evening, we had a mini-reunion with several friends from our Winter 2020 stay at Tropical Trails in Brownsville, TX.  Leslie Verhaeghe was in town visiting her stepmother, Diane.  We met Leslie and Diane, as well as Kenny and Becky Swisher, in Lake Panasoffkee for dinner at Catfish Johnny’s.  The food was very good and reasonably priced.  It was nice to get together once again with friends from a previous stop along our RV journeys. 

On Sunday, we went to Silver Springs State Park.  We began our day with a 90-minute cruise on a glass bottom boat along the Silver River.  The glass bottom boats showcase the crystal-clear springs and underwater life that inhabits Silver Springs.  Above the surface, we also viewed turtles, alligators, a manatee and a wide variety of birds.  The boat’s captain provided us with lots of information about the wildlife and the history of the river.

One of the stories we heard related to wild monkeys that live in the park.  In 1938, a tour boat operator attempted to create a tourist attraction by releasing six rhesus macaques, a monkey native to south and southeast Asia, on a small island.  Unbeknownst to the tour boat operator, rhesus macaques are strong swimmers and they escaped into the woods.  Replacement moneys were bought in but they also escaped the island.  The population has grown over the years and there are now hundreds of these monkeys in the park.  We did not see any monkeys on our boat cruise.  However, after lunch from a food truck and some exploration of the main part of the park, we headed over to another section and hiked the River Loop Trail.  As we walked along the river, we noticed some boaters on the river pointing to monkeys.  As we watched, we were able to see several of these monkeys frolicking on the opposite bank of the river.

On Wednesday, March 10th, we met Barb and Bobby Sanders for lunch at OakWood Express Smokehouse & Grill in Wildwood, FL.  We first met Barb and Bobby on our trip to Alaska in the summer of 2018.  It was great to catch up with these friends after all that time.

On Tuesday, March 16th, Phil was finally able to get his permanent crown installed.  He had gotten a temporary on February 11th but getting the permanent crown from the lab was delayed a couple of weeks by the freezing weather in Texas.

On Thursday, we addressed a minor leak that had been seeping from the base of our toilet.  Although the procedure Phil had watched on YouTube looked fairly easy, it didn’t turn out that way.  The first of the two nuts holding down the toilet came off easily.  However, the nut on the side between the toilet and the wall was rusted and very difficult to see, much less remove.  After we finally got the toilet out and had cleaned up the nastiness, replacing the seal and reinstalling the toilet was fairly easy. 

That evening, we drove to the Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages to enjoy the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.  We wandered around the square and watched several of the entertainers and checked out some of the booths.  We then managed to find seating in the center of the square and watched the musicians performing Irish songs.

On Saturday, March 20th, Phil participated in another pickleball tournament.  Unlike the earlier tournament, he was paired with strong partners and won all six games.  However, another camper (Mark) also won all six games.  As a result, Phil and Mark had to play a tiebreaker game.  Two of the other top finishers drew numbers to see who would play as their partners.  Phil ended up with Nick as his partner, while Mark was paired with John.  After jumping out to an early 7-0 lead, Phil and Nick then fell behind 10-11.  Fortunately, pickleball requires you to win by two and Phil and Nick fought back to win 13-11.  Phil won a $20 Publix gift card.

On Sunday, we drove to Hernando, FL and toured the villages of Citrus Hills.  Our visit began with a tour of Citrus County, taking us throughout Inverness and Crystal River.  We then visited the recreational facilities in Citrus Hills, before having lunch at the Grill.  These facilities were beautiful, with a resort-like feel to them.  This development seemed a lot less chaotic than what we’d observed in The Villages, FL.  After lunch, we visited several model homes and viewed some available lots.  Although we were very impressed with Citrus Hills, we are not yet ready to settle down and aren’t convinced yet that Florida is where we want to live long-term.

On Monday evening, we had dinner with Jeri and Jim Mahan at Eaton’s Beach Sandbar and Grill.  Jan ordered Shrimp & Grits and Phil had Shrimp Creole.  On Tuesday, we drove to a Catholic church in The Villages for Phil to get his second dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine.  Many people have experienced serious side effects from their second dose but, fortunately, Phil’s only side effect was some tenderness at the injection site.

Although we had already tentatively made reservations to return to Sunkissed Village RV Resort in the winter of 2022, we continued to explore other options.  Jan discovered a brand-new RV resort in Webster, FL that is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2021.  After Phil’s vaccination, we visited Oak Alley RV Resort.  Phase One of the resort has 311 sites and there are plans for another 259 sites.  With the exception of 13 pull-through sites, all of the sites are on grass.  There are 12 very nice pickleball courts and a pickleball pro on staff.  The clubhouse is very large and the pool area (not yet completed) looks like it will be quite nice.  One of the biggest draws to this campground is that they are offering 50% on all reservations booked by mid-October 2021.  This brought the cost of a 4-month stay down to $1,750, plus sales tax.  Also surprising is that this rate includes electricity.  We selected site #131, near the clubhouse, and went into the office to book our stay for December 2021 through March 2022.  Although Webster, FL is out in the boonies, we couldn’t pass up this incredible deal.  Later that afternoon, our friends Dave and Jo Peterson also booked reservations at Oak Alley.

On Friday, March 26th, we drove to Ormand Beach on the Atlantic coast.  The drive took 1.5 hours each way but this was the only time we got to see the ocean during our three-month stay in Florida.  After having lunch at Panera, we parked at the Andy Romano Beachfront Park and walked 3 miles up and down the beach.  It was a beautiful day, with a temperature of about 80 degrees.  The water was too cold to even consider swimming but it felt really good to wade along the water’s edge.  The beach was littered with a ton of jelly fish.  The big ones were easy to spot but the smaller ones required a lot of attention to avoid stepping on them.  After our walk, we went to the Beach Bucket Bar & Grill and, after a half-hour wait, got a table overlooking the beach.  We enjoyed a couple of Blue Moons and an order of onion rings before beginning our drive home.  That evening, we gathered at the pool with our friends for three hours of entertainment hosted by deejay K.C. Webb.