Winter in Florida – Month 1 (Dec. 2021)

On Wednesday, December 1st, we left Gulf Shores, AL and drove 285 miles to Madison, FL.  We spent the night at Ragans Family Campground.  The campground was very nice but rather pricey for an overnight stop.  Unfortunately, the much less expensive Deerfield Inn & Campground, where we had overnighted in 2020, was full.

On Thursday, we drove the remaining 170 miles to Oak Alley RV Resort in Webster, FL.  This will be our home for four months.  Although we had assistance from the workcamper, the lack of marked site boundaries made it challenging for Phil to get backed into our site.  After numerous back and forth moves, we did get parked and were glad we won’t have to move again for a while.  We had visited the campground in March 2021 when we booked our reservation but were impressed by the improvements that have been made in the past eight months.

While Jan was watering her potted plant upon our arrival, fire ants that had taken up residence in the pot while we were in Gulf Shores swarmed over her hand.  She sustained numerous bites and, almost immediately, these swelled up noticeably and caused her a lot of pain.  Since her reaction to these bites (as well as her previous fire ant bites) was so extreme, it is clear that she is allergic to fire ant venom.  After a couple of days and nights of pain and itching, Jan called her TeleMedicine service and got a prescription for antibiotics and ointment.  It took a few more days of discomfort but, eventually, the swelling and itching subsided.

On Friday, we attended a cookout lunch in the clubhouse.  We arrived a few minutes late and were the end of the line.  We learned later that only about 80 people had signed up but about 120 people showed up.  As a result, we missed out on some of the food but still had plenty to eat.

Phil quickly got into a routine of playing pickleball each morning for a couple of hours.  There are a number of very good pickleball players here but, through the first week, less than half of the 12 courts were being utilized.  Hopefully, that will change as we get into the busier months.

On Monday, December 6th, we visited the Swap-O-Rama’s Webster Westside Flea Market.  This flea market, which has existed for 50 years, covers 35 acres in an 80-acre compound.  It is open on Mondays year-round and also on Sundays during the winter months.  We only spent an hour wandering around and, although we did make several purchases, were not overly impressed.

On Wednesday, we attended a pot luck dinner in the clubhouse.  Although the turnout of only about 30 people was considerably less than the cook out, it was enjoyable and the food was delicious.

On Thursday, the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and Laurie Tamas came to visit us at Oak Alley.  After showing them around our campground, we enjoyed sitting outside and having a happy hour.

On Tuesday, December 14th, Sheila Gaskins came to visit for five days.  Jan picked her up at the Orlando airport and they spent the next three nights at the Hilton in Lake Buena Vista.  They spent Wednesday at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

On Thursday, they visited Epcot.  That evening, they attended the Candlelight Processional, with a 50-piece orchestra and narrated by the actor, Andy Garcia.

Christmas Processional – O Holy Night
Christmas Processional – Hallelujah Chorus

On Saturday, we toured the Stetson Mansion in DeLand, FL.  This, Florida’s first luxury estate, was built in 1886 for famed hat maker, John B. Stetson.  It was the first home in Florida constructed with Edison electricity, steam heat, indoor plumbing and a call bell system.  The estate has recently been rescued and restored but it is still a private estate.  The mansion is lavishly decorated for Christmas each year.  The tour included all the rooms on the ground floor and the three bedrooms on the second floor (including the owner’s bedroom, bathroom and closet.) Due to COVID, the tours were self-guided this year and we were sent descriptions of the contents of each room via email.  Although photography was prohibited inside the mansion, we were permitted to take pictures of the outside and the grounds.

After leaving the Stetson Mansion, we visited historic downtown Mount Dora.  This town celebrates Christmas in a big way, with decorations that include three million lights.  We arrived around 5 pm and had to search to find one of the few available parking spots.  After wandering the streets a while, we attempted to get seated at The Frog and Monkey restaurant.  Our estimated 30-60 minute wait ended up being closer to two hours.  However, once we got in, the food was excellent and the band, a young couple named Sal & Izy, were very good.

On Sunday, December 19th, we took Sheila to the Orlando airport and returned in time to attend the campground’s 90-minute Christmas social event.  We met Jo and Dave Peterson there but, unfortunately, Jo got sick so the Petersons had to leave.  That left us alone to sing “two turtle doves” eleven times during the sing-along of The Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Our campground has an impressive woodshop that is available for use by the campers.  Jan had a project in mind so she spent quite a few hours over several days working on it under the tutelage of Randy, one of the other campers.  Unfortunately, due to waiting on a part for the laser, she’ll have to wait until the new year to complete it.

On Wednesday afternoon, we accompanied the Petersons to the Rocking Chair Bar & Grill, Webster’s dive bar.  The bartender was hard of hearing so we had somewhat of a challenge to place our order but, otherwise, had a pleasant visit.

On Friday, Christmas Eve, we picked up Jason at the Tampa airport for his weeklong stay.  We had planned to stop for dinner on the return trip but found that almost all the restaurants had closed for the evening.  We ended up getting our dinner at the Wendy’s drive-through.

On Christmas Day, we were joined by Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, Laurie Tamas, and Jo and Dave Peterson for an afternoon of dining, visiting, corn hole and part of the Packers’ game. We had purchased a Honey Baked Ham and, along with all the side dishes and desserts everyone brought, we all had more than enough to eat. The weather, with a high of 75 degrees, was ideal for sitting outside and enjoying being in Florida.

We spent most of the following week close to the campground.  Jan and Jason ventured out to the Flea Market and the Richloam General Store, a historic store that has been in business since 1928.  On New Year’s Eve, we took Jason to Orlando for his flight back to Nashville.  We stopped for lunch at Mooyah.

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