Tuesday, December 26, 2023

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

 St Marks is one of the oldest refuges, established in 1931 to provide a wintering ground for migratory birds. It covers 83,000 acres along the coast of the Florida panhandle with a range of habitat including saltwater marshes, islands, tidal creeks, and estuaries.  Black bears, bobcats, otters, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, amphibians, alligators, snakes, freshwater and saltwater fish, and many different species of birds all find a home at the refuge. 

Activities include hiking, fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing. There a five units in the refuge. We visited the St Marks Unit which features a visitor center, a lighthouse with keepers quarters, and several hiking trails. The lighthouse has very steep stairs with a ladder to access the very top so visitors are not permitted to climb it. The keepers quarters has been restored and is now a museum with knowledgeable docents. 

The keepers quarters has a long ADA ramp to the porch and is accessible inside. We tried a few of the trails and found the short Headquarters Pond Trail to be accessible as stated. The Lighthouse Levee Trail which goes west from the lighthouse is very sandy. The Tower Pond Trail has many obstacles - roots, wet spots, hills, and steps. It also has confusing signs. We didn't make it to the visitor center before it closed for the day but it has a long ASA ramp. 

The lighthouse parking lot is large enough for any RV. RVs can be parked along the loop road at the Headquarters Pond Trail lot. Refuge  30.15155, -84.1473


Friday, December 22, 2023

Blue Run Trail of Dunnellon Park

 Dunnellon Park is a small heavily wooded parcel of land with the Rainbow River along the west side and a swampy pond in the middle. Of the three trails in the park only the Blue Run is paved. It runs south from the parking lot for about 1.5 miles and passes through forest, swamp, meadows, and crosses the Withlacoochee River. 

The Blue Run Trail is wide, smooth and accessible. 

The parking lot is small and all vehicles must fit in the spaces. We just fit in the accessible spaces which are a bit longer than regular spaces. There isn't any parking available for long RVs. Park  29.04926, -82.44647


Monday, December 18, 2023

Lettuce Lake Conservation Park

 The park has a a 1.25-mile paved  trail, a .6 mile boardwalk and a 1.2 natural surface trail that loop through hardwood swamp, pine forest, and flood plain. The lake is part of the Hillsborough River and is named after the swamp lettuce that grows in a few areas. There's a small nature center with information on the animals and plants, and also the native people who lived here before Florida became a state. This is a very good place to see birds and other wildlife.

We walked/rolled along the paved trail and the boardwalk. They are both accessible but where they connect (at the You Are Here dot on the map) there's a short section of loose gravel. Most wheelchair users will need assistance or will need to backtrack. The boardwalk railing is a bit too high but the gaps allow views of the scenery. The nature center is accessible. 

We parked in the Cardinal lot and fit in one space by backing over the ground. Larger RVs can be parked lengthwise across the spaces. Park  28.0741, -82.37275 

Friday, December 15, 2023

Polk Museum of Art

 Permanent exhibits fill several galleries with others featuring changing exhibits mainly from the museum's collections of Modern & Contemporary Art, Art of the Ancient Americas, Asian Art, European Decorative Arts, and African Art. The exhibits are interesting but the museum is fairly small so it doesn't take a lot of time to see it. 

Everything is accessible. 

RVs will fit in the lot if pulled through the spaces. Museum  28.03713, -81.94879


Monday, December 11, 2023

Changes at Disney

We hadn't been to Disney still 2018 so we expected some changes such as new rides but we were surprised that the FastPass system which allowed visitors to reserve a time for an attraction and skip a long line was gone. In its place is Genie which has an additional fee per day per park. The fees starts at $15 but can be as high as $35. Genie allows visitors to chose a time to see an attraction but there are stipulations on how many reservations can be made per day and how much time must be allowed between them. It's confusing. It's also possible to buy individual Lightening Passes for $10 to $25 per ride. Tickets for Disney are expensive enough without adding these additional fees! We were lucky because we visited the week before Thanksgiving week when the park wasn't crowded. That and rainy weather kept the crowds down. We had very short or no waits for most of the rides but by the weekend before Thanksgiving the waits at standby lines had risen to 70 minutes or more. 

We were also surprised by the early closing of Magic Kingdom on many days in November and December for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. An additional $159 to $199 ticket allowed visitors into the park from 7:00 to 12:00 for a special parade, fireworks, and shows. Everyone with a regular admission for the day had to leave. In all the times we visited Disney over the years we'd never noticed that the park closed early for this party. This isn't new but somehow it escaped our notice.

Pandora, Star Wars, Tron, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railroad, Remmy's Ratatouille Adventure were all new since our 2018 visit but unfortunately the only one that's accessible is Remmy's Ratatouille Adventure but a malfunction caused a shutdown which then caused a long line so we skipped it. Even though the two rides in Pandora and the two rides in Star Wars are not accessible the worlds created for each of them are fantastic and definitely worth visiting. The setting for Star Wars is the Black Spire Outpost, a haven for smugglers and scoundrels on the planet Batuu. We did not spend enough time just looking around at everything that was created. It's amazing! The number of gift shops was a bit too much though. The Valley of Mo'ara is the setting for Pandora's most amazing sight — the floating mountains. Trees and vines (fabricated) have grown high enough to wrap around the floating rocks. Paths wind around the valley and through gardens of real and fantasy plants. This is a cool place to visit when it's dark to see the luminescent plants. Unfortunately I didn't get good photos of either Pandora or Star Wars.

There are a few other small changes. MagicBands which store admission information are no longer free but you can use your phone or get a free plastic admission card. High tech security scanners now allow visitors to walk through without stopping so there aren't any lines except for visitors with strollers or in wheelchairs. If a wheelchair visitor can not stand they are required to pat themselves down which I found rather amusing. 

The crackdown on people using wheelchairs to access the fast lines has made a noticeable difference in the number of wheelchairs in the parks. There are still plenty of older people using scooters but few wheelchairs. Now that the wheelchair lines are gone the only people given special priority are those who, physically or emotionally, can not wait in a long line. They must register for the Disability Access Service which means they can book a return time for an attraction. That time corresponds to the time they would have waited in line. 

We stayed at Fort Wilderness Campground again on this visit, Even though it's ridiculously expensive it's so convenient and allowed us to get free parking at the Disney parks. We had a Preferred Campsite which is wider than the Full Hookup Campsite we had in 2011 so I could deploy my lift and still be on the asphalt. 

Everything else is pretty much the same from our visits in 2011 and 2018. Disney  28.39555, -81.55372


Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Sanford Riverwalk

With lake views on one side and city streets on the other, this is an nice walk but not the most scenic or quiet. We parked in a lot at Marina Island and walked/rolled east to end of the walkway then turned around and went west for a bit making a five mile hike, The entire walkway is about ten miles out and back. 

The walkway is level, wide and smooth. 

RVs will fit in the lot on Marina Island if pulled through the spaces. There are also other free lots where RVs will fit. Riverwalk  28.81436, -81.26583