In this episode I go through our thought process to choose our rig, our purchasing experience, and our maiden voyage. Let the fun begin.
My wife and I have a Winnebago Micro Minnie 1706 FB. At the time that we bought it, it was the shortest and lightest towable that Winnebago made.
These units turned out to be so popular that Winnebago vastly expanded their towable lineup. And you would have thought that lot of research went into buying this thing. You would think that I checked every single system in the unit, like John Huggins or someone with a little more sense would have done. Not me! I only had two major concerns: that it would fit in the driveway next to the house, and that it was light enough so that I could tow it with my existing SUV. I did check the brochure to make sure it had adequate holding tanks. It came with this innovative technology called a tankless on demand water heater by Atwood; the latest trend. In theory I could have endless hot showers, they didn’t say how hot but it looked great on paper.
Before this we had little experience RVing in fact. We started thinking about it more or less 10 years before we actually decided to bite the bullet and get our rig. Back in 2008 or 2009, we went to the Palm Beach RV show, just to look around. We were clueless about RVing. In 2010 we went to Alaska because I wanted to drive on the Dalton Highway, which is Americas northernmost road. While most of the road is unpaved and probably not suitable for most RVs, we did see our share of class C’s and trailers. We thought it would be cool to do this with an RV, have our own bathroom and not have to use the outhouses. After that we did a couple of trips renting class C’s and for the most part we loved the experience, especially a trip we did in the Four Corners region.
During that trip we really got the RVing bug. We had gone to the Tampa RV show, and we were sure that what we wanted was a gas engine class A, something under 30 feet because we wanted to camp at some state and national parks, and that seemed to be the length limit. We were fixated on a Winnebago Itasca model, the 27N. Had there been a diesel pusher under 30 feet, that would have been our first choice. Winnebago does make something they call a class A diesel under 30 feet, based on the Mercedes Benz Sprinter chassis, but it is really a B+ disguised as a class A.
This was 2014, and on that summer my dad got sick and passed away. And when that happens in someone’s life sometime it is a wake up call. I started thinking: what if I die and I never get to travel in my own RV and live the RV Dream? This was around the same time that I saw the brochure for the Micro Minnie. At 7′ wide and 19′ long, it fit in my driveway like a glove, and although it was on the heavy side, I still could tow it with my Kia Sorento if I traveled light, so we said, let’s go see this rig. I want to see it in person. So we went to la Mesa in Ft. Myers “just to see it” and as soon as we stepped inside it just felt right. It felt like we belonged in there, which is a very subjective and emotional way to choose an RV. I would not recommend this if you are spending 100K or more. But it was $21,000 marked down to $16,600, so after a short deliberation I had one of those YOLO (you only live once) moments, signed on the dotted line, and the rest is history.
They were very quick to let me sign the papers, but when we arrived on the following Friday to take delivery, they looked at my SUV, and I could see the expression in their faces. Are you seriously expecting to pull this trailer with that car? Old Kia doesn’t look like much but, tongue weight 500lbs, check. 3500lbs tow capacity check, barely. That’s where I was pushing it because the Micro Minnie is just under 3000 dry, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I figured I would have to tow with my tanks empty and take it slow.
Then they started adding line items to my bill. It turned out I needed a new hitch, and a weight distribution system, and anti-sway bar, and a break controller. I had obviously not done nearly enough research on trailers. Up to that moment I had done mostly research on class A’s. It had never crossed my mind I would end up getting a trailer until that series of events in the summer of 2014 accelerated the process. I said, let’s make it as safe as possible, and while we’re at it let’s add and extended warranty and gap insurance. Then during the walk through when I had to hook it up to the car with the manual jack, I started breaking a sweat just going up and down, so I said, in for a dime, in for a dollar, how much does that electric jack cost? To make a long story short the final bill came up to around $20,000.
We didn’t care! We were so excited. We were going on our maiden voyage, with our yet to be named brand new RV.
The RV had come with a complimentary one year membership to Thousand Trails but we decided to save the thousand trails for some other time and rough it out at a nearby state park called Koreshan Historic Site, right on the Estero River. By the way Thousand Trails is probably a great deal if you are fulltiming but if you are vacationer/weekender like us in south Florida it was not worth it. There was nothing within reasonable distance so it was very unlikely we would use the 60 nights included in the package. There were some Encore properties we could go to, and in fact we did go to some of them later on, one of them the infamous Fiesta Key, and we would get a discount.
Going back to out maiden voyage, it was so exciting. We were now part of the club, and total newbies. One thing is to know the theory and another one the practice. I won’t go into how many tries it took to back up the trailer into our back in site. Eventually I parked the thing, not exactly straight and not exactly where I wanted it, but we managed. Luckily it wasn’t too busy in early September. Then, how do we detach the trailer from the car? Luckily I had filmed the guy who gave us the walk through so we watched the video, step by step and got everything figured out. There was a nature trail, and at that very moment I discovered a Florida I had never seen. I had lived in Miami all of my adult life, in the same state, but I had no idea this existed. RVing had changed our lives.
The historic site here consists of some buildings that used to belong to a sect founded by one Cyrus Reed Teed. They founded this place in 1894 as New Jerusalem. Teed died in 1908, and by 1961 it had become a ghost town, so the land reverted back to the state. Nowadays you can tour the structures, and the state park is very picturesque. There’s exotic vegetation from all over the world, and you can kayak on the river.
While we were in the area we also explored other campgrounds for a future visit. I had heard from a good friend of mine, a fellow musician and RVer, about this RV Park right on the beach called Red Coconut. It is located on Estero Island, at Ft. Myers Beach, so we went there an reserved a campsite for a future trip. WE reserved site 18, which is not officially waterfront, but since it is the first site, on the northern side of the park, and the beach access is right next to it, you get unobstructed views of the Gulf of Mexico. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, since I am actually going to talk about fort Myers, and fort Myers Beach in more detail in a future episode.
By the way when we returned home I managed to back the trailer into my driveway on the first try. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this.
In this unofficial first episode I introduce myself and make sure everything works. Stay tuned next week for episode 1, in which I will talk about the Everglades National Park, and Big Cypress National Preserve. Click image for the YouTube video
In this final installment of the Tampa Bay series we are going to visit Tampa proper over the course of three afternoons. We are attending the Florida Rv Supershow in the morning.
On the first day we stay in the car most of the time, just getting a little bit of the lay of the land. We drive on the street that claims to have the longest sidewalk in the world, Bayshore Boulevard. We also drive through Hyde Park, a historic district, home to the famous Bern’s Steakhouse. The southernmost point of our exploratory trip is Ballast Point Park, from where we get extraordinary views of downtown across the bay.
On our second day we have lunch at the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Florida. Also the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, and one of the largest in the wold. Its name is The Columbia. While we are in Ybor City we explore some of the historic sites and take a round trip on the TECO line street car to downtown.
On our third day, we eat at a trendy restaurant called Ulele, on the riverfront. We also explore downtown a little bit and the University of Tampa on the other side of the Hillsborough River. The Henry B. Plant Hall, is a historic building, formerly the legendary Tampa Bay Hotel. Nowadays it hosts the Henry B. Plant Museum as well as some of the University services.
Overall it was a great time. On our way out we bid farewell to one of Americas iconic roadside attractions, the Airstream ranch, which was demolished just a few days after our visit.
We are on the road once again. In the featured video, we drive up to Orlando through US-27, Okeechobee Road in these parts, as we exit Miami through the City of Hialeah. Most people take the Florida’s Turnpike going north, but if you have seen my previous posts and videos you probably know that I absolutely loathe that road, and since we are not in a hurry, we take this somewhat more scenic route.
We change it around a little bit, and take a detour right before the town of South Bay towards Belle Glade, which is really nothing to write home about. The plan is to go around lake Okeechobee on the eastern side and hopefully see the lake. The surroundings are a vast agricultural area, mostly sugar cane I believe.
As we continue going around the lake, there’s this tall levee to our left, so you can’t really see the water. The best place to see the lake and access the scenic trail that goes around it the lake is at the Port Mayaca Locks, on the eastern shore of the lake, which is so vast that you can’t even see the other side. I finally get to see this lake, after so many years living in South Florida. This is a place where we should have stayed for a while and relax, walk on the trail, but we must continue north if we want to make it to Orlando while there is still daylight. The next major town is Okeechobee, as we continue turning around to the north west as the plan is to merge with I-27 again and continue towards Orlando. This is another area which merits further exploring. There’s some artillery, a tank, and a helicopter, on display at Flagler Square in downtown Okeechobee, and the country side northwest of here is truly gorgeous, especially for flat Florida.
We cross the Kissimmee River, and US-27, and make a quick detour here to visit Henscratch Farms Winery, to buy some local wine and raw honey. The place is full of chickens roaming around.
Eventually we make it to our campground, the Orlando Thousand Trails. I have previously mentioned that we got a free membership to Thousand Trails with the purchase of Minitini, so this is very convenient. Our stay is free.