Our Arrival in Florida March 2008
As I wrote in our March Newsletter we decided to take the cheapest option to transport ourselves across the Atlantic. When we arrived at the airport there was no record of us having booked a hire car. The original car hire voucher hadn't been emailed to us as promised at the time of booking the holiday but Mike received a phone call while we driving down to Gatwick to confirm that our booking had been faxed to the airport in Florida. As we had our copy of the booking a car was arranged and due to all the hassle we were given a free upgrade and I was added on free of charge. This was all done by the holiday company rep as she joked that she didn't care as she was retiring in 6 months time. We went out to the car and there was another family in it! They were all moaning that it was too small for their needs. It turned out we had all been allocated the same vehicle. After sorting out that hassle we set off for our hotel in Kissimmee-about 1 ½ hours drive down the road. That wasn't the end of the car hire story. When we returned it 10 days later we realised that the extra costs had been taken off our credit card so Mike went into the terminal building to try and get a refund. I handed over the car and 5 minutes later realised that I'd left my little black leather purse in the car. It had some change in for drinks and my temporary Florida driving license. I went to where it had been parked ready for valeting. I looked inside but the purse wasn't there and so informed the lady I handed it over to. She called over the person that had moved the car. He denied having seen the purse. I didn't want to make a fuss but explained that I knew the purse had been in there and I didn't think that Mike would just let the matter drop. He emerged from the terminal and I told him what had happened. He informed the authorities and security was called in. The individual was summoned again, denied it again and as Mike noticed that when he was asked to turn out his pockets properly he didn't delve very deep. He then tried to make a run for it! His behaviour spoke volumes so he was cuffed and when he dug out his pockets sure enough, there was my purse. Mike declined to press charges which would have taken time. We had a 3 ½ hour journey ahead of us and he couldn't face the paperwork this would have generated. This resulted in the worker receiving instant dismissal with no pay. He was sitting on the kerb as we drove away. We eventually managed to track down the holiday rep who authorised the free upgrades. She denied everything and said Mike must have misunderstood her. There was no misunderstanding, Mike heard her and so did the people on the car hire desk. Its not worth pursuing but as a matter of principle extremely annoying.
So back to the start of our trip. It's our first night in Florida and we stayed at the cheapest hotel I could find on our way to the RV dealership. I found a room at a motel at Kissimmee for just $38.00 inc. tax (£18.00). You get what you pay for and our first room hadn't been cleaned. We weren't the only inhabitants of our second room. Mike turned down the coverlet and something flew out from under the pillow. In the morning we found the fourth guest on the ceiling.
Feeling not too jet lagged we set off for the RV dealership about 3hrs drive away. We had emailed to confirm our arrival and were there bright and early. We met our salesman who gave us a big box full of instruction manuals and a couple of baseball caps. We then went down to the servicing bay to receive a full hand over of the motorhome. It wasn't ready. There was a stain on the carpet and none of the snags that Mike pointed out when we purchased it in January had been rectified. The general manager was called and it was decided that the best thing would be for us to stay in a hotel overnight so we could all start fresh the next day. What a disappointment. We started again the next day and everything appeared to be in order apart from a new scratch on the outside and the main lounge slide out did not glide smoothly and was very noisy. Mike then drove the motorhome to our first campground with a salesman alongside him in to provide driving tips. I followed in the hire car. Our first camp ground was just 16 miles down the road. We booked on for a week just in case there were any further items that needed sorting out. We then hit Wal-Mart with a vengeance. In fact we could have our vehicles endorsed by them, such has been the spending.
As we left the following Sunday it seemed as though every possible alarm went off on the dashboard at the same time, we were only half a mile from the campsite and Mike had driven it a total of 16 miles from the showroom. I was following behind in the hire car and pulled in behind him as he turned into a side road. I stayed in the motorhome as he drove back to the campsite. He wanted to see if any of the motorhomers there had any idea what we could do next. He found someone who actually worked at our dealership and he suggested we check all the fluid levels in the engine, then drive back to the campsite. We did this and then Mike drove to RV World to get some help. They were closed all day for a holiday.
The following day Mike arranged for an engineer to come out from the RV dealership and have a look and help diagnose what the problem may have been. It turned out to be an engine management problem and that it would have to be towed back to the factory to have the computer reset. An enormous tow truck eventually arrived to tow our motorhome back to Fort Myers, about 80 miles away. It took the tow truck driver 3 hours to attach the motorhome. Because it was so long and low to the ground he had to remove the exhaust, drive shaft and rear mudguard. We had hurriedly packed up all the things we thought we might need for our two nights in the hotel. Because of the burglary at Westcroft last August we decided to be ultra careful and took all our computer equipment and personal documentation. Everything else we locked in the secure understore compartments. These contained all our lovely new purchases. When it came to the time for the driver to leave he had to put the drive shaft, exhaust and mudguard in with all our new stuff. He then instructed Mike to leave it all open and place the keys on the inside steps with the main door unlocked! This apparently is standard procedure and we were justifiably extremely concerned about the sense in doing this having had our other motorhome completely 'picked over' at the dealership last summer. Anyway he had no choice so our new motorhome was towed off into the sunset. It took 3 hours in total to set this up and this made an interesting form of entertainment for our fellow campers. A group in excess of a dozen gathered, bringing chairs and beers.
A couple of days later Mike drove to Fort Myers with an engineer from RV world. They were both assured that all was well and they drove back to our prebooked campsite on Siesta Key, just South of Sarasota.
It is quite difficult to obtain vehicle insurance without a US license so I had to take my Florida driving test. Mike had already taken his in Sarasota in January so I booked in and got my highway code to study. An American driving test isn't as complex as a UK one. I had to take two multiple choice tests on driving laws and roadsigns. After that I took the test. This was around a shopping center car park. After the three point turn I accidentally set off on the wrong side of the road. My examiner just said 'You're not in London now Ma'am' I got the same response when I did it again after reversing into a parking space. Luckily driving on the wrong side of the road wasn't a failure and I got my license.
Another major purchase was a car to tow behind the motorhome. Having a tow vehicle gives us much more freedom and the ability to explore more. We had spent many hours researching which vehicles would suit our needs and had narrowed it down to a Toyota Yaris or a Kia. We thought that American salesmanship would be second to none. Not so, as demonstrated by the ones we met at RV dealerships and at Toyota. The one at Kia was lovely and the poor man was sent out to chase us by his manager to ask if he had done a bad job because we didn't buy the Kia after the test drive. How humiliating for him and he was the best we have come across. Anyway, we decided on the Yaris as Toyota is better established in the USA. We walked into the Toyota dealership and asked for the salesperson we had met on our first visit. It was his day off so a female came along. She seemed a little odd and kept forgetting who she was talking to. She ushered us into her office and kept excusing herself to use the bathroom or get a drink. Then she lit a candle and asked if we thought it improved the atmosphere. Then, a few seconds later she reached under her desk and got out a stack of cling film wrapped flour tortillas and offered us one! As you can imagine all this was highly amusing, if not rather unprofessional. She then went and got her manager to close the sale (which he didn't) He took her place at the desk and she sat on a chair behind him and proceeded to fall asleep. We went in the next day having decided to buy the car and she was off sick (Surprise surprise) with a migraine. Mike shook hands with the manager on agreeing the purchase price and we were taken to see the accounts manager. We were told that we would be able to drive the car away that afternoon after completing the paperwork. After completing the introductions the accounts manager asked how we were going to pay for the car. Mike handed over our bank card. It was soon explained to us that he would not be able to take the money from that account as they would be charged 2 1/2% for the transaction. We have no credit history in the states and were not taking out a car loan. He incredibly allowed us to take the car and we would go in and pay him later on in the week with a cheque or arrange a bank transfer. What trust! A couple of Brits, no credit history, living in a motorhome. He just went by his gut instinct that we would come back and pay. Of course we went back but he was a bit dismayed when Mike went in with a stack of mixed denomination dollar bills. A week later he went in with the final balance also in cash. By the time he went back the second time our weird salesgirl had been asked to leave as they had had too many reports of her odd behaviour.
We had half a day to spare whilst the tow hitch was fitted to the Yaris. We took the advice of the Tow people on our morning out starting with a traditional American Breakfast in a Traditional American Diner. After a mile walking we came to the Mannattee Countee Historical Park. It was very well laid out and gave a good history of the area, just north of Sarasota. This was our only opportunity to do any visits while we were in Florida as we were so busy sorting out our major purchasing and getting the repairs done on the RV.
So, we had achieved all our goals for our first two weeks as planned. The only problem was that we still had to take the motorhome in to have the slider repaired. We completed our two week stay at Siesta Key, which was lovely. Tim, Debs and Izzie came out to stay with us for an easter break and everything else worked well on the motorhome. The campsite was packed as it was easter and we made some new friends and got lots of advice on how to get the most out of our new RV.
We left Turtle Beach on a Sunday morning and went to Wal-mart to buy our bicycles to go on the back of the motorhome, having previously purchased the bike rack from RV world. Unfortunately when Mike opened the box bits were missing and it looked as though it had been used. We had to use the rack as we had bought the bikes. So after his third trip back to the store he finally has the relevant nuts and bolts to secure the rack to the rear ladder and the bikes onto the rack. We were eventually organised and drove to RV world to spend the night ready for our appointment to get the slider fixed the following morning. After negotiating a refund on the rack we went away for a couple of hours. On our return we were informed that it would take a couple of weeks for the parts to arrive for the slider. After more negotiating they agreed that they would be able to complete the work in a weeks' time and Mike got some money back on the bike rack. They must really hate us in there. Anyway, we went back to the River Road resort where we had first started and set up camp again. RV World have renumerated us for the extra costs incurred because the motorhome broke down but only after we gave them a 'no-nonsense' approach type letter.
We had a pleasant week at the RV park and managed to sort out forwarding addresses and all the documentation on the new vehicles. RV World fixed the slider and we finally set off on 9th April, just over a month from arriving in Florida.
We had a great drive to Charleston in South Carolina which took us 10 ½ hrs with stops. We had planned on taking 3 days to get here but the motorhome was running well and we really enjoyed the changing scenery. The view from the RV is great as it's just like travelling in a coach but rather more comfortable than National Express.