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Published: September 27th 2013
So the final day in the RV started very early at the St Petersburg KOA as we needed to get the RV back to Orlando by 10-30 including crossing the Tampa Bay rush hour. We detached the cable, water and electricity from the life support and then emptied the tanks...a lovely job and thankfully straightforward with outlets directly beneath the van. Last job before hitting the road was to get the Camp manager to fill up the propane tanks as they need to be returned full. Having only done a minimal amount of cooking, the odd kettle and running the fridge, total cost for the two weeks was only about 12 dollars.
We said goodbye to the ducks and hit the road just after 8am. Getting across Tampa Bay was relatively straightforward and we were soon on the I4 heading east towards Orlando, knowing that in a couple of hours time we would be heading back in the opposite direction in something slightly smaller! The road to Orlando was relatively quiet and we hit the petrol station just round the corner from Roadbear just inside 2 hours (petrol has to be returned full as well). Check in process at Roadbear
was straightforward and havIng emptied the van of all our bags and 5 boxes of assorted leftover food and drink we paid our excess mileage charge (just under 100 dollars for an additional 200 miles) we took some last photos of the Beast and waited for our cab to the airport.
Total stats for the RV part of the trip were 13 days, 6 separate camp sites, 1210 miles, 550 dollars of petrol (about 150 gallons) so about 8mpg! Very impressed with the Roadbear setup, RV and general state of the vehicle and would definitely choose them over Cruise America in the future!
The cab turned up and we headed into Orlando airport with 3 cases, 1 holdal and 5 boxes of food and drink to pick up the hire car. We had booked a convertible from Thrifty and whilst they are the cheapest (and they were the only hire place in the airport without a queue) the rest of the service wasn't great. As usual with hire cars, everything was an extra including additional driver, pre paid petrol, sat nav, additional insurance in case hit by an uninsured goldfish, and prepaid tolls. Whilst prepaid tolls were a
bonus for the RV, there are only about 5 dollars of tolls between Orlando and Tampa so a 50 dollar prepaid pass with no refunds was not necessary but it didnt stop the hard sell. Who knows how many people fresh off the plane get conned into that one.
We then had to wait about 30 minutes for them to find a convertible (despite having reserved it weeks ago) and while waiting their rep had a good smile when he looked at our amount of luggage and queried whether we really did need a convertible or something larger! When it did turn up it was pretty tatty, marked up mustang convertible. As we weren't going to be doing a lot of driving we took it and spent another 10 minutes working out the right configuration of bags and boxes split between the small boot and back seat! We had to drop the roof to get it all in and then headed back onto the I4 to where we had come from (a 220 mile round trip and the difference between our start and end point was only about 15 miles!)
Our second Macdonalds of the trip formed lunch
just outside Orlando then it was roof down, foot down motoring all the way back to Tampa and then on to Clearwater. Just outside Tampa we hit out first traffic jam in 1000 miles of motoring as they are replacing the Freeway but this only lasted 20 minutes.
We crossed another long causeway onto Clearwater island and pulled up on the forecourt of the Sandpearl hotel. There are two big hotels on Clearewater beach, the Sandpearl and the Hyatt. Whilst the Hyatt has just slightly more favourable reviews on Tripadvisor, we chose the Sandpearl after we realised it had a pool deck that led straight onto the beach whereas the Hyatts pool is above ground level and you need to cross the road to get to the beach. As the week went on we also realised the Sandpearl end of the beach is much quieter than the Hyatt.
The Sandpearl is a gorgeous hotel but we had a couple of issues...first was no option to park yourself so you have to valet park at a cost of 20 dollars a day whether you take the car out 100 times or not at all, secondly having paid what you
think is your room for the week you are hit for an additional 25 dollars a day 'resort charge' apparently something that is common round here, thirdly if you want to use the hotels sunbeds on the beach there is another 25 dollar a day charge....it's all those little extras which make the stay slightly disappointing when you have already spent so much to stay there!
The hotel is luxurious and Clearwater beach is spectacular with its miles of white coral sand and sand dunes. We dumped the bags in our seaview room, emptied the food and drink into the spare fridge in our room and were by the pool within 30 minutes of arriving, corona in hand!
The rest of the afternoon was spent sunbathing and drinking by the pool and then we watched the sunset from our balcony, out to sea, right in front of the hotel. The hotel was packed over the weekend and large groups sat round arranged bonfires on the beach watching the sun go down and drinking cocktails. We ate in "Caretta", the hotels only restaurant that night (there is an alternative pool/beach bar with limited menu available and snacks available from
Starbucks cafe) very good food and great views of the beach from the outside terrace but slightly expensive. There are plenty of other restaurants on the strip outside of the hotel that will keep us occupied for the next week or so.
After winding down with an after dinner drink it was back to our room for a good nights sleep with quiet air conditioning, proper linens and no mossies for the first time in two weeks. A week of luxury ahead!
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