by Candyce Stapen
As soon as we enter Amelia Island Plantation’s property, we know we aren’t in the city anymore. The twisting branches of Live oaks form a canopy across the road and instead of car engines we hear birds twittering. Our airport van drops us at the central reception center. After checking in, another van delivers us and our luggage to our room. We especially appreciate the ease of the check-in process after the weariness of getting up before dawn to catch early flights. Amelia Island Plantation has received AAA’s Four Diamond rating every year since 1980 so the good service wasn’t a surprise.
Amelia Island Plantation executives like to say that “this resort was green before Kermit the Frog.” While Kermit’s birth may have predated the resort’s by a few years, Amelia Island Plantation was planned to be green. And it wasn’t easy — or even common–to be green in 1971 when planning began or in 1974 when the resort opened. Charles Fraser, known for his creation of Sea Pines, Hilton Head, S.C., and a guiding force behind Amelia Island Plantation’s development, insisted on maintaining natural habitats while developing resort properties.
To a large extent, Amelia Island Plantation succeeds. Despite offering 610 guest accommodations that include 404 hotel rooms in the Amelia Inn and Beach Club, 330 one- to three-bedroom “villas” (condominiums), plus single family or attached homes in various areas (only a small percentage are in the rental pool), the resort manages to maintain 70 percent of its natural tree canopy.
That’s important to us as family. When we look out from our fifth-floor hallway, we see greenery instead of rooftops, a sight that helps us feel as if we’re away from our urban home. “Green” isn’t just the color of the trees; it’s also the award that the resort has won from the state of Florida. The environmentally conscious can feel good about being here. As a Green Destination, Amelia Island Plantation recycles, irrigates the golf courses with reclaimed water, uses and sells spa products without chemicals, parabens or artificial preservatives. In addition, since the resort’s golf courses are Audubon sanctuaries, you’ll find more than one kind of “birdie” on the courses.
The resort spent a year in renovations and the now-complete $85 million investment has created an exciting resort with 404 rooms, a multi-tiered pool deck – the largest in Northeast Florida – and more!
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Our Editor Loves
- Not just a box on the beach
- Kids 15 and under play tennis or golf free
- Naturalist-led programs
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Kids' Pool
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The resort's renovation included 404 oceanfront guestrooms and suites, all with patios or balconies overlooking the ocean, and 330 spacious villas. Rooms are decorated in a modern beach decor and include refrigerators, flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi and coffeemakers.
This is the 4th year the girls and I have been coming to the plantation. This year we had 5 of us. We stayed in a villa in the Captains Court.. the villa was ocean side beautiful view and very clean and roomy.. 3 bedrooms with an extra room with a trundle bed..we all got our own beds, which were very comfy. We all love to golf so we played 4 days at the Oak Marsh course. As always everyone in pro shop and the staff on course were amazing.. want to especially put a shot out to Brianne in the bag/cart room who was so kind attentive and so helpful to us during our play there. Then there is Camille one of the cart girls, she could not have been nicer. Always greeted us with her beautiful smile and took great care of us by ordering our lunches and making sure they were ready and delivered..she was always around when we needed a fresh round of drinks also. The course I have to say was in fantastic shape also. We always enjoy a great burger and salad at the Falcons Nest and a good game of trivia on Wednesday nights. We have to mention we so enjoyed The company and delicious “Old Fashion” that Emily the bartender was serving up. Emily and George made us feel so welcome and at home the many nights we hung out there. Jesse I. The room service/hospitality young man greeted us and bought us many goodies during our stay, always so cheerful. I can just go on and on about how wonderful the grounds are and all the staff are. This is a true testament on how well this resort is run. Well job done by the management team that is headed by Mary O’Donnel, she does a fabulous job..looking forward to our 5 year anniversary trip back next year!
by John J
The staff at the golf shop is great as is the team in the bag room. Additionally, Camille, Julie, and Laura provide exceptional service at the Marsh View Bar & Grill and Beverage Cart. They make you feel like family.
If your kids tire of sandcastle building, playing Frisbee, swimming in the ocean or simply splashing by the 3.5-mile-long sea's edge, they can jump in any one of the resorts pools. The renovation brought a new multi-tiered pool deck that features a 10,000-square-foot family pool, a Splash Park water playground for kids, and an adults-only infinity-edge pool.
Kids' Camp Amelia has morning (8:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. with lunch, $55); afternoon (12:45 p.m. to 4 p.m. no lunch $45) and all-day sessions (8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. with lunch, $70) for ages 3 to 10. The camp room is in a building near the Amelia Inn's pool. Although there's only one room, kids aren't in it that often. They follow a loosely themed program each day. Children swim in the pool, learn about local critters from birds to shellfish, play volleyball on the beach (ages 8 to 10), create popsicle stick crafts and visit the resort's nature center to feed the turtles. From June through August, Camp Amelia also adds tennis and golf clinics. When enough kids are registered, the camp divides into groups for ages 3 to 4 (minnows), ages 5 to 7 (sandpipers) and 8 to 10 (chameleons).
Tip: The resort offers special, week-long, nature-oriented day camps in summer for ages 5 to 7 and ages 8 to 11. Book ahead.
Each day has a different focus. On beach ecology day, kids search for shark's teeth, collect and learn about the critters inside sea shells and go seining to discover small pompano, blue crab or whatever else they might net. On marsh day, kids look for fiddler crabs and discover how these critters and the plants adapt to marsh conditions. Ages 8 to 11 also go off-property on nature oriented outings to Cumberland Island and to the Okefenokee Swamp.
When enough teens are on property, generally in summer, the resort offers two to three activities per week for ages 11 and older. These include off-property mini-golf, paint ball and bowling outings. Most on-property activities are complimentary, but a paint ball outing costs $70.
Led by a naturalist, the Discovery Nature tours explore the resort's environment. Take your kids crabbing, fishing, beach combing, marsh kayaking and star-gazing. Ages four and older, $10.
If you really want your kids to think you're cool, then sign the family up for a Segway naturalist tour. Kids 8 and older minimum weight 65-pounds)can drive their own Segway. After a comprehensive, nearly hour-long practice session of maneuvering through an obstacle course, turning and practicing emergency stops, two guides take a group no larger than eight out on bike paths and roads. This is our favorite outing. We glide through the neighborhoods, past a 400-year-old oak tree to serene Drummond Point Park, where marsh and maritime forest meet.
The Just for Families program holds evening beach bonfires one night a week. Have your children practice their "knock knock" and "chicken" jokes as riddles and kid told stories are encouraged. Enjoy sing-alongs and s'mores making too (fee for the s'mores, although that may change).
Even though most of the Nature Center is given over to a store selling T-shirts and souvenirs, the back room displays tanks with turtles, fish and a snake. These animals can't be released in the wild because of an injury or illness. It's best if you can get a naturalist to tell you about the blind box turtle, or Harley, the Eastern King snake who can't catch food on his own.
Finally, a resort where you teach your kids golf and tennis without busting the budget. Kids 15 and under play tennis or golf free anytime with a paying adult. In summer, the Family Tee-program offers reduced rates for family golf after 5 p.m. Currently, families pay $65 (instead of the typical $150 per adult). Family play is on the front nine of the Oak Marsh course.
The village area has a variety of shops that sell sportswear, toys, children's clothing and souvenir items.
There are nine restaurants on property. Falcon's Nest and Oceanside serves burgers and wraps for casual lunches and dinners, or you can grab pizza at the surf-stule Natural Slice. The Sunrise Cafe provides an Art of Breakfast buffet and a la carte menu with Atlantic Ocean sunrise views.
At Marche Burette, the gourmet market, opt for a designer pizza, salad or sandwich. We think this place is the best for quick eats off the beach. The store also sells limited groceries plus seafood and steaks to cook in your villa. The Verandah, the seafood restaurant, and the slightly more formal PLAE, serving steaks, seafood, etc, both offer good service, and food as well as children's menus.
Dining is also offered at the golf course at the Marsh View Bar & Grill. All the restaurants have high chairs and booster seats.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
With the Just for Kids program, ages three through ten enjoy dinner plus treasure hunts, hayrides, movies and pool parties. In January and February the program operates Thursday through Saturday evenings; March through September, Wednesday through Saturday; and October through December, Thursday through Saturday. The program costs $55 per child or $40 per child when one parent/adult dines at either the resort's Verandah or Ocean Grill restaurants. Register 24-hours in advance.
In-room babysitting can be arranged through ATS, a private company. Rates vary.
Ah, the Spa. The 13,000-square-foot facility with 25 treatment rooms was built in accordance with the principles of feng shui. Maybe that's why it feels relaxing. Sit on a front porch rocker or admire the meditation garden while awaiting your appointment. Bill, the director, is proud that the facility is "clean and green" with no chemicals, preservatives or nasty additives in the products. Nancy, a masseuse, kneaded our shoulders until the stress melted away. Massages include chocolate, couples, Himalayan Salt Stone and sports. Soak in the hydrotherapy tub, get a coconut scrub or an island wrap and try a pumpkin enzyme facial. Treatments are for ages 16 and older. The teen facial targets blemishes.
The resort also has a fitness center with treadmills, elliptical machines and weights plus an indoor pool that offers daily, family swim hours.
Once at the resort, you don't really need a car. The complimentary shuttle service makes rounds every 15 minutes or by request. You can also rent bicycles and Island Hoppers (gas-powered golf carts).
July 4th is big, complete with a parade of decorated Island Hoppers (golf carts) and an air show. Uncle Sam has also been known to appear on a Segway.
The Art of Smart Timing
Winter, November through February except for holidays, is value season. Daily highs can be in the 60's with evening lows in the 40's and 50's. Although the weather is too cold for ocean swimming, the days are fine for beach walks and sandcastle building.
Top rates are in spring -- March through May. Slightly less costly than spring is June through July. In August, rates drop a bit. The island hasn't faced a direct hurricane hit in 40+ years, but a storm in southern Florida brings rains to northern Florida.
Situated on Amelia Island, a barrier island in northeastern Florida, Amelia Island Plantation is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Intracoastal Waterway on the west. The resort is a 45-minute drive from downtown Jacksonville and 29 miles from the Jacksonville International Airport. Book resort shuttle transfers ahead of time.
For Mom and Dad
Best relaxation for mom and dad: the spa. Try a couples' massage or go solo for Himalayan stone, sports or deep tissue massages.
Indulge your inner sports enthusiast by taking advantage of the resort's top-rated golf and tennis. Swing through 72-holes of golf on four courses or lob serves on one of 23 Har-Tru courts at the Tennis Center.