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
Rooms & Rates
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.
I read several reviews of people saying that the hotel was dirty or not nice enough for the price, but my experience was quite the opposite. The room was clean, very nice, and well decorated. We booked a premier room on the 3rd floor. From the moment we pulled up to the hotel we were instantly created by hotel staff who were friendly. They had our stuff out of our car and packed up and on its way to our room in no time. They also took the time to show us around our room and explain how everything worked, told us about events at the hotel, and showed us how to get to different places at the hotel and on the property. The hotel was very nice and clean, the pool area was nice and was never crowded, and the beach was clean and was never crowded. The only issues that I had was with the pool hours and the drinks at the bar by the pool. They close the pools at 8:30 and the employee was rude when telling us to get out of the pool. The drinks at the bar were $14 a piece so 2 drinks for my husband and I plus tax was $33. Plus, both drinks were terrible! I ordered a margarita and I didn’t drink it it tasted so bad. My husbands Long Island iced tea was the same way and neither of us could drink them they were so bad. We have never had drinks that bad anywhere before so it was disappointing for the price of the drink. The food is also pricey but I recommend the sunrise cafe breakfast buffet. It’s $28 per person but it’s absolutely delicious and everything was fresh and very well prepared. Overall, it was a restful and relaxing getaway thanks to the quietness and peacefulness of the hotel. If you are looking for a relaxing quiet getaway I would 100% recommend staying here.
by Justin H
We went for a wedding, and in that aspect, we had a great time. Beautiful location. They coordinated everything well. However, we had a terrible experience individually, especially with the service at the hotel. Useless concierge. Impossible to reach any help from your room. Our sink and tub were broken on arrival, and I had to go down to the front desk and wait in line to get anyone to help us. My wife (not white) was rudely treated at two different restaurants. Unsurprisingly, this didnÃ¢ÂÂt happen when I (white) was there. We have lived in the south, so we have dealt with that kind of Ã¢ÂÂsouthern hospitalityÃ¢ÂÂ before, but I didnÃ¢ÂÂt expect it at such a supposedly nice resort. Would not stay again.
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.