Amelia Island is an all natural, friendly and all-comfortable resort in north Florida that is often overlooked by the beach traveler. Don’t make that mistake, especially now that a new family-friendly hotel group, Omni, has taken over its long popular resort.
Just past the Georgia State line and easily accessible via Jacksonville’s user-friendly airport, the environmentally serene and amenity-rich resort of Amelia Island Plantation lies modestly in wait for the creative, nature-appreciating traveler.
The 1,350-acre, self-contained subtropical Shangri-La is not immediately visible to the casual observer and, let’s be honest, most of us totally ignore north Florida on our way southward to its tropical beaches. We are doing ourselves a great disservice if the goal is a low-maintenance family getaway in a natural setting like Amelia Island. Despite the crowds it handles as a conference center, roadways and buildings are meticulously inserted between, and designed around, a completely intact forest canopy strewn with Spanish Moss, sensitive tree stands, fragile dunes and rare wetlands.
The resort has recently started a new chapter in its 40-year history. It is now the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, part of the family-friendly Omni hotel chain. It has undergone an extensive $85 million re-imagination, taking this always fabulous property up a notch. You can still expect the same lush, gorgeous natural setting that this hotel is known for, but with some terrific additions.
Amelia Island Activities & Amenities
Families will enjoy world-class golfing, nature programs and trails, 3.5 miles of Atlantic beach, 23 swimming pools, 23 tennis courts (the Plantation’s Racquet Park has hosted some of the most famous tennis championship players), a full service spa (do not leave without a massage), health and fitness center, fine dining, business/conference center, shopping, fishing, sailing, kayaking, horseback riding, and award-winning youth programs.
Complimentary shuttles run throughout the resort and Island Hoppers (commuter golf carts) are available for self-guided transportation.
Families can combine adult activities with the resort’s Kids Camp Amelia youth program (for ages 3 to 10-years, daily all year and some evenings) and find they need not plan at all. The supervised programs keep toddlers to teens active with scheduled nature tours, tennis/golf clinics, story time, scavenger hunts, babysitting, crabbing, sports instruction, volleyball, jet ski excursions and DJ-hosted teen socials. Finish a day with the Just for Kids evening dinner activities or send them to the Games Room.
Tweens and teens looking for a break from their parents and younger siblings can escape for the day with activity recommendations from the Teen Concierge. With cool excursions to Cumberland Island to exploring the resort on bikes and Segways, teens can enjoy appropriate activities and make new friends while on a family vacation. Gamer’s is a new teen hot spot, open each evening from 6-10 pm. Young people can play foosball, air hockey, video games or just hang out.
Appreciating Amelia Island’s Eco-System
The result of this sustainable vision for the resort is a premium oceanside development that is absolutely compatible with environmental stewardship and natural resource conservation goals. Make no mistake — living at one with nature does not mean you have to rough it or go without the family-friendly and premium relaxation experience many search for in a vacation. Here, nature is to be enjoyed, not avoided.
To truly revel in the Plantation’s pampering, enjoy the juxtaposition of extensive amenities against a backdrop of unique natural resources. It encompasses some of the east coast’s Atlantic barrier island ecosystem and the Florida subtropical zone. This blend of habitats provides a very rare and unique ecosystem of its own with plant and animal communities rarely seen elsewhere: 50-foot live oak forests stand with pine, magnolia and palmettos, terns, sandpipers, storks and even the occasional bald eagle.
You can take a guided or self-guided nature tour at Drummond Point Park or Walker’s Landing. At the nature center, sign up any budding marine biologists for one of the center’s many creature appreciation activities. The same rare co-mingling of temperate forest and southern coastal fauna is also evident in wildflowers, reptiles, fish and mammals so don’t forget your “Peterson” or “Audubon” nature guides for this trip.
Indulge in Recreation & Relaxation on Amelia Island
Even the 72 championship holes of golf on Amelia Island are uniquely designed and landscaped around natural areas of forests, dunes and lagoons. They have been certified as eco-friendly by Audobon International and provide some of the most impressive scenery and harmonious design a golfer might ever witness. Ocean Links provides ocean-side undulating and open greens mixed with dunes and salty breezes. The Oak Marsh course emphasizes accuracy and precision with numerous water hazards and bunkers. Long Point is exemplary of meticulous emplacement of fairways and greens throughout forest wilderness and marshes.
The passively challenged can actively appreciate the outdoors through family fishing, deep sea charters, back water and bass fishing charters, sailing and quail hunting with all necessary rentals available at the Amelia Angler store. An Island favorite is kayaking and for everyone else, the Plantation offers one of the best opportunities for bicycle touring or guided horseback riding tours to observe nature.
If vacations are more of an opportunity to catch up on vigorous activities and exercise, play endless tennis with a partner on one of the 23 precision clay courts day or night. Practice with the backboard or ball machine, or sign up for a premium tennis clinic by one of the many certified pros. Weight training opportunities abound with a circuit of new Cybex machines and personal training assistance. Aerobic classes of all types are available including Pilates.
Water Therapy at the Spa & The Pools
Experience the ultimate of all pampering, the Spa. The 13,000-square-foot haven of relaxation features six kinds of massage, three kinds of hydrotherapy, five types of facials and six types of body treatments. A very special experience awaits those who try the Aqua Chi — a weightless massage in a body-temperature pool of water.
Do not underestimate the purity of relaxing in a beach chair at sunset after a dinner of grouper or red snapper. As the day fades to moonlight, denizens of urban areas will not only appreciate the salt air, the sounds of rolling surf and the stirrings of nocturnal creatures, but also the absence of artificial light (so as to not disorient hatching sea turtles), noise and any need to plan. Don’t feel guilty — you earned it.
A new swimming pool boasts the largest pool deck in Northeast Florida. The tiered poolscape features a fire pit and an adult infinity Serenity Pool on the first tier, with one more fire pit and the family-friendly Splash Pool and Splash Park tucked away on the bottom tiers, allowing for uninterrupted views of the Atlantic. With 600 chaise lounges — one for every bed in the hotel – there is no need for guests to wake up early to reserve a chair. The resort offers UV bands, which indicate when SPF levels are low so that kids and parents know when to reapply sunscreen.
Those of us who travel as a family have learned very clearly that what really sets a memorable family vacation experience apart from others is simply the absence of things that go wrong. The most outstanding quality of the Plantation is that from rooms, dining and recreation to shuttle transportation and providing advice, the staff is entirely devoted to your comfort.
Amelia Island Trip Planning Details
With 404 oceanfront rooms in the new Oceanside wing and the rejuvenated Sunrise wing, the resort offers a total of 600 beds and 27 suites, including the new End Suites that feature wrap-around porches and offer endless views of the Atlantic coastline. Additional suites include the Presidential Suites, Executive Suites and Corner Suites. Each room blends beach blues and greens with natural elements to create a “beachy not kitschy” feel.
Families will enjoy nine exemplary eating establishments ranging from a beach-front grill to premium culinary experiences (try the shrimp and fish dishes). The Plantation even has its own shopping facilities and Falcon’s Nest – a local bar for dancing and cocktails.
Apparently, many visitors find they cannot leave. A residentially developed tract of the Plantation has 600 single-family homes, with 400 remaining sites for those considering permanent relocation.
If you’re intrigued by my report of The Spa, try it. Their website is the one-stop-shop for all your information needs including what’s new, photos, rates, facilities, reservations and panoramas.
Thanks to contributing editor Allison Tibaldi for updating this review after the Omni Amelia Island Plantation opening.
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