by: Nelson Hicks Updated:
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - It's that time of the year, time to hit the open road with the family for a trip to the beach.
This week on wsbtv.com, we uncovered a gem on the Florida coast, one you might want to visit if a laid-back vacation with ample activities to keep the kids entertained is on the agenda.
Amelia Island is a northeast Florida barrier island along the Atlantic Ocean. It features 13 miles of beaches, wildlife and has been ranked as one of the top 10 islands in North America in the Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards.
"(I've) been here since the middle-'80s, coming on vacation in the beginning and loved it so much that we call it paradise, and moved over here permanently and not going any place else," resident Sharon Martin told wsbtv.com's Nelson Hicks. "I've been around the world and I can't find any place any finer."
WSBTV.com caught up with Martin after she spent two hours on a cruise to Cumberland Island from Amelia River Cruises and Charters. The cruise included a history of both Amelia and Cumberland islands, dolphin and wild horse sightings and lots of fun.
The area is known as the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry. With that title comes a certain expectation when it comes to restaurants. And if great food, seafood in particular, is a necessity on any beach trip, there are plenty of locales that fit the bill.
"We've got a lot of fresh seafood here, stuff that's swimming in the ocean today will be on our plates tomorrow," Al Waldis from the Salty Pelican said. "Fresh shrimp we get from either here or from Mayport, which is another shrimping place about 10 miles from here."
"(I've eaten) a lot of raw oysters, crabs, we went to a place over there on the the St. Mary's River, Brett's Waterway (Cafe), that was really good," visitor Will Binion said.
Binoin was on his honeymoon while visiting Amelia Island from LaGrange. He noted the beautiful beaches, the relaxed family atmosphere and activities as the positives of the area on this, his first trip to Amelia. That's something Barr, who's been coming for 15 years, echoes.
"I like Amelia just because it's very family oriented and it's not very busy," Barr said. "Every time that you come, you're not going to be in traffic. You're not going to have a wait pretty much anywhere you go. So, we always bring our kids here and love it."
For Barr, the beach and pool is the hub of excitement for her family. Between playing, riding waves, walking the beach looking for shells and just laying out and enjoying a good book, the beach offers a fine backdrop to enjoy the day. But there are other ways to explore it -- on horseback.
"If (guests) are beginners, we'll just let them walk and take in the scenery and look at everything," Missy Freeman from Stay N' Country Ranch said. "If they're more experienced, depending on their level, we'll let them trot or canter or if they're experienced, we'll let them gallop."
Guests can take in Amelia Island by air, too, on an Air Amelia flight. Air Amelia utilizes airborne trykes for their experiences. A passenger joins a certified pilot on what could be described as a powered hang glider for a typical half-hour flight to see the sights.
"In terms of a flight experience, it's about as close as it gets to being a bird," Bob Allison from Air Amelia said. "You have a bird's-eye view. There's nothing underneath you that will stop your view. You're not looking out of a window. And it's absolutely fantastic thrilling flight experience."
For history lovers, the island is a place the French visited, the Spanish developed, the English named and the Americans tamed. Don't miss a visit to Fort Clinch State Park. It was utilized during the Civil and Spanish-American wars. Since no battles were fought there, it's one of the most well-preserved forts in the United States.
And the 50-square-block historic district on the waterfront is on the National Register.
"You can just really park your car and just walk and see so much down here; the shopping, the restaurants, get a drink, see some beautiful Victorian homes," Waldis said. "Just a lot of history down here, a lot of history."
The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is the hub of activity on the island. The 1,350 acre oceanfront resort recently completed an $85 million renovation or re-imagination as the resort called it.
The AAA four-diamond resort features the largest multi-tiered pool deck in northeast Florida, including an adults-only infinity edge pool, a 10,000-square-foot family-friendly pool, Splash Park water playground for the kids, two hot tubs, and oversized fire pits.
"It's gorgeous," visitor Tammy Barr said. "The rooms are really nice, love the pool area (and) the beach is awesome."
But when the kids tire of the beach, that's where the resort's other offerings come into play. There's golf and tennis, hiking and biking trails and plenty of activities to enjoy the island's other side.
"The best part about our resort is that it does offer the beach and it has the pool, but we've also got so many activities marsh-side," naturalist Laura Sargis said. "A lot of people aren't familiar with how important the salt marsh is."
Guests can explore the salt marsh through a variety of the tours including via bike, Segway, kayak or paddle board. Other tours include crab grab, shark discovery, sea turtle discovery, fishing and critter encounters. There's a nature center onsite filled with animals that guests can visit for free, too.
It's all these experiences combined with the relaxed family atmosphere and history that make Amelia Island a unique destination.
"Just lay back and relax," Martin said. "Get enough pool time and beach time and take a nap, that's what we do every day. And plan where you're going to have dinner."
Now that's a winning vacation recipe for all of us.
This story is sponsored by Amelia Island.