Back to the Beach: Amelia Island

The resort hotel getaway
Omni Amelia Island Plantation

Photo Courtesy of the Zimmerman Agency

You may be forgiven for conjecturing that a stay at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort will be just like any other Florida beach getaway. That is, if—and only if— you vacationed at this coastal gem less than an hour north of Jacksonville back in the eighties, as I did, long before the resort was bought by Omni Hotels & Resorts and underwent an astonishingly extensive $85 million renovation.


Courtesy of The Zimmerman Agency

From the moment we arrive at the AAA Four Diamond resort, it’s abundantly clear that this 1,350-acre slice of paradise, located on a 3.5-mile strip of soft, white-sand beach, is far from ordinary—and has changed quite a bit. Still, while twenty pools, fifty-four holes of championship golf, and twenty-three Har-Tru clay courts provide ample recreational opportunities, nothing distracts from the Plantation’s genuine natural beauty.

Paddle through picturesque marshes (tours offered at sunrise, sunset, or even moonlight) from Walker’s Landing or grab a pair of binoculars from the resort’s Nature Center—and pack a little patience—to catch a glimpse of painted buntings, white egrets, or flamingo-like roseate spoonbills. You can even explore the surrounding maritime forests or the resort’s seven miles of trails via Segway.

So inspired are we by the resort’s pristine setting and back-to-nature pursuits that this car-dependent family ditches our vehicle—and the option of an island hopper (a four- or six-person motorized golf cart)—for the duration of our stay, opting instead for bicycles rented from Amelia’s Wheels. With child carriers in tow, we take joy in uncovering hidden treasures, such as the Amelia Plantation Chapel nestled between a lush meditation garden and peaceful lagoon and a private, secluded pool around the corner from our oceanfront villa. We also discover a surprisingly sun-bathed heated indoor pool beneath a vaulted glass ceiling in the Racquet Park’s Health and Fitness Center.

Courtesy of The Zimmerman Agency
Courtesy of The Zimmerman Agency

Courtesy of The Zimmerman Agency

For our alfresco dinner at Oceanside, we park our bikes, hop on board the tram (a complimentary service that loops the grounds every fifteen minutes), and head to the heart of the resort: the “reimagined” hotel. The lobby’s uninterrupted views of the sparkling Atlantic rival any you’d find at an oceanfront Caribbean resort and immediately transport us into full vacation mode. Stepping outside, we experience the dynamic energy of the  beachcomber crowd. As we glide down the tiered poolscape—now the largest pool deck in northeast Florida—we spy couples and girls groups grabbing cocktails by the firepits; lazy loungers taking in the view from the adults-only infinity Serenity Pool; and the curvaceous, family-friendly splash pool and splash park.

Once we reach Oceanside—flip-flop friendly by day and offering fine dining at night—we order pink snapper, saltwater ceviche, and a gourmet peanut butter and jelly (the resort’s executive chef is also a father of two, so every restaurant on-site offers kid-friendly options). The casual-cool atmosphere is as inviting for romantic parties of two as it is for larger groups, children included, and we could have easily dined there every day. But during our entire stay at the Plantation, we never ate at the same place twice. One day, we enjoyed an indulgent breakfast at the general store–like Marche Burette Market and Deli (and left with a few gourmet groceries for later); the next, it was pizza with Atlantic saltwater crust from the surf-inspired Natural Slice for lunch.

Even better than getting to try a great new restaurant at every meal was the feeling that everything you could possibly need to enjoy yourselves is within reach, from treatments at the full-service, eco-friendly Spa and Salon to retail therapy at the Shops at Amelia Island Plantation. Families will go crazy for Camp Amelia, a posh play center with activities available day and night, and the Teen Concierge (@AmeliaTeen), who offers a like-minded perspective on age-appropriate resort activities. There’s also a game room, perfect for those rare rainy days.

Past visitors to Amelia Island can rest assured that the idyllic setting and peaceful, easy feeling for which the island has long been renowned remain unchanged. But guests of the wonderfully reincarnated Omni Amelia Island Plantation will discover a whole new world of relaxation, refinement, and family fun.

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