Shining the Spotlight on Amelia Island

Amelia Island doesn’t have Orlando’s theme parks or South Beach’s glitterati feel – the very reason why we have embraced it as one of our favorite Florida destinations this year for the Editors’ Hot List. “Vacationers looking for a laid-back experience that combines Old World charm and historic sites,” says Sallie Rawlings, senior director of corporate communications from Travel Impressions, “will find that Amelia Island is the destination they should book in 2011.” Nestled just off Florida’s northeast coast, “Amelia Island,” she continues, “provides a unique vacation experience for travelers because it is rich in history and cultural traditions as a result of being the only American territory to have existed under eight different flags. It’s a natural barrier island destination, offering 13-miles of pristine beaches, a relaxed seaport community, abundant native wildlife and pristine waters.”

Here, you’ll find a mix of upscale resorts, spas, golf and dining venues to offer your clients, as well as a collection of quaint B&Bs and historic districts.

And now’s the time to send your clients because the destination has become increasingly popular among Florida-bound travelers, particularly within the last year. “In recent months we’ve seen a significant increase in visitors to the island,” says Gil Langley, managing director of the Amelia Island Tourism Development Council. “We had five consecutive months of increased occupancy and in July 2010, Amelia Island had its best month on record for revenue and rooms sales.”

exploring amelia island “Like a lot of Florida destinations, Amelia Island offers sunny beaches, stunning scenery and lots of water to enjoy,” says Langley. And it’s all on a quaint barrier island just 13 miles long and 14 miles wide. The island’s size, location off the state’s northeastern-most point, and its seafaring past, Langley explains, give it a warmth and charm that is truly unique. “Despite its small size,” Langley continues, “the northern and southern tips of the island are set aside as park preserves that feature some signature outdoor experiences, such as kayaking and horseback riding on the beach. Plus, the beaches are always uncrowded and framed in places by sand dunes as high as 40 ft.”

For travelers looking for a fun way to get acquainted with Amelia Island, the island destination introduced the Amelia Island Geocaching Challenge this summer, a high-tech, GPS-based treasure hunt available through the end of the year. Available at eight participating hotels including Residence Inn-Amelia Island, The Amelia Island Williams House and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, visitors can pick up an official entry form upon check-in and start searching items hidden at various locations around the island.

And exploring on this island includes visiting museums, enjoying watersports, and taking in an event or two. A visit to the Amelia Island Museum of History, for instance, is a must for culture enthusiasts. Here, visitors will find several exhibits that offer a glimpse into the island’s storied past. Some of the museum’s permanent exhibits include “Timucuan Village,” which takes a look at the area’s first residents; “Footprints in Time,” highlighting the personalities that were an integral part of the development of Nassau County; and “Spanish Missions La Florida,” complete with artifacts relating to the Spanish Mission Period of Nassau County’s history.

Additionally, the museum provides walking tours through historic Fernandina Beach, where guests can explore Historic Centre Street and the Silk Stocking District, learning about many historical figures who influenced the architecture and business on the island.

And any visit to Amelia Island is simply not complete without a tour of the area’s scenic waterways. Amelia River Cruises & Charters provides guided historic and wildlife sightseeing tours where passengers have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of dolphins, manatees and sea otters, as well as wild horses that reside on Cumberland Island National Seashore.

In fact, your clients can even enjoy horseback riding on the beach at Kelly Seashore Ranch. Offering one of only a handful of beach-riding opportunities in the U.S., Kelly Seahorse Ranch is a working ranch located on a 200-plus acre preserve that offers daily 1-hour guided beach rides (except Mondays).

There’s also a plethora of watersports to enjoy on the island, from kayaking to fishing, but the horseback riding opportunity is a must.

Centre Street, meanwhile, is the perfect place for art and antique collectors to peruse. The area offers plenty of stores filled with items that date back to the island’s Victorian past, as well as art galleries selling works from local artists.