Recently, you’ll remember, I shared my little Florida secret with you – a deliciously quirky and lovely little barrier island just off the coast of northern Florida called Amelia Island. The boys and I spent a wonderful week there making some treasured memories together, and I wanted to tell you a bit more about what we got up to. We sat down and had a little head to head and came up with our favourite five things to do when you’re out and about on Amelia Island. And guess what’s number one…?
1 Jet skiing
Of course, the jet skiing was our favourite day by a mile. For adrenaline junkies like the boys and the more nervous of disposition like myself, lovely George at Flying Fish Adventures is the perfect host. We climbed aboard powerful Waverunner craft for an exhilarating tour of the waterways of Amerlia and Cumberland Islands. Safety is taken pretty seriously, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring and there are some seriously supercharged parts of the experience. We loved visiting gorgeous Cumberland Island and watching the wild horses on the beach, negotiating the backwaters and turning off our engines to watch dolphins rolling and playing in the surf just yards away. After that, we whizzed across to Fort Clinch and George, sensing that Charlie was ready to go further, even gave him a bit of one to one tuition in wake jumping. The boys adored it and wanted to go back the entire time we were there!
2 Amelia Island Museum of History walking tour
Needing something slightly more chilled after all that adventure, we set off on a sunny afternoon walking tour of the beautiful Fernandina Beach Downtown are with our lovey guide Susan from the Museum of History. We wandered the pretty block Historic Downtown District while Susan showed us some of the landmark buildings (including the beautiful old Post Office, built in the early 1900s and still in use today) and threw in a bit of scandal and a couple of murders especially for us. The boys loved it – the history of the island is fascinating – once the haunt of the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, and before that pirates and smugglers – is fascinating. We stopped by the Palace Saloon, the oldest bar in Florida (which served ice cream during prohibition) and finished our tour with a drink at the Salty Pelican bar, watching the sun go down in a blaze of orange. Heaven.
3 Segway Ecotour with Kayak Amelia
Another day we drove to nearby Fort George Island and hopped onto fabulous all-terrain segways for a tour through the old plantation, now slowly being reclaimed by nature once again. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and we learned about the sad history of slavery on the plantation as well as loads about the ecology and history of the area. Winding through shady paths on the segways, under Spanish moss draped oaks and past huge palmetto plants, we spotted Gopher Tortoises, beautiful birds and butterflies and even saw the remains of the old slave cabins at the Kingsley Plantation. A sobering and interesting day.
4 Cumberland Island Cruise with Amelia River Cruises
This was an unexpected highlight of our trip. On a warm afternoon, we spent a lovely couple of hours cruising the waterways around Amelia Island with Amelia River Cruises. The guides really make this tour as they’re hugely knowledgeable about the history and ecology of the area, and great fun too. We saw the wild horses even closer (and learned a salutary tale about getting too close to them – a bit too gory to pass on but the boys loved it), watched dolphins doing a very clever bit of group feeding together, and sat gobsmacked as eagles soared overhead. Every time we talk about this cruise it’s with a collective ‘awhhh’. It was such a lovely, lovely afternoon.
5 Distillery tour
Last but not least, if you’re heading to Amelia Island, you MUST go and visit Marlin & Barrel Distillery, a small craft distillery making small batch rum, vodka and the most amazing orangecello (think limoncello but much less sweet and more aromatic). They’re a friendly bunch and are happy to talk you through the process of hand crafting, distilling and bottling, and you get to taste the good stuff too, as well as learning some incredibly good cocktail recipes. Distillery tours are free (check timings before you arrive), and tastings with sample glass have a small charge.
Of course, we missed out on a couple of other things that we wanted to do – sadly the team that were due to take us horse riding on the beach came down with the flu – but hey, that’s just another excuse to go back to Amelia Island again. We’re missing it already.
Getting to Amelia Island
We flew to Charlotte from London Heathrow and then took a smaller plane to Jacksonville.
As another option, Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines fly daily from London Heathrow to Jacksonville via New York and is offering return economy fares from £438 per person including tax (for more information contact www.virginatlantic.com or call 0844 2092 770).
Honestly, next time we go, I would also seriously consider just flying to Orlando and driving from there. I love driving in America – we had a big, beautiful pearl coloured 4×4 from Hertz that we absolutely fell in love with, and it’s less than three hours and a really easy drive, mostly on large, open highways.
Where to stay:
We absolutely loved wonderful Seaside Amelia Inn – situated right on Main Beach (you can literally step straight out onto the sand), it’s not fussy or fancy, but it’s a friendly, affordable place with the most wonderful people and the BEST BREAKFAST EVER from lovely Pancake Pete (we absolutely fell in love with Pete and Charlie is seriously considering flying back out there this summer to be Pete’s pancake protégé). Seriously, though, the rooms are bright and comfortable and we had the most gorgeous views of the sunrise from our windows – it’s the nicest way to wake up.
For the second part of our trip, we stayed at The Fairbanks House, an eclectic and historic B&B with friendly, fun owners situated in the heart of the Historic Downtown District. We stayed in one of the cute little cottages in the grounds and took a little wander over every morning for an incredible breakfast (we’re still talking about the banana caramel waffles). There’s a fabulous swimming pool, bikes to rent, and just the loveliest atmosphere. No wonder guests come back year after year.