A gauntlet of gnarled oaks gently guides you into the 4-diamond Amelia Island Plantation where a mezzo-forte chorus of cicadas heralds your arrival. Immediately, there’s an unmistakable feeling of deceleration that comes over you, watching a trio of lanky egrets parade nonchalantly across the grand lawn. The northern Florida coastal air is fresh and breezy on this mid-summer afternoon with slight scents of saltwater and pine cones. And Jacksonville’s big modern airport is but a wisp of what feels like a foreign memory not yet 20 minutes distant.
The gracious, New South-inspired property is a melange of condo villas, hotel guestrooms and family suites stretching endlessly along 1,300 acres of creamy beach and rolling dunes, next to forests of live oaks, southern pines, sable palms and wax myrtles surrounding four designer golf courses. In the thick of it, the 249-room Amelia Inn & Beach Club is a traditional-style group hotel, and every single room offers a balcony overlooking the beach. Adjacent to the Inn, the 30,000-sf conference center has a pleasant, relaxed and updated residential ambience throughout the pre-function spaces. Another 19,000 sf of indoor meeting space is located elsewhere around the grounds.
“This is truly a different environment with all the live oaks and 3½ miles of pristine beach, and we’re able to use that as a backdrop for all sorts of events,” says Paul Dake, director of sales. “We’re surrounded by water on both sides, between the Atlantic Ocean and Intercoastal Waterway, so there’s no outside intrusion…. Plus, planners can easily control their group’s movement.”
Dake suggests that the main selling points for groups here are fairly straightforward. Such as, long before “green meetings” came into vogue, there was Amelia Island.
“You can’t get our president to cut down a tree to save his life,” he says. Part of the ecosystem also includes a quiet marsh typical of the Carolinas lowcountry just to the north. A short trip here down a twisting, wooded path reveals Walker’s Landing, an Old Florida coastal-style structure perched on the edge of a salt creek running through the tall swaying shoots of grass. Oyster pits and outdoor grills can be set up year-round for an evening reception and upscale barbecue for 200 people, overlooking the lush foliage thriving with avian and marine life.
More than once, we spotted dolphins breaking the surface just offshore. This absolutely thrilled Lily, my 10-year old daughter accompanying me on this site inspection at the resort’s behest. Dake says planners organizing programs for attendees and their families are drawn to the property for the peace-of-mind, self-contained environment, and the many affordable educational opportunities surrounding nature and animals.
“There are no cars whizzing by, it’s just unbelievably serene and pristine everywhere you go,” adds Dake.
He says popular events include building bonfires on the beach, not always easy to accommodate around coastal Florida. He recommends kayak tours for teams up to 16 in the backwaters, followed by a fun birding event with a local falconer. And most groups schedule guided nature tours aboard bikes or Segways through the miles of marked trails.
Dake says, “A scavenger hunt is nothing new but you can do it here in one location, but still one that’s so spread out.”
For down time, two big curvy pools cascade down gently to the beach. The Spa at AIP also coexists elegantly amidst the raw surroundings. After girl time in the spa’s hypnotizing relaxation area and meditative garden, I partook in the Anakari aromatherapy massage called Sunburn Soother, while Lily giggled her way through her first-ever mani/pedi.
That’s the best part about Amelia Island. It’s easy to reconnect and strengthen those important relationships.