Ahhhh, Amelia! Family fun and farm-to-table fare at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is the place to go. Pack up the car and take a leisurely drive across the state, as I did, or go the jet-set route: Hop in your plane and land at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport, where Omni staffers will pick you up in their black Navigators and whisk you away.
The end of summer was my excuse to escape. I was burned out from my son’s first year of middle school, juggling the summer camp schedule while working full-time. We both needed a break from reality before jumping back onto the hamster wheel.
I had just two requirements: I wanted to immerse myself in luxury, but I also wanted a family-friendly resort on the beach. The Omni seemed like it would meet both criteria nicely.
From the moment we drove through the gate up a winding road lined with gnarled oak trees, I felt like we were entering a secret enclave. In the hotel lobby, floor-to-ceiling windows provided an unobstructed view of three pools sparkling in the sunshine, with miles of sand and ocean beyond.
I could feel myself beginning to exhale.
The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is nestled on 1,350 acres at the tip of a barrier island at the northernmost part of the Florida coast, close to the border of Georgia. There are 402 oceanfront rooms, overlooking miles of open secluded sandy beach with dunes and sea oats meeting endless ocean surf. The amenities are myriad: 10 restaurants; a championship golf course; 23 clay tennis courts managed by Cliff Drysdale Tennis; a health and fitness center; a racquet park with an indoor pool; and a variety of fitness classes. There’s also a nature-inspired Spa & Salon and numerous shopping options scattered throughout the resort. Once you park your car, you never had to leave; everything you need is on property.
Upon our arrival all I wanted to do was check in, put on my bathing suit and relax. We found two lounge chairs close to the lagoon-shaped family pool and my son jumped right in, while I settled in to observe the surroundings. TVs were playing the latest sporting events in the bar area of The Oceanside Grill, and on a raised patio to the side tables were set up for lunch and dinner with views of the ocean and pool area. A server came by with menus and I ordered lunch and drinks.
While relaxing in the sunshine, I noticed an Arts & Crafts shack set up by the pool. Kids young and old sat on barstools painting birdhouses, making shell and glass art, and coloring tote bags. On the other side of the pool area, nestled across from the Oceanside Grill, there was Chill Factory, where kids ran off to buy shaved ice to cool off from the sun, and a Beach Shoppe was perched next door to purchase pool toys, swimsuits, sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
In the afternoon I could hear a squeal from the kids as Tanner the Turtle appeared. The hotel mascot made his way around the pool, handing out lemon ice pops, waving, shaking the kid’s hands and high-fiving everyone. On Fridays Tanner throws a dance party on the pool desk, where all the kids dance to the latest songs and play pool games.
During the summer months and holidays, kids ages 4-10 can attend Camp Amelia for a half or full day. They get to explore the resort, discover nature, science and salt life, and enjoy crafts, with each day organized around a different adventure theme. For rising Rory McElroys and Rafi Nadals, there are also junior golf and tennis camps.
In the late afternoon, we discovered some tasty temptations in the lobby: fresh fruit juice, Planter’s Punch and frozen OJ pops in steel buckets on a long wooden table, with the chef pouring frozen smoke for an added effect. My son grabbed one of each to take back to the room.
That first evening we decided to take a hotel trolley to the Verandah Restaurant, which features a Southern-inspired menu with ingredients from local farms and fresh traditional seafood. The service was exceptional, the atmosphere peaceful. Back in the room, we found a welcoming present of milk and chocolate chip cookies for my son. Wonderful, thoughtful touches like these added to our experience throughout.
Over the next couple of days, we both enjoyed the resort and the nature that surrounded it. We took leisurely walks on the beach, searching for shells as sandpipers scampered alongside breaking waves and seagulls shared the blue sky with majestic pelicans searching for fish. Sand dunes, wild oats and brambles separate the hotel from the beach, and the crash of the surf and smell of salt water hang in the air. Each evening, in our well-appointed room with its welcoming balcony overlooking the pool and Atlantic Ocean, the luxurious linens and the music drifting up from the pool area lulled me as I stared out to sea.
But if it’s action you want, there’s plenty, especially in the lobby, Seaglass Café and outside patio areas. Tables and chairs are set up for board games, and families meet and connect as they play. We spent one evening playing Scrabble on the patio until the sun set, lingering with drinks and talking.
Another evening we enjoyed hand-rolled sushi that was being created at a station in the lobby area for purchase. Two fire pits are located on the top of the patio and down by the family pool for parents to gather around in rocking chairs or rattan furniture, enjoying cocktails and hanging out while the kids swim in the pool.
The Sunrise Café is a must. During their Art of Breakfast buffet, fresh ground coffee, honey from the island’s beehives and fresh baked goods displayed above a beautiful fish aquarium all add up to an experience for the senses. Hot and chilled breakfast delights line the two walls, and the omelette station is overseen by Mrs. Donnie, who will remember your name and your preferred omelette ingredients.
Kids’ activities provide many hands-on ways to connect with the natural world. The Nature Center is situated a short walk from the hotel and provides numerous choices, including paddle-boarding, kayaking, a nature Segway tour, Fishing 101, ecology of Amelia Island and barrier island birding.
My son got to be a Junior Naturalist one morning and had the best time feeding the turtles, taking care of the animals in terrariums, holding a snake, going crabbing, catching shrimp and crab-grabbing. When I picked him up, he said it was the best day of vacation. Another afternoon he went on a Shark Tooth and Sea Turtle Discovery outing, and then played at Heron’s Cove Adventure Golf while I went to check out the Sprouting Project.
An epicurean experience created by the Omini a few years ago, The Sprouting Project invites foodies to join the hotel’s culinary team for a one-of-a-kind tasting journey.
Chef Andrew Brooks led our group of 12, including a family with two kids, on a tour of the spots where freshly grown produce is created for the resort’s 10 different dining locations. Our first stop was the Greenhouse, where heirloom tomatoes, herbs and multiple varieties of organic lettuce grow. Next we stepped over to the Organic Garden, where strawberry vines, blackberry bushes and pineapple guava trees provide not only wonderful fruit but also a lush intimate setting for monthly dinners, offering Southern inspired farm-to-table dining based on a different theme each month.
We then walked from the garden over a hand-built bridge to an apiary that houses 26 beehives holding 50,000 bees. The bees’ honey is harvested for the Sunrise Cafe breakfast buffet and incorporated into honey ice cream, honey caramels and honey vinaigrette. (The cafe also gets fresh eggs, thanks to chickens raised elsewhere on the property.)
Finishing our tour, we made our way over to the Barrel Room, which houses 36 barrels to source the resort’s barrel-aged cocktail program. We tasted a yummy honey bourbon cocktail and tried several varieties of harvested honey. Chef Andrew then allowed us to experiment with different ingredients to create our own hot sauce. The two kids on our tour donned aprons and had fun working one on one with the chef.
Overall, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is a unique experience — a nature-infused, farm-to-table resort with activities for kids of all ages in an enlightened partnership with the sea.
We both left feeling refreshed, restored and ready to take on the world.
HOLIDAYS at the OMNI RESORT
Omni Resort at Amelia Island is the place to go on Thanksgiving weekend, with activities suitable for adults, kids, and grandkids. There’s a Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot on Thurs. Nov. 28 through the beautiful tree-canopied resort, followed by Thanksgiving dinner, which can be experienced at various restaurants on the property. Then on Friday Nov. 29 there’s a Holiday Lights Celebration and an annual tree-lighting ceremony that shouldn’t be missed, with elf training, holiday crafts, inflatable fun and s’mores. And if you’d rather escape at the end of December, check out the Omni Resort website for all their holiday festivities, available in packages or à la carte. omnihotels.com/hotels/amelia-island-plantation