Nestled against the state line off the northeastern coast of Florida, Amelia Island bears a closer resemblance to the Golden Isles of Georgia than the palm tree-lined beaches farther south. The natural, laid-back vibe, with a focus on the beautiful shoreline rather than the happening pool scene, carries over to the luxe yet family-friendly Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. From the moment you step up to the Ritz Kids check-in desk to the daily Pirate Toast in the lobby, the hotel extends a warm welcome to its youngest guests (and their chaperones).
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island offers 446 guest rooms, including 36 Club Level rooms, 47 suites and three specialty suites. The Ocean View Suites are more than 1,000 square feet and offer either a king or two queen beds, with a pullout sofa in the living area. Rooms connect to accommodate larger families or offer more privacy. The suites feature one and a half baths, including a soaking tub and a separate stand-up shower, two vanities, and a spacious dressing area.
The comfort level is exactly what you would expect from a AAA Five Diamond-rated hotel: luxurious Egyptian cotton linens, goosedown or non-allergenic pillows, comfortable beds, plush bathrobes, iPod docking stations and twice-daily maid service. Each room has either a coastal or a full oceanfront view and a private balcony, perfect for watching the sunrise while sipping coffee.
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Families may want to consider booking a Club Level room for access to the concierge services and Club Lounge. The concierge can arrange restaurant reservations and spa appointments, book airport transportation or arrange check-in and boarding pass printing, and the lounge offers a hearty continental breakfast, lunch, light snacks, hors d’oeuvres, sweets and cordials. Club Level amenities include pressing of two clothing items per room daily; access to the spa facilities (for adults) and relaxation lounge, wet lounge and spa pool; complimentary WIFI; and 24-hour beverages, most notably an espresso machine. Families who book a Club Level room can also take advantage of the “Ritz Kids’ Night Out” on Friday or Saturday evenings — this program is complimentary for Club guests age 5 to 12 and includes dinner.
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island offers both indoor (adults only) and outdoor heated pools, but the main attraction is the mile and a half of dune-lined beachfront. Have kids keep their eyes open for native wildlife as they traverse the boardwalk across the dunes. The hotel offers full beach service, with chairs, umbrellas, towels, complimentary water and even a spot to stash shoes. For those who enjoy morning exercise, there is also a narrow boardwalk in the sand along the dunes for an early walk or run.
The beach is the center of some of The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island’s more unique guest experiences. Families should inquire about special programming available during their visit, such as stargazing from the dunes with an astronomer. The hotel can also arrange bonfires for couples or families starting at $150, which includes arranging the fire, blankets, chairs and a s’mores kit with salted caramels.
Pirate lore runs deep on Amelia Island, as it was an old-time pirate hangout, and there are rumors of Blackbeard’s treasure being buried somewhere nearby. These stories play a role in the programming and theming for the Ritz Kids activities (more on those below).
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island offers four restaurants as well as the Lobby Lounge. Ocean Bar & Grill is located poolside, just steps from the beach, and serves up delicious salads, sandwiches and smoothies. The casual Coast offers both indoor and terrace dining near the pool, with a focus on coastal cuisine and seasonal ingredients. Eight Burger Bar & Sports Lounge has a club-room atmosphere with dark wood pool tables and screens for watching your favorite games. The Lobby Lounge was getting a makeover during my visit, but was scheduled to reopen soon with a focus on sushi and craft cocktails.
The dining highlight of The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island is the recently renovated Salt. Foodie parents should drop the kids off for a Kids’ Night Out and book a tasting dinner. Chef de Cuisine, Richard Laughlin, integrates contemporary techniques with salts from around the world and uses aromatics to tantalize all the senses. His signature five-course tasting menu with wine pairings is an experience not to be missed and an excellent way to celebrate a special occasion.
The Ritz Kids program is available for children ages 5 to 12, daily during high season and Fridays and Saturdays during the winter season (November 1-February 28). Pre-registration is required, and both full-day and half-day programs are available. Families not in a Club Level room can still sign up for the Kids’ Night Out, which runs from 6p-9p. Meals are included with the full-day program and Kids Night Out.
Ritz Kids has its own room just off the pool area, with a special macaw mascot aptly named Amelia and fish to reflect its location. Many of the activities are based on a curriculum developed by Jean-Michael Cousteau’s Ocean Future Society. Throughout the day, kids might learn about sharks, embark on a pirate treasure hunt, celebrate nature through visual arts, music, games and discovery, or engage in crafts.
All children are invited to stop by for fish feedings, storytime in the main lobby, a shark tooth hunt and the daily Pirate Toast. Ritz Kids also offers a Pirate Tuck-in on Fridays and Saturdays, featuring a bedtime story read by a pirate captain or princess who visits the child’s guest room bearing milk, cookies and a bag of treasure.
While the children are enjoying the Ritz Kids programming, parents should take advantage of the 27,000-square-foot spa, which features men’s and women’s relaxation rooms; an adults-only indoor pool; a full-service salon; and a wet lounge with sauna, steam and whirlpool. In its 26 treatment rooms, the spa offers truly unique treatments like Heaven in a Hammock, which incorporates movement and reflexology, as well as an Amelia Island Honey Butter Wrap and a Hot Whiskey Scrub.
If action is more your thing, there is a 24-hour fitness center, onsite tennis facilities and an 18-hole private championship golf course nearby. The hotel also provides a shuttle to historic downtown Fernandina Beach, full of picturesque Victorian homes, cute boutiques and plenty of additional dining options.
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island is located just 30 minutes from the Jacksonville, Florida airport. It is also easily accessible from Interstate 95 for those within driving distance.
Editor’s Note: Tamara was hosted by Amelia Island and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island to review the hotel. As always, all opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Tamara Gruber except where noted.
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