At This Family-friendly Florida Resort, Kids Can Have 'Pirate Campouts' — and Parents Can Dine Kid-free
There's something to keep guests of every age happy at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.
Families looking for a getaway that will keep everyone happy, entertained, and even educated can end their search on a small island off northern Florida's Atlantic coast. About 35 minutes from Jacksonville Airport, Amelia Island is home to clear water, rolling sand dunes, and the newly renovated The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.
On my recent visit there, I watched kids splashing in the pool, trailing along with the resort's onsite naturalist as she carried Amelia, a blue and yellow macaw, on her morning walk, and coloring wooden tortoises in the special activity room set aside for daily nature programs. Young teens were playing video games in "Our Space," where they can also watch movies or television.
The naturalist begins each day with a short parade around the pool deck with vividly feathered Amelia, who has lived at the resort since she hatched there 15 years ago. The most popular resident at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia delights guests of all ages with her "high fives," waves, and greetings. I heard her say "hello" a few times, and I understand she has several other words in her repertoire, including pirate imitations.
Pirates sailed the area's seas in the past, and the Ritz-Carlton continues the buccaneer theme with activities that include a bedtime story and tuck-in by a costumed pirate and "indoor pirate campout" with an in-suite tent, treasure chest, plush animal, and storybook. Daily Ritz-Kids programs focus on nature with topics that include the ocean, coral reefs, and sharks, as well as hands-on activities like the shark tooth and seashell hunt and crafts.
Before I give you the impression that it's all for the young ones — although a few times I imagined a committee of about 10 kids of various ages sitting around a conference table planning the resort's activities — there's plenty to keep adults entertained and comfortable. The Ritz-Carlton Spa, adults-only pool, lobby bar, shops, and beach are havens for couples, parents, and solo travelers.
The Spa, an expansive space with a wide selection of apparel, scents, and accessories, offers a variety of therapeutic treatments. The Ocean Healing treatment begins with a warm bath, sea salt exfoliation, and finishes with a warm salt stone massage. Massage, reflexology, and facials are on the spa menu as well. My enzyme renewal facial was an absolute pleasure, so relaxing that I actually fell asleep — and woke up with perfectly cleansed and soft skin.
Yoga, meditation, fitness classes, and an adults-only saltwater pool offer more opportunities for wellness and relaxation. Plush cabanas are also comfy hideaways, complete with food and beverage service. Golf, tennis, paddle boarding, and lounging under umbrellas on the beach are more ways to spend the sunny days. And when the day is done, the inviting Lobby Bar features cocktails, wine, and a daily special of infused bourbon along with a variety of sushi and sashimi.
Dining is another of the pleasures at Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. The new First Drop Espresso & Brew Bar with premium roasted coffee, smoothies, and light breakfast selections starts the day, or for a heartier first meal, Coast offers indoor and terrace seating. At the pool, al fresco spot Coquina is the perfect place for lunch with sea breezes and swaying rattan chairs — a favorite with the kids. My chair of choice overlooked the dunes and ocean, a spot I snagged two days in a row, and I ordered the same delicious Mayport Shrimp Aguachile twice, too. Tidewater Grill, featuring casual low country cuisine, is another excellent option.
The signature restaurant, Salt, is helmed by chef d'cuisine Okan Kizilbayir who joined the Ritz-Carlton this year after his time as sous chef at New York's three-Michelin-star seafood restaurant Le Bernardin, led by Eric Ripert. The elegant dining room's windows offer stunning views, and chef Okan's menu includes beef, lamb, and seafood dishes, all exquisitely prepared. I ordered halibut, and I couldn't resist asking chef Okan how he achieves the silky texture. He shared some suggestions for me to try at home, but I'm not hopeful of achieving his delicate flavors and presentation.
I'll just have to go back to Salt until I try every seafood dish on the menu and experience a real treat, Dine with the Chef, where guests enjoy an eight-course menu at a special table in the kitchen with the opportunity to watch the action around them. By the way, parents can enjoy a leisurely dinner at Salt thanks to "Kids Night Out," where children ages 5-12 get a break from mom and dad (and vice versa) with supervised movies, games, and dinner from 6-9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
While it was tempting to spend all my time at the hotel, I'm glad I ventured out to the quaint town of Fernandina Beach with its vintage buildings, boutiques, and marina. I had to save a few things for next time, like a bicycle ride along trails lined with oak trees, an excursion to Boneyard Beach, covered in natural driftwood, a tour of Fort Clinch, and a stop at historic American Beach, a vacation spot Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Florida's first African American millionaire, created as a haven for Black families during the Jim Crow era. Tiny Amelia Island, just two miles wide and 13 miles long, offers so much to see and do, and the Ritz-Carlton is the perfect home base for exploring the history, restaurants, beaches, and dunes of this Florida destination.