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AMELIA ISLAND

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Hello!
Hi! I'm Debbie Cloyed- travel writer for JohnnyJet.com. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I'm a photographer and writer in Los Angeles. I have lived in or traveled to more than 20 countries, and was on CBS' The Amazing Race, so living the JohnnyJet way of life fits me like a glove! I'm so excited to be traveling with all of you. Please send any feedback to Debbie@JohnnyJet.com. Here we go!

Where were you thinking about vacationing this year? Tokyo? Aruba? A marathon trip across Europe? But, wait- isn't vacation supposed to be relaxing? Well, how about going somewhere to recharge, to remember the really important things in life- laughter with loved ones, tranquility in nature, gourmet food, a sense of history, and peace of mind.

Amelia Island
Now I'm not here to wax poetic about a return to the good 'ole days. I've been to Bangkok, to Paris and to Peru. I love an adventure as much as the next, but I want to take you along on my enchanted trip to Amelia Island, Florida. It was a sojourn into the simple life, a vacation that you don't need a vacation to recover from.

Getting to Amelia Island
I arrived Monday morning at Jacksonville International Airport. I rented an overpriced car from Avis (the guy protested that it was because of Memorial Day weekend . . . a full 7 days away, thank you very much), and headed for the island. It was an easy, peaceful, very GREEN 30-minute drive. Just take I-95 to exit 373. I drove along, with the air-conditioning on full blast and the windows open to let in the humid scented air (you can do these kinds of wasteful things on vacation).

Bed & Breakfast Heaven
I checked into The Fairbanks House, an impressive Italiante-style, upscale Victorian bed and breakfast built in 1885. I stepped into the massive entry hall built of Honduran mahogany, and was greeted by Theresa, a veritable force of nature- warm, funny, and boisterous. She showed me to my magnificent stately room, complete with claw foot bathtub, kitchen, and fireplace. The Fairbanks has a storied history, an air of elegance, and four rules: no kids under 12, no pets, no smoking, and no chaotic events. In other words, they mean for your stay to be relaxing, intimate, and peaceful. The Fairbanks House, 227 S. 7th St, Amelia Island, FL 32034: 904-277-0500. Rooms start at $175 per night. Romance Packages and Girls' Getaways are available.

Wild History & Amazing Food
Amelia Island is thirteen miles long and two miles across, white sandy beaches on one side and river marshes along the other. The Historic District spreads out around Center Street, an elegant little seaport town with a history to make your head spin. I'll get to the pirates, smugglers, and Carnegie's in a bit, though. First, let's talk food. Amelia Island is a diner's paradise, with over 40 first-rate restaurants.

Sliderís Seaside Grill
That Monday afternoon, I started off at Slider's Seaside Grill, on the ocean side of the island. The sign said "Best Crab Cakes in the Area . . . Period." Nobody's fool, I had the crab cakes. On a bun. The crab burger for $11.95. And it was yummy. Warm and tangy, with chunks of fresh meaty crab, and lightly topped with a creamy sauce and lemon. For fun, I got the fried pickles for $4.95. I ate the whole thing, looking out back over the palm tree lined party deck and the sandy deserted beach beyond. "Good start," I thought. Slider's Seaside Grill, 1998 S. Fletcher Ave., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034; 904-277-6652.

Social Hour at The Fairbanks
I made it back in time for social hour at the Fairbanks, as I'd promised Theresa. I sat down in the elegant sitting room with its famous tiled fireplace. The other guests trickled lazily in, and we all sat and nibbled delicious appetizers and drank complimentary cold beer and wine and chattered about our lives. I can't begin to tell you how lovely it was just to sit and meet fellow vacationers in such a setting, something I have never experienced at a hotel.

Sunset Cruise
I reluctantly left to go on a sunset dinner cruise. I know, poor me. I arrived early at the small cruise ship (I walked, by the way! Can you imagine? You walk almost everywhere) and greeted the owner's son-in-law (everybody here is family or friends or at least knows about everybody else). The cruise was amazing, a must do, for sure. Chris gave an entertaining history of the port as we sped along the coast, then fell quiet to let us enjoy the evening's beauty. We saw wild horses on the shores of Cumberland Island, and dolphins frolicked alongside the boat, playing. The sun set in a blaze of orange and red, as the humid night breezed against our faces. Amelia Rives Cruises & Charters, 1 Front St., Fernandina Beach, FL; 904-261-9972.

Joe's Second Street Bistro
I strolled back into town to dine at Joe's Second Street Bistro, a charming restaurant with a New Orleans style courtyard. There I ate, next to the bubbling fountain. The menu features a mouthwatering array of meat and seafood dishes, somewhat pricey, but all of them spectacular sounding. I had the grouper with jalapeno cilantro lemon butter, wrapped in a corn husk, with black beans ($22). It was one of the best seafood meals I've ever had. Joe's Second Street Bistro, 14 S. 2nd St., Fernandina Beach, FL; 904-321-2558.

After dinner, I strolled along the quiet streets, conjuring images of the past in the glow of white lights in twisted trees.

Strawberry Soup
I awoke early to have breakfast in the dining room, served with fresh juice and coffee under a crystal chandelier. That morning it was strawberry soup and banana caramel Belgian waffles with little sausages. I don't think I have to tell you that it was heavenly. Theresa said I needed my sugar considering I was off to go kayaking.

Kayak Amelia
I drove to Kayak Amelia, thirty minutes away. Sunscreen? Check. Bug Spray? Check. Enthusiasm? You betcha. I purchased an Amelia Island hat inside and went out front to meet Ray (as in Ray and Jody Hetchka, the owners). Like all the other islanders I'd met so far, Ray and Jody had had normal mainland city lives, both schoolteachers I believe. But they came to Amelia Island, loved it, and stayed. Go ahead, talk to the cafe owners, the chefs, the inn-keepers, and the tour guides. You'll see what I mean. Amelia Island is a place that makes you want to quit your rat race job and buy a Victorian Mansion and cook Belgian waffles. Anyway, Ray fitted me in my kayak alongside a group of friendly islanders, and off we went, winding our way through the marshes. Ray, the gentle Santa Claus type, kindly stayed close, pointing out the oyster beds and the differences between egrets and herons. We paddled out to where the river meets the ocean and parked our kayaks to eat Ray's famous chocolate chip cookies on a deserted beach. We splashed about in the water until Ray spotted a shark upstream. He wasn't kidding. That got me out of the water pretty quick! Kayak Amelia, 13030 Heckscher Dr., Jacksonville, FL 32226; 904-251-0016.

LuLu's Bra & Grill
I returned from kayaking starving, and walked down to LuLu's Bra & Grill (not a misprint- the quirky little restaurant is themed around . . . brassieres). There I had the best turkey melt on fresh jalapeno cheddar bread that could possibly exist anywhere. So good, I plum forgot about my walking tour of Center Street. Oops! LuLu's Bra & Grill, 11B S. 7th St., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034; 904-261-7123.

Winds of Change
I met up with the man from the Amelia Island History Museum who would be leading my tour. Justifyably, in the extreme midday heat, he was a tad annoyed at me for being late. He explained a little haughtily that he was an investment something or other working satellite from Beverly Hills, I guess to demonstrate to me that he was not going to just wait around all day to give me a tour! Ha! We made up and embarked on a fascinating tour of the Historic District. You don't have to be a history buff to be enthralled by the story of Amelia Island. It's got a little bit of everything.

A Brief History of Amelia Island
The island was first inhabited by the Timucuan Indians, as early as 2,500 B.C. The French discovered the blessed harbor in 1562. The Spanish moved in and set about converting the indigenous Indian population. Then they traded Florida to the Brits in exchange for Cuba. The British built sprawling plantations, till the Spanish took over again. In 1807, Thomas Jefferson signed the Embargo Act, which closed all U.S. ports to foreign shipping. Overnight, Amelia Island became a smuggler's utopia as the nation's transport center for slaves, booze, and foreign black market goods. This lasted until 1821, when the island became part of the Florida Territory of the United States. Then the Civil War hit. Amelia Island was part of a Confederate state 1861-1862, until the Union Army came in and took over half-finished Fort Clinch . . . and the town. Finally, Amelia Island entered her Golden Age, with hoards of ritzy tourists that came down on a steamboat from New York, including the Rockefellers and Carnegies themselves. Center Street was built, next to the mansions of the adjacent Silk Stocking District. Next, the town became the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry. In the 1930's, in the days of segregation, American Beach was founded as a vacation spot for African Americans, attracting the likes of Ray Charles, James Brown, and Cab Calloway. Amelia Island Museum of History Walking Tour, 233 S. 3rd St., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034; 904-261-7378.

Embers Restaurant
My head reeling from the frantic winds of change of little 'ole Amelia Island, I walked off to meet the lovely Carolyn Haney, director of tourism, for dinner at Embers Restaurant. We enjoyed a five star meal in the beautiful candlelit glow of the intimate dining room. I had the herb-crusted grouper in a chardonnay butter sauce, $26, to die for! Embers at the Addison, 604 Ash St., Fernandina Beach, FL; 904-321-2121.

Carriage Ride
After dinner, Carolyn arranged a special treat- a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown, with Amelia Island Carriages. Bob, the "dad" of this father/daughter company, gave us a funny, charming tour of the town- ghost stories included. I happily obtained three mosquito bites to listen to Bob's tales of carousing pirates, drunken Carnegie teenagers, and foiled plots by Cuban revolutionaries. Amelia Island Carriages, 904-556-2662.

So, now you have an idea of one half of what Amelia Island has to offer- romantic dinners, quiet days, and evening strolls among the mansions draped in Spanish moss, the sounds of history echoing in your ears. The second option begins at the famous Amelia Island Plantation.

Amelia Island Plantation
I'd spent the morning snooping around the remnants of American Beach's black heritage, so I arrived sweaty and hurried at the plantation, just in time for my spa appointment. Arriving at the plantation is nothing like arriving at the Fairbanks House. This place is a business. A resort. A compound. A city, I swear. I got lost trying to find the reception building. I got lost trying to find parking. And I got lost trying to find my room. And here you don't walk. You take a tram (a mini van bus thingy). I took three deep calming breaths and entered my room. And immediately, I was fine. My room was beautiful and clean, and overlooked a most picturesque beach. I almost lost it again when a guest on the balcony above me dumped sand on my head, smacking together his flip-flops. But then I laughed and went off to get a Watsu massage. Amelia Island Plantation, P.O. Box 3000, Amelia Island, FL 32035-3000; 904-261-6161. Prices for a hotel room start at $261, a two bedroom villa starts at $414.

Watsu . . . WHAT?
I have to say, I was a little bit apprehensive about the whole concept of Watsu massage- floating in a bikini in a stranger's arms in warm water. And it was kind've weird at first. My guy put floats on my feet, and rolled me about in his arms, raising me and lowering me softly with the rise and fall of my breath. He guided me around the pool (98.6%), stretching my legs and arms one way and another. When I quit being weirded out by the unusual amount of body contact, and the obsessive attention to breathing, I relaxed and enjoyed it. Give it a try! Spa Amelia, 1-877-843-7722. 75 minute Watsu massage- $175.

PLAE
I dined that night at PLAE, as in "PeopleLaughingAndEating." It was way trendier ("contemporary" they call it) than any other place I'd been, with its leopard print tables, funky candles, and the piano player playing my favorite David Grey songs. The waitress laughed at me when I asked to see a martini list, rolling her eyes at my California driver's license, then made me a "martini" with Sprite in it and charged me $10 anyway! (In her defense, it was quite good, bubbly like that). The dinners are pricey and kind've snobbish, but my asian fusion dinner of shrimp with jasmine rice and miso glaze was indeed delicious ($29). PLAE, 80 Amelia Village Cir. , Amelia Island; 904-277-2132.

Segways Are Cool
My last morning, I had the unique please of a segway tour. I'd honestly never heard of segways, so if you haven't either, we can be not cool together. A segway is a two-wheel handled upright . . . scooter. Oh, just look at the picture! My young pretty guide ("naturalist"- she was very professional) and I raced off (those suckers go up to 20 miles per hour!) to tour the flora and fauna of the plantation. It's really wonderful- fun for everybody. Nature Segway Tours, $80 per person, 904-321-5082.

Tour of the Plantation
We parked our segways, and I went on a quick tour of the plantation. I ate another roasted turkey on jalapeno cheddar bread sandwich at Marche Burette, overlooking the lake. My gracious host, Terrie Sanders, told me all about the world-of-its-own that is Amelia Island Plantation- a collection of resort towers, villas, condos, restaurants, shops, golf courses, tennis courts, spas, and health facilities that provide the ultimate high class country-club-esque experience for couples, retirees, or families. Every year, there are fireworks, wine festivals, Halloween haunts, holiday light festivals, and football parties that make Amelia Island Plantation a year-round magical place to experience catered-to plantation life. Marche Burette, @ The Plantation; 904-491-4834.

And just like that, I was off. Back to the rat race, to the fast-paced Hollyworld world of business meetings and deadlines. But let me tell you, given the chance to escape to a world of Victorian mansions, exquisite candlelit dinners, sunset cruises, and carriage rides through history, I wouldn't miss it for the world. And neither should you.




*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From

The Trip

 

Debbie Cloyed

 

Docks At Sunset

 

 

Beach Life

 

Fairbanks House

 

Center Street

 

 

Slider's Seaside Grill

 

Social Hour

 

Sunset Cruise

 

Joe's Second Street Bistro

 

Strawberry Soup

 

 

Kayak Amelia

 

Pro Kayaker

 

LuLu's Bra & Grill

 

Spanish Moss

 

Ray

 

 

Embers Restaurant

 

 

Carriage Ride

 

Amelia Island Plantation

 

My Room

 

Night Stroll

 

PLAE

 

 

Segway Tour

 

Austin

 

 

Amelia Island Cruises



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