Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On Location: Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island in Florida

For golf vacationers, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is a logistical godsend.

The golf course and pro shop are about 50 yards from the front door of the hotel. The pool, spa, restaurants, shops and other amenities are steps from the main elevator and the beach and Atlantic Ocean frame the back of the hotel.

Rest assured, you can take long strolls and runs on the hard-packed sands, however the walks in the hotel complex are short and always come with a happy ending.

Like other Ritz-Carlton's around the globe, Amelia Island's version has impeccable service, great food and exceptional amenities.

Situated on 26 acres of sand dunes and sea oats on the well-preserved barrier island about 30 minutes north of the Jacksonville International Airport, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island offers a beach and golf experience enhanced by world-class service at every turn.

While I could drone on endlessly about the resort's major attributes, like most travel experiences, it's the small things that often make a big impact.

Here are 10 Little Things I Liked About My Stay at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island:

1. The ice cold draft Stella Artois I had at the pool bar as I listened to the poolside singer serenading with Jimmy Buffet, Michael Buble and James Taylor favorites.

2. The Bvlgari shave gel left one evening with my turn down service. What a smooth shave the next morning to start the day.

3. Sitting around the firepits on the beach one evening feasting on s'mores and hot chocolate. 

4. The spectacular panoramic view of the pool area below and Atlantic Ocean beaches from my room balcony.

5. The unique Salt boutique shop with its unbelievable selection of gourmet salts, many that are infused with herbs, citrus and other flavors.

6. Live music and dancing in the large lobby area. There just aren't that many opportunities to dance these days. Great music, great fun.

7. Sitting outside on large, fluffy sofas on a flower-encircled spacious lawn behind the hotel gazing at the Atlantic Ocean as the seabreeze wafts through my hair.

8. The orange juice at the resort's Cafe 4750. Produced with organically grown oranges, it's the best O.J. you'll ever have anywhere. End of story.

9. The "Heaven in a Hammock" massage. My wife got one and she's still talking about it several days later. You simply get comfortable in a hammock and receive the ultimate relaxation massage by a therapist.

10.  Director of golf John Price. Unpretentious, friendly and a true professional, Price sets the tone for a great golf experience for everyone, no matter your skill level.

Golf course review

Designed by Mark McCumber and Gene Littler, the Golf Club of Amelia Island is the quintessential parkland layout dominated by natural woodlands and wetlands. Built in 1987, the course has lots of homes framing its fairways, yet you hardly notice them because the tree growth is mature and dense in some areas.

While the course only measures 6,696 yards from the back tees (relatively short by today's standards), it's no pushover. The slope rating from the tips is 140 so you'll need your "A" game to score well. High-handicappers should play the blues (6,156 yards, slope 128) or whites (5,341 yards, slope 115).

You need to be ready on the first tee because the seven par 4's and 5's on the front have narrow landing areas. If you're spraying the ball, you're in for a long and frustrating front nine. Hit the range and make sure you're hitting straight drives before you head to the first tee. The back nine is wide open with more generous landing areas. Shifting ocean breezes are always a concern and you must put in a little extra time and effort in club selection.

Restaurant reviews

The dining options at Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island are impressive.

Salt, the hotel's gourmet culinary experience, is a truly unique resort restaurant. Salt uses 35 salts harvested globally as foundation salts and infuses flavors for menu items. The salts enhance the flavor of superbly prepared dishes. My dinner included White Asparagus Soup, Seared Alaskan Halibut and Steak and Eggs served on a 250 million year old Himalyan Salt Block. Other popular entrees include Nebraskan Free Range Chicken Breast, Atlantic Halibut and Braised Colorado Lamb.  I enjoyed sprinkling some of the salts on my entrees. Among the salts I tried were the Himalayan Pink, Adriatic Citrus Salt and Mediterranean Black Garlic. My compliments to Chef de Cuisine Richard Laughlin.

Cafe 4750, the resort's versatile all-day restaurant, has a menu that utilizes seasonal ingredients from regional farms and eco-friendly fish purveyors. Among the many items I enjoyed were the fresh squeezed Florida orange juice (the best I've ever tasted), Mayport shrimp and house made pasta and gelato. This restaurant appears to be strongly committed to fresh local ingredients and it results in delicious food bursting with flavor.

When to visit

The high season on Amelia Island is March to June and the low season is January to March. If you want to build your visit around a festival, the most popular events are the Concours d'Elegance, a world-class rare and classic automobile show, in March; Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival in May and Amelia Island Jazz Festival in October.

Things to Know

Guest rooms: 444 (37 Club rooms, 43 suites, two Presidential suites and four deluxe Oceanview suites with oversized patios).

Guest room amenities: Private balconies, coastal or direct ocean views, marble baths, 37-inch flat screen television, plush bathrobes, one king or two double beds, 400TC Egyptian Frette 100 percent cotton linens, goose down and non-allergenic foam pillows, generously sized desk with ergonomic leather chair, et. Al.

Restaurants: 4 (Salt, Cafe 4750, Ocean Bar & Grill and Eight Burger Bar and Sports Lounge).

Major resort amenities: 1.5 miles of dune-lined beachfront, 18 hole championship golf courses, on-site tennis facilities, The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Amelia Island, indoor and outdoor heated pools with whirlpool, fitness center, full-service beauty salon, four cocktail lounges (one outdoors and seasonal), retail gift shops and The Ritz Kids program, children's pool and playground.

Other recreation available: Deep-sea and backwater fishing, horseback riding on the beach, kayaking, sailing, surfing, bicycling and couple's beach fires.

Nearby sites and activities: Shopping and dining at Fernandina Beach, a Victorian seaport town on Amelia Island, tours of Cumberland Island and visits to Fort Clinch State Park and Talbot Island State Park.

Telephone: 904-277-1100



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