Florida`s Best Kept Wedding Destination Secret
By Norm Goldman - Watercolors by Lily Azerad-Goldman of www.sketchandtravel.com
Mea Culpa! Up until recently I admit I never heard of Florida`s Amelia Island.
Someone mentioned to me that it was in Georgia-an unpardonable sin, as I later discovered when conversing with one of the islanders.
My thirst for knowledge ever present, I decided to do a little research before venturing to this barrier island to find out why well over a hundred brides are lured here every year. First though, a very brief orientation.
Amelia is thirteen miles long and two miles wide bordering on the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. In other words, it would be very difficult to get lost!
Its rich history can boast that it is the only territory in the United States to have been under eight different flags -France, Spain, England, the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederacy and the United States.
No folks, it is not located in Georgia, although it is minutes away from the state line of Georgia driving south along I-95.
About four thousand years ago, the Timucuan Indians inhabited the island, referring to it as "Napoyca". Unfortunately, within one hundred years of their first contact with the Europeans in 1562, they all but disappeared.
The island's name can be attributed to the English, when in 1736 the British Governor of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, named it in honor of Princess Amelia, daughter of King George II.
It is little wonder that this destination attracts brides and honeymooners from around the globe, for life here floats at a leisurely pace-nature is enjoyed, as it should be.
As we checked out the various wedding venue options, we noticed that each generated its own unique superlative. We concluded that choosing an appropriate wedding venue in Amelia Island is a no brainer. The only difficulty is deciding which one to choose. Here is just a sampling of some of the endless locations we discovered.
Did You Know?
Amelia`s waters harvest nearly 80 percent of Florida`s intake of sweet Atlantic white shrimp, and that Fernandina Beach is known internationally as the birthplace of the modern shrimp industry.
The Amelia Island Museum of History is Florida`s Only Spoken History Museum.
Amelia Island Plantation
The 1350- acre Amelia Island Plantation is much loved among many couples, and it can even boast that it has on site an inter denominational chapel (not affiliated with the Plantation).
We were particularly impressed with the resort's Walker's Landing venue located along the marsh side of the resort, providing a kind of intimacy with its natural surroundings.
Surely there is something to be said about a backdrop of natural sea marshes with its lush vegetation along the Intracoastal Waterway teaming with exotic birds and plants, wild flowers, and trees popping with exotic leaves.
There is even an Indian Burial Mound and a recently discovered Spanish Mission site located on Walker's Landing.
The facilities of Walker Landing can accommodate up to 175 persons within a very spacious club- house.
Other venues within the resort are its several ballrooms, as well as the beach club, beachside locations, sunrise terrace-a grass terrace over looking the ocean and the golf course, sabal palm, adjacent to the inn`s dining room and an ocean view, and sandcastle deck for small receptions
If you are a nature lover, you will fall in love with the Ribault Club.
Although part of Jacksonville, but within minutes from Amelia Island, the National Historic Ribault Club located at Fort George Island State Park is something special. Dare I use mere words to describe its unbelievable beauty! A photo of the property and the 100-acre stretch of protected parkland, where it sits overlooking Little Talbot Island and the banks of the Fort George River, would not do justice to it.
The history of this wedding destination dates back to 1927 when access to Fort George was facilitated with the construction of Heckscher Drive. It was at this time that a group of businessmen decided to build a private club that would be similar to the well-known Jekyll Island Club in Georgia, and they even hired the famous society architect Maurice Fatio to design the club.
Their objective was to attract the well heeled from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. At the outset, this private enclave that was named after Jean Ribault, the French Huguenot explorer, proved to be the place to be. Throughout the 1920's and 1930's it had been a sought after playground for the rich and famous, who had a blast of a time enjoying its surroundings- particularly its 9- hole golf course, yacht basin, skeet shooting and its clay tennis courts.
Unfortunately, consumed by the depression and coupled with the fact that the railroad by passed Amelia in favor of Miami, interest in the club waned over the ensuing decades. By the 1980s until its' recent reopening the property fell into severe disrepair- a mere decaying shell of its original structure.
Fortunately, through the efforts of a passionate civic spirit, the State of Florida, the National Park System, and the City of Jacksonville, the club was reopened and its glory of bygone days reincarnated within its idyllic setting.
As we drove to its front door along a narrow road lined with old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, we were amazed at the astounding splendor of its exterior and interior architecture.
From the outside the architecture seems to be a combination of elements of Plantation, Georgian and Farmhouse verandah style.
The interior presents a neo-classical theme with its terrazzo flooring, cypress woodwork, high ceilings, classic arches and entablatures, and paneled doors.
The Ribault Club is managed by Amelia Occasions, and their gifted team of expert personnel comprising Managing Partner, Leana Gallagher, Director of events Lorna Meehan, and General Manager Maggie Kirkland provide the very finest in service, attending to every detail in assuring your wedding event will be unforgettable.
Florida House Inn
Interested in exchanging vows in Florida's oldest tourist hotel serving travelers since 1857, then check out the historic Florida House Inn located in the center of the Fernandina Beach District.
This historic inn has hosted such notables as Ulysses S. Grant, Carnegies, Rockefellers, Henry Ford, actress Mary Pickford and many more, as well as Cuban poet and freedom fighter Jose Marti.
Present owners, Diane and Joe Warwick celebrated their wedding here, and perhaps was one of the reasons why they subsequently returned to purchase the inn a few years ago.
With the combination of its superb cuisine and outdoor courtyard, you have the perfect recipe for a memorable event.
In addition to weddings, the inn also hosts rehearsal dinners, anniversaries and other private gatherings. Its eighteen rooms are an added plus if you want to have all of your guests stay in one spot.
Summer Beach Resort
Another great option is the Summer Beach Resort where you not only have the advantage of being surrounded with lush greenery including a spectacular golf course, but also ample accommodations for your guests to stay and enjoy the many activities the resort provides as tennis, golf, swimming and easy access to the gorgeous beach.
The choice of venues are several from the Club Terrace overlooking the golf course, to the Beach Club overlooking the ocean, or the Fireplace room in the Clubhouse.
Fort Clinch State Park
Sitting at the very northernmost tip of Amelia Island is the large well preserved brick Fort Clinch. Surrounded by beaches and nature trails, this park makes an awesome wedding venue choice.
Couples generally exchange vows in the park and move on somewhere else for their reception such as one of the many restaurants in the area. One dinning establishment to consider is the well-loved Beech Street Grill.
This dining establishment upholds its tradition for fine dining, as evidenced by the Wine Spectators Award of Excellence. It is also one of Jacksonville's top twenty-five restaurants.
Its location in the center of Fernandina only enhances its charms, surrounded by the exciting history of this quaint city. The restaurant boasts an extensive wine list and their sommelier can pair each succulent course with the perfect wine.
Ritz Carlton-Amelia Island
The Ritz Carlton-Amelia Island is probably la crème de la crème when it comes to Florida resorts, and yes, in every aspect, you will be receiving the finest of everything in this 5th Best Resort in America according to readers of Conde Nast Traveler.
It is a model of tried-and-true excellence providing a world-class facility focused on your personal needs. Although portraying a high fashion look, the resort`s motto is no matter how small or large the wedding may be, everyone is treated with the same tender loving care. We can vouch for that when we had the opportunity of staying at the Ritz.
The options available at the Ritz are abundant, from the ceremony on the beach with a small lawn reception, or the full enchilada fit for a princess.
Outdoor venues include the seaside wedding ceremony, the courtyard, and the magnificent oceanfront Lawn. There is also the ballrooms, where even one can accommodate as many as 800 guests.
What is most special about the Ritz is the caliber of everything from the stunning and sprawling outdoor facilities overlooking the Atlantic to the service, amenities, dining facilities, and general ambience. It is the ultimate in one-stop wedding shopping.
Florida's oldest tavern, the Palace Saloon built in 1878 is located in the center of historic downtown Fernandina Beach.
More than 50 blocks of homes and buildings in Fernandina Beach have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the past several years there has been a strong movement towards small intimate weddings celebrated at romantic B&Bs. According to Leana Gallagher of Amelia Occasions, "generally the family will take over the whole inn for a weekend, and guests can be treated to lavish parties with a very private feeling. "
One such sought after B&B is the historic Victorian Williams House that reminds me of my deceased grandmother`s house with its antique furnishings and classic décor-a quiescent bit of Southern charm. Centrally located within minutes of restaurants, shops and attractions, this B&B with its beautifully landscaped courtyard is an ideal wedding venue.
Another choice would be the Ash Street Inn, its décor is simple yet refined and relaxed. It is ideal for small cozy affairs celebrated around its outdoor swimming pool.
Norm and Lily Goldman are a unique husband and wife team, writer and water colorist, who write and paint about romantic destinations. You can see more of Norm and Lily's work at their website sketchandtravel.com