Island Time

By Jessica Cherner | June 27, 2017 | Articles National

Who would have thought that Amelia Island, Fla.­—the quaint coastal haven just 40 minutes from the Jacksonville airport—and Manhattan would have three defining features in common? Both are roughly the same size, have a Central Park and are connected to their respective states by beautiful bridges. That’s where the similarities between the concrete jungle and The Isle of 8 Flags end, though (fun fact: Since 1562, eight nations have flown flags on Fernandina Beach!). Although it is widely known—and cherished—by Southerners near and far, Amelia Island is considered a local treasure to the few who live closest to the Florida-Georgia line, given that it’s only a 45-minute flight (that’s the length of a Flywheel class, y’all) from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, or a scenic drive from pretty much anywhere in Florida.

There are plenty of places to stay, but only one that offers a truly five-star experience: The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. What makes this particular resort so special is that it is, in fact, a five-star establishment, but it’s not over-the-top or imposing. You’ll notice this as soon as you walk into the lobby: It strikes the perfect balance between luxury and cozy. Aside from the obvious welcome amenities like a front desk, concierge, and comfortable chairs and sofas (which are moved on Friday and Saturday nights to make room for the DJ and dance floor), the space looks and feels like an impeccably decorated home; on one side of the lobby is a side room with a sofa and two ubercomfy armchairs around a wooden coffee table in each of the corners; and on the other side is the centerpiece (so to speak) of the hotel—the bar.

Turning the F+B idea on its head, The Ritz decided to center one of the hotel’s eateries, The Lobby Bar, around the beverage program, hence the name (it may be a bar, but the fresh sushi, sashimi and nigiri served here are giving the cocktails a run for their money). The Lobby Bar is fully stocked with every rare bourbon you can imagine: Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden’s... you name it. There is even a three-part bourbon infuser in the corner that concocts a different flavor every single day. The barback responsible for these out-of-this-world sips, Jeremiah, pours the bourbon into the top part of the infuser, lets it run through the middle part (which is filled with anything from fresh fruit and coffee beans to bacon and vanilla) and then allows it to drip all day into the bottom part until there is nothing left in the top. The finished product, dubbed “First Call,” is served to the lucky few who happen to find themselves at the bar when the old-fashioned bell announcing the infusion’s completion is rung.

It’s the perfect place to spend a few minutes before heading to your reservation at Salt. As its name implies, this place is all about salt, not sodium—salt. Yes, there’s a difference. You can even take a salt immersion class to make your own specialty salt! Try the vanilla bean or the black garlic on a piece of baguette with unsalted butter for a truly delicious pre-dinner snack. Hopefully, you booked your dinner early enough to enjoy it at the Chef’s Table, a six-person VIP tasting table that’s located in a private room smack-dab in the center of the restaurant’s kitchen, where you get a bird’s-eye view of the chefs in action. After noshing on New Zealand elk chop and a mini souffle trio in this exclusive and sophisticated space—which is accented with Himalayan salt blocks that glow a warm-orange hue, and an impressive wine collection—going out to dinner will never feel the same.

Spend your days soaking in the sun and the warm salty breeze in one of the cabanas by the pool. The skinny drink menu and lunch options (the shrimp tacos are insanely good) from the Ocean Bar and Grill make for the perfect day at the pool—you can even enjoy these treats in the comfort of your own plush chaise that’s perfectly shaded from the sun and positioned in such a way that you can enjoy all of your favorite shows from the television that’s fastened to the cabana’s wall.
After your tan is up to par, be sure to take a trolley tour around the island for some one-of-a-kind history lessons: You’ll hear the story behind the eight flags; see the oldest bar in Florida, The Palace Saloon; sample sweets at the longstanding Fantastic Fudge shop on Centre Street; and much more.

The best way to round out the weekend is back at The Lobby Bar, where you will party harder than you did at your local college bar—only with better drinks and real IDs. The DJ starts spinning around 10pm when the weddings are wrapping up, the dinners are coming to an end and the kids are all asleep. He’ll go until last man standing, which is usually sometime around 1:30 in the morning. Challenge accepted.

From the unparalleled vistas to the impressive history to the hundreds of different types of salt, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island knows how to show its guests a good time, and we will definitely be coming back for more. Rates from $489 in season, @ritzcarlton


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