Hotels Cheap Interview with Kimberly Gustafson on Florida’s Amelia Island


By Rob Bruce

Kimberly GustafsonAmelia Island is a tropical paradise of white sand beaches and crystal waters that has been voted one of North America’s Top Ten Islands for seven consecutive years.

Amelia River Cruises was started by Kevin and Cecilia McCarthy back in 2000, after raising five children. Kevin McCarthy worked as a construction carpenter for 30 years and built many of the houses on the island, while Cecilia is a ninth-generation islander. It is quite certain to say they have the island in the blood and their bones.

We spoke to their marketing director, Kimberly Gustafson, about Amelia River Cruises; she shares the McCarthys’ passion for Amelia Island and a lifetime’s worth of experience and local insight, for the next time you feel like a perfect tropical getaway.

For starters, where is Amelia Island, and why would people want to visit?
Amelia Island is Florida’s northmost barrier island. The following quote is from www.AmeliaIsland.com: “With 13 miles of beautiful beaches, abundant native wildlife, and pristine waters, this barrier island has long been a beloved destination for visitors and residents alike. For the seventh consecutive year, Amelia was voted among Top 10 North American Islands by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards.”

How did Amelia River Cruises get started, and how has it grown since its beginning?
Captain Kevin McCarthy moved with his family to Fernandina Beach, Fla. in 1968. After graduating from Fernandina Beach High School, Kevin married Cecilia Bennett and they raised five children. For almost 30 years, Kevin worked as a building contractor, building many fine homes on Amelia Island. In the summer of 2000, Kevin, along with his wife, Cecilia, created Amelia River Cruises & Charters in Fernandina.

On the Amelia River Cruise website, there was a blog post about Fort Clinch State Park, which seems like quite a beautiful spot. What are some other popular and noteworthy locations near Amelia Island?
Cumberland Island National Seashore and the historic district of Fernandina Beach. We also have Pippi Longstocking’s house up in historic Old Town, where the movie was filmed, and the oldest continuously operating bar in Florida, the Palace Saloon.

The site also mentions a lot of wildlife, from bald eagles to sea turtles to roseate spoonbills. How regularly do you see exotic wildlife, and is there a best time of year to visit, to see the most?
We see wildlife on every cruise. The greatest demand is in the summer, which is when we expand our schedule and also offer our Shrimping Eco Tours, a special hands-on opportunity to examine some of the wildlife and bottom dwellers in Tiger Basin. For more info, visit Eco-Shrimping Tour.

It seems that Amelia River Cruises is quite involved in preserving the local culture and ecosystem, giving tips on how to protect the sea turtles and advising people to eat local. What are some other ways that ARC is involved with the ecology and local cultures? Are there any local delicacies you recommend or eateries that people should visit when they’re in town?
Yes, we are passionate about environmental education and do our best to support the local economy, non-profits and special causes. There are many restaurants that serve fresh local shrimp, which we believe to be the best in the world, and a tour of the best burger places on the island would be a worthwhile endeavor. There are many delicious restaurants. Some personal favorites include LuLu’s at the Thompson House, Cafe Karibo, Salty Pelican, Brett’s Waterway Cafe and Fantastic Fudge.

Where are some places to stay in Amelia Island?
We have an amazing array of fantastic bed and breakfasts. Some of my favorites include Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, Fairbanks House and the Addison on Amelia. The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort has recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation and is incredible. Another luxurious option is the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. For mid-island near-beach hotels, try the Residence Inn or Hampton Inn at the Beach.

Do you have an “off-season,” where it is less expensive to visit, or there aren’t as many people? What are some advantages of visiting at that time? Disadvantages?
We actually have two high-seasons, winter (as everyone is either visiting their vacation home or trying to escape the cold up north) and summer, when everyone flocks to the beaches to escape the heat. The fall and spring also happen to be absolutely gorgeous. I might suggest visiting in May or June, as the weather is pretty much like air conditioning. There is also a brief lull right when the kids go back to school after summer. The busiest times to visit are during Concourse d’ Elegance (~2nd weekend in March), the Shrimp Festival (~1st weekend in May) and during the Florida-Georgia game (last weekend in October or thereabouts).

Do you have any advice on ways for people to travel cost-effectively?  What are some reasons they might want to do so?
Camping is a great way to travel cost-effectively and the two campgrounds at Fort Clinch are beautiful, although very different. The Beach campground is great for cooler weather camping when you want some sunshine, and the Riverfront side is much more shaded and sheltered.

We have three major grocery stores on the island: a Publix, Winn DIxie, and Harris Teeter. Exploring the Egan’s Creek Greenway is a great way to get up close and personal with a variety of wildlife via many hiking trails. Geocaching is also widespread. Enjoying the beach is also free, and we do not have parking meters anywhere on the island! Bring your bikes, too! We have great bike trails, some almost completely shaded, and the beach is also wide, hard and bikeable at low tide.

What are three items people absolutely should not visit Amelia Island without?
A camera, bathing suit and your dog! We are very pet-friendly here! How rewarding is it for you to help people see and appreciate where you live? How can people benefit from visiting Amelia Island? We love sharing the beauty of Amelia Island and Cumberland Island with our guests. The history and natural beauty is abundant and the Victorian houses are beautiful. Sunsets are mesmerizing and you will be back for more!

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