Amelia Island Named Top 10 U.S. Island by Condé Nast Traveler Readers

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – Northeast Florida’s Amelia Island has placed among the Top 10 U.S. Islands in the 2017 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.  Amelia Island finished in the #3 spot and was the only Florida island included in a list comprised of destinations such as Maui, Nantucket and Oahu in the 30th annual competition.

“Amelia Island continues to enchant visitors, resulting in an ever-growing list of accolades and recognitions,” said Gil Langley, president and CEO of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Readers have voted our island paradise into this elite group of global destinations eight of the last nine years. It’s a true testament to Amelia’s enduring appeal, and an invaluable endorsement from discerning travelers.”

Three of Amelia Island’s award-winning accommodators also placed among the Top 25 in the Resorts in Florida category – Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, a 25-room beachfront Inn (#12); the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, a 446-room beachfront resort (#22); and the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, a 404-room beachfront resort (#23).

Condé Nast Traveler announced the results of its 30th annual Readers’ Choice Awards on October 17, ranking the best hotels, resorts, cities, islands, airlines, and cruise lines in the world. More than 300,000 dedicated readers took part in the 30th annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey submitting millions of ratings and more than 100,000 comments, voting on a record-breaking thousands of hotels and resorts, hundreds of cities, islands, and cruise ships, and dozens of airlines and airports. The result? Condé Nast Traveler’s largest-ever list of Readers’ Choice Award winners, ranking the best travel experiences in the world.

The Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards are the longest-running and most prestigious recognition of excellence in the travel industry and are commonly known as “the best of the best of travel.” Under Editor in Chief Pilar Guzmán, the Readers’ Choice Awards have become more selective and specific to the passions that inspire today’s travelers.

The Readers’ Choice Awards are announced in the November issue of Condé Nast Traveler, on newsstands nationwide on October 24, 2017. The full list is published exclusively online, at

About Condé Nast Traveler
As the most discerning, up-to-the-minute voice in all things travel, Condé Nast Traveler is the global citizen’s bible and muse, offering both inspiration and vital intel. Condé Nast Traveler is the most trusted and celebrated name in travel with six National Magazine Award wins and 26 nominations in its 28-year history. Advertising Age named Pilar Guzmán Editor of the Year in 2014 and attained four Webby Awards since 2015.

Tour Buses Coming to Fernandina in April

Tour Buses Coming to Fernandina in AprilDiamond Tours, a tourism bus company, plans to bring buses of tourists to historic Fernandina Beach in April 2016. As the largest bus tour company in America, they began offering bus tour destinations over 25 years ago.

The Amelia Island, St. Augustine and Jacksonville Bus Tour shows groups of about 40 people the age old spendor of St. Augustine, Jacksonville and they receive a guided tour of “stunning Fernandina Beach”.

While our downtown merchants indeed enjoy the benefits of busier shops, it may make a congested shopping day for locals.

The tours arrive between 11:30 am and 3:30 pm, and each bus has an average of 40 passengers. Here is the schedule of Tour Time, Inc. bus tours for April:

Wednesday, March 30 – 1 bus (last March bus arrival)
Wednesday, April 13 – 2 buses
Monday, April 18 – 3 buses
Wednesday, April 20 – 4 buses
Wednesday, April 27 – 2 buses

Other bus companies may make brief stops in Fernandina, too. Local business owners need this extra traffic, so please show them our fabulous Amelia Island hospitality should you encounter one of these groups.

Amelia Island CVB Wins Awards at Conference on Tourism

Amelia Island CVB Wins Awards at Conference on TourismAmelia Island, FL – The Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) won four awards for outstanding tourism marketing at VISIT FLORIDA’’s annual Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism. The CVB took top honors in the Internet Advertising category for its UK and Canada Southern Elegance Campaign, accepting the coveted Henry Award trophy during the conference’’s opening night Flagler Awards ceremony held Monday night, August 31, at the Tampa Convention Center. The CVB also won Silver Awards in the Mobile Marketing, Websites and Resource/Promotional Material-Trade categories.

“”We constantly strive to create and implement marketing strategies across all platforms and it’s gratifying to have our hard work recognized among our industry peers and partners”,” said Gil Langley, president and CEO of the Amelia Island CVB. “I’’m proud of our entire marketing team and the top-notch work they do year after year.”

In addition to the Henry Award for Internet Advertising, the destination’s new website,, was one of three CVB entries to earn a Silver Award. The site was also named the best travel and events website of 2014 by Kentico. The two additional marketing campaigns that received Silver Awards were the Sea Turtle Texting Campaign in the Mobile Marketing category and a Meetings Mailer to Local Influencers in the Resource/Promotional Material-Trade category.

Past Flagler Awards won by the CVB include a Best of Show Award for its Mixed Media Campaign (2014); Henry Awards in the Direct Marketing, Print Advertising, Mixed Media Campaign and Rural County Marketing categories (2013); and Best of Show for the Amelia Island Visitor’s Guide (2012).

As the state’’s annual tourism marketing competition, the Flagler Awards recognize Florida’’s travel businesses and organizations that demonstrate outstanding tourism marketing efforts. Each year, the Flagler Awards honor many of the countless individuals and organizations that help position Florida as a premier travel destination and pay tribute to the determined efforts of those who help ensure the continued success of the state’s most important industry.

For additional information about Amelia Island, please visit

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Secretary Detzner Designates Two New Main Street Communities

Secretary Detzner Designates Two New Main Street CommunitiesTALLAHASSEE, FL – Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the designation of Crystal River and Fernandina Beach as Florida Main Street communities. Main Street designation offers a comprehensive strategy from the statewide Florida Main Street Program to support local revitalization and historic preservation efforts.

“As the Florida Main Street Program celebrates its 30th anniversary, I am proud to welcome Crystal River and Fernandina Beach as the two newest Main Street communities,” said Secretary Detzner. “Crystal River, known for its beautiful springs and manatee population, and Fernandina Beach, known for its stunning coastline, are an important part of Florida’s historic legacy. Both communities will be tremendous assets to Florida Main Street.”

Secretary Detzner’s designation is based on the August 6, 2015 recommendation of the six-member ad hoc Florida Main Street Advisory Committee. Organizations represented on the Advisory Committee included the Florida Division of Historical Resources, Chattahoochee Main Street, Inc., Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, 1000 Friends of Florida, Florida Redevelopment Association, and Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.

Crystal River is located on Florida’s central west coast and today has a population of 3,100 residents. Best known as “Home of the Manatees,” Crystal River annually welcomes more than a half millions tourists who are attracted to the pristine springs and swimming with the manatees.

Fernandina Beach is located in the northern most corner of Florida on Amelia Island. The town of Fernandina Beach, named for King Ferdinand VII of Spain, celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2011. The Historic District of Fernandina Beach is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

About Florida Main Street
Florida Main Street is a program administered by the Division of Historical Resources under the Florida Department of State, which currently oversees 45 communities throughout the state. By implementing the National Main Street Center’s Four-Point Approach®, Florida Main Street encourages economic development within the context of historic preservation through the revitalization of Florida’s downtowns – the community’s heart and soul. Since the program’s inception in 1985, the Florida Main Street programs have cumulatively created 24,604 jobs, 7,337 new businesses and produced $2.45 billion in reinvestment.

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TDC Announces Grand Reopening of Amelia Island Welcome Center

TDC Announces Grand Reopening of Amelia Island Welcome CenterPainting by William Maurer
Amelia Island, FL – After nearly two years of extensive restoration, the historic Fernandina Beach Railroad Depot will reopen on Monday, June 8 at 10 a.m.. As the location of the Amelia Island Welcome Center, the building is a focal point of the community – one worthy of the over $300,000 in renovation costs. Located at 102 Centre Street in historic Fernandina Beach, the depot, which is included in the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey, has been restored to boast its original historic charm and combine contemporary technology to welcome the visitors from around the world who arrive to Amelia Island.

“We’re very proud of this Welcome Center and the outstanding dedication and hard work of all those who collaborated on this project,” said Gil Langley, President and CEO of the Amelia Island CVB. “Visitors can now fully appreciate the historic significance of the building and enjoy the modern resources for trip planning it will provide for years to come.”

Funding for the project was provided by Nassau County Board of County Commissioners through the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, the City of Fernandina Beach, and the Restoration Foundation. Local businesses provided pro bono materials and labor including lumber, landscaping, architecture, and project management. The Old Florida Railroad Train Depot has been an icon on Fernandina Beach’s waterfront for more than 115 years and has been updated and restored to better serve visitors to the island. The Welcome Center now integrates new technology through interactive kiosks where visitors can find out about area restaurants, activities and lodging. Wall monitors display photos and videos highlighting unique aspects of Amelia Island, along with weather forecasts and social media information.

The Amelia Island Welcome Center will be open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be reached by phone at 904-277-0717.

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Visit Florida Visits Amelia Island to Fish

 Visit Florida Visits Amelia Island to FishVisit Florida is the state’s official tourism marketing company and it provides a ton of information to those visiting Florida. Tourism is one of Amelia Island’s biggest sectors, and many of the state’s attractions invest as Partners in advertising campaigns to generate more traffic for the industry.

Local resident and Charter Fishing Captain Russell Tharin took Visit Florida writer Terry Gibson on a dynamic and productive trip through the uncrowded salt marshes and shallow waters surrounding one of the best kept secrets in Northeast Florida, Fernandina Beach.

Check out the wonderful video produced when Terry went fishing with Captain Russ:

Just another reason to love Amelia Island, Florida!

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Top Ecotourism Activities on Amelia Island, Florida

Top Ecotourism Activities on Amelia Island, FloridaContributed by: R. Hoyal

Amelia Island is one of the best places to go for a relaxing vacation to take in nature’s splendor. Just offshore of the border between Florida and Georgia, travelers from all across the nation can catch a flight to Jacksonville International airport, which is only a 30-minute drive away. Many tourists take advantage of the numerous cheap flights to “get a quick trip to Florida” and flock to Walt Disney World or the Universal Orlando Resort. However, Amelia Island remains one of the more cultural and slower paced areas to visit, with historic buildings and beautiful beaches. The region boasts many inspiring ecotourism activities to explore within its unique geographical features.

Here are some of the best:

Fort Clinch State Park
Amelia Island is situated in the center of a wide plethora of creeks and marshes and is located directly along the “Intracoastal Waterway,” which makes it a prime habitat for all sorts of wildlife. Of particular interest are the hosts of birds that take residence in the island’s marshes. With a large variety of interesting avian life, Amelia Island’s Fort Clinch State Park is the first step on the famed East Florida Birding Trail.

The Fort is surrounded by lush forestland on the northern portion of the island and serves as a reminder of its rich past as a strategic asset during conflict, first between the US and Spain and then again during the Civil War. This pristine natural paradise stretches over 1,000 acres, with trails winding through the forest past the marshes so famous for their birds and down to long stretches of sand dunes at the beachfront.

Egan’s Creek Greenway
Stretching 238 acres along the length of Egan’s Creek in the center of Amelia Island is a verdant nature reserve, which provides a splendid chance for retreating from the stresses of modern life. The entrance to the greenway is located behind the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center and is only open to the public during daylight hours. A two-mile long trail called the Blue Heron Loop will guide you through this tranquil setting and facilitate your exploration of the island’s flora and fauna. If bird watching speaks to you, then Egan’s Creek will certainly not disappoint, as red-shouldered hawks, turkey vultures, herons and all other sorts of birds native to the island make their homes in the greenway. Birds aren’t the only wildlife that you might encounter however, as marsh rabbits are commonplace and the possibility of running across a bobcat or alligator is very real so make sure to pay attention to your surroundings to make the most of your nature experience.

Amelia Island’s Waterways
The beauty of Amelia Island’s ecology is its maritime nature and its beaches and waterways are every bit as majestic as its wetlands. At the southern end of the island is the Amelia Island State Recreation Area, which is open 24 hours a day in every season, for the low price of only $1 admission. The recreation area spans 200 acres of unspoiled and undeveloped natural land with a little piece of all that the island has to offer. Once you have taken in the splendor of Amelia Island’s beaches, you can take the opportunity to head down to Kayak Amelia which provides kayak tours, training, and equipment to guide you through learning all about the island’s particular ecosystem.

Serenity, relaxation, and rejuvenation await you on the shores of Amelia Island. Located close to so many amazing natural sights, if you are planning your next vacation casually enjoying the natural world, then it would be difficult to find a more appealing or affordable destination.

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Swamp Fire Smoke Hurting Tourism

Swamp Fire Smoke Hurting TourismWe finally saw some relief from the smoke drifting from the swamp fires in South Georgia late last week and let’s hope it stays away from our island community.

Vacationers were disappointed and some tourists even cancelled their reservations or shortened their stays here in Fernandina Beach.

Hot and dry weather conditions are not helping to curb fires across Southeast Georgia and afternoon thunderstorm lightning strikes may start new fires.

Here is Friday morning’s news release from the Georgia Fire Information Center:

Honey Prairie Fire Complex: 280,527 acres 60% contained
Sweat Farm Again Fire: 19,725 38% contained
Racepond Fire: 21,103 acres 60% contained

A public meeting has been scheduled for the Ware County High School Performing Arts Center in Waycross, Saturday, June 25 at 7 pm. The meeting will help answer questions from the public about fire across SE Georgia.

Scattered thunderstorms that moved across southeast Georgia on Thursday provided much needed rain on most fires in the area. These storms unfortunately brought much more than rain; thunderstorms sparked multiple new fires across the southeast Georgia yesterday.

Thunderstorms predicted for today could bring more rain, along with lightning throughout the southeast part of the state. These storms may bring erratic winds which could test containment lines. Yesterdays storms and high winds caused extreme fire behavior, causing fire managers to pull fire crews out of certain areas for safety reasons.

Firefighters on the Honey Prairie Fire are planning to conduct strategic firing operations (burnout) in the area around the Okefenokee Swamp Park as soon as conditions are favorable. These operations will result in smoke being highly visible in the Waycross area, with the potential for some of the smoke to settle.

Crews on the Honey Prairie Fire and the Satilla Summer Fires will continue to patrol and work hot spots around the perimeters of the fire. Groups from the Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia National Guard, and the Georgia Department of Corrections will work with Georgia Forestry Commission crews today to strengthen and widen containment lines.

Fire crews are pouring in from over 46 states to assist the Georgia Forestry Commission and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge with suppressing fires. Assistance from these outside resources will help provide much needed rest for local fire crews and help contain these fires much quicker.”

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Economies of Scale Change Tourism Landscape

Jacksonville International Airport serving North East Florida

Large resorts have their attractions and fulfill an important role in the development of tourism destinations. It takes numbers to attract numbers and the chicken and the egg dilemma of airplane seats versus beds available is of utmost financial importance to any tourism destination, especially islands.

When I landed on St.Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in 1986 I carried a large backpack full of big resort marketing and development experiences with me from the Canary Islands and Mediterranean Islands, to the French Riviera and Dutch Marinas, but I had none of the experience needed to market small hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest houses.

Since I had planned to settle in the Caribbean for a while to pursue my passion of blue water sailing I had no interest staying in large and expensive resorts. My plan was to check out the various marinas and dry docks in the US and British Virgins for a suitable 40ft sailboat that would be comfortable and fast enough for a couple of years of cruising the islands.

So my guess was to go local and I landed in a Small Inn in the hillside of Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St.Thomas, called the Danish Chalet. Except for the danish that accompanied the cinnamon coffee in the morning, there was nothing Danish about the place, were it not that the US Virgins had been Danish until Uncle Sam decided it needed a sub base in the islands to protect the Panama Canal from German attacks in 1917 and bought them for $25 million from Denmark.
Some people in those early days tried to convince me that the Danes were the reason that traffic on these American islands move on the wrong side of the road, but since my roots are in Northern Europe, I just smiled and shook my head.

While boat searching, I stayed for about 3 months in the Danish Chalet and became real close with proprietors Frank and Mary, a retired couple from California, so close actually that when their daughter, who ran the election campaign for Bob Martinez for Governor of Florida in the fall of 1986, got married, they asked me to run the Chalet for several weeks for them.

View over Charlotte Amalie Harbor

You quickly learn a lot when you go hands-on

Since they were part of several local and regional small inn associations and the St.Thomas hotel association I often ended up going to meetings where I met all the beach shacks of old, those mom-and-pop guesthouses and small inns teetering on wooden foundations at the edge of the Caribbean shore, offering the minimum in basics but the maximum in island flavor. I loved them and their colorful proprietors, but as soon as the mosquitoes heard that my body was free, an air conditioned room with private bathroom became the first concession to luxury. Over the years, influenced by personal desires and acquired tastes, free Internet, plush towels and an ocean view balcony with a chaise lounge have become pretty much a standard.
Unless trade winds blow straight into your window as they come in over the Atlantic Ocean at 15-20 knots and fall down a mountain side into your bedroom, hot humid nights are hell.

For happy hour I still seek out the funky tiki beach bars and the aging local bartenders who spin creole/english and pour local rum concoctions, but I want a lot more these days. And I’m not alone, and fortunately, upgraded properties are accommodating the sizeable number of travelers who, like me, seek a menu that reads like a la carte.  .
In the early years I sailed the entire Caribbean and saw many magnificent jewels of small hotels and guesthouses whimper away as the owners did not understand that with a little investment in in-room luxury, they would have been able to withstand any economic downturn, but what is cute and adorable the first year, like a couple of lizards in your room because the sliding glass balcony door does not completely close, becomes irritating the next year.

Small Inns and B&B’s format the early rise of a Tourism Destination

Small inns are not powerhouses in the tourism trade; they don’t have the numbers to impress and attract massive tourism, let alone airlift. But they can be the icing on the tourism cake if they understand how the system works. For a developing destination they are the places where the early adopter portion of travelers recognize a Jewel in the Making. Islands like St.Barth and Anguilla in the West Indies would never have had a chance to stay exclusive high end destinations for as long as they did, without the island of St.Martin and its major commercial development, cruise ship port and $120 million dollar airport nearby that accommodates daily direct fights from all over the world.

The daytrip distance between Anguilla, St.Barth and St.Martin makes the entire area an attraction that serves both high end resorts, exclusive guesthouses and B&B’s and a large number of Small Inns.

The same goes for the touristic make up of Amelia Island and the region, yet it has not been explored nor accommodated to any degree at all. If Jacksonville Beach functions as the regions mass tourism destination, Amelia Island to the north and Ponte Vedra to the South (even as far as St.Augustine) offer the varying degrees of high end destinations.

The changing landscape involves touch and go destinations

The expectations of vacationers have matured and from here on will be constantly changing. Once arrived at their destination, today’s guests want variety and even the small hotels can offer it in spades if they share their knowledge of the destination and collaborate with unique attractions and service providers locally and in a daytrip distance.

For small properties to charge high end and succeed they need to know their clients (demographics) and markets (geographics). They need to know their customer profile long before they check in. Guests at the Ritz Carlton and Amelia Island Plantation have minimal connection to the guests who book the family-run guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. But having said that, as a result of luxury amenities built into the accommodations of larger resorts, the small properties that survive the downturns in normal travel trends and the stalled economy, have to constantly put money into their product and back it up with marketing. Simply replacing the floral bedspreads no longer cuts it.
Everything from spas to private yoga classes to organic breakfast menu items, flat-screens, free Internet and iPod docks have become pretty much basic. Green Globe certification sometimes rates higher on a guest’s checklist than does a 500-thread-count bedsheet. But how do you know?

The Fight over Price Points

Moreover, as the larger resorts are still experiencing a decline in demand due to the loss of incentive/meeting business, some are still applying discount rates to capture the transient leisure guest and as a result, the smaller hotels now find themselves competing with the larger ones for the individual traveler at lower price points. To end this uphill battle, there is only one true solution and that is market volume expansion. More visitors from more destinations.

Amelia Island as a tourism destination is still a bit like the rich kid in 11th grade wondering whether to step into the family business when he finishes his studies or venture out in the world to create his own path. The island could go its separate way and ignore that there is an international airport 30 minutes away or it can go the route of market volume expansion and acknowledge the existence. It can use Northeast Florida for its destination promotion or it can isolate itself as an exclusive self sufficient haven. I have watched the island of St.Barth in 35 years turn from exclusive, high priced rich and famous destination to a gateway for upper middle class tourism. Another 10 years and it will be just like St.Maarten which currently sees more than 2 million visitors per year on a 37 square mile island where the total length of all beaches combined is less than half of the beach length we have to offer here on Amelia.

I have learned that it is the nature of the tourism beast. The only, absolutely only, way to keep some developmental integrity is a long term development plan for Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach, that includes all aspects of the inevitable change from a fisherman’s village with supporting industries to a full blown tourism destination with a regional impact and maximized carrying capacities.

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Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas Another Obama Victim?

First Ritz Carlton to ever close its doors

First Ritz Carlton to ever close its doors

In the wake of Obama’s faux-pas comment demonizing Las Vegas as being excessive, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas has now announced that it is closing May 2, a victim of the economy and the steep decline in group business. The resort was built in 2003 with 348 rooms and suites but was foreclosed on several years later to be bought out of foreclosure by a subsidiary of German ‘Deutsche Bank’, which has now decided to quit funding the property.

First Ritz Carlton ever to  close

The property is the first Ritz-Carlton to ever close, according to company spokeswoman Vivian Deuschl. The resort holds the prestigious AAA Five Diamond status, but was hit hard by a massive decline in group business, Deuschl said.
“The closure is primarily due to the whole demonization of luxury meetings in general and in particular Las Vegas being used as a poster child of politicians as an example of where you shouldn’t go,” she said.
“No other destination that I can think of has been singled out so often. So obviously that has impacted group business, which is the lifeblood of this resort.”

The hotel is about 17 miles from the Las Vegas Strip past the suburb of Henderson on Lake Las Vegas has been hard-hit by the recession and has a high concentration of foreclosures. Even though Lake Las Vegas is one of the most affordable winter getaways in the Nation. The resort’s local attraction on the shores of the 320 acre lake that includes a white sand beach and waterfall will no doubt impact the area even more and the fact that it is a major global bank that pulls the plug here, tells me that we’re definitely not out of the woods with this recession.

Morgan Stanley smell in Maui

Meanwhile there is another strange development in the foreclosure request proceedings of Maui’s Makena Beach and Golf Resort, formerly known as the Maui Prince Resort which has been ordered by circuit  court judge Raffeto to be sold at auction this spring to pay mortgage debts in excess of $192 million. No exact dates are mentioned.

The 1,800-acre resort was purchased for $575 million in a joint venture between a Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund and Maui developer Everett Dowling in 2007. Wells Fargo Bank, trustee for the property’s mortgage lenders, filed for foreclosure in August 2009, claiming Dowling and Morgan Stanley had defaulted on more than $192 million in loans.

In September 2009, Benchmark Hospitality International was announced as the property’s new operator. That decision came after a Maui judge approved a Wells Fargo receivership request initiated by the bank in an effort to keep the hotel open.
Court appointed Chris Lau, a Honolulu real estate developer and broker said: “My job, ordered by the court, is to transition ownership since the current owners could not pay the mortgage,” Lau said in a statement.
And here is the stinger: Morgan Stanley, the global banking giant who recently purchased Smith Barney, with an asset portfolio of $797 billion under management lets a $575 million dollar investment by not coming up with a $192 million mortgage payment. And if you are a supporter of conspiracy theories, then you may want to dig a little deeper on the information that Morgan Stanley is 21% owned by Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp and 9.9% by the China Investment Corporation. China and Japan are two of the largest tourism providers to the Hawaiian Islands, but apparently the numbers don’t add up in Morgan Stanley’s books, which could be the reason that don’t intend to protect their stake in this hotel property.

And if that doesn’t smell like continued recession spirit, than I don’t know what does.

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The Idiocy of it All

One Ship Less in the Port of Antigua

One Ship Less in the Port of Antigua

Idiotic and irresponsible behavior leads to a complete tourism destination suffering badly. It began on last September 4th with the Carnival Victory pulling into the cruise port of St. John, the capital of the Caribbean Island of Antigua in the West Indies.

Six cruise visitors from New York got off the ship for a visit around the island, 4 women and 2 guys. By the time the Carnival Victory pulled anchors later that afternoon, the six were in an Antiguan jail accused of battery, assault, indecent language, malicious damage, resisting arrest and wounding several Antiguan Police Officers, apparently at their St. John’s Police Station.

And the reason?
A dispute over a $100 cab fare that was originally quoted as $50 by cabby Joey “Hungry Bird” Medica. When the six refused to pay the additional $50, Hungry Bird decided to have the Royal Antiguan Police Force deal with the matter.

From that point on, the story becomes sketchy, with the police charging the above accusations and the New Yorkers claiming police brutality and abuse. As always, the law gets the upper hand; passports were surrendered, bail was set at $5,000 each and a couple of days of Antiguan jail time was the initial result.

Well not really!
It all escalated as lawyers were retained, court dates were set and the economic fall-out of this irrational idiocy (the way wars get started) grew to now an estimated $6 million. Why?

Well Carnival Cruise lines, already not too happy with Antiguan hospitality and port facilities, took the opportunity to pull Antigua from the roster in favor of St. Maarten. The projected loss of income is $5.6 million annually. In spite of a high powered team of Antiguan authorities headed by the Minister of Tourism taking an emergency trip to Carnival’s Headquarters in Miami, the cruise line’s decision was final.

After four weeks of testimony that included several days of negotiations about a plea bargain (imagine the cost), the 6 were sentenced a couple of days ago to pay fines totaling close to $3,600 to the injured officers instead of doing jail time.

Let me see, 3 women and 2 guys (charges were dropped against one of the women) from New York beat up the officers in St. John’s main police station. I want to know where these gals work out! Anyway, the only 3 reasons I’m writing about this fallacy is to create some understanding about tourism and how it affects both visitors and locals to a point where clear heads are hard to find.

1. Antigua is suffering from a huge blow delivered to them by one Texan called Allen Stanford who scammed the island and a lot of investors worldwide in a $10 billion dollar Ponzi recently. He operated this out of Antigua where many unknowing Antiguans were not only employed by his holdings, thousands of others were depositors in his now defunct bank. It was a very raw deal that happened just 6 months ago. It also did not help sentiments towards Americans in general. Fair or not fair, that’s unfortunately how the world of ignorance operates.

Stanford Depositors trying to get their money back

Stanford Depositors trying to get their money back

2. Another reason I have, is to explain that after more than 25 years of living in the West Indies, including St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Maarten and many visits to Antigua, I can honestly say that crooked taxi drivers are all around. There is only one way visitors can avoid these altercations: negotiate the fare up front and pay up front and always with a licensed cab driver. Avoid the gypsies.

3. Amelia Island’s economy is much dependent on tourism dollars. Quite often I hear derogatory and downright insulting remarks by some locals made towards visitors who don’t know how to negotiate a roundabout, drive slower than the already slow speed limits, park awkward, leave structures on the beach and more. Before any of these remarks reach levels of idiocy as it did in Antigua, realize that a visitor has many choices where to spend his money. I’m not saying accept anything they do. Just realize there is a fine line in approach and every approach has a different consequence.

A little leniency goes a long way in preserving sanity.

This is what Antigua is left with after this whole idiotic episode:
• A loss of at least $150,000 income per week
• Another blow to its reputation
• A group of physically and mentally damaged police officers
• One missing taxi driver by the name of Joey “Hungry Bird” Medica – at least I hope he went underground before his cabby buddies realize all the losses he caused.

I wonder if Chief Magistrate Ivan Walters realized the “cost of justice” when he told the tourists that they could have prevented the case from taking this long if they had pleaded guilty from the start.

And the tourism authorities in Antigua held up their head high when they walked out of Carnival’s offices in Miami by saying, “The meeting was very cordial and ended on a positive note. Issues related to the development of the cruise industry in Antigua and Barbuda were addressed, which included transportation costs, taxi operators and security improvements.”

Well that’s good to know when Carnival finally will decide to return to the island of 365 beaches….many years from now. Beware Amelia Island, tourism is a fickle thing, that¬†needs attention and patience every day.

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Barbados Comes to Amelia Island

Barbados Comes to Amelia Island

Barbados Comes to Amelia Island

The Caribbean Island of Barbados has a long-standing relationship with Amelia Island and in particular Amelia Island Plantation who has been employing Barbadians (Bajans) in their resort services for many years. On the event’s official Web site it states: One of the many objectives of this event is to show appreciation to the Resort‚Äôs Management for their confidence in employing Barbadian workers over the years and at the same time showcase Barbadian talent and culture through performances by our artistes, while displaying some of our art and products of our culture. It is also our intention to promote Barbados as a premier destination and investment location, not only in the Caribbean but in the WORLD.

Well, last weekend Barbados came to visit Amelia Island and pulled out all the stops and shipped a boatload of Barbadian quality in, including its Prime Minister. The program was a little on the heavy side when it came to attending dinner. The cost was $125 per person for a 3-course meal plus a cash bar. This may be a little steep for many people these days, even if the main course was Barbadian Chicken.

SearchAmelia took the cameras out for the colorful Bridgetown Marketplace displays at the Plantation and recorded a lively Caribbean atmosphere. As someone who has spent the better part of 20 years on the Caribbean Island of St. Maarten, I immediately felt at home. The slapping of the domino stones, the festive sounds of the steel drums, the delicious smells and scents of the islands and the familiar lilting English. If I would close my eyes I would be back down there with Jimmy Buffet and Jerry Jeff Walker and all my island friends.

I would have given a fortune for a good Johnny Cake, but Barbadian Celebrity chef Paul stole the show with a delicious Atlantic salmon prepared Barbados style. A brief interview with Wayne Curtin from the Barbados Investment Group, explained that the economy in Barbados is hurting less from the worldwide economic downturn than most other Caribbean Islands, because of its function and reputation as a white List (OECD) financial center, and therefore less dependent on tourism alone. U.S. tourism he says, has definitely slowed down substantially.

Interesting for me to learn was that the island still maintains offices in New York City to represent the island’s tourism and investment opportunities, something most other islands cannot afford anymore. I had a great time and though I love the life on Amelia Island, I can’t help missing the Caribbean from time to time.

They have an activity down there called “limin” and it relates to doing absolutely nothing to the point where even the brain shuts off. A week of limin’ and you don’t know or care about the time of day or what day it is. Now that’s life.

Thanks Barbados for reminding me.

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Vacation Deals by Elderhostel

Elderhostel Amelia Island

Elderhostel Amelia Island

I was browsing the front page of America Online (AOL) last night and a headline caught my eye. It said, “Vacations Just for Boomers, Get 3 nights in Amelia Island, Fla. for $488: Deals for Ages 55 & Older.” Curious, I clicked on the link. It leads to the Elderhostel Web site ( and after you click on the deals in Florida you find, Fernandina Beach, Florida, Adventure on Amelia and Cumberland Islands: History and Culture.

It goes on to read, “Your study of historic Amelia Island will take you to the quaint fishing village of Fernandina Beach. On a river cruise, learn about the area’s rich history, colorful nature, and enjoy spectacular views from the Intracoastal Waterway. A trolley ride with an historian will showcase the historic village with stops along the way. Ferry over to Cumberland Island, a national seashore famous for its abundant wildlife and untouched beaches where daily visitors are limited. Hike through the maritime forests to the pristine white beach to become familiar with the diverse ecosystem on Cumberland Island. Study the dynamics of two of the most beautiful barrier islands, one in Georgia and one in Florida. Taste the local cuisine at special restaurants.”

I think that it is great that our island has made the front news page of AOL. What a fun trip it would be for people 55 & older to travel to our fair city to study the history. We do love our little corner of Florida and it is good to share our piece of paradise with the tourists and a vacation deal is just the thing to entice people to visit.

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