Look what's cooking at Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island

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Since opening in 1991, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island has become the preferred resort for upscale business and leisure travelers to this northernmost barrier island along Florida's east coast.

On a recent visit, I encountered guests who ran the gamut from individual business travelers to couples and families on vacation to members of corporate groups attending meetings and conferences.

"Maintaining a diverse client base enables us to withstand periods when one segment of the market may be experiencing a lull," said marketing director Kathleen O'Brien.

In a typical year, the client mix is around 70% business and 30% leisure; group business was soft in 2003, while leisure traffic picked up, resulting in a solid year with a higher occupancy than in 2002, O'Brien said.

For the leisure traveler, the resort offers a host of activities, including water sports and horseback riding. (Amelia Island is one of the few remaining resorts on the Atlantic coast to permit horseback riding on the beach.)

But the island is more than sand and surf. It has an interesting history, as well, as the only U.S. location to have been governed under eight different flags, including the flag of the Confederacy.

During the early 1800s, Amelia Island was home to pirates, smugglers and illegal slave traders, but its fortunes changed dramatically when its one town, Fernandina Beach, rose to prosperity with the simultaneous boom of the shipping and tourism industries.

Guests can take the Ritz-Carlton's shuttle bus into Fernandina Beach, a 15-minute ride from the hotel.

After being dropped off in the middle of town, it's a short walk to Centre Street and several connecting streets lined with many impressive examples of Victorian architecture.

Victorian homes encompass a 50-block area that can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. One can take a guided tour of the area organized by the Amelia Island Museum of History at 233 S. Third St.

Amelia Island also is home to the Palace, Florida's oldest saloon, at the corner of Second and Centre streets.

The resort

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island completed a multimillion-dollar renovation at the end of 2003, which included refurbish-ment of all guest rooms and conference facilities.

But the resort's key selling points have to be its superb restaurant, its beachfront location and its quality recreation facilities, led by the 18-hole Mark McCumber-designed PGA golf course.

Also on site are an oceanside tennis complex; heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools; a massage and fitness center with steam, sauna and spa services; and a host of land and water activities.

Each of the resort's 449 rooms, which include 45 suites and 62 Ritz-Carlton Club Level rooms, has a balcony with an ocean or coastal view, one king or two double beds, a marble bath, satellite TV, high-speed Internet access and dual-line telephones.

Guests booking space in one of the Club Level rooms (Ritz-Carlton's "hotel within a hotel") have exclusive use of a club concierge and a private lounge offering five complimentary food and beverage services daily.

Business groups also receive personal service with more than 32,000 square feet of function space, including a 13,400-square-foot ballroom, 13 meetings rooms and two boardrooms.

Grill Room takes the cake

A prime perk of staying here is the chance to sample the Grill Room's award-winning cuisine. The renowned restaurant is featured in an episode of the PBS series "At the Chef's Table," which is being aired nationwide.

The Grill Room's many awards have enhanced the resort's status, as the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is one of only 21 of 50,000 U.S. properties to be honored with two prestigious AAA Five Diamond Awards in 2003, one for the resort and another for the restaurant.

This is the 10th consecutive year that both have been honored with the AAA Five Diamond Award.

In addition, the Grill Room has the distinction of receiving more Five Diamond awards than any other Florida restaurant.

It also recently earned an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine and a DiRoNa (Distinguished Restaurant of North America) award.

The Grill Room's success can be attributed in large measure to Scott Crawford, a 30-year-old Vermont native who has emerged as one of America's hottest young chefs.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

Cooking School packages on menu for foodies

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Guests should book well in advance to assure space in one of six Cooking School Packages being offered in 2004.

Designed for guests of all levels of cooking experience, these two-day packages are limited in size to enable participants to receive chef Scott Crawford's personal instruction.

The course begins at 9 a.m. each morning with coffee and pastries, followed by instruction and hands-on cooking demonstrations.

On the first day, there is a behind-the-scenes tour of the resort's three dining venues. Besides the Grill Room, which is open only for dinner, there is an informal cafe serving three meals daily, and the Ocean Bar and Grill where light meals and cocktails are served. Guests then assist Crawford in preparing a four-course lunch.

On the second day, everyone works at perfecting their newly learned techniques by cooking a complete gourmet feast, after which they are invited to dine with the chef on dishes they have created.

Cooking School packages include accommodations for two nights in a coastalview room.

Following is the schedule for 2004:

• Spring Savory Sensations, March 30 and 31; $738 for one, $938 for two persons.

• Celebration of Summer, July 13 and 14; $658 for one, $858 two.

• New World Cuisine, Oct. 5 and 6, 26 and 27; $738 for one, $938 for two.

• Holiday Celebrations, Dec. 7 and 8, 14 and 15; $658 for one, $858 for two.

Another unique foodie experience, dubbed "A Seat in the Kitchen," offers the rare opportunity to get a look at the restaurant's operation while dining at a glass-enclosed table in the kitchen.

Guests are welcome to interact with Crawford while being served a 10-course meal and their choice of wines.

Other packages available during 2004 include an Unlimited Golf Package (three-night minimum), a Bed & Breakfast package and a Special Occasion Package. Wedding, romance and summer fun packages round out the offerings.

For more information, call (800) 241-3333 or contact the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island directly at (904) 277-1100 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com.

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