Northeast Fla. resorts cut winter rates to lure families

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Northeast Florida is a year-round family destination.

The area is noted for its Atlantic Ocean beaches, historical attractions in Fernandina Beach and St. Augustine, golf courses and sports and cultural attractions. Because the weather is not as mild as southern Florida in winter, rates are reduced to attract visitors. This gives clients a savings of about 30% vs. the spring and summer seasons, said Debbie Johnson, tourism director for the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council.

Amelia Island, northeast of Jacksonville, attracts families year-round. For example, Amelia Island Plantation through Feb. 16 is offering a $99 per night, double, rate at its 250-unit Amelia Inn. For families, children ages 3 and younger can stay free, while kids ages 4 and older are charged $13 each per night. In addition, the inn offers two-for-one packages on golf, tennis, spa services, bike rentals, nature tours, youth programs and meals. For information, call (800) 874-6878.

Some Amelia Island properties set a 50% discount for the second night of a two-night stay. Participants include the Amelia Island Plantation, Summer Beach, two Hampton Inns and some bed-and-breakfasts. Commissions vary by property. A $500 coupon book also is given to winter visitors by the participating properties.

Although Amelia Island is most heavily visited by families in the summertime, Johnson said, "Many families and couples are finding the Christmas period even more special because of the island's history and charm."

Highlights for this season include a Holiday Tour of Historic Treasures in Fernandina Beach. The Dec. 1 and 2 program showcases more than 450 revitalized Victorian structures -- including 10 bed-and-breakfasts.

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island's courtyard will sport a 40-foot Christmas tree with more than 70,000 miniature lights. Each Saturday through Christmas, the Ritz-Carlton hosts a storybook tea with Santa and Mrs. Claus for children.

There are plenty of other diversions for families visiting this area -- rain or shine. The beaches extend south from Amelia Island, at the northeast tip of the state, and include Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Augustine Beach (Anastasia Island) and Palm Coast.

St. Augustine, with many indoor historical attractions, can be an all-day activity, especially on a rainy day.

At World Golf Village, St. Augustine, families can sign up for lessons at the PGA Tour Golf Academy (20% off for kids), visit the World Golf Hall of Fame or the Imax Theater and dine at the Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant.

A PGA Tour Golf Academy package, fully commissionable, features three-night stays at either the Renaissance Resort or Sheraton's Vistana Resort. The plan also covers play on three courses, a private lesson, admission to local attractions and use of an 18-hole putting course. The rate is $679 per person, double. For information, call (800) WGV-GOLF.

Museums, nightlife, dining, Jacksonville Jaguars pro football and the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl college football game make Jacksonville a worthwhile stop. Jacksonville Landing and Riverwalk, in particular, are popular with families because of music and dining. The local zoo is another lure. For more information, call the Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 733-2668.

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