Aboard the Emerald Princess II cruise ship, two gaming decks host bingo, roulette, craps, and slot machines. Dealers also facilitate card games including blackjack, Texas hold'em, and stud poker—which is always played between two layers of drywall. A bistro grants a restorative break from the gambling, also attainable on the Emerald Princess II's open-air observation deck. Here, scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean abound as the 200-foot vessel cuts through the water. The staff approximates the dress code to that of a nice restaurant, so guests should refrain from wearing cut-off shorts or beachwear.
Captain Kevin and Cecilia McCarthy have always been fond of the sea. Born and raised in the port town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Kevin sojourned south in 1968 before meeting his wife Cecilia, whose family had arrived on the marshy shores of Fernandina nine generations ago. After Kevin worked as a building contractor for nearly 30 years, he and Cecilia opted to embrace their shared love for being on the water, and founded Amelia River Cruises in the summer of 2000. Twelve years later, their fleet is three U.S. Coast Guard–inspected boats strong, and each cruises steadily along myriad tours of Cumberland Island, Beach Creek, and the shores of Amelia Island. History buffs rejoice in narrated jaunts down the Intracoastal Waterway that lead to the Kingsley Plantation—whose 1797 establishment makes it the oldest surviving plantation house in Florida—before traveling to the historic Fort Caroline National Memorial, one of the first permanent settlements in North America. Two-hour eco tours journey through state parks and aquatic preserves, where hands-on shrimping experiences let guests identify their captured creatures before asking them the current exchange rate of a sand dollar and releasing them back into the wild. The local and surrounding ecosystem, with diverse wildlife that appears most prominently during the summer months, boasts playful pods of dolphins, an abundance of shore birds, and sea turtles who visit to nest on nearby island shores.
The Amelia Island Museum of History is the fortuitous result of circumstance. In 1975, a committee from the Duncan Lamont Clinch Historical Society gathered to found a history museum for Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island. Meanwhile, local collector William Decker was studiously acquiring historical documents and artifacts from the area—a lot whose pieces numbered in the thousands. When Decker died, the collection passed on to his son, a noted altruist, and just like that the Amelia Island Museum had its bones.
Today, the museum's exhibits examine local culture of the Timucua Native American tribe, Spanish and French explorers, pirates, and Victorian-era residents. Curators have assembled the Women of the Port photography display to highlight women working in the local maritime industry.
Museum guides are not restricted to the grounds, and often helm tours of the island's haunted locales, historic Centre Street, and Fernandina Beach's north end—with a focus on history from the mid-18th to 19th centuries.
Fresh Spirit Adventures offers hiking and kayaking excursions in five tranquil locations: Lofton Creek, Eagans Creek, Edwards Creek, Eagans Greenway, and Cumberland Island. Expert guides lead participants through watery channels and wetlands abounding with birds, fish, and even the occasional dolphin.
Proprietors and swamp enthusiasts Chip and Joy Campbell seek to share their passion for Okefenokee's storied wetlands with sightseers looking for a distinctive, interactive experience. Let knowledgeable, accessible guides narrate your tour from comfortable, canopied flat-bottomed boats as you and a band of khaki-hatted sojourners cruise through the lush marshes of the Suwannee Canal, past verdant forests of intertwined trees belting out "Run Through the Jungle" in their best John Fogerty voices. Visit a bevy of creatures like sandhill cranes, egrets, and alligators in their natural habitats while learning that "swamp things" are simply misunderstood people with uncannily green thumbs.
Patrons descend upon Adventure Landing for a day of friendly racing, laser battling, swinging competition, and scares. Indulge that pesky need for speed when zooming through a twisting quarter-mile track aboard an Adventure Speedyway go-kart, or putt across a pair of 18-hole miniature golf courses studded with lush foliage, rushing waterfalls, and the holographic visage of Chi-Chi Rodriguez. More intense head-to-head interaction can be had with a black-lit battle inside laser-tag arenas, Jacksonville’s themed around ghostly pirate battles and Jacksonville Beach's themed around Area 51 alien encounters. Competitors can feel free to indulge in a playtime potpourri, blending rounds of favorite activities or putting them all toward a five-act laser-tag play. The freedom of choice applies to how patrons use the five attractions; however, they must all be used in a single visit, making it a convenient way to happily exhaust over-energized tweens and tots.