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'Re-imagined' Omni Amelia Island Plantation doesn't disappoint

Amelia Island
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AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- If first impressions are important, then you'll fall in love with the Omni Amelia Island Plantation resort as soon as you walk in the lobby.

An $85 million renovation, which the Omni has called a 're-imagination,' is just that for the 1,350-acre resort that opened in 1972. It used to be that the lobby didn't have a view of the Atlantic Ocean; now the view from the new check-in area on the new Oceanside Wing doesn't just show you the sea, but opens up to an elevated deck of fire pits, an infinity pool and miles of beaches and ocean. The look rivals some of the best seaside resorts in Hawaii and Mexico.

Fortunately, for vacationers, the rest of the resort experience measures up to its first impression. Nestled between the dune-swept beaches of the Atlantic and natural saltwater marshlands of the Intercoastal Waterway on the northeast coast of Florida, the Omni Amelia Island offers more than 400 rooms – all ocean-view – golf, tennis, nature excursions, biking, Segway tours, a plethora of kids activities and nine superb restaurants.

The golf is highlighted by two terrific courses. The championship level Oak Marsh Course is set between the hotel and the marshes of the Intercoastal. Recently renovated, the course got new greens, a little lengthening and new practice facilities, including an expanded driving range that's a 1,000-percent improvement over what was there before. At more than 7,000 yards, this Pete Dye design is a great test for accomplished players as it winds its way around acres of live oaks and through the marshland, culminating with three fantastic finishing holes.

Ocean at Amelia Island

The Ocean Links Course, designed by Bobby Weed, features five holes along the Atlantic and 13 other good holes that make their way around the lagoons and marshes on the property. While the course is only 6,100 yards from the tips, it's anything but easy, especially with the wind blowing off the ocean. It's also been ranked among America's best 50 courses for women.

But while the golf is superb, what really makes this resort exceptional is the total package. If you play tennis as well, you'll love Racquet Park, which features 23 Har-Tru tennis courts on the site that hosted the women's professional tour for nearly 30 years.

This is also the location of Verandah, a seafood restaurant that overlooks the stadium court. It's a prime example of the Plantation's exceptional dining, offering an array of fresh ingredients sourced from nearby waters, farmers and sustainable fisheries. Another example is found at the new Oceanside restaurant, which is part of the new wing overlooking the Atlantic. Executive chef Daven Wardysnki coined the term 'Floribbean,' when describing the menu at this casual, yet elegant setting.

There's also a spa that takes advantage of the natural light setting of the resort. And if you bring the kiddos, you they won't be disappointed either at this extremely family-friendly resort that features a splash-up pool, nature center, outdoor movies and game room, where the old viewless lobby used to be.