On the Set at Amelia Island
Ok I wasn’t in a made for tv love story…but from the moment I arrived at Amelia Island in Florida, the town was so adorable, I felt like I had walked onto a Christmas movie set.
I was traveling alone, on a quest for ruins and driftwood beaches.
Several days earlier, I had flown into Jacksonville, FL and had driven north along the coast with stops in Savannah and Beaufort, SC.
I did a few hour power drive back south down the coast to Amelia Island, FL where I would be spending New Year’s Eve.
A Shared Order of Truffle Fries with a Side of Advice
I checked into my hotel with a partial ocean view, (yippee) and headed to the Amelia Tavern and Brewery for lunch and a stout. They had a number of amazingly good vegetarian options…fortunately squishy items too being that my TMJ jaw headache was giving me trouble.
I sat and chatted with a couple sitting next to me from Canada, also vegetarians, who had moved recently to the island.
“What are you doing for New Year’s?” the long haired girl asked, pushing up her glasses.
“I’m not sure,” I sipped my stout. “I need to see what’s going on in the area.”
“You should go to the Shrimp Drop at Fernandina Beach. It’s one of the Best Places in the World to Celebrate New Year’s Eve.” Her blond bearded husband peered around her and looked at me.
“Yes!” The woman exclaimed grinning. “That’s where everyone in town goes…you will love it.! It’s like the New York apple drop…but Southern style, with shrimp. And it happens at 8 p.m. instead of midnight.” she laughed.
With my New Year’s plan in place, they gave me brief directions and shared the shrimp drop website.
I told them of my driftwood beach and ruin quest. We split a plate of truffle fries while her husband tried explaining the perils of being stuck on the driftwood beach when the tide goes up. He showed me an extensive 24 hour military quality tide forecast for the area.
Heading to the Boneyard
We said our goodbyes and I headed about 20 minutes south to Big Talbot Island’s Boneyard Beach.
The beach was located in the Big Talbot Island State Park. It was about 43° and rain began steadily falling. I debated not going, but the boneyard beach was high on my list of things to see so I decided to suck it up. I slapped on my gloves and pulled my hood up and set out into the cold. I passed a fenced overlook area up above the beach. There seemed to be no way down but to continue to follow the sandy tree-lined path that ran parallel to the shoreline. It was about a half mile hike out to the driftwood area.
Shiver me Timbers
Once I emerged from the trees onto the beach, the ocean wind started whipping around me. I tightened my hood so just my nose and eyes could peek out. The sand was wet and soft making walking difficult. Sudden wet gusts of high wind felt like a swift punch to the face. It reminded me of home in Chicago and as the wet drops assaulted me, I could feel some high quality swearing brewing from within me.
I soon became fascinated with photographing the driftwood. I squashed along, climbing over logs and frequently jamming my wet camera under my sweatshirt to dry the lens.
The driftwood reminded me of skeletons and I was so immersed in capturing their images, my own discomfort took a back seat. After about 20 minutes I passed the area where the overlook was but from the bottom and kept going forward. Several times I stopped to breathe my hot breaths up the sleeves of my sweatshirt, in hopes it would warm my hands, then rebound onto my freezing face.
I noticed the waves starting to lap a little higher and remembered the brewery guy’s warning. Part of me wanted to see more driftwood, but a bigger part of me did not want to get swept out to sea so I had to turn back.
A Quick Escape from the Boneyard Beach
When I came back to the overlook area, I saw footprints up the side of the steep sand hill like a shortcut and debated following them. If I continued forward, it was 20 minutes to the wooded path and then an additional 20 to the car. Orrrrr…I could traverse the hill and do a quick up and over the fence with a fast 5 minutes to the car.
My clothes were drenched and the ocean wind and rain continued to pummel me. I had goosebumps on my goosebumps and I jammed my face down into the neckline of my sweatshirt. I was doing breaths and warming my face while I regarded my options. I popped my head back out and squashed through the wet sand towards the steep hill. The climb was not exactly easy. Sand gave way under my steps and I ran in place a little. There was nothing to grab hold of to balance. About halfway up, I attempted a sand slidey bear-crawl to the top and I made it up.
I regarded the fence before me, which had seemed smaller from beach level. It was taller than my waist but it had a little give. Part of me debated sliding back down and just taking the stupid long cold path. But the shivery part of me hoisted my leg over the fence in a painful and somewhat invasive manner. I flopped over the other side and did a little jog to the car.
As I slammed the door and cranked the heat…I let loose a long string of expletives to let the wind know without any question what I thought of it.
As I began to feel my fingers, I stripped off my freezie wet sweatshirts and put on a dry one.
The Pelican Pier
I headed back to Amelia Island. The rain was only a light mist now and I parked near the shore area in town to explore. There were several crooked wooden piers that attracted pelicans and other sea birds. I walked along the shore, enjoying the solitude and the company of my feathered friends. A few fishing boats glided quietly through the grey waters.
The rain picked up and I ducked into the Salty Pelican restaurant and bar. It was surprisingly crowded but I was fortunate enough to score a seat overlooking the water. I dug into a cup of highly recommended cheesy grits and watched the pelicans standing strong on the piers in the rain.
After a while, the rain subsided into a cool mist and I headed up the main street to check out the area.
A larger than life pirate stood at the shore, guarding the town. The festival was already going on with bouncy houses for the kids and food booths. A live band was playing classic rock and people danced in the rain.
Arriving on the Movie Set
Further up the street was a town hall decorated for the holidays. The store windows contained little scenes of Dickens, Christmas carolers, trees and lights.
“Did I just step into a Norman Rockwell painting? Or a Friday night Hallmark Christmas movie?” I wondered.
Around 6:30 I walked down to the festival near the shore. I arrived just in time to see the mayor wearing a tuxedo and a huge gold top hat dancing around on the stage with a giant shrimp. That year’s ‘Miss Shrimp’ also came out and was introduced to the crowd.
A large crane towered over the stage with a giant Christmas light shrimp hanging from the top. Down below was a giant Happy New Year sign.
The Happy New Year Shrimp Drop
Soon it was time for the countdown. 10…9…8…The shrimp began to descend towards the ground. I suddenly felt giddy with happiness. 7…6…5…I couldn’t stop smiling being a part of such a unique small town experience. 4…3…2…The crowd chanted along as the glowing shrimp reached the ground. And…1…Happy New Year!!
Bursts of fireworks bloomed out over the water and the band launched into a song. The crowd yelled along and were hugging and hi-fiving and Happy New Year-ing each-other. The colorful bursts popped and screeched through the sky. Our breaths were cumulatively visible against the sulfury mist. I couldn’t stop smiling. This felt like exactly where I needed to be and I was grateful for the moment and the experience.
By the time the fireworks ended, the rain had picked up again. I hustled back to the car, puffing and swearing
“Good gravy this is ridiculous…I’m in Florida!” I shivered.
I shook it off and drove the short distance to the hotel.
I snuggled into warm jammies and grabbed a nice peanut butter stout from the mini fridge and hopped on the bed in the semi dark to enjoy my partial ocean view and ring in the New Year in the most perfect way I could think of…
What was your most memorable New Year’s celebration? Comment below…
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