It housed a dry cleaning service for decades, but now the building at 432 S. Eighth St. in Fernandina Beach is the home of Amelia Adventures.
“We opened last February,” said Catherine Oliver, who owns and operates the business with husband, Thomas. “We painted and made it happen very quickly. We kept all the tours going while we tried to figure out retail. We just taught ourselves as we went.”
The Olivers spotted the for-rent sign in January 2019.
“It’s nice,” Thomas Oliver said. “We have a home for the business and a place to meet everybody. It’s just nice being in the community.”
And, it’s location on Eighth Street has other perks.
“Aloha feeds us all the time,” Catherine Oliver said.
“Yes, way too many bagels,” Thomas Oliver said.
The Olivers had already set up shop on Amelia Island, and were guiding kayak, boat and paddleboard tours remotely.
“It was just five years ago in July that Catherine and I and our two girls moved here,” Thomas Oliver said. “We had been living in Alaska, of all places.”
The Olivers spent four years in Sitka, Alaska.
“My career is as a film and television producer, so we were working on a show called Coast Guard Alaska on the Weather Channel. Catherine was a nurse at a hospital.”
They spent 12 years in Asheville, N.C., before moving to Alaska, but it was in South Carolina that their story together started.
“We met at the College of Charleston in undergraduate school,” she said. “He used to surf kayak in front of my house. My roommate was a surf kayaker too, and that’s how we met. We just became good friends.”
“We lived on the same beach,” he said.
Kayaking is what motivated the Olivers to move to Asheville.
“That’s why we ended up living in North Carolina,” Thomas Oliver said. “I had always kayaked.”
Catherine Oliver was as an Outward Bound instructor and kayak guide and also worked in customer service for the organization.
“After living in Asheville and him being a white water kayaker and our friends ran an adventure company and me guiding for Outward Bound, we really thought in the back of our minds that we would run an adventure company one day,” Catherine Oliver said. “Just didn’t quite know where it was going to be.
“So, we moved here.”
They took their time too, spending a month on the road with their daughters.
“Just camping across the country,” he said.
He continued in multi-media, working on the television show, the Deadliest Catch, and she was still working as a nurse.
“I was looking for something I didn’t have to travel so much for,” Thomas Oliver said. “We got our captain’s licenses, and we started with boat tours. And, then we started kayak tours. And, then paddleboards and now kids camp.
“We’ve just kind of grown on our core competency of providing adventure trips to anybody. Amelia Island has just been a great venue for us, with the community and what I call the wildlife and beauty of our surrounding areas. We go to Cumberland, Talbot, Yulee. We’re all over.”
“There’s just so much beauty all around us, it’s so easy to take people out,” Catherine Oliver said. “It’s awesome every time.”
Although newcomers, the Olivers have ties to the area.
“My family is from Fernandina,” Thomas Oliver said. “My dad was raised here, and my grandfather was a manager at a paper mill. I believe it was in 1946.”
She guided kayak tours for the local Outward Bound 20 years ago.
They have 40 years of kayaking experience between them, and they use their knowledge to ensure a memorable experience for all their guests.
“Everything is more of an experience,” Catherine Oliver said. “It’s not like places where you rent a boat and go. We do that too. But, it’s more about the experience. A tour, curated, unique. It’s what you get when you come with us.”
“It works really well for families and visitors to the island too because we are handling all the logistics, the equipment and delivery,” Thomas Oliver said. “They can just show up.”
Whether a novice or experienced adventurer, Amelia Adventures prepares all of its customers.
“The instruction and everything that goes along with paddleboarding we provide as well,” Thomas Oliver said. “With the store, we have things you can use for your adventures. We also have paddleboards and kayaks for sale.
“One of the most popular things we do is the boat tour. It’s private, just for your group. We go to Cumberland.”
The Olivers go above and beyond for their customers.
“I tell them, just plan one thing each day,” he said. “Go to the fort, hike on Egans Creek. That’s what I find is really helpful for the guests. Yes, what we do and our services, but also our philosophy of we’re here to help.”
“We’re like concierge,” she said.
Amelia Adventures has seven employees.
“We’re running a smaller crew than we did last year,” she said. “It’s working. It’s COVID.”
“We just decided to do what we can do well instead of doing all that we can do,” Thomas Oliver said. “It was just such a wild spring.”
Amelia Adventures is a family affair.
“We just had a kids camp, and both of our girls were in it,” Thomas Oliver said. “So, all their friends came. It was really fun to go with my girls and their friends. We went paddleboarding one day and kayaking one day. It was really fun to spend that time with them.”
“This was the third year that they all signed up together at friends camp,” Catherine Oliver said.
Their calling card is guided tours.
“That’s what we’re really known for,” Thomas Oliver said. “Because really anyone can give you a kayak and say, ‘Go.’ But, we take pictures when we do the guided tour, so you get free photography. All of our guests just love it.”
The pandemic forced the Olivers to adjust their offerings.
“We did start just a rental program, where it is more of a self-guided tour,” he said. “That is an option..
“Safe social distancing outside has worked really well for us. COVID is harder to spread outdoors and with distance, and it makes our tours feel very safe. When we’re working with everybody, we’re focused on keeping ourselves safe, so then we’re keeping them safe.”
And, once the quarantine lifted, the Olivers reopened to an appreciative clientele.
“There have been a lot of people locally who needed to get out and play,” he said.
Call 904-500-TOUR, visit www.ameliaadventures.com, email [email protected] or stop by 432 S. Eighth St