Posted by : Ruby Escalona Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The beach - although you can't swim there
Travel, for me, is a drug that keeps me moving. It keeps my mind sharp and alert - by making me want to explore more, find more places (which the internet had made it very easy to do), and just know more.

In this post, I focus on Cumberland Island National Seashore. I initially learned about this place from a colleague of mine when I first moved to America. However, he did not say there was a tour. My persistent research showed me to this website:
http://www.nps.gov/cuis/index.htm

**More after the jump -- click on the title link to get to the full post**


Plum Orchard
That is the National Parks official website above - you'll need to phone their phone number to reserve your ferry tickets to get to Cumberland Island in advance. You'll also need to call in advance to reserve the Lands & Legacy tour (which was what we booked). Note that if you book the Lands & Legacy tour, you'll have to be on the first ferry to the island and the last ferry leaving the island (unless you decide to stay the night and camp) - as their tour is perfectly timed for those times.
Note: I've just checked the website recently and it says that call volume is very heavy as of this post.
The Grounds of Plum Orchard
The swamp behind Plum Orchard
http://www.nps.gov/cuis/reservations.htm

When you call the hotline, it will ask you for a credit card number to pay for the ferry. Then you'll need to be at the St Mary's visitor center 30 minutes before the ferry will depart to pay for the tour (or do I have it the wrong way around?)

Fees you'll pay are (as of writing):
$20 - Ferry to and from Cumberland Island
$15 - Lands & Legacy tour
$4 - Entrance fee
Total of $39 per person - but trust me, it is worth it! And it is an amazing day out!

If you do book the Lands & Legacy tour, make sure that you bring ample food and water for the whole day. There is no store or fresh water supply available in the island while you are there. Lunch is not provided with the tour - you'll have to pack it yourself, and please do not litter!

The ferry was very pleasant - it was foggy when we arrived in St Marys but lifted when the boat was on its way to the island. The water was very still and you'll have a chance to try to watch dolphins and various birds as you make your way through.

Dungeness
Upon arrival at Cumberland Island, you'll have to go to the ranger station and wait for your name to be called for the tour.You'll get to go in a van and your first destination will be the other end of the island - which is around 1 1/2 hrs drive from the ranger station.

In my trip, I saw various wildlife while sitting in the van: wild horses, armadillos, racoons, a baby wild boar, and squirrels (not to mention the birds too!). I never used to see that many range of wildlife back home so was quite happy to see them!
Me and the boyfriend in the ruins of Dungeness.

Jesus horse - Notice how the horse seems to float on water?
I liked the settlement and the little church where a Kennedy was married - it was a bit musty but it was fine. Such a shame we can't go to the hotel in Cumberland but oh well! There's also a little cottage that they renovated which was a typical house for the free blacks that lived and worked for the hotel at the time.

Next stop was Plum Orchard - where you'll get to eat your lunch in the vast grounds. We chose a place in a bench under a live oak tree with Spanish moss and the river to our back - sooo pleasant! It was so relaxing. But wait, you'll only have 30 minutes before you go on the tour of the house. I loved the indoor pool and the huge ice maker. My god, how the rich people lived!

I saw armadillos and racoons on the grounds, it was just so relaxing to be one with nature! Also saw some wild horses on the trip back.

As a plus, we got to go to Dungeness - we had time to kill and our guide was kind enough to drop us there for 15 minutes and then come back for us. He had to run a quick errand and he said Dungeness is not normally part of the tour. SWEET!! I loved Dungeness - but it's amazing how rich people lived back then. They don't work, and they just spent their days doing sports or lazing around, doing nothing, spending all their inheritance.

Overall, this trip had been amazing - it will set you back at least $60 (including souvenirs + all the transportation costs) but it was well worth it. This is around a day trip from Jacksonville and do come and visit the place before it becomes more touristy. Did I note that Cumberland Island is one of the up and coming places to visit here in America? No?

As of this writing, it appears that the ferry service from St Mary's is being debated - apparently there are plans to relocate the ferry from St Mary's to Fernandina Beach. That would be more ideal for you if you live in the Jax region!


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