Outfitter Spotlight: Amelia Island Kayak Excursions, Florida
Amelia Island Kayak Excursions is a family-owned, award-winning kayak outfitter in Florida’s northeast corner…
Amelia Island Kayak Excursions (AIKE) has offered guided kayak tours since 2013 that focus on the natural treasures of their area of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.
Watch this short video for an introduction:
Amber Bullington was kind enough to give us a half hour on the phone recently to give us the scoop about her kayak-loving family and their business…
BB: Tell us how you got started.
AMBER: My parents, Mark and Kim Bullington, started the business. They’d always been on the water in some way or other. My dad and my brother (Aaron) kept taking friends and relatives out on kayak trips, and we were kayaking more and more. It was natural to start AIKE.
One day my dad said, “You’re supposed to do something that you love…and it’s a blessing if you can make a living doing what you love.” So they started with just a few kayaks.
I still remember the very first family we took out. They were from Michigan—we still have their picture. We were just over the moon when we took our first reservation!
As an adult, it’s special to me when I overheard my parents talking one day. My dad told my mom: “I feel like I won’t have to work again a day in my life, because I’m doing what I love!” To hear your parents say that is very special.
My brother and I were both in the corporate world, but came on board before too long. So we’re a full-blown family business. My husband is full-time with the business, too.
My nephew is only 11. But every summer when he gets out of school he says, “Now Amber, you know if you need an extra guide just let me know.” And he could do it! He’s my little assistant for the Kids’ Camps we do.
We also have a great group of friends we can call on when we need them. They and their families have become part of our family, too.
BB: Describe the Kids’ Camps you do.
AMBER: We started off with just one, and then last year we did three—and all three were full. The way I look at it is I’m helping to train up the next generation of kayakers. It’s very hands-on. We teach them a lot of safety skills, kayak gear and ’what-if’ scenarios like “What do you do if an alligator swims by?” (which has happened!)
We have kids who have no experience on the water up through kids who’ve done quite a bit of kayaking. We partner with the youth division of Florida Fish & Wildlife, and incorporate some of their material into the camps, too.
I get letters from kids—some of them get a kayak for Christmas and they’ll send me a picture of them using their kayak. The parents and grandparents send me feedback and it makes my day!
BB: You grew up in a rural setting instead of the urban setting of most people in our country these days. Explain how that fits so well with the way you do your kayak tours.
AMBER: We grew up knowing trees, knowing animal prints—we grew up immersed in that world. We try to bring that approach to our kids camps and tours—our campers and guests are going to have an authentic experience, not a tourist experience.
It’s refreshing for people who don’t experience that on a day-to-day basis to have that authenticity. Once we leave the boat ramp we’re in the great outdoors. We never know what we’re going to see.
We talk about the type of environment we’re in—coastal or freshwater. We’ll go into as much detail about that environment as our guests are interested in.
BB: How are you most involved in your local community?
AMBER: We reach out to the schools—public, private and homeschoolers—and try to get recommendations of children who can use a scholarship for our kids camps. We want to help those who don’t have the tuition in their family budget to be able to experience a camp, too. That’s very special to us.
BB: What’s your most popular tour?
AMBER: It’s a split between Cumberland Island and Lofton Creek.
Cumberland Island National Seashore is off the coast of southeast Georgia 40 minutes north of us. The only true way you can legally get there is through the National Park Service. We have a permit through the NPS to kayak over there with our guests.
Guests get to get out and spend time on the island. It’s like being on your own private beach when you get there. There are wild horses on the island, miles of sand dunes, maritime forests, and an array of wildlife: sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and a variety of birds. It’s a special experience!
When you go with us, we know how to use the tides and currents to our benefit, we tell you about the environment and wildlife, and share about the Island’s rich history.
And on our Lofton Creek tour, guests have the opportunity to experience old Florida—a lush forest of oaks, Spanish moss and palm trees. This is blackwater paddling. It’s like you’re kayaking on a mirror. You feel like you just exited civilization.
This one’s a very easy paddle and very welcoming to any experience level. It’s a great one for parents with small kids as the whole family can go together.
BB: What sets you apart from other outfitters near you?
AMBER: Our family atmosphere and customer service. We love people and we love kayaking, and that shows in our interaction with our customers.
We’ve won several awards, including Small Business of the Year from our local Chamber of Commerce. Florida Senator Marco Rubio announced that our family’s business won the US Senate’s Small Business of the Week award. We were floored and humbled!
Guests have rated us #1 on TripAdvisor since the day we opened, which is the most special to us. It’s because of the people we are, the spirit of excellence we have. It doesn’t matter if it’s two people or a corporate group—they’ll get the same service. We take care of our guests and make them feel comfortable.
My favorite story is a family who toured with us. After their paddle, the teenagers of the family told my mom, “Our parents told us we could do one big thing on our vacation. We chose to come kayaking with you.”
That almost made me cry! Their family chose our family to be a part of their special time. We realize we’ve had an impact on the people themselves, it’s not just one more activity they’re doing and then they go about their business.
BB: Any last words?
AMBER: We consider our success, our accolades, the type of people we are…we recognize that this is favor from God. We’re privileged to be able to be good stewards and showcase creation. We thank God every day that we get to live this dream!
Contact our Wisconsin-based Customer Service team with all your paddle questions:
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