The first weekend of May each year, Amelia Island and the historic seaport of Fernandina Beach are transformed into a celebration of the start of America’s commercial shrimping industry. What began as an annual race for shrimp boat captains has become a jurored art exhibit with more than 400 artisans and antique dealers displaying pottery, paintings, jewelery and collectibles throughout a sixteen block area of the historic city. It all begins on Friday night with the food booths opening, followed by a pirate ship docking downtown and the pirates seizing the island for the weekend. Fireworks follow to close out the evening. Exhibitor booths open Saturday and Sunday mornings until early evening. Shrimp is the focus and primary food and its fixed in more ways than Forrest Gump’s friend “Bubba” described in the movie Forrest Gump. All the food vendors are non-profit groups and it represents a key fund raiser for them each year. In 2008 an estimated 135,000 visitors came to the island for the festival and based on walks thru town this weekend, it appears there will as many or more this year. The weather this year was fabulous, with highs in the mid-eighties, sunny but with slight breezes. Based on my sampling the food is great. Many of the vendors feature fresh local shrimp and it’s always a treat. I’m also pretty fond of the funnel cakes to round out an afternoon of booth hopping! Pirates are on display through-out town, groups provide music at the stage area, the marina is filled with boats of all kinds and people line the harbour to devour the variety of shrimp dishes they’ve selected. There’s also a KID’S Zone for those who need more entertaining than that provided by artistic fare. Local merchants stay open as well, so visitors can transition from art to other shopping right on the same streets. One of the joys of staying at the William’s House is the ability to park, leave your car at the Inn and walk to all the festivities. As you can imagine, parking spaces are precious and empty lot’s you never noticed before suddenly spring to life with ropes and $ price tags for parking. This is the Island’s largest event of the year and well worth visiting if you have an opportunity to do so.