I'm also a avid amateur with a few published photos. My move to the DSLR world was with the D80 because I still had a few lens from my 35mm days that were Nikon mount. I made the jump to the D90 for the increased performance and the controls were similar to the D80. The D90 has been a fantastic camera and has only been in the shop for repair one time. When I was looking to step up in performance and features I looked at the D5100 the D300 and the D7000. The D7000 won because all the controls were right where they had been on the 80 and 90 and the performance was close to the 300 at half the cost.
You will find that you can pick up the D7000 and keep on learning with loss in time.
I would almost guarantee you will be happy with the change.