Sugar-white sand beaches. Clear blue-green water. Gentle sea breezes. Bright, beautiful sunshine. Think I’m on a tropical island? Think again. You can find this slice of heaven in Northwest Florida along the beautiful Emerald Coast of the Gulf.
I was surprised by what I found at the panhandle of Florida. Here, you will find pine trees, not palm trees lining the roadways. Along the coast you sea oats grow in the dunes, the sand is among the whitest in the world, and the waters are almost an emerald green. Everything was so much different from the mouse-laden Florida I’m familiar with!
Sitting on this beautiful coast you will find the Hilton Sandestin Golf Resort and Spa, the largest full-service beachfront resort in Northwest Florida. The hotel itself boasts 598 rooms divided into two towers. Each room features a full or partial view of the gulf, refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave, premium cable TV and wireless internet access. By staying in a Junior Deluxe Suite, you can fit the whole family in one room! These suites feature bunk beds tucked into their own little alcove with its own media center, a choice of a king or two double beds plus a queen sleeper sofa. By my count, that means you can sleep up to 8 people in your room, making this a great option for families.
I personally found the Junior Deluxe Suite to be very spacious and comfortable. My son loved having his own little alcove to relax in and of course, his own TV. I appreciated some of the small details like the easily accessible plugs to recharge my phone, the second sink outside of the bathroom, the speaker located next to the sink to allow you to listen to the TV while getting ready, and the extra towels stocked in the room (a pet peeve of mine is not having enough towels in the room!). However, my absolute favorite part of the room was definitely the view. We stayed on the 13th floor and had a panoramic view of the coast and the resort below. Chairs were conveniently set up on the balcony so I could take a cup of coffee and a book and relax overlooking the water.
Tip: The end of April is a wonderful time to visit. It is the low season and kids are still in school so things aren’t so crowded. The weather is beautiful, sunny and in the low 80’s, making it perfect beach weather. A little birdie also told me that September is a great time to visit for the same reason and great deals on rates can be found.
Fun for the Whole Family
On site you will find 2 outdoor heated pools, an indoor heated pool, a kiddie pool and 2 whirlpools. You can rent your own chairs or private cabana poolside. The pool hut is located nearby so that you can pick up your towels or purchase some forgotten sunscreen. Conveniently located by the pool is Picnix Poolside Market, a walk-up grab-and-go restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat or have a sweet ice cream treat.
The beach is basically family-friendly heaven. Reserve your beach set-up and staff will escort you right to your chair along the water. Here you can also find beach volleyball, kayak and paddle board rentals. The hotel manager gave us a great tip when heading into the water- shuffle your feet along in the sand until you feel something flat and hard, reach down and you will be delighted to find a sand dollar! If you feel like another type of water adventure such as a dolphin watch cruise, be sure to check in with the hotel concierge who can help you plan your adventure.
If you like to be more active, there are bicycle rentals and bike trails for you to explore the resort property and surrounding areas. There are also 15 tennis courts and 4 golf courses nearby.
If you are up for a little ride, there is a resort tram that will transport you to the Village of Baytowne Wharf. Here you will find several boutique style shops, many restaurants, and a fun playground for the kids to explore. Be warned, while it wasn’t a far drive, the tram service isn’t among the fastest modes of transportation. It did make for a nice little ride that allowed us to see the resort area.
Adult Only Time
The Kids Krew will help ensure that the kids are having a great time while you are enjoying your adult time. They feature fun programmed sessions built around themes. The kids will engage in crafts, games, scavenger hunts and more led by the energetic staff. Lunch or dinner is included in the price of the session making it a truly all-inclusive experience for the kids and worry-free for the parents.
While the kids are off having fun perhaps you’d like to relax. The Serenity Spa offers a full menu of services to pamper you. You will have access to the whirlpool and sauna, a fitness facility with top of the line equipment and for a fee, group classes.
If you would like to take advantage of your kid-free time and have a dinner with your partner that doesn’t involve yelling or food fights, there are 6 different on-site restaurants to choose from. Segars is an AAA four diamond restaurant featuring prime rib, seafood, and an award winning wine list. Hadashi serves up a wonderful selection of sushi, while Barefoots Beachside Bar & Grill offers up a view of the coast.
With more than 40 percent of Florida’s panhandle preserved for nature, the resort is dedicated to helping preserve the natural beauty and resources of the coast. Hilton has made a $9 million investment in improvements to be more environmentally friendly. Their new “turtle-safe” lighting is specially designed to not disturb nesting turtles and other wildlife. 30,000 sea oats have been planted to help protect the dunes. A beautiful new beachfront deck is made from long lasting, environmentally friendly materials, and is pleasantly splinter free allowing you to roam barefoot. The resort also practices recycling, energy reduction, and water conservation.
Throughout the year the Hilton Sandestin will be introducing educational programs about sea turtles and other green efforts in the kids programs and other family-friendly activities. Guests are also encouraged to explore the nearby state parks, dune lakes, and coastal forests.
Disclosure: The author and her son were provided with a complimentary two night stay, meals, spa services and Kids Krew programs for the purposes of this article. No requests were made for an express point of view and all opinions are those of the author based on her experience.