I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
April 14, 2016
Thanks to the Hilton Sandestin Beach for hosting my family on our beach adventure!
I think my entire family would agree that our best moments come when we travel together, so we try to do it as often as possible. We’re definitely on the adventurous side– We love experiencing new things and exploring different terrains– but we always return each year to the beach. There, we take long walks along the shore, play for hours in the pool, gorge on fresh local seafood, kayak in coastal waters, and slowly feel our muscles unknot and our brains defog.
As a native Georgian, I’ve been to many beaches in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia in my lifetime, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that my family and I finally visited the much talked about Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa for the first time. I can say with absolute certainty that we’ll be back. Here’s why.
First, the travel time from southern cities like Nashville (7 hours), Atlanta (5 1/2 hours), and Birmingham (4 1/2 hours) is hard to beat. We love Hilton Head, but when it comes to deciding between a 13 hour drive to the South Carolina coast versus seven hours to Sandestin– particularly with kids in the car– it quickly becomes crystal clear that Sandestin is the more logical option!
Second, when it comes to beaches, the Emerald Coast is one of the most beautiful in the world. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are calm, clear, and warm, and the sugary white sand is absolutely gorgeous.
Many of you will appreciate the fact that once you arrive at the Hilton Sandestin Beach, you really don’t need to leave the resort again for the duration of your stay. You can even opt to fly in to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport and take a shuttle to the resort, leaving a car out of the picture entirely. For moms or dads traveling solo, this is an especially attractive option. Even for the most active families, there is plenty to do within the resort– I’ll get to a list of those things momentarily. But first, let’s talk about the Hilton itself.
The Hilton Sandestin Beach is the area’s largest full-service resort- and it’s the only one located directly on the beach. Here are the features parents need to know about:
If you’re bringing your family with you, I highly recommend booking a Deluxe Junior Suite, which features either one king or two double beds, a private balcony with a view of the Gulf of Mexico, and a cozy alcove with two bunk beds for the kids, complete with its own television (Spongebob in the house, know what I’m saying?).
We absolutely loved our Deluxe Junior Suite for a number of reasons. First off, having bunk beds (which the kids thought were SO COOL), allowed my husband and I to book a room with a king-sized bed. We are accustomed to sleeping badly on family vacations because we almost always have to get a room with two double beds– The luxury of sleeping in a king-sized Hilton Serenity Bed instead of a cramped double was utterly blissful, and it really enhanced our overall vacation experience. Hilton Serenity Beds are the closest thing I know to sleeping on a cloud– Combine that feeling with the white noise of the ocean waves just beyond our balcony and the thickness of the walls (we heard no noise outside our room throughout our stay) and we ended up with three incredible nights of deep, restful sleep, something my husband and I both sorely needed. Believe me when I say that I would book a room at the Hilton Sandestin again for the sleep experience alone!
I was also impressed by the Hilton’s attention to detail. As anyone who travels often knows, ‘the little things’ in a room can make or break a hotel stay– Our room was so thoughtfully designed that I was continually delighted by its functionality. Here are just a few of the standout features–
–Our suite had two lavatories, which is invaluable when it comes to family travel. It also had a large closet, a spacious safe large enough for our laptops and more, and an alcove that allowed for privacy when dressing.
–Outlets abounded– another important feature since everyone in my family had multiple gadgets that needed charging. I especially loved the outlet on the side of the nightstand beside my bed- perfect for charging an iPhone and keeping it close at hand at night.
–Having the bunkbed alcove in the entrance hall also meant a much more spacious suite. There was room for a loveseat, ottoman/coffee table, and armchair, as well as a square table with a chair on each side that could function as a desk or as a table for impromptu snacks and meals. We spent a few hours a day of downtime in our room, so we really appreciated the space, and the fact that the beach was just beyond our balcony.
–Drawers and shelves were plentiful in our suite, allowing me to unpack everyone’s clothes, shoes, toys, and bathroom products and keep everything organized. Since there was a place for everything, it was easy to keep everything in its place– For this mom, that’s a big deal!
–Our suite also included a small microwave, refrigerator, wet bar, and Cuisinart coffeemaker, all of which we put into use.
–For parents with very small children, the Hilton Sandestin can also provide cribs, crib bedding, and pack-and-plays.
I got to sample a wide variety of menu items from the Hilton Sandestin Beach’s restaurants and in every case, the food was far better than I’d expect from even a luxury hotel. And it’s no wonder– I later learned that every single item served is delivered fresh daily and never frozen.
Your kids will enjoy Barefoot’s Beachside Bar & Grill, where footwear is optional and the beach views are spectacular. Barefoot’s is located on the deck, just beyond the two outdoor pools. Covered and outdoor seating are available. We had a fantastic lunch at Barefoot’s– I can highly recommend the Sesame Seared Tuna Salad and the Ultimate Nachos appetizer is to die for. My son loved his burger and fries from the kids’ menu. Barefoot’s also has a wide selection of adult beverages, including tropical mixed drinks and low-calorie options.
Sandcastles Restaurant & Lounge serves family-friendly breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as late-night snacks in the lounge. The morning breakfast buffet is fantastic and well worth your time and money. Everything I tried from the buffet was top-notch, from the scrambled eggs and bacon to the pastries and sausages– and Sandcastles’ omelet chef is fast becoming Internet famous, thanks to glowing reviews from satisfied diners.
Dinner is also a treat– I tried the Petit Filet Mignon, which was delicious, but my favorite was the Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi, which was fresh, sauteed to perfection, and accompanied by sweet potato gnocchi that was so delicious, I could have had a bowlful and called it a day.
You don’t have to go all-out to eat here, though- There are plenty of wraps, sandwiches, and budget-friendly appetizers to choose from as well.
Picnix Market is located right next to the hotel pools– It’s a great place to pick up snacks and quick meals for the pool or beach. You can choose from sandwiches, burritos, tacos, or Pizza Hut pizza. Picnix also serves Edy’s Ice Cream in cones made from actual cookies– YUM.
The Coffee Shop is right off the hotel lobby– It’s a great place to grab a quick breakfast (the breakfast sandwiches and muffins are fantastic) and it serves Starbucks coffee as well!
For a romantic date night, I suggest signing the kids up for Kids Night Out and making reservations at Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood, a AAA Four-Diamond restaurant. Seagar’s 600-label wine list has won the “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine for 10 consecutive years and it has won a slew of other awards and mentions as well. You can’t go wrong with a decadent date night here!
A more casual date night option is the hotel’s Hadashi Sushi Bar, where Sushi Chef Jin Kim serves up authentic Japanese cuisine and sushi.
Now, for the feature your kids probably care most about– the swimming pools!
The Hilton Sandestin Beach has three pools- a heated indoor pool, and two outdoor pools– one heated, one not. There are also indoor and outdoor whirlpools, as well as a small outdoor toddler pool. Luxurious poolside cabanas are available by reservation. A poolside shop has pool and beach toys for sale and rent, as well as other necessities like sunscreen. The Hilton Sandestin Beach is very family friendly- You’ll find children of all ages at the pools and your kids are likely to make some friends there.
With two small children and two big ones, we have used resort kids clubs often over the years so that we could enjoy activities with my stepdaughters that our little ones were too small for. We’ve had some great experiences, but I can tell you with confidence that the Hilton Sandestin’s Kids Krew program is the best I’ve encountered yet.
Kids Krew has two components– a daytime Kids Krew program (great for parents who want to veg out on the beach, relax in the spa, or use the time to go hiking, biking, or kayaking) and a night time Kids Night Out, allowing parents to have an evening alone. Both programs are for kids ages 5-12 and cost $50 for the first child, $40 for each additional child.
The Kids Krew room is filled with all kinds of arts and crafts supplies, toys, games, and smart TVs that are used for family-friendly movies and video games– but rest assured that your child will be doing far more than playing in a room for a few hours. Kids Krew activities include kite-flying, sand-sculpting and playing with water balloons, squirt guns and slip-and-slides. There are also themed days, including Field Day, a teambuilding day with parachutes and giant soccer balls and Sweet Tooth Day, when kids learn how to make ice cream or cookies.
When my nine-year-old participated in Kids Krew during our stay, he and the other boys immediately went for the Wii– Parents were assured that the video games were only for check-in and pickup time. The rest of the time was spent playing games and activities, doing arts and crafts, and having lunch. (My son was thrilled when a waiter came to take his order and returned with a cheeseburger and french fries!) When I went to pick up my son from Kids Krew, I found him with flushed cheeks, damp hair, and a big grin on his face– a sure sign he’d been kept busy while he was there. He asked to stay longer and couldn’t wait to go back!
Kids Krew is offered from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Children must be registered by 8:30 a.m. and cancellations must be made by 7:30 a.m.
Kids Night Out activities run from 6pm until 10pm Monday through Saturday. The $50 charge includes dinner and a t-shirt. Kids Night Out activities include camp-outs on the beach roasting marshmallows over a bonfire for s’mores, searching for constellations, secret-agent training, pirate parades and pajama parties with pillow fights. Periodically, Midnight Madness nights are offered and Kids Night Out stays open until midnight!
My son RAN to the Kids Krew room when it was time for Kids Night Out, and once again, when I came to pick him up he begged to stay longer. That night, the kids participated in an Alien Invasion adventure– They had a blast. Kids Krew can be a great way for your children to get to know some of the other kids at the resort– Chances are, they’ll see them again at the pool or on the beach.
Both Kids Krew and Kids Night Out are offered spring break through Labor Day, as well as during select holidays. Kids’ Krew is also offered at other times during the year with a 10-child minimum. During either programs, activities may change due to weather, the interest of the children and the number of children (a minimum of three is required).
One additional note– Your kids will NOT be swimming during Kids Krew or Kids Night Out. I have always felt a little uncomfortable with resort programs that include swimming for the kids when I’m not present, so I love this aspect of the kids program.
Got kids under five? Contact the concierge– Hilton Sandestin guests have access to babysitting offered by outside licensed and bonded child care agencies.
You’re on vacation– You might as well treat yourself, right? The Hilton Sandestin’s Serenity Spa is a perfect place to do it. This spa offers pretty much any service you can think of– massages of all kinds, facials, body wraps and polishes, manicures and pedicures, waxing, hair styling, cuts, and color, and makeup application. Men’s spa services are offered as well in their own private section of the spa.
I got to experience an AromaStone massage– I get massages fairly regularly and have often been disappointed by the quality of massage therapists when I’m on vacation. At the Serenity Spa, I was not disappointed! My massage therapist was fantastic and left me feeling completely relaxed.
Spending time in the spa is almost as fun as the treatments themselves. A large whirlpool provides a great spot to soak your cares away and I could have slept for hours in the spa’s zero gravity lounge chairs. The Serenity Spa will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed– It’s a great place to spend a few hours while the kids are in Kids Krew!
Fitness classes are also offered each day at the Serenity Spa– Classes range from yoga to Pilates and ballet fitness and cost $15 per class. Check the fitness class schedule for sign-up information.
The Fitness Center is open 24/7 to guests ages 16 and up, and features separate men or ladies’ lounges with lockers, whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms.
A day at the beach can be fun even if you don’t like sunbathing. Hilton Sandestin offers kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, beach volleyball and beach bonfires for guests.
Sandestin has 15 miles of bike trails, so it’s well worth your while to rent bikes while you’re at the beach. We rented bikes from Coastal Cruisers and had them delivered to the door of the Hilton. Oh, the places you can ride!
We rode out onto this pier for beautiful views of the bay and local wildlife.
We parked our bikes and took a quick jaunt through the Gordon Davison Nature Walk, where this surprise playground awaited us.
My favorite part, though, was when we rode to the Village at Baytown Wharf, a must-do attraction (and total insider secret) for Sandestin vacationers.
VILLAGE AT BAYTOWN WHARF
There’s something for everyone at the Village at Baytown Wharf. You can take the tram to get there from the Hilton Sandestin, ride bikes there (it’s an easy ride, suitable for intermediate bike riders ages 7 and up), or take your own car– Although the Village at Baytown Wharf is inside a gated community, just tell the guards where you’re going and they’ll let you in.
This village reminds me most of the Boardwalk at Walt Disney World. It’s filled with all kinds of restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, boutiques, and plenty of kid and teen-friendly attractions, like ziplines, a ropes course, a carousel, and much more.
The Village has all kinds of special events- The day we were there, preparations were being made for a weekend wine festival. During the high season, there are movie nights, magic shows, and other outdoor entertainment.
Guests of Hilton Sandestin have full access to the 15 tennis courts (12 of which are HydroGrid clay) at the Sandestin Tennis Center. Shuttles run regularly from the hotel. Private lessons and group clinics are available.
Sandestin has four award-winning, championship golf courses— Raven Golf Club, Burnt Pine Golf Club, Baytowne Golf Club and The Links Golf Club– as well as The Dunes putting course at Sandestin. If golf is your thing, you’re in the right place. The Hilton Sandestin runs regular shuttles to the golf courses.
-The Hilton Sandestin’s high season runs from Memorial Day to Labor day- That’s when hotel rooms are full and poolside/beachside chairs can be hard to come by. Consider coming during the off-season instead– Our favorite beach months in Florida are September and October, when the crowds are gone and the temperatures have dropped a bit, but the water is still warm enough for swimming. Autumn is also a popular time for fall festivals all along the Emerald Coast.
-During the high season, beach chairs and umbrellas go quickly- To make sure you get yours, go ahead and reserve them for the days you’ll need them when you make your hotel reservation. BOOM. You’re so prepared.
-Got a gluten-free family member? No problem! Barefoot’s Beachside Bar & Grill has a gluten-free menu!
-Room service is available 24/7 at the Hilton Sandestin! Who hasn’t craved munchies at 2 am from time to time?
-Going for a night time beach walk? Leave your flashlights in the room unless you have a special red filter for them. Sea turtles nest on Sandestin’s beaches between May and October and flashlight beams can potentially confuse turtle hatchlings, preventing them from reaching the ocean.
Got questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer them– Also, keep an eye out– A post on things to do in the Destin/Fort Walton area is forthcoming!
The Hilton Sandestin provided accommodations, meals, and a small travel stipend for a portion of this trip. I was not compensated for writing this post. As always, my opinions are my own.