Because I live just a few hours away, I have been fortunate to visit the Destin, Fla. area many times, but it’s still a thrill each time I see the clear turquoise water and glittering white sand that is characteristic of this stretch of the gulf coast. On a recent journey in early April, I had the wonderful experience of staying right on that beautiful beach while visiting The Henderson, A Salamander Beach & Spa Resort, which opened in November 2017.
As you approach the 11.5-acre resort property, you notice lovely wooden buildings arising from the back dunes. Much like the original building on the site, the Henderson Park Inn, now a beachside bed & breakfast, The Henderson has some of the Nantucket-style design. But the new 170-room luxury resort building is much more open to the outside, with patios, porches and decks situated to take in expansive views of the beach and surrounding community.
As I drove up to the Grand Courtyard entrance, I felt as if I was approaching a grand old beach home that was very stately yet comfortable, with a touch of Caribbean flair. Both valet and self-parking options are available for guests and all parking is protected from the elements. The lobby area (or Living Room, as it’s called) is spacious, yet inviting, with lots of large couches and coffee tables and a wall of windows overlooking a lovely large porch. It’s a hub of activity with guests coming and going to various places within the resort, but also a spot where people gather to chat and relax.
My guest room, one of the property’s junior suites, was just beautiful. Three sets of windows offered excellent views of the property, the pool area, the grand lawn and – best of all – the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. A patio, complete with table and chairs, provided a great spot to just sit back and soak it all in. The room had a small entryway, with a closet to one side (complete with luxurious robes) and a small refrigerator, shelves for snacks and coffee service. The spacious room had a king-size bed, a large table, a desk and a sitting area with two armchairs next to one of the windows. But the bathroom was the most awesome part; it was huge with a walk-in shower, a large soaking tub, a water closet, large sink and separate vanity and bench.
A Beach Destination
The new resort is situated a ways in from the shoreline and elevated enough that it allows endless views of the beach, which will always be there, thanks to the fact that the property is located right next to 208-acre Henderson Beach State Park, which offers 1.5 miles of protected and pristine beach.
Shortly after arriving, I took a walk down to the beach. The pathway takes you alongside the Grand Lawn, where games, such as cornhole and bocce ball are typically set up, and through the pool area. There is an adults-only pool, with cabanas as well as food and drink service, and a family pool, with a large lazy river and the Sea Level Poolside Bar and Grill. Overlooking the family pool, to the east, are The Henderson Lofts, a five-story building with 58 condominiums, most of which can be rented. There are also the Henderson Town Homes within the resort community. After crossing a private drive, you enter a walkway next to the Henderson Park Inn, where a beach bar, serving drinks, sandwiches and ice cream offers a large outdoor seating area. The resort’s private beach club stretches in front of the buildings and offers chairs and umbrellas, kayaks and stand up paddleboards. There are also bicycles which can be ridden around the resort.
Upon returning to the main resort building, I enjoyed some time on the large porch, which faces west, has lots of comfortable seating, and offers drinks, snacks and music in the evenings. Here I met other guests of the property, who were enthralled with all it had to offer. Back in my room, I was able to see the beginnings of a gorgeous gulf coast sunset out of my western window. There is also a sunset viewing deck on the top (4th) floor of the building.
Dinner at the Primrose Restaurant, one of several onsite dining venues, was delicious and fun. There are lots of fresh seafood dishes, locally raised meats and vegetarian options and unique décor. I also enjoyed breakfast there the following morning and loved their special eggs on waffles with crispy chicken.
Creative Meeting and Event Sites
During a property tour with Senior Sales Manager Kelly Galloway I had a chance to see the resort’s 10,000 square feet of indoor meeting space as well as several outdoor function areas. Kelly told me that The Henderson can accommodate groups of about 200 and the property has already had a lot of success with state associations from Florida and Alabama and with corporate groups from throughout the southeast. “We’re mostly a drive-in market, but we are also getting some groups from the northeast, the mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and Texas,” she said, adding that a financial group had just booked the property for a full buyout later in April.
The event space is within the main building, but has a feel of being a separate space, with a corridor leading from the lobby to a registration space with its own entryway. There are two ballrooms (The Crystal and The Destin) and several smaller breakout rooms. Kelly pointed out, however, that some groups like to use as much of the property as possible. “We had one group that started their Saturday night schedule with an event on the sunset deck, moved to the Living Room, then to the event space reception area and finally to the Crystal Ballroom for their awards ceremony.”
In addition to the Grand Lawn, where a large tent was being set up for a wedding the next day, the Grand Courtyard can be used for outdoor events, Kelly told me. Additionally, groups can have special events right on the beach. “We’re very individualized with our group programming,” she said. “Some groups want us to create special activities that can be strenuous, such as kayak tours, beach Olympics and so forth, while others just want to have time to lay on the beach. We can adapt the resort for all levels and can provide access to nearly everything they could ask for – yolo boards, yoga mats, kayaks, fishing charters or just beach chairs in a special grouping.”
The resort also has a large fitness room, with the latest equipment and classes, as well as the stunning Salamander Spa, which includes a full range of massage and skin treatments, salon services and spaces to relax and rejuvenate. Kelly said that a Himalayan Salt Room and cryotherapy float spa equipment will soon be added to the shower experience, lavender-infused steam room and Jacuzzis. I was privileged to enjoy a Swedish massage, which took the kinks out, and treated myself to a luxurious mani-pedi, followed by some restful time at the adult pool and then another beach walk before dinner. I also enjoyed some gelato from Sprinkles, a very cute soda-fountain-style ice cream shop, where candy, popcorn and other treats are sold.
Checking out another of the dining venues, I enjoyed drinks and small plates at Horizons, the lovely lobby level lounge, which has a marble fireplace and great views of the gulf (another good place to watch sunsets).
A big part of the experience at The Henderson, the art displayed throughout the guest rooms, meeting spaces and public areas was all curated from 13 area artists. From three-dimensional pieces featuring cut glass, to a lovely table made of reclaimed wood to watercolor and oil paintings to stunning glass sculptures, there is attractive and interesting art that evokes the northwestern gulf coast nearly everywhere you look. These elements add to the unique feel of the property and help provide its sense of place.
My final morning at the resort I enjoyed the luxurious treat of having breakfast brought to my room – and they do this in style at The Henderson — a full table was wheeled in and set in front of the window with the best view, a great spot to enjoy the hot and delicious meal. It was difficult to leave this little piece of paradise even though it was a rainy morning!