WHERE IS IT? In the Florida panhandle, this resort is rich with amenities although its most dazzling is the beachfront position along the Gulf of Mexico. Guests in all rooms are treated to private balconies and shimmering sea views. Destin/Fort Walton Beach is the closest airport about 45 minutes away with Panama City’s airport just a few minutes father. Its position on 2,400 acres of land means there is everything from watersport activities to 72 holes of golf all within a few minutes of each other.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? This is the largest full-service resort directly on the beach, and its two towers of accommodations have swimming pools, outdoor lounge areas and excellent dining options for all price points. The resort is popular with business groups as well as families, many of whom have been coming here for decades on holiday. Guests often drive from neighboring states, and the resort does strong repeat business, especially with Hilton Honors members. Hilton’s partnership with Lysol and its CleanStay program was in full force during my visit, with Plexiglas barriers at customer-facing counters, mask and social distancing signage, an impressive team of cleaners visible wiping down handles and surfaces, and Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer available in public areas and elevators.
ROOM FACILITIES The rooms are bright and well-designed with fresh, tropical colors, Hilton’s signature pillowtop bedding with duvets, easy-access power outlets by the beds and work table, and large cabinets with a flat-screen cable TV. Families love the kitchenette with its sink, refrigerator, microwave, and coffeemaker. Business travelers appreciate all the charging outlets as well as separate bathroom and vanity area allowing one person to shower while the other gets ready. Ample closet space is another great feature, but a repeat guest favorite are the rooms with bunk beds allowing families to stay together in one room. Accommodations are divided between the main tower and the spa tower (the latter shares the building with an impressive spa facility); both have direct access to the pool areas and beach boardwalk. Guests will first arrive to their room to find the door sealed with a CleanStay sticker assuring that the last person to be in the room was the housekeeper while thoroughly sanitizing it. I felt very safe during my stay, and all the guests were carefully following the protocols that are amply displayed through signage and via check-in materials.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS Dining here is a highlight, and there are seven options to choose from for every palate. A coffee shop serves piping hot Starbucks drinks plus ice cream while a lobby sushi bar opens most evenings. The main restaurant serves three meals a day in the dining room or lounge, although during my visit breakfast was a la carte only rather than also having a buffet option. In between the pools is Barefoot’s Beachside Bar & Grill preparing tasty burgers, salads and sandwiches to enjoy in the sun. Its bar is also well-stocked, with servers delivering refreshments in season. Most famous here, however, is Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, which draws locals and other resort guests aplenty. As the bar staff shakes fancy cocktails or uncorks vintage wine and a pianist swoons, guests tuck into prime cuts of meat and fresh seafood prepared from an exhibition kitchen. It is on par with some of the finest steakhouses in the country and is often recognized among them. This is northwest Florida’s only AAA Four Diamond steakhouse.
LEISURE FACILITIES In addition to the heated pools and whirlpools on the beachfront deck, there’s an indoor pool and whirlpool. The fitness center is open at all hours, and the spa and wellness center offers a wide range of impressive massage and beauty treatments (during the busy season, it does as many as 150 treatments per day making it one of the most popular spas along the Gulf Coast). It also features well-stocked men’s and women’s relaxation areas with sauna, steam room, whirlpool and lounge spaces to enjoy before or after a treatment (or on a rainy day). For those lounging on the sand, beach attendants can set up chairs and umbrellas and deliver towels. Guests have access to four golf courses, a putting course, 15 tennis courts, plenty of boating activities, and a shuttle to nearby shopping venues. During normal times, a kids club helps parents enjoy some free time thanks to supervised activities for their young ones.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES The resort welcomes plentiful groups thanks to 40,000 square feet of meeting space that comes in both boardroom and ballroom setups.
VERDICT This is a world-class resort that flies under the radar, but is well-deserving of its high reputation for romance-seeking couples, families and business groups. Whether you’re here to get active, work or relax on the balcony, you can do it all.
HOW MANY ROOMS? 590 rooms and suites
PROPERTY HIGHLIGHTS Family-friendly pools and beach area, impressive spa, and decadent dining
PRICE Internet rates for a partial beachview room start at $165
CONTACT 4000 Sandestin Blvd., South Miramar Beach, FL 32550, Phone 850-267-9500 hiltonsandestinbeach.com