DAY 1 — Condo on a beach or cottage on the pond?
Maybe you’d rather be on the golf course—there are four to choose from—the pool—nineteen to choose from—or close to the bay with fishing, jet skiing, sailing and more.
Welcome to Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, FL on the Gulf Coast about halfway between Pensacola and Panama City (www.sandestin.com). You’re just a little more than four hours from Atlanta or Birmingham; five from New Orleans and eight from Dallas.
Families gather at this sprawling resort with miles and miles of white sand beach and 1400 units spread over 2400 acres for the holidays as well as spring break and summer vacations because there is so much to do—a kids club (sand dollar painting anyone?), first-rate junior golf and tennis, biking, and of course the seemingly endless beach ideal for sand castle building, boogie boarding (complimentary boogie boards), beach volleyball, put-put golf, basketball and plenty of room to spread out—some of the oh-so-cute houses have four bedrooms! . Did I mention kayaks and canoes are complimentary too? Couples come for festivals (the beer festival just finished) while girls and guys come for golf and getaways.
It’s a terrific place to gather the gang for the holidays—at supremely affordable rates (www.sandestin.com) and plenty of special activities, complete with in-room visits from Santa (have the kids had Santa read them a holiday story?), a ice skating rink in the resort’s Village of Baytowne Wharf.
There is a Thanksgiving brunch, fireworks and weekend light shows set to holiday music leading up to Christmas while New Years Eve is so popular the huge resort typically sells out.
I like that this is the kind of place where older kids can take off safely on their bikes or take the free tram around the resort and meet up with you for lunch (there are some 20 restaurants to choose from, not to mention well equipped kitchens in the units).
I like that extended family can gather for the holidays without sleeping on lumpy sleeper sofas or worrying about having enough clean towels and hot water for everyone’s showers. I like that the place is affordable with rooms starting as low as $119 and two bedroom condos under $200. (Check Thanksgiving and holiday deals offering as much as 25 per cent off.)
Did I mention the shopping? One of the country’s largest designer outlet malls is just a few miles down the road– Silver Sands Factory Stores. The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day at the resort’s golf courses, presumably while the women shop till they drop. Another mall is a bike ride away.
“Everything we need is right here,” said Fini Koerner, who owns a home here and is vacationing from Memphis with her daughter and two young grandchildren. “There is so much for the children and the adults,” she said, adding that the family now makes it a tradition to celebrate the New Year. “We have everything we need right here,” whether golf, a playground for the kids, kid-friendly restaurants or the ability to get wherever they need to go on their golf cart.
In the Village of Baytowne Wharf, where we encounter Koerner, her two grandchildren and her daughter Finy Shirley, there’s a carousel, expansive play structure, place to get “body art,” ice cream, a ropes course and a junior ropes course, zip line, restaurants (take your pick of fresh oysters, BBQ , pizza or French Bistro), candy and ice cream shops and a short distance away, “tree houses” where kids can climb before they stock up on fish food to feed the fish in the bay. At the Marina Bar and Grill overlooking the Bay, you can sign up to ring the bell that signifies sunset. “We have the best times here,” said Finy Shirley. “We love it.”
Easy to see why.