Text by Tracy Louthain | Photos courtesy of Tracy Louthain and The HendersonCruising over the Mid-Bay Bridge, the Choctawhatchee Bay glistened like a million diamonds in the afternoon sun. The time had arrived for our romantic escape to The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort. Located along Florida’s Emerald Coast, Destin’s newest luxury resort is nestled between sugar-white sand beaches, Henderson Beach State Park and the charming Crystal Beach neighborhood.
Towering above street level, The Henderson appeared as a majestic manor. Upon entering, the grand living room was stately yet unpretentious. From the walnut floors to the reclaimed wood beams and old-world style chandeliers that adorn the vaulted ceilings, the interior felt like it had been part of the coast’s landscape for decades. When we arrived in late afternoon natural light spilled into the room through floor-to-ceiling windows that also provide a spectacular view of the 200-acre Henderson Beach State Park.
Owned by Memphis-based Dunavant Enterprises, Inc., The Henderson has been a labor of love. The project was a vision of the family for more than a decade and took two years to build.
“An incredible amount of work has been invested into this project,” says Bill Dunavant III, president and CEO of Dunavant Enterprises. “After a decade of development and meticulous planning, our family is thrilled to offer a level of luxury that [was] previously unavailable between New Orleans and Sarasota.”
The Dunavants wanted to bring something truly authentic and special to the Gulf Coast, and local flair abounds throughout the facility. From the vintage Destin photographs that grace the hallways to 465 original works of art created by 13 local and regional artists, the resort reflects the beauty and personality of the Emerald Coast.
The Henderson’s wood shingles and steep gable roof lines complement the original Henderson Park Inn, which is located to the south of the new resort complex. Enhancing the resort’s beauty is the five-star service. Managed by Salamander Hotels & Resorts, the staff at The Henderson are gracious, welcoming and make each guest’s stay nothing short of spectacular. From running to our car to retrieve sunglasses to preparing a special cocktail at the spa, thoughtful team members provided exceptional service with a smile. The Henderson offers car service to nearby shopping and dining locales, including the Destin Harbor.
Our Gulf-side room overlooked the preserve. The comfortable couch on the terrace drew us outside to feel the warm coastal breeze. The spacious room was beautifully decorated with attention to detail. Shutters adjacent to the bathtub opened to the bedroom, offering views of the preserve from throughout the suite.
Beginning our day with a long leisurely walk on the soft white sand beaches was a joy. Nestled along the state park, this stretch of beach offers pristine, untouched beauty.
As we arrived at the adult pool to bask in the warm Florida sun we were greeted by courteous staffers who escorted us to pool chairs and offered towels, water and other amenities. The resort features two pools—an adult pool and a zero-entry, family pool with splash pad for kids. We stayed long enough to soak up the sun and find relaxation while listening to the soothing sound of water spraying from the fountains.
Horizons, the lobby-level lounge bar, features hand-crafted cocktails, wine and local craft beers. With its impressive rotunda, marble fireplace and spectacular views of the park and the Gulf in the distance, Horizons is the ideal indoor setting to watch the sunset. Infused jalapeno flavor in signature cocktails like The H and the Spicy Mule adds a spicy kick to sunset libations; the complimentary barbecue pecans and roasted black-eyed peas are a delicious accompaniment. The Henderson also hosts a Salutation Celebration on the fifth floor Sunset Vista with Captain Joe, ringing the bell at sunset.
For dinner, we headed to the main dining room, Primrose. Named after the area’s oldest commercial fishing vessel, Primrose is dressed in nautical hues and serves fresh, local cuisine. Executive Chef Michael Katz’s menu ranges from seafood and sushi to prime steaks and chops. The park-side firepit provided a relaxing outdoor gathering spot for after-dinner drinks.
Health, Wellness and Relaxation
The breakfast menu at Primrose features a range of health-conscious choices as well as some decadent options. We opted for The Hammy, the signature ham, pineapple and egg sandwich.
With each paid room night, guests have the choice of two hours of select activities, including stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, beach bike riding, kick boarding, fitness classes, and nature tours. We picked out a couple of beach cruisers to bike through the Crystal Beach neighborhood. Passing colorful beach cottages, we traversed the coast, stopping at beach access points along the way.
The centerpiece of The Henderson is the Salamander Spa, where health, wellness and relaxation blend seamlessly. In addition to a fitness center, the spa offers wellness classes and programs. Our spa time was purely indulgent, however. “Couples playtime” offers 90 minutes of bliss for busy pairs craving time together. Entering the private suite, couples are welcomed with a big Jacuzzi bubble bath, chocolate-covered strawberries and decadent treats, including a bowl of vegetable-based mask so they can give one another facials. One of only a few spas in the U.S. that offer ocean views, The Henderson’s luxury suite features a terrace where guests can lounge outside overlooking the park.
During our couples’ massage we enjoyed a blend of relaxing techniques and deep tissue massage. The therapists worked their magic while we enjoyed a quiet moment together. Private men’s and women’s lounges with steam rooms, experience showers, Jacuzzis and more await guests after their service. For ultimate relaxation, the perfect spot is the Lavender Lounge, overlooking the park. A glass of Lavender Bubbles, a mix of lavender simple syrup, La Marca Prosecco and Miraval Rose, is the ultimate post-spa toast. The finale was a visit to the salon for a pedicure. The delicious service includes coconut butter scrub and pineapple hydrating lotion—it’s like a pina colada for the feet.
Before departing, we took one last moment to sit on the veranda and enjoy the coastal breeze while banana leaf fans gently circled overhead. We agreed that we must return with the kids. With its family pool, Sprinkles Ice Cream shop, Kids Club and white-sand beaches just steps away, The Henderson is well-suited to cater to entire family.