From a distance, it looks like an idyllic nautical mansion. In actuality, it’s The Henderson, a Salamander Beach Resort & Spa, which opened on the white-sand beaches of Destin, Florida, in late 2016.

Nestled next to 208 acres of protected land in Henderson Beach State Park, the resort’s design—both exterior and interior—intentionally channels a residential look.

The idea: This place is your home away from home.

“We’re next to the state park, so you have plenty of quiet and serenity here, versus other properties, where it’s just busy,” said Tim Bugas, director of sales and marketing.

“People feel like they’re at a true resort,” he added.

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I spent a weekend at The Henderson—the only AAA Four Diamond hotel in Destin—in early April 2019, and I can attest that this place is both homey and serene. After all, hordes of Midwesterners, Georgians and more flock to their summertime condos in Destin each year.

Creating a second home for people is part of the city’s culture.

If you’re looking for more comfortable meeting spaces that feature plenty of natural light, upscale touches and usable outdoor areas, consider The Henderson.

Thanks to its introduction to Destin, it may be time to reconsider this quaint part of Florida as your new meetings destination.

Aerial View of The Henderson and Its Adults Only Pool at Night, Credit: The Henderson
Aerial View of The Henderson and Its Adults-Only Pool at Night, Credit: The Henderson

Meeting Spaces and Amenities at The Henderson

The Henderson boasts 170 rooms that are all the same size (each 425 square feet), save for six sizeable suites with one or two bedrooms.

There’s a family pool, equipped with a lazy river, as well as an adults-only (18 years or older) pool. The beach isn’t far—just a hop and a skip across a quiet street.

Meeting attendees can also take advantage of The Henderson’s sprawling spa, from de-stress massages and a Himalayan salt room to cryotherapy. And take it from me, don’t leave without putting your feet up in the Lavender Lounge. Exquisitely comfortable chairs face a row of windows that let in the perfect amount of natural daylight.

The Lavender Lounge at The Henderson, Credit: The Henderson
The Lavender Lounge at The Henderson, Credit: The Henderson

Work is the priority, though, and from small to large groups, planners have flexible options for their groups inside the property’s meeting wing, which is down a separate hallway from the rest of the resort. Some of the meeting spaces at the property include:

  • Crystal Ballroom: 5,221 square feet/575 guests. When I was there, this space was beautifully transformed for a wedding reception, but meeting planners should take note of the ability to divide the space into three sections. Natural light beams in from one side, while the opposite wall is detailed with floor-to-ceiling mirrors and curtains.
  • Destin Ballroom: 2,500 square feet/175 guests. Over the course of my weekend at The Henderson, I saw this space transform from a meeting space to a room for an art class to a dining room. Large windows face the property’s piazza (also usable space) and rows of palm trees. The space can break out into two separate rooms.
  • Dunavant Room: 75 guests. This space is ideal for a meeting of the board with presentations or smaller receptions.
  • Primrose: The resort’s anchor restaurant serves up “Gulf-to-table” cuisine, with the excellent Executive Chef Gary Palm at the helm. Outdoor seating is available with a terrace that faces the pool. A separate room for private dining can seat up to 12.

Primrose Restaurant at The Henderson, Credit: The Henderson
Primrose Restaurant at The Henderson, Credit: The Henderson

There’s also plenty of room for meetings outdoors. “We really like to take advantage of the outside,” Bugas said. “We get creative with the outside. That’s where people want to be.”

Outdoor event venues at The Henderson include the:

  • Grand Lawn: 250 guests. If you’re headed to the beach or pool, you’ll have to pass this spacious courtyard. Palm trees anchor the corners and hold up a canopy of string lights. It can be tented for receptions or remain open air. The adjacent adult pool can be closed when events are in session.
  • Rooftop terrace: 70 guests. Host an intimate meal or reception here. Views face the lush green park with the beach to the left.

Meeting attendees don’t necessarily want to stay in one place throughout the duration of their time away, Bugas noted.

To that end, The Henderson offers catamaran rides, a nearby golf course (Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club), snorkeling, paddle boarding and more outdoor activities. They can also experience Destin proper with the restaurants dotting Grand Boulevard.

Rooftop Yoga at The Henderson, Credit: The Henderson
Rooftop Yoga at The Henderson, Credit: The Henderson

On our boat ride through the bay, we saw an enormous pod of dolphins, each taking turns to break through the water—two of them even swam next to our boat. But it’s the incredible sunset I’ll never forget (beating out the one I witnessed on a boat off the coast of Maui, Hawaii, in November 2018). The emerald water mixed beautifully with the cotton candy-colored sky.

As a native Midwesterner, I’d never seen anything like it.

Destin as a Meetings Destination

Throughout my time at The Henderson, the passion the staff had for the property and Destin itself was palpable. They talked about boating to work, giving ear scratches to the “dog ambassadors” that hang out in their office and strolling down Scenic Route 98.

Ranger, One of The Henderson's Canine Ambassadors, Credit: The Henderson
Ranger, One of The Henderson's Canine Ambassadors, Credit: The Henderson

Paintings and photography from 13 different local artists can be found on the property. And there’s even work being done to place five artificial coral reefs down the Emerald Coast.

That passion undoubtedly translated into my resort experience.

If you’re worried about getting to the Florida panhandle, don’t. In 2018, Bloomberg named Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) the fastest-growing airport in the U.S.

Nonstop flights to Destin include:

  • Delta: Atlanta
  • American Airlines: Charlotte; Dallas; Chicago; Washington, DC
  • United: Denver, Houston, Chicago
  • Allegiant: Kansas City, Des Moines, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Memphis, Baltimore, New York City/Newark and more.

If Destin is on your radar for a future meeting, I think The Henderson is a unique choice. It feels like a boutique hotel operating with the careful, swift pace of a major property, which it is.

Aerial View of The Henderson Beach Resort, Credit: The Henderson
Aerial View of The Henderson Beach Resort, Credit: The Henderson

When they enter the resort, meeting attendees will find themselves in “the living room,” also known as the lobby. But, harking back to that residential feel, it feels exactly like the former.

Cushy seating looks like it was plucked straight from your aunt’s cozy sitting room.

And a row of glass leads to a veranda facing the state park.

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