Blissful Weekend for Two

LUXURY STAYCATION Need a break but find it hard to get away? Look no further than resorts like Henderson Park Inn on Scenic Highway 98, where they take you far, far away — without leaving home. Photo by Scott Holstein.
Blissful Weekend for TwoLeave the Kids With Your Mother, Head to Henderson Park Inn and Get to Know Each Other Again

By Joyce Owen

You’ve heard the term “staycation”? While many people are actually staying at home, others plan their vacation at a nearby location, reducing travel expenses but still taking a break from the daily routine.

An assignment to spend a night at the Henderson Park Inn, a romantic bed and breakfast on the beach in Destin, was my chance to experience the staycation phenomenon, but with an upscale twist — a suite ranges from $349 to $539 per night.

When innkeeper Ryan Olin suggested we come for the whole weekend to experience all the inn’s amenities, I thought, why not? Staying in B&Bs is a delightful way to immerse yourself in the local scene. The hosts are up to date on the best places to visit; whether you are looking for a specific type of restaurant, shopping or entertainment, there is ample time to talk with the staff about their favorite things to do — and they love to share.

All-Inclusive Inn Caters to Guests
Arriving at the Henderson Park Inn, a beachside bed and breakfast, my first thought was that someone from New England had built an inn to remind them of home. But whether returning from a walk on the beach or a day of sightseeing, the Henderson, with its turrets and rough-hewn siding, was a welcome vision.

Located at the quiet end of Scenic Highway 98 as it dead-ends at Henderson Beach State Park, the inn provides a secluded haven for its guests. With 30-plus rooms and no children allowed, it is a restful and pleasant spot for adults to enjoy.

Everyone there emphasized the adults-only aspect of the inn. Olin said that even during the busy July Fourth weekend when the roads are clogged with cars and the beaches packed with tourists, the private beach in front of the inn is never crowded.

On our arrival Friday afternoon, front desk receptionist Renee Phillips provided a tour of the main building and the grounds. The inn promotes its all-inclusive status, and every amenity she pointed out emphasized the attention paid to the wants and needs of guests.

We were encouraged to return to the dining room at 5 p.m. for complimentary beer and wine during the inn’s happy hour.

Olin said that over the years, he has learned that the happy hour is a special event that gives guests a chance to get acquainted. Some couples develop friendships as their vacation progresses, spending time together on the beach and going out to dinner in the evenings. Many schedule return visits at the same time each year.

“They may not see each other any other time, but when they come back here, they renew their friendships,” Olin said.

When the weather is warm, happy hour is held at the tiki bar on the back deck. However, as it was January and a bit blustery when we visited, we were happy to discover that we would gather near the cheery fireplace in the sitting area where there was room to visit with the staff and other guests.

The bright and airy dining room was the location for breakfast, as well as a place to visit each afternoon for lemonade and freshly baked cookies. And although there was a coffee maker in our room, coffee was available in the dining room all day.

A scrapbook in the sitting area supplied current menus from local restaurants for dinner ideas and also provided information on water sports, golf courses and local attractions.

Guests could select a DVD from the nearby shelves if they planned to stay in. Bikes and kayaks also were available for guests who wanted to cruise the bike path or try out the water for an active day in the sun.

One of the highlights for my husband was the fully stocked community refrigerator. Peeking inside, he almost swooned at the sight of Snickers bars on one of the shelves. A variety of chocolate bars, sodas and bottled water are replenished throughout the day. One staff member joked that keeping it filled was practically a full-time job in the summer when guests grabbed the bottled water and soft drinks before heading out to the beach.

A Bottle of Wine and …
The elegantly furnished inn provides the comforts many of us would love to have on special occasions, such as the bottle of wine, bunch of grapes and long-stemmed red rose all tastefully arranged on a tray on the bed that greeted us as we entered our suite.

There are several categories of rooms ranging from the Junior to the Executive Suite, with one identified as the Presidential Suite. We were ensconced in one of the most popular suites in the inn, a corner room that provided amazing views of the beach from the balcony, especially the sunsets, setting the scene for a relaxing and peaceful weekend.

From the four-poster, king-size bed with plush pillows, duvet and comfortable mattress to the oversized bathroom with Gilchrist and Soames toiletries and whirlpool tub, all of the luxuries made a great first impression.

And even though a gathering storm brought thunderous surf, that somehow soothed me as I luxuriated in the chaise lounge reviewing the local newspaper for weekend happenings.

Staying in an area we were familiar with made it easy to judge the responses to questions such as “What should we do today?” or “Where’s a romantic spot for dinner?”

We listened to all of the suggestions at happy hour and offered some of our own. New Yorkers Nick and Maura Balaban, celebrating their 10th anniversary, wanted to experience jazz music. We all agreed that the wildly popular Red Bar restaurant in Grayton Beach would make for a great first dinner at the beach. We headed to the Gravel Road restaurant that night to enjoy the great food and ambiance.

Checking Out the Area
With fresh-cut fruit and a vast array of juices at breakfast, there was ample opportunity to eat healthy at the Henderson, but the warming trays filled with cheese grits, bacon, sausage and sausage gravy made it hard to resist those sinful foods. There also were freshly baked pastries, including scones and biscuits, available buffet style. We enjoyed a ham and cheese omelet — the chef makes breakfast to order, including omelets, scrambled eggs and Belgian waffles — while we planned our day.

I was thrilled when Tamee Gaddin, who was working at the front desk Saturday morning, suggested a drive down Scenic Highway 30-A, the popular beach road in South Walton, as the perfect first day excursion.

She has even written a guide for guests to use as they travel down the road.

The Balabans hopped on bikes and headed to Sandestin, another suggestion from Gaddin. Several guests were off to 30-A after breakfast, but we wanted to experience something a little different, so we asked for another option. I was a little surprised that she didn’t mention nearby Destin Commons, which offers shopping, dining and movie-going opportunities, until I realized that many of the shops and restaurants in the complex are chain stores and the inn’s staff was looking to provide visitors with experiences that were unique to the area.

Olin said they direct guests to popular local places rather than have them visit the more obvious tourist sites. Whether it’s dining at locally owned and operated restaurants or visiting artist-owned galleries, they want their guests to discover the best that the area has to offer.

To get a feel for a part of the Emerald Coast we had not visited in a couple of years, we headed west toward Emerald Grande and HarborWalk, a new entertainment center at the base of the Destin Bridge. It was a bit lower on Gaddin’s list but still a pleasant outing for many vacationers.

When we discovered the restaurants Commander’s Palace and Pat O’Brien’s, with the preponderance of New Orleans-based restaurants, I jokingly wondered if we had driven a bit too far. Since Hurricane Katrina, some of the New Orleans residents who took refuge in this area and were welcomed with such hospitality decided to relocate here and bring their businesses, especially restaurants, to our community. We have been blessed to become home to restaurants such as Fire, once based in Louisiana, while others, like Commander’s Palace and Pat O’Brien’s, have opened a second location in Northwest Florida.

While touring HarborWalk, the rain arrived and the temperature dropped, and we abandoned our tourist trek for the warmth of our suite. The inn provides gourmet box lunches, and while picking up our pre-ordered meal, we grabbed several of the fresh-baked cookies, selected a couple of DVDs and hunkered down for the afternoon.

Dinner Is Served
That cold and rainy Saturday night as we headed out to Camille’s at Crystal Beach for dinner, I wished there were an on-site restaurant for our convenience. The Henderson staff sought to provide every service, so much so that guests don’t need to leave the facility, except for dinner. Now, with the addition of BeachWalk Cafe, an upscale restaurant that relocated to the inn and opened March 1, they can stay in for dinner as well. With that addition, guests won’t have a single reason to get in their car until it’s time to leave.

Heading back home to do laundry and prepare for another work week, we agreed that it had been the perfect staycation, one that gave us the chance to relax and recharge. And isn’t that what a vacation — whether at home or far away — is all about?

Henderson Park Inn
2700 Scenic Highway 98, Destin
Reservations: (866) 398-4432
Front desk: (850) 269-8646

• 24 hour on-site check-in
• Located on a quiet section of Scenic Highway 98, next to Henderson Beach State Park
• Close to Destin Commons and the Mid-Bay Bridge
• Private terraces/balconies overlooking the Gulf of Mexico (except Honeymoon Suite)
• Complimentary beach service and beach towels for use on site
• Cable TV, DVD players and DVD check-outs
• Wine and grapes in rooms upon arrival
• Rooms with mini-refrigerator come stocked with bottled water
• Small conference room for weddings, board meetings and other activities
• Free high-speed Internet access
• Some rooms equipped with fireplace
• Full breakfast and boxed lunches included
• Beer and wine happy hour
• Suites available
• Private baths (most with whirlpool tubs)
• Golf privileges and preferred rates at nearby Kelly Plantation
• Community refrigerator stocked with beverages and candy bars
• Adults only

Nearby Restaurants
Seasonal hours, call to confirm

Camille’s at Crystal Beach
2931 Scenic Highway 98, Destin
(850) 337-8860
Lunch: 11 a.m.–2 p.m. daily
Dinner: Sunday through Thursday, 5–10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 5–11 p.m.
Reservations recommended.

Gravel Road Restaurant
50 Uptown Grayton Circle, Grayton Beach
(850) 534-0960
Lunch: 11 a.m.–3 p.m., Monday through Saturday
Dinner: 5–9:30 p.m.

Restaurant Fire
55 Clayton Lane, Grayton Beach
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday
Dinner: starts at 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday
Sunday Brunch: starts at 11 a.m.