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Published: Sunday, 8/17/2003

Florida resort is a great family destination

BY JAKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort has more than 1,000 units, 11 pools, and a beach. The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort has more than 1,000 units, 11 pools, and a beach.
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DESTIN, Fla. - I have to admit that as we packed up the minivan for the long journey ahead of us, we were a bit nervous. Here we were getting ready to hit the road - driving through the night no less - to a destination nearly 1,000 miles away based on some pictures and press releases we'd seen on the Internet.

As we drove through the dreary highways of the Midwest, we really had only one simple wish for our Florida getaway - a no-hassle week of fun, sun, and quality family time.

We couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised.

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, located in the Florida panhandle between Fort Walton Beach and Panama City, was twice the family vacation that we had hoped for.

From tram services that will take guests anywhere on the resort at no charge until 11 p.m. to all sorts of complimentary amenities, the resort had something for everyone.

Its more than 1,000 rental units range from condominium villas to large single-family homes. Our roomy two-bedroom condo was located in the newest portion of the resort, the Village of Baytowne Wharf; it was completely furnished, right down to the knives and forks.

With so much to do outdoors, we didn't spend too much time inside, but the condo was extremely comfortable, and each room had its own TV with VCR - a nice way to wind down the kids at bedtime.

The porch of our unit opened onto the third floor of the complex, which put us 30 feet from the beautiful pool facilities, which include two hot tubs and a children's swim area. This centrally located atrium also had a pavilion, complete with outdoor fireplace and wooden rockers - a welcome retreat when the sun sets over the gulf and the breeze drops the temperature a few degrees.

One of the nicest parts of our stay was the easy access to so many activities right on the property, most of which were within walking distance of our room. We only got in our car once during our entire stay.

Each day found us trying out one of the 17 eateries in the 28-acre Village, and evenings were typically spent bayside sipping a tropical drink as our daughters, ages 4 and 6, danced under the stars to the live music performed nightly on the boardwalk.

Most days we slapped on the sunscreen and hit one of the resort's 11 pools or the sugar-white beach - the resort features 71/2 miles of gulf-front beach and pristine bayfront property. The area's beaches are perennially ranked among the best in the country by regional and national publications such as Southern Living magazine and USA Today.

By simply showing a room key, guests can use the health club and tennis courts, get children's fishing licenses, or borrow bicycles, canoes, or kayaks.

Trams and water shuttles are also available at no cost.

Situated on 2,400 acres between the Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Sandestin is abuzz with wildlife and natural beauty. My children became quite the anglers during our stay, and we wet our lines in both the bay and in many of the stocked ponds found throughout the property. We got lucky every time, too, catching and releasing bluegill, catfish and sea trout.

Opened in 1973, Sandestin is very much a family resort, and the featured children1s activities were another high point of our stay. Each day, the high-energy recreation director would have kids creating gulfside sandcastles, playing poolside bingo, horseback riding on the peaceful Jolee Island Nature Park, or engaging in Hula Hoop contests.

And if mom and dad want a quiet dinner together, the resort offers supervised children's activities at their KidZone for a small fee.

We like to keep active on our vacations, and with 20 miles of bike paths to explore, 15 tennis courts, and 4 golf courses with 73 holes (an extra hole option on the Raven Golf Club), the recreation choices of Sandestin are bountiful. They even had helmets and bikes with training wheels available for the little riders.

The Baytowne Marina, a 98-slip facility with a very helpful staff, also featured Wave Runner, sailboat, and pontoon boat rentals, sailing instruction and charters, and full and half-day sunset and lobster cruises.

Our children had a blast, to say the least, and the commitment of the resort to show guests a good time was commendable. Sandestin's facilities, services, and hospitality will most likely lure my family back for another stay before too long.

Peak season at sunny Sandestin runs from mid-May through August, with room rates varying from $160 at the Bayside Inn to $355 at the Westwinds. Themed travel packages are available year-round.

Information: 1-800-622-1038 or www.sandestin.com



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