Age Becomes Her

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa Turns Twenty-five

By Christy Kearney

In 1984, “Thriller” topped the music charts, Gremlins took over the box office, Ronald Reagan ruled the White House, and the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa made its debut just east of a sleepy little Florida fishing village called Destin.

Now, twenty-five years later, the entire Northwest Florida Gulf Coast has become a bustling tourism community, and the Hilton Sandestin is still in the spotlight as the largest of the premier luxury full-service Gulf-front hotels in the area.

As the resort hotel marks its silver anniversary, it proves that some things just get better with age. Since the beginning, the Hilton Sandestin Beach has been the backdrop for special moments, from meaningful family vacations and family reunions to weddings and important business meetings.

“Many of our loyal guests grew up coming to the beach and staying at the Hilton,” says Marshall Thompson, vice president of sales and marketing for the resort. “As they have grown and their families have grown, we keep making the Hilton Sandestin experience special and memorable.”

“Couples who were married here now bring their families for spring break,” he continues. “Guests who came to the beach with their parents or on business now come for girlfriend and golfing getaways.”

With an average of 70 percent of the resort’s guests returning for a second visit, those who experience the Hilton Sandestin and its six hundred accommodations, 32,000 square feet of meeting space, award-winning restaurants, luxurious spa, and activities and amenities are clearly pleased and keep coming back for more.

“Throughout the years, we have been committed to reinvesting in facility enhancements to ensure the Hilton Sandestin remains among the finest vacation and meeting destinations in the country,” says Robert Kamm, CEO and president of Sandcastles Inc., who, along with owners Frank Flautt and Fred Alias, had the vision for the Hilton Sandestin twenty-five years ago. “We opened the Hilton Sandestin on December 15, 1984, and it has been a great journey from that opening to this year.”

Mike Chouri, Robert Kamm, and Marshall Thompson vie magazine hilton sandestin beach

Mike Chouri, Robert Kamm, and Marshall Thompson


The Hilton Sandestin Beach started as four hundred condominium hotel units, which according to Kamm was a progressive and ambitious goal in 1984. The new concept was welcomed with open arms, and by 1998, the Hilton Sandestin was completing a $45-million expansion and renovation project, which added a new tower with two hundred additional guest suites, a new pool deck, 60,000 square feet of commercial space expansion, and more. The completed project positioned the Hilton Sandestin as the largest waterfront luxury hotel along Florida’s western Gulf Coast.

Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood also opened in 1998, ushering in a new era of exceptional fine dining in Northwest Florida. Since its opening, Seagar’s talented culinary team, led by Executive Chef Bruce McAdoo, has focused on local fresh and unique ingredients served with a variety of high-quality components to create signature dishes reflecting the resort’s coastal surroundings. Unique wines, a private dining room with a reserve wine list featuring more than eight hundred labels, and memorable tableside preparations add to the luxurious experience.

Serenity by the Sea, the spa at the Hilton Sandestin Beach, made its debut in 2001, offering one of the only destination spa experiences in the area. Serenity by the Sea pampers guests with uniquely personalized services, including manicures, pedicures, massages, body treatments, and hair care; and now it also provides the freshest spa offerings, such as the Fuji Ritual treatment and SpaWhite teeth whitening. Private men’s and women’s lounges provide steam room, sauna, and cascade whirlpool, as well as refreshments, private dressing rooms, and vanities.

By 2005, management initiated a new hotel improvement project, including a major accommodations overhaul in the Emerald Tower, the expansion of the outdoor pool area, and the addition of Barefoots Beachside Bar & Grill.

“Over the past three years we have been working on the renovation of the Emerald Tower,” explains Kamm. “We finished the renovation this spring, just in time for our special anniversary year.”

Mel & Mona Ponder at the anniversary celebration vie magazine hilton sandestin beach golf resort

Mel & Mona Ponder at the anniversary celebration


To kick off its anniversary year in style, the Hilton Sandestin Beach completed its $3.4-million, three-year renovation project in March. Upgrades include a complete renovation of suites in the Emerald Tower, which houses four hundred of the hotel’s six hundred guest suites. Design features in the new Deluxe Junior Suites include elegant new furnishings, a soothing blue and green color palette, a state-of-the-art media center addition in the children’s bunk area, flat-screen televisions, a second phone line in each room, premium quality bed linens, and patio upgrades.

Also in time for the anniversary celebration, the Hilton Sandestin Beach has officially gone green. After a dedicated effort throughout the entire property, the resort hotel has incorporated environmentally friendly initiatives, earning the Florida Green Lodging Program designation for its implementation of green practices, such as its recycling program, water conservation, and energy reduction.


“Our twenty-fifth year along the Gulf Coast truly has been a special time,” says Mike Chouri, general manager of the Hilton Sandestin Beach. “In addition to our year-long anniversary celebration, our guests helped us earn the guest loyalty award from Hilton Hotels.”

The Hilton Sandestin Beach competed against forty-six other Hilton properties for the 2008 Diamond Guest Loyalty Award for hotels with five hundred or more rooms, which recognizes the best of the best within the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand in North America. Through the brand’s annual Connie Awards, this is the highest honor in this category. The award is based on customer feedback regarding overall experience, the likelihood to return to the resort hotel, and the likelihood to recommend the property to others. Guests rated the Hilton Sandestin Beach a nine or ten out of ten in these categories.

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Loretta Shaffer and Dawn Moliterno at the anniversary celebration vie magazine hilton sandestin

Loretta Shaffer and Dawn Moliterno at the anniversary celebration


“This amazing year has been twenty-five years in the making, and we’re not finished yet,” says Chouri. “We’re moving forward with even more improvements that will continue to enhance the guest experience, and we hope our loyal guests, as well as those who have never experienced the Hilton Sandestin, will join us during this milestone year.”


An anniversary as momentous as twenty-five years deserves a celebration, and a big one at that. To toast the resort’s anniversary with partners in the Destin and Beaches of South Walton area, the Hilton Sandestin Beach hosted a festive cocktail event overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Mexico in June. Bringing together area tourism leaders and resort staff as well as media, the festivities included delicious food, a live jazz trio, and a warm welcome from the Hilton Sandestin’s management team, including Robert Kamm, Mike Chouri, and Marshall Thompson.

The warm Gulf breezes and setting summer sun offered the perfect backdrop for toasting what has proven to be a remarkable year for the resort, and all in attendance were reminded that truly special things happen at the beach—especially at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa.

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The Hilton Sandestin Beach will be offering special rates and meeting incentives throughout the year in honor of its silver anniversary. For more information, become a fan on Facebook, follow the hotel on Twitter, call (850) 267-9500 or (800) 367-1271, or visit

Christy Kearney is a freelance writer and co-owner of Creative WITS. She lives in Fort Walton Beach with her husband, Travis, and very spoiled Cairn Terrier, Gidget.

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