Having just been through the whole destination wedding process, I thought I would share my experiences with some venues in the Destin-South Walton beach area. Slight disclaimer that these reviews are my opinion only and are based on what we found to be suitable to our specific needs.
We had very specific requirements: 1). Beachfront (not bay front) ceremony on the sand; 2). An outdoor reception facility that could accommodate 70+ guests and a dance floor, and 3). A teeny bit of privacy. (We recognized right away that “total privacy” and “beachfront wedding” were not going to be entirely possible, but we were determined to find the best balance).
Venues we visited
Hilton Sandestin: Gorgeous area. Very popular and a lovely place for a wedding. We were concerned about the size of the main patio - it would have been a tight fit for 70 people + a DJ. They have ballrooms, but we didn’t want an indoor reception. On the day of our visit, there were three weddings being set up on the beach. Sandestin also has some lovely bay front wedding venues.
Henderson Park Inn: Very pretty, with a “vintage” vibe. Next to Henderson Beach park, it is a little more private. The green was a little small.
The Venue at Crystal Beach: We toured this on our own and
did not ask management any questions. It
is a deck built on a vacant lot with a green space in front of the
beach. It’s a newer facility, seems to be nice enough -- a total blank slate
for decorating in any theme. It’s adjacent to a condo.
Destin Beach House (Palazzo Del Sol) - Nice beach front house with a back lawn for an outdoor reception. Seemed very private, although the lawn would have been a bit cramped. There also was a vacant house next door - appeared to be storm damaged? We were concerned about the potential for demolition/construction during our wedding. Wonder if it’s still there?
Gulf Place - We liked this venue a lot! The beach is beautiful and the green is definitely large enough to accommodate larger wedding parties. Alas - our date was booked!
Water Color/Watersound - Both were simply beautiful and instant favorites. Their per person pricing is high, but it includes quite a bit (food and drink, tables and place settings, chairs). They reduce the fee beginning November 1 through February, and we seriously considered changing our date to take advantage of this. However, concerns about chillier weather in late fall and/or having a wedding so close to the holiday season were huge concerns.
Seaside - We loved Seaside. It is such a fun little town - something for everyone! At the time we made our inquiries, their beachfront wedding set-up was a little strange. Apparently you can only use one beach entrance for a wedding, and it doesn’t have a walkover. You must wade down the rather steep sand dune, and then hike back up. We couldn’t imagine asking our guests to do this, not to mention a bride in a wedding dress -- ? But the reception venues are awesome. The Ruskin Place park is lush with trees and very beautiful, with minimal decoration required. (They have a rather lengthy request/approval process -- different homeowners association from the rest of the community). The Lyceum Lawn is beautiful and spacious, and has a tented deck for receptions/parties. There are no minimum cottage rentals or anything like that; however, the Lyceum requires that you use local Seaside restaurants for catering.
Alys Beach - Beautiful beach, seemed very private and we loved it. A bit pricey, but the architecture is amazing and it is very nice area. Requires one house rental, which was doable for us. There was a lot of construction near the Kelly Green, which was a concern (would it be completed by our date?)
Rosemary Beach - Love, love, love! Beautiful venue. The beach and West Green are adjacent to each other and so convenient. The fees were a little pricey, but the real hang-up for us was the five cottage minimum rental. All of the cottages are pricey -- seemed like we couldn’t find one for less than $500 per night; quite a few required 7-night stays. That plus the odd bed configurations of most of the houses (needed king and queen beds, too many twins/bunk arrangements) made the price not worth it to us.
Carillon Beach - Lovely venue and staff. A veritable one-stop shop for a wedding, and very private.
Seaside; with a reception at Lyceum Lawn. We loved the atmosphere -- such a fun destination for guests!
The lack of a beach walkover at the pavilion nearly made us eliminate it from consideration. But our planner suggested having the ceremony on the public beach (which has two walkovers - stairs plus accessible ramp!) between Water Color and Seaside, which worked out great. It was close enough that our guests could walk to the Lyceum Lawn for the reception. And since it is a public beach, the only cost was for the permit with Walton County, so -- savings!
A little advice: We started looking at venues 10 months ahead of our date, and several of them were already booked. If you want to get married in this area, get the venue booked as soon as you are engaged!
I hope this helps future Fla. Panhandle brides! Feel free to PM me with any questions.