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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

The Royal Palms and The Phoenician - The Intimate and the Lavish in Phoenix

I've flown into Phoenix often and always ignored its attractions, in a hurry to be the good son, on my way to visit my retired parents in nearby Sun City. Nearly a century ago, Phoenix began as an escape for east coast tuberulars seeking a cure. Later, it became a refuge for nature lovers like Frank Lloyd Wright and a destinaton for retirees. Today, it is America's sixth largest city, blooming with high tech industry and high par golf courses, a collection of suburbs and strip malls congealed together by triple digit heat into a city that is part heaven and part hell.
On my most recent trip there, I sought out some of the paradises Phoenix has to offer, staying in two wonderful hotels - The Royal Palms, intimate and luxurious, and The Phoenician, grand and luxurious. Both are situated on East Camelback Road, at the border of Phoenix and Scottsdale, in the shadow of the picturesque Camelback Mountains.
The Royal Palms Hotel and Casitas (800-672-6011) was originally built in 1929 as a private home, a desert retreat for Cunard Steamship executive and financier Delos Cooke. El Vernadero, he called it, his "winter haven." After Cooke's death, it was sold and in 1948 opened as an inn earning a reputation as a vacation destination for celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Groucho Marx. Over the years, the Spanish-Mediterranean estate underwent several renovations. Today, it has 116 casitas and guestrooms but still retains the charm and intimacy of a private estate.
You enter along a palm lined driveway made of black stone pavers and park under the porte cochere where you are warmly greeted. You are escorted to your room along a labyrinth of winding paths, through a complex of courtyards, surrounded by bougainvilla, and groves of palms and orange trees. While the adobe-style rooms are comfortable and well-appointed, this is a place to wander about, to enjoy each individual setting for its originality and its warmth. There are many sitting areas with outdoor fireplaces, unique fountains and curious artifacts. The oval pool is surrounded by cabanas, plush lounge chairs, and a café. There's a tennis court and a fitness center with indoor and outdoor machines for use. Enjoy a cool drink in a leather armchair alongside the reflecting pool. While the rooms and indoor public areas are non-smoking, there's a unique Cigar Room with painted wall maps, unusual sconce lighting, plush sofas, and a red-leather floor. The Cigar Room is set next to T.Cook's, the Royal Palms' main dining room. T. Cook's serves a gourmet Mediterranean menu cooked on a huge, open, wood burning fireplace.
Summer rates start at $159/night. Fall and winter rates start at $335. Farther up the ladder of luxury are deluxe casitas and villas each with their own private garden compound, some with exotic indoor leading to outdoor showers.
Both the Royal Palms and The Phoenician are but minutes away from Phoenix's best shopping areas - Scottsdale's Fashion Square with Robinson's-May and Neiman-Marcus; The Borgate with Fifth Avenue style shops set in a Renaissance Italy complex of turrets and towers and fountains; Old Town Scottsdale with palm lined walkways leading to quaint boutiques, southwestern art galleries, and cafes; and Biltmore Fashion Park with designer shops, department stores, and restaurants such as Gucci, Saks, and Planet Hollywood.
While the Royal Palms is a meditative place with a charming intimacy suitable for small business gatherings or romantic getaways, The Phoenician, barely a mile further down Camelback Road, has the luxury, the amenities, the art, the architecture, and the grandeur you associate with a world class hotel.
The Phoenician (800-888-8234) with 654 rooms and suites and seven 2500 square foot private villas has every amenity imaginable - pools, spas, tennis courts, a golf course, several restaurants, conference rooms, and a grand ballroom. The hotel's sand colored terraced façade seems to melt into the side of Camelback Mountain and somehow the asymmetric beauty of nature melds perfectly with the symmetry of this hotel. This is a place that reviewers label with epithets like five stars, four diamonds, top ten, editor's choice, and more.
It was oppressively hot the day I arrived in Phoenix. It was the hottest place in the country according to USA Today - 110 degrees. But at the Phoenician, it was a pleasant heat shaded by an enormous wealth of foliage and the moving waters of a multitude of fountains and pools. Rates start at $215/night during the summer but double after September 15th when the weather cools. But there are golf packages, tennis packages, spa packages, and even a master chef-for-a-day package for culinary afficiandoes, all to make a stay here more enticing. You enter the main building through a grand lobby of Italian marble. An expanse of windows by the bar and lounge looks out over the hotel's 250 acres. You descend and exit to the hotel's nine pools on three levels, all surrounded by a meandering koi filled necklace lagoon.
An oval shaped pool, completely lined with mother of pearl tiles and surrounded by cabanas, is a sedate but business sensitive refuge with data ports in every cabana. A middle level is an oasis of several connecting pools where one can swim under waterfalls or up to the bar and grill. And the top area, composed of four pools with a water slide, is a children's mecca. Service is such a priority here that they've placed white flags on the chaise lounges that say "please raise for service" so that your every whim can be attended to as quickly as possible.
There are three major restaurants at The Phoenician. Windows on the Green overlooks the golf course and serves southwestern cuisine. Below the main lobby is The Terrace, serving American cuisine. In most places, The Terrace would be described as a formal setting with a marbled staircase entry, perfectly dressed tables, wonderful art, live piano music, and spectacular cuisine. But at The Phoenician, The Terrace is their "casual" venue. Mary Elaines, on the top floor, with a view overlooking the entire complex and the Sonorean desert below, serves modern French cuisine, and is the hotel's "formal" dining area, jackets required.
Of course, there's golf - 27 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.; tennis - 12 courts with four different playing surfaces; and a spa. The Phoenician's sense of spectacular won't allow them to call their spa a "spa." It is The Centre for Well-Being, providing massages and facials on a lower level and fitness and aerobic activities on the upper. There's even a meditation atrium. For children ages 5-12, there's a supervised program called The Funician's Kids Club.
I awoke in the early morning musing over which activity to pursue. There was already a buzz of activity. Dozens of gardeners were busy turning landscaping into art. Duffers were sizing up their shots. And hikers were trekking to the crest of Camelback Mountain led by guides from the Centre for Well-Being. While my well-being relied on coffee and breakfast, this was how the day was beginning for many other guests.
The Phoenician is not a place where anything can be said to be "okay." Superlatives have to be in order. Everything is perfect - service, appearance, comforts, variety, scenery. There is enough space here for the quiet enjoyed by adults and the squeals enjoyed by children. This is a family place, a business place, a creature comfort place. And this dutiful son, visiting his parents once more, was just passing through.