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
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
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,
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.