If you happened to be in Arizona in late 2002, you might have heard the snipping of shears wafting through the desert air as multiple ribbon-cutting ceremonies marked the debut of several new resorts, including the state's largest. While most of the new construction is found in the resort mecca of Phoenix/Scottsdale, ground has also been broken, 100 miles to the south, on Tucson's first new resort in 15 years.
In a state renowned for the quality of its health and wellness facilities, new and established properties continue to invest heavily in the construction of elaborate resort spas, which are designed to entice guests seeking the latest in exotic treatments and relaxation. Hot stone massage, the use of indigenous plants, and the adaptation of American Indian healing rituals are among the newest trends.
As competition for meetings heats up among Arizona's resorts, creativity is sizzling — if you find yourself thinking that casinos, canal boats, and wildlife are attractions found only in a glitzy city on the other side of the Grand Canyon, then it's time to reacquaint yourself with the nation's 48th state.
MY FAVORITE EVENT
When a young dot-com company asked for a special evening to reflect its meeting's theme of Unity, Joyce Hergert, of Plaza Planners in Scottsdale, wove a multitude of cultural elements into Cowboys and Indians, a uniquely Arizona experience designed to bring all the attendees together in mind, body, and spirit.
After selecting cowboy hats and colorful bandannas to put them in the Wild West spirit, the 300 guests departed in a convoy of Jeeps for a tour of the Sonoran Desert.
At sunset, the vehicles headed down a winding road on the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation northeast of Phoenix toward La Puesta del Sol (The Setting Sun). As the guests neared the open-air, reconstructed Spanish mission perched high atop a knoll, the thunder of hooves and gunshots halted the procession. Armed bandits on horseback arrived and kidnapped the CEO before sending the rest of the guests on their way.
Upon arrival at La Puesta, attendees were greeted by brightly costumed saloon girls carrying trays of libations and Southwestern-style hors d'oeuvres. An American Indian flutist in full native regalia led the way to dining tables draped with handpainted petroglyph linens and decorated with centerpieces of layered red flagstone, cactus, and flowers. As guests settled into their seats, the sound of thundering hooves again sounded, announcing the arrival of the CEO on Frosty, an 800-pound Brahma Bull.
After a traditional welcome prayer led by an American Indian, the group was entertained by a hoop dancer before joining in the Unity Dance, an interactive friendship dance culminating in the group being led, hand in hand, to a Southwestern theme buffet. A singing cowboy on horseback entertained during dinner, followed by line dance lessons. As a country western band played, some guests enjoyed cowboy games including Tomahawk Toss, Shooting Gallery, and Quick Draw while others climbed onto the mechanical bull or learned how to rope a calf.
Guests also enjoyed having their portraits taken in vintage Western costumes, stargazing through high-powered telescopes under the guidance of astronomers, and observing tribal artisans demonstrate their skills at kachina doll carving, pottery making, basket weaving, and sandpainting.
By evening's end, the company's goal of uniting all of its divisions (cowboys and Indians) into a single entity of strength could have been called How the West Was One.
Phoenix and Scottsdale
The world's largest collection of desert plants and flowers is displayed on five thematic trails with 60 interactive outdoor exhibits at the Desert Botanical Garden. An open-air, covered pavilion accommodates up to 125 guests; several other venues in the garden are available for groups of 30 to 300. (480) 941-1225; www.dbg.org
Ten exhibit galleries at the acclaimed Heard Museum showcase American Indian baskets, kachina dolls, pottery, jewelry, textiles, and paintings. Private dinners for groups can be arranged. (602) 252-8840; www.heard.org
The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is a combination wildlife zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden. It has more than 1,300 native plants and 300 kinds of live animals, shown in natural settings. Galleries, terraces, cafés, and gardens can host groups of up to 200 for a meeting or 140 for a banquet featuring foods native to the region. (520) 883-2702; www.desertmuseum.org
- The Old West comes alive at Hollywood in the Desert, Old Tucson Studios theme park and film set, where hundreds of famous Western movies and TV shows have been filmed. (520) 883-0100; www.oldtucson.com
THE PHANTOM PLANNER
If your travel plans include renting a car upon arrival at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, be aware that a variety of taxes can dramatically inflate the basic rental charge. If you're not comfortable paying more for a rental car than for some airfares to the city, consider using your hotel's van service, a taxi, or renting a car only for the days you will truly need one.
Slathering on sunscreen and drinking plenty of water are a way of life in arid Arizona, but certain prescription medications can create additional sensitivity to the sun's rays. Know before you go if your Rx has the potential to boost your chances of leaving with a souvenir sunburn.
Arizona has abundant wildlife, which turns up everywhere. If you encounter a coyote, rattlesnake, or bobcat on the golf course, step back in a nonthreatening manner and let the animal continue on its way before resuming your game.
One of Scottsdale's most picturesque landmarks, Pinnacle Peak, is now more than a scenic vista. New hiking trails offer the opportunity to experience the desert firsthand while enjoying spectacular views. The trails are suitable for all skill levels, but wear hiking boots, not tennis shoes, for safe traction.
PHOENIX & SCOTTSDALE — New
Sheraton's new Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa offers 500 guest rooms and 17 meeting rooms, including a 17,300-square-foot ballroom. Recreation includes a 17,000 — square-foot spa with 16 treatment rooms, a casino, an equestrian center, and four swimming pools. Boats transport guests between the resort's facilities via a 2.5-mile canal system replicating Arizona's scenic Gila River.
Arizona's largest resort, the $315 million JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, opened in November with 950 guest rooms including 85 suites. Meeting and event facilities encompass 170,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, including a 33,000-square-foot ballroom. The resort has two 18-hole championship golf courses, a 28,000-square-foot spa, and 10 restaurants.
The 750-room Westin Kierland Resort & Spa opened in December with 735 guest rooms including 63 suites and 32 casitas situated near a 27-hole golf course. The resort has 60,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 20 meeting rooms. The resort's Agave Spa has 20 treatment rooms.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel was rebranded the Wyndham Phoenix. The 532-room downtown hotel will add a 2,800-square-foot ballroom and undergo a $6 million facelift encompassing guest rooms, meeting rooms, and lobby.
Scottsdale Conference Resort refurbished all its king and queen guest rooms and three presidential suites.
The Wigwam Resort & Golf Club completed the first phase of a $6 million refurbishment of 331 casita guest rooms and bathrooms. A second phase will focus on technology improvements.
Marriott's Mountain Shadows Resort & Golf Club will complete a $500,000 soft-goods refurbishment of it 337 guest rooms in August.
In June, Scottsdale Plaza Resort completed a $3 million renovation of 134 suites.
Alvadora, a 9,000-square-foot spa, opened at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa. Amenities include a watsu pool, four treatment rooms with private gardens, and a grotto waterfall shower.
The new 44,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort offers 25 treatment rooms, meditation garden, and rooftop swimming pool.
A 30,000-square-foot spa with 23 indoor-outdoor treatment rooms will debut at Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort at Gainey Ranch in early 2004.
TUCSON — New
Ground has been broken for The Marriott at Starr Pass. Tucson's first new resort in 15 years will be the largest in southern Arizona when it opens in December 2004 with 575 guest rooms, 66,000 square feet of meeting space, and a spa.
The 4,500-square-foot Sonoran Ballroom and rooftop terrace opened in January at the Westward Look Resort. All 244 guest rooms have been refurbished with new soft goods, and 40 rooms received new furniture. New guest rooms include two executive suites and three Stargazer Spa Rooms with outdoor freshwater hot tubs.
Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa has installed high-speed wireless Internet access in all guest rooms, lobby, and pool areas.
CONTACT THE CVB
Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau
(602) 254-6500; (877) 633-8749
• Fax: (602) 253-4415
Total Hotel Tax: 12.07%
Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
(480) 421-1004; (800) 782-1117
• Fax: (480) 421-9733
Total Hotel Tax: 11.67%
Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau
(520) 624-1817; (800) 638-8350
• Fax: (520) 884-7804
Total Hotel Tax: 7.5%
CENTERS OF THE ACTION
PHOENIX Civic Plaza offers more than 300,000 square feet of convention, meeting, and special event space in downtown Phoenix, 10 minutes from the airport. Phoenix City Council has approved a plan to triple the size of the center although financing issues remain unresolved. www.visitphoenix.com
THE TUCSON Convention Center has 205,000 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom, an arena, and an exhibition hall, all connected by The Galleria. A 2,100-seat music hall and the 500-seat Leo Rich Theater have teleconferencing and broadcast capability. A courtyard provides a venue for outdoor events. www.visittucson.org