Come out and visit and bring your son”, my cousin’s wife from Scottsdale has been saying for years. I took her up on the offer in the spring of 2009 and traveled solo to Scottsdale to spend time with family and to visit some of the acclaimed spas that The Valley (as the locals call it) is known for. There are so many to choose from and one is better than the next; it was easy to fall hard for the spa culture and to begin plotting a return visit. So this year, when school let out for February break, my eight-year old and I hopped a plane to Phoenix for some quality time with our extended family and some quality spa time for me.
We’re staying at the AAA Five-Diamond Fairmont Scottsdale Princess for 6 nights. The sprawling 65-acre resort manages to seamlessly blend a classic Southwestern exterior setting with delightfully modern interiors. More than once, I gazed at the pink-hued Spanish colonial-style architecture with its expansive plazas and flower-drenched gardens and imagined it could easily be mistaken for a Mexican beach resort. Arizona’s McDowell Mountains rise and fall in the distance creating a stunning setting.
The resort features 649 oversized guest rooms, suites and casitas. Our 525 square-foot deluxe guest room (3130) with two oversized double beds is designed like an apartment (minus the kitchen). The room is decorated in neutral shades of rich brown, mushroom and earthy greens. Walk to the end of the hallway to the main area that contains the bedroom, wet-bar, workspace and entertainment area. But what I really love about the unique layout of these guest rooms is the walk-in closet, entryway with abundant storage shelves and the oversize bathroom with double sinks, walk-in shower, soaking tub and separate water closet. Our private covered balcony overlooks one of the lushly landscaped tropical pool areas.
Adults and kids alike are drawn to the five heated swimming pools: The fun and flirty South pool, the sporty East pool, the ultra kid-friendly Sonoran Splash pool with dual 200 foot long waterslides and zero-entry splash zone, the private casita pool and the rooftop spa pool.
The near-perfect service is positively, can’t-get-enough addictive. On our first night, I opted to utilize the valet parking service since we arrived past midnight. I had every intention of using the self-parking lot the next day. But I found myself being unable to resist the unfailingly friendly “welcome back” from the ever-smiling valet staff every time I drove up the circular drive and stopped under the porte-cochère. I slipped into full relaxation and vacation mode and never came out until we drove off to a dose of reality – that is, the airport. There is nothing like air travel to undo every bit of good that was done from our week at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
At the informal LV Bistro, you’ll never feel like you have to rush through your meal because you’re dining with children. It parents want to linger over dessert and coffee or a glass of wine, the kids can play in the specially-designed elevated play area with comfy couches, a flat screen TV and an impressive selection of toys geared towards kids of all ages. Serving favorites for the whole family and fresh twists on reinvented classics like savory BLT pizza and shrimp Cobb salad, it’s a family-friendly bet for any meal or for an adult-only occasion at the fiery outdoor seating area overlooking the South pool.
It’s not often that fine dining and kid-friendly can co-exist in the same restaurant experience, but our dinner at La Hacienda, a modern Mexican restaurant by Richard Sandoval, did just that. Wood-beamed ceilings, tile flooring, roaring fireplaces and candles on every wall and surface created a cozy, casually elegant atmosphere. And yet, I was incredibly comfortable dining with my eight-year old son. A reasonably priced kids menu with kid-friendly options, kids cups with lids and straws, and a dining server who took my cues to move the service along at a good pace and yet never made us feel like we were missing out on attentive service. With energetic Spanish music playing in the background, a décor of black and earth tones and ambient lighting, La Hacienda is a sophisticated and comfortable dining venue that blows traditional hotel and resort dining out of the water.
I couldn’t resist ordering a mango maraschino margarita after our savvy server shared that the cocktails were handcrafted with fresh juices and premium tequilas. Queso fundido with chorizo was oozing with a blend of warm, salty and gooey cheeses. Be warned: Tacos will never taste the same again after you savor the lobster tacos with their chunks of the buttery crustacean, creamy avocado and black bean puree over petite corn tortillas.
You won’t have room for desert and coffee, trust me. But go ahead and order the warm cinnamon churros anyway. My son declared the rich, melt-in your mouth pillows of sweetened dough “scrumptious and delicious” after devouring half the plate. The deal was sealed for me with an accompanying trio of dipping sauces: cajeta (sweetened caramelized milk), a slightly spicy chili chocolate fondue and cream cheese natilla (vanilla infused soft Spanish custard). But the pièce de résistance of the meal was the flaming coffee prepared tableside to an appropriate chorus of oohs and aahs from intrigued nearby diners. My choice was the Café 1921: Tequila de Créma and coffee in a fiery goblet rimmed with crusty caramelized sugar and topped with whipped cream and chocolate. It was the perfect ending to a very special and memorable meal.
I’ve been at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess for five days now and haven’t had a chance to check out the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont. I check my son into the National Geographic Explorers Camp for kids ($35 for half-day including lunch) and head over to the spa in plenty of time to enjoy all the amenities and facilities before my treatment. In the women’s wet area, the domed ceiling rises to a circular skylight and I can see just a tease of bright blue sky. Red rose petals seem to float on top of a bowl of chilled washcloths. And while it’s simply beautiful inside – all marble and tile in earthy shades of mushroom, taupe, khaki and chocolate – where I really want to be is outside, especially after the severe winter we’ve had in the Northeast.
I climb many stairs to reach the infinity edge rooftop spa pool, and it’s worth every single step. When I reach the top, I’m treated to awe-inspiring 360-degree views of the mountains that surround this valley. It’s a blue-sky day here in Scottsdale in late February; the morning air is still brisk, but it warms quickly as the sun rises in the sky. Steam gently rises off the water, and it’s not hard to imagine claiming a thickly cushioned lounge chair under a cabana and camping out until the sun begins to set. But instead, I have a 44,000 square foot spa to explore including a fitness facility, salon services, 25 treatment rooms, meditation gardens with waterfall, and men and women’s spa and lounge areas.
The exploration will have to wait until later. Now it’s time to meet my provider, the capable and confident Danielle, who is about to guide me to peace and tranquility over the next two hours during the spas signature treatment: The Havasupai Body Oasis Experience ($319, 120 minutes). In NYS, estheticians can perform body treatments, so I’m delighted to learn that Danielle is a licensed massage therapist. At the end of my treatment, the application of warm massage oil will be performed by someone who is an expert in the craft of massage, a bonus I don’t expect but am thrilled to discover.
Danielle leads me outdoors to the co-ed cave-like waterfall and gives me a few minutes to soak under the varying strengths of warm cascading water. When she returns, she hands me a towel and my robe and we head to the treatment suite where my journey will take place. “There are a lot of steps to this treatment”, she explains, “but they flow together wonderfully”.
We arrive at my treatment suite that has all the amenities I’ll need for my experience without having to shuffle from room to room. We begin with an aromatic footbath and foot scrub and Danielle offers me hot or iced Ayurvedic tea with hints of cinnamon and cardamom. Next is a gentle Chamomile body polish and body wash. I step under the rain shower to rinse off the scrub while Danielle freshens up the room. Already waiting for me is an inviting thermal bath, which I soak in for 15 minutes after Danielle steps out of the room. She leaves me with lavender soaked iced washcloths and a bottle of neroli water (extract of bitter orange) to use as a cooling and hydrating mist. When Danielle returns, the treatment resumes with a soothing warm oil massage application before I’m wrapped up to allow the oil to penetrate the skin. During my wrap, I experience a massage of the face, neck, scalp, shoulders and décolleté. As Danielle removes the oils being from my hands and feet with warm cloths, I have just one worry: After two hours of warm bliss, would I physically be able to put one foot in front of the other and walk to the relaxation area under my own power?
Miraculously, I’m able to float back to the National Geographic Explorers Camp to pick up my son. He is happy and content, chattering about the photo safari and fishing adventures of the morning. Miss Janey, the camp’s no-nonsense but fun-loving manager, runs the program like a well-oiled machine. She hands me a digital photo disk, bids us an affectionate goodbye and we’re off.
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is a dream for families traveling with children: abundant pools with fun water amenities, family-friendly dining, a fishing pond, the kids camp, a sports court, and flexible room accommodations for families of every size at many price points. The staff went out of their way to create a special experience for us at every opportunity with professional and unobtrusive service. Business travelers, spa lovers and couples looking for romance can all peacefully co-exist within the same beautifully manicured peaceful resort. And the fresh-baked, best ever chocolate chip cookies are worth mentioning too!
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
7575 E. Princess Drive
Scottsdale, Arizona 85255
Toll Free: 1.866.540.4495
As is common in the travel industry, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess provided the writer with a complimentary spa treatment, dinner at La Hacienda for two, lunch at LV Bistro and a half-day at the National Geographic Explorer’s Camp for the purpose of writing this article. While this did not influence this review, Examiner.com believes in fulldisclosure of any potential conflicts of interest.