Arizona Biltmore from the Waldorf Astoria Collection
As I sit on the edge of my bed looking out at Piestewa Peak through a quartet of louvered, solid sliding doors, I simply cannot believe that there might be anywhere in the realm of luxury hotels that has so much going for it as the Biltmore. I mean, really… four panels of sliding louvered doors made of real wood? Really? Who does that any more? I am at once awestruck: content, slightly amused, yet enthralled. Amazed, actually. But not because of this. There’s more. Oh yes, much more.
Consider that the lobby boasts a gold-leaf ceiling that remains second only to the Taj Mahal’s in size. Or consider that every US president right up to George W. Bush has been a guest here since the time of Herbert Hoover. There’s a history hallway picturing every one of them. Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned here as well as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Imagine peering down from the second-story promenade one evening in 1988 to find Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Liza Minnelli performing an impromptu concert in the piano bar. Or to catch Clark Gable’s glee over the news that a persistent hotel staff member had retrieved his lost wedding ring somewhere on the golf course. Irving Berlin penned “White Christmas” while staying at the resort in 1939.
Frank Lloyd Wright. His presence hovers over the place. After all…he inspired it, within, as he said, “this vast battleground of titanic forces, called Arizona.” The muse and the genius of southwestern “organic” architecture. Are we in the 21st millennium or are we lost in a time warp where past meets present in a casual yet upscale ambience of more than a half dozen oversize swimming pools and lush landscaping in an arid, southwest environment? This is the Waldorf-Astoria in the Land of the Sun. Huh? Here, near Scottsdale, the hippest town of the wild Southwest, with the possible exception of Santa Fe? It feels like both can’t be true at the same time—a mutually exclusive proposition. How can this be? I find myself immersed in an 80-year-old luxury resort that beckons me at once to explore, indulge, relax, and re-invent myself while luxuriating in history, heat, refreshment, and uninterrupted delight. You gotta love this place! It’s magnetic, opulent, magical, a little quirky and simply exquisite! Now think about it: This place is grouped in a collection with New York’s Waldorf Astoria, The Grand Wailea Resort in Maui, golfdom’s world class La Quinta Resort in California, and Saudi Arabia’s opulent Qasr Al Sharq on the Red Sea, the playground of sultans and sheiks. Are you beginning to see why you simply cannot afford to overlook this Crown Jewel of the world’s hotel elite?
I found the Ocatilla lodging experience at the Arizona Biltmore to be nearly perfect for a tantalizing, romantic weekend. We chose to drive our own vehicle, arriving on a Friday afternoon. The long, sweeping grand entrance leading up the Jewel of the Desert served only to build our anticipation as we approached the platoon of valets who awaited us. Today, frankly, the hotel entrance was crowded. The hustle and bustle of guests arriving and leaving was evident—organized chaos actually, like bees converging on a hive. There might be a recession going on in the rest of the world, but the Biltmore knows nothing of it. We were greeted enthusiastically and found our quiet, cozy suite awaiting our arrival. Sheer tranquility. A true Oasis in the desert.
Frank, I love you. I dig it. It feels so right. No pun intended. There’s authenticity here and I fit right in. I’m at home here. I like the framed, sepia-toned photos adorning the hotel corridors, throughout the walls of my spacious living room and even embellishing the tiled bathroom. Quaint, historic, authentic captions like, the “Catalina Pool Diving Competition 1930s,” featured a swan diving figure spread-eagled over the water; “Clark Gable and Friends,” “Society Guests In Main Lobby 1952,” and “Driveway, December 1935,” featuring nothing but a bleak, dusty dirt road. How was it to be here in the summers without air conditioning? Now I sit on the cool, solid granite edge of my room’s sumptuous bathtub where, shortly, a housekeeper will come to draw a hot bath and fill it with enticing aromas and soothing bath salts. Afterwards, terry cloth robes, now awaiting within our closet, will be donned with delight. What a contrast. Yesterday and today. The art and architecture of the past coupled with the technology of in-room internet, high def TV, mini-bar, and all the conveniences fit for a king. And I am here to experience it.
But oh, did I mention the complimentary food and beverage service in the Ocatilla Lounge? Conveniently down the hall, I might add. There’s the Full Continental Breakfast available daily, but for now I want to re-visit the sumptuous “Chef Selected Light Evening Fare,” of just a few moments ago, while it is yet fresh in my mind. Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are available without staff distraction or interruption. Help yourself. My kind of place. No stingy pours here. It’s wide open and top notch stuff. Trays of seasoned chicken wings and drumsticks, pot stickers, tiny gourmet sliders, and a plethora of amazing cheeses. Hot stuff, cold stuff and all good stuff. All the fresh, raw vegetables you could possibly desire, so folks, there’s healthy fare here too! Fill up your plate again and again and call it dinner if you wish. Or just stop by for a quick appetizer on your way out to a more elaborate dining experience. It’s up to you. For us, we could do no better than to simply enjoy the feast laid before us, appetizers presented with sheer elegance. The complimentary beverage bar is open from 5 pm until 9 pm and the light evening fare is available from 5:00 to 6:30 pm. And then the fabulous desserts are magnificently presented at 8 p.m. “How are they?” you ask. Well…actually…they’re to die for!…but I’ll come back to those in a second…
Thirty nine acres of meticulously landscaped gardens form a colorful, luxurious daytime palette that becomes stunningly transformed each evening into a magical display of desert nighttime delight. Lit fountains and six Biltmore “sprites”—slender statues of ethereal spirits conceived in 1914 by sculptor Alfonzo Iannelli for Wright. For the guest who enjoys strolling about the stately beauty of Arizona’s favorite retreat of celebrities and U.S. presidents, there is always something fresh to find in crisp mornings, languid afternoons, and soft, tranquil evenings. Terraces, patios, lawns and pool decks attract clusters of hotel guests found reclining, lounging, playing and laughing throughout days and evenings of dry, breezy air that never fail to softly caress your cheeks. After filling our tummies on the chef’s light evening fare, we explored, reclined and reflected on the day, our lives, and the exhilarating beauty around us, wondering at our good fortune to have discovered such a place as this.
Back at Ocatilla’s Executive Lounge, we found a decadent display of luscious deserts awaiting us just after 8 pm. [Sorry, but chocoholics would fall off the wagon here so you may not want to read this part if you are one]: Chocolate-dipped cheesecake lollipops; chocolate-dipped strawberries, chocolate flourless cake, chocolate truffles, peanut butter and jelly cups, fruit tarts, Arizona Biltmore chocolate chip cookies, Tiramisu, and biscotti were presented as if from an Iron Chef America dessert competition. Hot coffee, tea, iced tea, and the continuation of the complimentary bar and honor bar were still going strong until 9 pm. It was difficult to resist these tempting treats so I did only what I felt was right—I sampled every one! And I’m glad I did. I would have missed out on some of the best desserts I’d ever had if I would have exercised more self-discipline. Sure, your waistline will pay for it, but, your tastebuds will not be disappointed.
The best way to handle the extra calories here is to offset the gain with exercise, and the Biltmore offers a multitude of options. You can choose from a variety of PGA championship golf courses including those of the adjacent Arizona Biltmore Country Club, home the Adobe and Links courses, with driving and chipping ranges. Or you can play on one of seven tennis courts, all lit for night play, with private lessons available as well as weekly clinics. Guided hikes, mountain bike excursions in the adjacent preserve, croquet, bocce ball and a lighted basketball court are all here too.
Afterwards, relax by any one of eight pools, including The Catalina Pool, Marilyn Monroe’s favorite, famous for its colorful tiles from Catalina Island off the coast of southern California. And don’t forget the Paradise Pool, voted as one of the top 50 pools in the world, which features a 92-foot long water slide, a swim-up bar and private luxury cabanas. We sunned ourselves one afternoon beside the Ocatilla Pool, a private oasis just steps away from our room.
This year the Arizona Biltmore celebrates its 80th anniversary. It has been a state landmark since its opening on February 23, 1929. Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most heralded architect, served as the consulting architect. It was his first hotel project and remains the only existing hotel in the world to benefit from his renowned influence. Throughout its construction, the Biltmore was erected entirely of “Biltmore Block,” a variation on a textile block first used by Wright to construct private homes. The blocks were made from desert sand on site and were inspired by the trunk of a palm tree featuring 34 different geometric patterns.. The design appears even in tilework over our room’s bathtub and is reflected in the glass block inlay centered within the solid wood headboard over the bed in the living room. The glass block in the headboard may be backlit at night by the flip of a switch, creating a soft, romantic glow throughout the room.
The stock market crash of 1929 resulted in the hotel being sold in 1930 to Chicago chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. who became the sole owner for the next 43 years. During Prohibition a secret chamber, sometimes referred to as the Men’s Smoker, was created as an inventive way to keep hotel guests happy. Here guests could purchase a “set up” which included a glass, ice and mixers for bootleg liquor. It was only accessible through a secret staircase and had a glass ceiling. The Mystery Room had hidden bookshelves which contained illegal booze. The spotlight on the roof was part of an unofficial security system that could search the surrounding desert for police raids and shine over the glass ceiling to warn guests so they could make a quick exit.
Sometime in the late 1930s or early ‘forties a guest who liked tequila asked Biltmore bartender Gene Sulit to surprise him with a beverage he could enjoy poolside. Blending soda and tequila with Crème de Cassis and fresh lime juice, Sulit created the iconic Tequila Sunrise, made famous in songs, movies and American pop culture.
The Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa is centrally located with minutes of Phoenix’s major attractions. Sky Harbor International Airport is just 15 minutes away. It boasts more than 100,000 square feet of indoor space for meetings, including four ballrooms and a 30,000 square foot conference center. The Resort has 739 guest accommodations in five categories of guest rooms, including 86 suites. Guestrooms range from 400 to 600 square feet and suites range from 700 to 1,600 square feet. A 22,000 square foot spa features an extensive menu of treatments and therapies and has 17 indoor treatment rooms. There are dining, entertainment and shopping options galore.
Here is a retreat and a private sanctuary where the luxury hotel experience has been redefined. Intimacy, comfort and exclusivity are combined with personalized service and attention to detail. It’s the ideal place to conduct business, plan a family outing or simply unwind. The culinary offerings (breakfast, hors d’oeuvres, beverages and sweets) are unparalleled and the ambience of fragrances, manicured gardens and architectural wonder makes this an unforgettable experience, forever emblazoned in my memory as The Jewel of the Desert.