I think, too, that I’ll have to start paying more attention to the Hilton brand. We recently acquired a Hilton Honors membership and I’ve since had two occasions to try it out – at the Washington Hilton in DC in March, and the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix in April.
During previous visits to Phoenix, we’ve stayed in a private residence in Paradise Valley and at nearby Montelucia, which is the Omni group’s Moroccan-themed Scottsdale resort. During last Fall’s visit, we drove to the Arizona Biltmore to suss it out in advance of making reservations for this Spring’s travel.
The Arizona Biltmore is also a Waldorf Astoria resort. Early impressions were of a grand and expensive property, somewhat removed from other amenities. Now, having spent a few days there, I can tell you that this expansive locale gives you a true sense of retreat. You’re a short drive from Sky Harbour Airport, and what seems a long drive off 24th Street by Camelback, but the housing, golf course and Arizona Canal – all of which you pass before crossing a bridge to reach the main building – make for a scenic entrance.
Situated on 39 acres near Piestewa (Squaw) Peak, the property has lush grounds in which any gardener would love to play. However, you can instead soak up their beauty from any number of walking routes … or, if you prefer, from a comfy poolside perch.
About the Resort
Phoenix locals the McArthur brothers developed the resort in the middle of the desert, with little else nearby, in 1928; there are some striking aerial photos from that era that highlight its isolation. While Albert Chase McArthur was the architect, you won’t escape the fact that Frank Lloyd Wright was consulting architect on this property.
You can sign up for a historical tour, and there are photos of luminaries who’ve visited before you; they seem intended to serve as reinforcements of your good taste while providing a sense of the history and glamour in this particular desert. Those ceilings in the main building’s lobby are gold leaf, and a quarter of a million Biltmore Blocks designed by Emry Compton and crafted from desert sand formed the building structures. Cost overruns are nothing new, and William Wrigley, Jr. shifted from investor to sole proprietor status in 1930, after construction costs doubled the million dollar budget. The family of chewing gum and philanthropy renown held the property through to 1973.
Accommodation and Service
The range of accommodation options is broad and includes cottages. My room was spacious, nicely understated and clean, with a smallish safe but loads of closet space, comfortable seating and a well lit work space. The bed was equally comfy, and I appreciated the abundance of bedside outlets for charging devices. There was no tub in this particular room, but the shower was oversized and lovely.
The housekeeping staff in general, and Benjamin in particular, were gracious. The same is true for the grounds crew, and for the friendly fellows bicycling across the resort to deliver room service. Concierges Julie and Stephanie were charming, and Stephanie’s advance support with organisation for our group was impeccable.
Pools, Fitness and Pampering
To say that there are pools almost everywhere you turn would be only a slight exaggeration; there are six on site. My favourite was the Ocatilla, but why wouldn’t it be? Not only was it a mere dozen or so steps from my patio; it was one of the quieter pools and great for doing lengths. The Paradise Pool has a 92-foot waterslide and swim-up bar, or you could enjoy pampering from a private cabana. Think of the dry heat, and you can appreciate Irving Berlin having penned White Christmas, among other songs, from the Catalina Pool.
The property has a spa, which I didn’t get around to visiting this time, and offers pilates and yoga. If you prefer to keep to routines, you can borrow a mat for use in your room. If you want to see and be seen, you may wish to join the well heeled and (surprisingly) young crowd for high tea in the Lobby Tea Court.
You can rent a bike, play croquet or, if outdoor chess is your thing, the resort has this covered, as well; the pieces are larger than some toddlers. Oh, yes; as is expected in Arizona, there’s an 18-hole golf course at your doorstep. You’ll pay a daily resort fee for these amenities, and more for some of the options such as guided hikes.
Getting Around Town
I don’t think of Phoenix as a particularly walkable city; you’ll want to be prepared to rent a car or rely on the hotel’s car service. Unless you’re unconcerned about costs and fairness, you may want to ask prices before you hop in a cab from some of the resorts. Some friends and I took the Biltmore’s car service to another resort for dinner one evening, and rode in great comfort for $15 US before tip. When leaving the other resort, we relied on a cab whose driver thought he would take us for $25 for the same distance. When we gently told him about the lovely ride and price we’d had earlier in the evening, the cabbie matched the price and had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed at being caught trying to overcharge tourists.
You can catch car service at the hotel entrance, or book ahead. Groups of us travelled to Old Town for dinner and shopping at Fashion Square Mall, as well as to and from the airport – generally a savings over multiple taxis if you’re a group of more than four. I was surprised to find the return trip to the airport trip more expensive than quoted (perhaps because one of our party trailed the rest by 10 minutes?), but the drivers and service were otherwise stellar.
I mentioned the relative seclusion of the Arizona Biltmore, but the resort offers complimentary shuttle service to nearby shopping and restaurants at Biltmore Fashion Park. If you do any walking at home, though, you’ll find it a simple (if warm!) two kilometer/1.3 mile walk past the golf course and some lovely homes.
This is one well-oiled machine, with more than a hundred thousand square feet of space – including a ballroom that can seat up to a thousand, and 17 breakout rooms – for business and social events. There is, of course, a business centre and Wi Fi was included with my room rate. I attended indoor and outdoor functions and, like the housekeeping staff, the catering folks could not have been more gracious or attentive.
Amenities and Restaurants
We didn’t dine at Wright’s at the Biltmore this stay, but did enjoy Wright’s Bar and Frank and Albert’s. The Southwestern Chicken Salad, which combines barbeque sauce with a pineapple and ginger dressing, was the perfect lunch on a sizzling hot day, but I was less impressed with a quesadilla on our second visit.
The Arizona Biltmore was awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence award for 2014, and holds a spot on US News and World Report’s 2015 list of Best Hotels, a distinction it awards to the top 30% of American, Canadian, Caribbean and Mexican hotels.
Trip Advisor reviewers rank the resort 25th of 175 Phoenix hotels, and this property has been awarded the Urban Land Institute’s Heritage Award of Excellence for architectural integrity, landscaping and service quality.
Planning To Go: The Lowdown
Check the resort’s reservations system; pricing will depend on the time of year, the type of room you wish, and how early you book. The resort’s website today advertises rates from $109 but, depending on your travel dates, I suggest you anticipate almost tripling that rate and remembering that you’ll also pay a daily resort fee.
Sustainability: My room contained the standard recycling bin and encouragement to consider using linens more than once, and online resources state that the resort is part of a Hilton sustainability initiatve that encourages water and energy efficiencies, and reduces waste and carbon dioxide output.
Perspectives As always, perspectives are entirely my own.