Every year our family spends the holidays together so each year we have to find a location to please everyone. This year our range of first choice destinations ranged from European ski resorts to Caribbean beach resorts, so it was tough to make a decision where everyone was satisfied. We had all researched options in Arizona before and since no one had been there, besides my husband, we settled for a multi resort trip to this prime resort destination and started planning our trip. During the months prior to our departure, I was constantly asked “why did you pick Arizona?” Strangely enough, I had always wanted to go to Arizona though everyone I spoke to seemed to think it was quite an unusual destination considering we could have picked any other location in the US or abroad. They were all terribly wrong…Arizona is beautiful!
I often do extensive research on hotels and we always select resorts with plenty of activities for the children so that they are entertained and we can enjoy ourselves as well. We are also big foodies, love state of the art gyms, and spas so those are indeed high in our selection criteria. Therefore, I spent many hours researching the top luxury resorts for families in Arizona.
The Phoenician, Scottsdale
We arrived in Scottsdale days before Christmas and despite it was cooler than expected, we were immediately enchanted by the landscape and lush desert surroundings. The landscape and surrounding mountains and canyons are breathtaking. We started off spending 6 nights at The Phoenician. Our room was beautiful and so were the facilities and grounds.
Sadly, the kids club was below our expectations since hardly anyone used it as there was a high fee involved. Our kids did use the club and enjoy the activities but unfortunately, unless you were signed into the club, there was not a single area indoor for the children to play despite this was a huge resort hotel with lots of kids around for the holidays. The hotel did have several Christmas themed activities but these were catered for a rather young age group and they lasted at the most for half an hour. The outdoor playground was very far from the main hotel and since it was quite cold for the first couple of days the kids were somewhat bored. A room with board games, a TV, cozy seating and a monitor would have been extremely popular and busy this time of the year for those who didn’t want to stay at the half or full day kids club. That would have made a huge difference in our experience since it would group kids together, we would be able to drop off kids for an hour or so to enjoy a nice coffee, the gym, spa…
Children’s programs aside, the fitness center and group classes were excellent, top class spa, great sports facilities and excellent food throughout. The only other drawback was service which was very weak for a 5-star resort. Overall, The Phoenician was enjoyable and I would believe it is much better with warmer weather.
Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson
Our next destination was a dude ranch outside Tucson. Again, I had thoroughly researched all the top dude ranches in the US and Tanque Verde Ranch stood out for the ease of access and the many highly reputable awards which it had recently received. Despite we were not far from Scottsdale, the surroundings were quite different, the desert seemed more lush and we had the impression we were having a more original and unique experience. The ranch is stunning surrounded by gorgeous mountains, a nice lake, a great Saloon and dining room, and many amazing horses. Sunrises and sunsets were absolutely beautiful and the desert is very unique and green with a wide variety of low lying bushes and cacti.
The rooms are more basic and smaller than we had anticipated but the food and riding were excellent. To our surprise, the kids club again was way below expectations despite excellent reviews (monitors had no interest whatsoever in the kids and had no initiative) and so was the service. While we had some very poor weather, with rain for almost 48hs straight, there were no added activities to compensate for the fact that there was no riding during those 2 days. There was no shortage of monitors/employees or space but no initiative to improvise. I did manage to get a great massage and was delighted to find that the spa carried one of my favorite brands: Eminence Organics; but besides that, there was not much to do and not enough ‘lounge space’ to accommodate so many guests indoor. This was our first dude ranch experience as a family and we will definitely try another ranch maybe in Montana soon. It was a fantastic option for a family holiday and great opportunity for the kids to ride and learn more about the desert.
The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain
Our final destination, and without a doubt the highlight of our trip, was The Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain, in Marana, a tiny little town next door to Tucson. The long road that brings you to the Dove Mountain development is breathtaking and immaculately manicured. The resort sits at the base of the Tortolita Mountains and is somewhat secluded from the rest of the world since there is only one road leading to the resort, it sits in between the mountain, and Tucson is about 45 minutes away. Dove Mountain is the ultimate understated luxury resort destination.
At first you may feel there’s not enough to do though you soon realize that there’s plenty to do besides truly relaxing in the most stunning surroundings. We enjoyed some outstanding hiking, the great gym with excellent group classes, the most amazing spa, the fabulous infinity pools with a super long and fun water slide for the family, superb food incorporating local ingredients and impeccable service. The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated in Sonoran desert style, as is the entire resort. At nighttime the entire resort glows…lit up by dozens of torches throughout. It’s the most magical vista you will encounter as you sit around the lobby bar sipping a prickly pear margarita. We felt like we were in a movie set. The kids enjoyed the kids club (this was indeed a paid activity) and learned a lot about the desert and its animals while the pool and slide were also major hits! In addition to the activities listed above, there are several amazing golf courses in the area as well as a top rated one on property. There are also bikes available for guests to explore the surroundings. We would certainly return to the Ritz Dove Mountain and would highly recommend it for couples as well as families. We spent 5 nights there but could have easily spent 7!
For those looking for more adventure, culture, and sightseeing there’s a very comprehensive list of places to see and things to do around the areas we visited but once we arrived at the resorts we never wanted to leave. Apart from a few quick trips to downtown Scottsdale (which is lovely and quaint), some amazing Christmas shopping and a day trip to Tombstone, which I highly recommend, we stayed and ate mostly at the resorts. Initially, I had researched some amazing places to visit, fabulous award winning restaurants, and great museums but this list will have to be tested on a next visit… The point is, there’s an awful lot to do in Arizona; more than I could have ever imagined.
Overall we were extremely happy to have chosen Arizona as a holiday destination. The people were lovely, stunning surroundings, breathtaking sunsets, superb stargazing opportunities, excellent food and great resorts. It has a very raw and unique beauty and it almost drags you into its peaceful surroundings providing a deep relaxation and well being. It’s the kind of place where you feel at ease, in utmost peace and completely relaxed. I’m still thinking about the amazing quesadillas, homemade prickly pear agave yogurt and granola for breakfast and the most delicious margarita poolside. We didn’t mention the weather much but once the New Year’s rain was over, the weather took a turn and we had gorgeous blue skies and warm temperatures during the day with cozy chilly nights. Hard to beat this weather in the midst of winter. We didn’t get weather nearly as nice in Florida the week after we left Arizona. Arizona is a hidden gem and strangely enough surprisingly underrated. We would return in a heartbeat!