Only one thing could get me to agree to plan an extended visit to Phoenix in July (no, really) – an all-inclusive special offer to stay at the Arizona Biltmore. Sure, the outside temps can get to be well above 100, but it is, as they say, a dry heat. Besides, Therese and I were either going to be indoors, by the pool, in the spa, or enjoying the hotel’s history and architecture. This was a total getaway, no running around to visit things, just hanging out.
Was I worried? Well, maybe just a bit.
The Arizona Biltmore is a Waldorf Astoria Resort hotel steeped in celebrity history. Its doors opened in 1929 and, to this day, it retains the interesting combination of art deco and Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced architecture. While the hotel certainly makes a lot of noise about its famous architect roots, the buildings were actually designed by Albert Chase McArthur, a student of Wright’s. Turns out Frank Lloyd Wright served as a consultant but only for a very short while. Nevertheless, prepare to be wowed by architecture, the luxurious grounds, the Frank Lloyd Wright style, and the Hollywood glamour that flavors many of the halls, lounge areas, and rooms.
Marilyn Monroe stayed here, and some very famous photos were taken by one of the pools. Clark Gable also frequented the Biltmore, as did Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and many others. Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, honeymooned here, too. We can’t began to relate the complete and fascinating history since it is robust, so be sure to take one of the Arizona Biltmore hotel history tours if you stay here. We did both the free History Tour that is 1.5 hours long and the Happy Hour History Tour which costs $25 and lasts just 45 minutes but includes libations and a little fun too.
On the tours and elsewhere in the hotel you will hear that the tequila sunrise was invented at the Arizona Biltmore. Mixed drink historians might debate that, however. Around the same time, Agua Caliente hotel resort in Tijuana, Mexico (an escape destination for the rich and famous of Hollywood during prohibition) was making a very similar drink — albeit with water, not club soda or soda water. Perhaps the link is the Hollywood elite, who loved the tequila drink so much at one place (either the Biltmore or Agua Caliente) they asked a bartender at the other to make one. Either way, the original tequila sunrise is not what many will recognize since it is made with tequila, lime, grenadine, crème de cassis and soda water. Today’s ubiquitous tequila sunrise is made with orange juice as a main ingredient replacing the soda water. This modern version, made popular by the Rolling Stones and the Eagles, was first created at the Trident in Sausalito, Calif. – or so they say at the Trident. Enough about drinking….
The Biltmore staff is also very proud of the fact that every president (with the exception of Presidents Obama and Trump) has stayed in its Grande Dame Signature Presidential Suite (it goes for roughly $1,000 a night, depending on the season, in case you are wondering).
While the Arizona Biltmore is no longer the only fancy resort in Phoenix, its historic Frank Lloyd Wright and Hollywood roots, combined with two golf courses, an extensive spa, six tennis courts, eight swimming pools, well-known restaurants, and sprawling grounds with lawn games provide a draw that keeps the hotel attracting guests and conventions throughout the year.
We arrived mid-July and were whisked a short 16.9 miles by Uber from the nearby Phoenix International Airport to the Arizona Biltmore nestled beneath the shadow of Camelback Mountain. A testament to the hotel staff training, we checked in amid a systemwide Internet outage, meaning reservations were being done the old-fashioned way – with paper. Despite all that, we soon found ourselves luxuriating in a 400-square-foot historic Cottage Room complete with lovely private patio – it also boasts a fire pit, but trust me, at 100+ degrees Fahrenheit, that was not going to see ANY use. And it really was a bit toasty to be lounging on the patio.
Enjoying the grounds
Despite the heat, we found the expansive green spaces to be wonderful for strolls in the early evening – sometimes a beverage in hand. Many of the walkways have roofs, not only to protect from the sun but also from those Arizona thunderstorms.
Although the croquet mallets were broken (huge disappointment) thus forcing a cancelation of the planned croquet match in the cooler early morning hours, we did secure several putters and pitted our somewhat mediocre putting skills against the resort’s mini-golf course that winds through the grounds. Even in the heat, we noted couples and families were loving the games. There is also lawn chess and cornhole bean bag toss.
While we visited all eight swimming pools – yes, we said eight – we only tried a couple for a little water walking and refreshment. The Paradise Pool, which is really three pools combined into one massive fun-zone, is the most crowded. There is a swim-up bar and a 92-foot waterslide, oh and of course cabanas (extra fee), and outdoor movies on some evenings. The Catalina Pool was reportedly Marilyn Monroe’s favorite (albeit remodeled extensively since) and was recommended to us as the quietest, which it is. The Ocatilla Pool is also more secluded, but has very warm water.
Food and libations
The food at the Biltmore is simply amazing. We ate breakfast and dinner (other than one night) at Frank & Alberts. We’d give the service six stars if we could, and the breakfast buffet … oh my, how good that was! Which is why you notice we did not say we ate lunch. We used our lunch vouchers for a happy hour beverage and appetizers each day, then ate a later dinner.
We did eat one night at Wright’s at the Biltmore, and while it promised to be THE dining experience of our trip, it came up far short, both in terms of service and also food quality – something we did not expect from a AAA Four Diamond award-winning restaurant. Maybe it was an off night….
Fitness and spa
While I curled up with an incredible book I was reading, Therese did take advantage of the complete fitness center and was most impressed with the offerings (and quiet!). We never did make it to the spa to partake in any treatments, which we hear are amazing.