JW Camelback, Grand Canyon, Taliesin

Discussion created by ssindc on Dec 27, 2016
Latest reply on Jan 1, 2017 by bacon14

Just back from a splendid family vacation at the JW Camelback Inn in Scottsdale (although, probably, actually, Paradise Valley), Arizona.  A great experience, including brief excursions to the Grand Canyon and Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin.  Much to report - and much to see (yup, photos).  But the summary is simple and straightforward:


I hadn't been at the Camelback for many years, but - as I remembered - it's a wonderful, well-managed property that's definitely, "something different."  It's pricey - no doubt about it - but at least you know where your money's going - it's a massive, visually engaging, enterprise.  Budget travelers, look elsewhere.  But, if you're willing to make a significant investment (of cash or points), this is a memorable property worth considering.


I love Arizona (and New Mexico), but here's a litmus test.  Does this image speak to you?



So many thoughts on the Camelback Inn.

  • As for how we ended up there - well - we were looking for warm (that's easy), domestic (my family vetoed international travel this time), and different - no one else in my family had been to the Grand Canyon, hiked Camelback, etc.  So it ended up being our consensus pick.
  • The property is ... gorgeous ... it's fully integrated into the dessert/mountains ... and it's a pleasure to walk through the property; there's every imaginable kind of outdoor seating and activity, the fire pits (and outdoor heaters) are where you want them, and... well.... you've got to see it to believe/appreciate it.
  • An extremely comfortable room and patio for my mother-in-law; plus
  • A wonderful suite - actually a three-room combo - for my family of four (with both my sons being taller than me);
    • two private bed rooms, plentiful closets;
    • wonderful beds, plentiful towels (in the bath rooms and the pool - more on that below), and robes ... ok, I do enjoy having a robe and slippers;
    • three (count-em, 3) master baths - with two sinks in our bathroom - that was a nice treat;
    • a dining room table that comfortably sat 6, a living room that comfortably sat 4 (or more), a full kitchen (with three, yes, 3 Keurig coffee machines), and... and... and...
    • the enclosed outdoor patio - large enough for a nice gathering (with seating for 6-8) and personal/private heated pool - oh yes, died and gone to heaven
      • This proved to be the high point of the trip for my boys.  I didn't expect this would be that big of a hit, but they loved it (and that made me and my spouse very, very happy);
      • for a small pool, it was quite satisfactory - walk in steps, one side with a gradual incline, 6 feet deep in the center, and a cut-out pool seat on the far side - nice!
  • We ate a lot (and I mean a lot) of meals on the property.
    • We ate at Rita's, the resort's casual restaurant, a lot - OK - every day.  We ate there indoors and outdoors, for lunch and dinner, and late at night (when the restaurant was closed but they served us anyway.)  We really enjoyed it.
      • Nicely managed and well staffed, every server we had was a pleasure;
      • the food was very (OK, surprisingly) good;
        • the signature dish or starter was fresh Guacamole, made at table side - it was delicious - we enjoyed it at every meal - it's hard to describe how much we loved it and enjoyed the experience;
        • other than that, we ate everything - fish, salads, burgers (and sliders), grilled cheese, fajitas, beans, asparagus, soups, desserts... Yeah, we enjoyed that place enough to just ... keep ... going ... back....
    • We ate one dinner at the high(er) end restaurant, Lincoln - it's a relatively new restaurant (as of late 2016), replacing BLT (a popular NY-based high end steak place).  Briefly, my sons and I loved it, but my spouse, well, not so much;
      • the service was attentive, engaging, and efficient - both in the restaurant and in the (excellent, nicely stocked) bar;
      • the boys (and I) are still giddy over the tuna tartare starter - exquisite;
      • my fish - and the boy's beef (one fillet, one New York Strip) - were sublime; and
      • the folks who had desserts raved about them;
      • alas, not everyone was as impressed as we were.... in particular, my wife's complaints were legitimate - she thought:
        • the restaurant was simply "too expensive" (with the understanding that this is a relative term);
        • the restaurant was too loud - bottom line, my mother-in-law couldn't hear anything at dinner; and
        • she was disappointed with the table and the general atmosphere - her sense was that it was Spartan/minimalist to the point that it did not feel like the special kind of experience we'd expect for that kind of money (and, on this point, she's got a point).
    • My mother-in-law and my spouse lunched at Sprouts (at the Spa), and they raved primarily about the view and the relaxed atmosphere (with numerous diners in spa robes);
    • We frequented the well-managed and convenient Starbucks, um, frequently....
  • It's a large property, and there are courtesy golf carts/drivers on demand - pick up the phone, and boom, your driver appears.  My mother-in-law loved this service, and the drivers couldn't have been any more accommodating of our wishes or needs (at all hours).
  • Plenty of other memorable mentions:
    • we arrived on my mother-in-law's birthday, and there was a (gorgeous) cake waiting in her room - nicely done, Marriott team;
    • my spouse and I hiked
      • the (very casual) Mummy Mountain trail behind the resort - scenic, accessible, and not terribly time consuming; and
      • the more challenging, but gratifying, Cholla side of Camelback Mountain - a great experience - and killer views of the city and the mountains;
    • the cleaning and maintenance staff were efficient and responsive - we actually had a (rather major) maintenance issue (OK, that's a bummer, plus a repeat the next day - ARGH), and it was resolved promptly.  What more can you ask?


As for the Grand Canyon, well, there's a reason they call it ... Grand...


To be clear, it's a very (very) long day-trip from Phoenix/Scottsdale to the Canyon (but we thought it was worth it).  We recommend without hesitation for an excellent, customized, VIP experience (and if you can get Duane as your driver/guide, we were very pleased with him).  In a perfect world, it makes more sense to spend more time at the Canyon, it just wasn't in the cards for us on this trip.


Unfortunately, we went on a day the weather was "difficult" (OK, really cold, ice/snow risk, and pea soup fog) - but our guide stuck with it, and we enjoyed a sufficient number of epic views.


And, another day, yes, a short drive (and a reservation - don't go without one) took us to see Frank Lloyd Wright's former home - OK - working camp - and architecture school (still in operation, offering a master's degree in architecture) - Taliesin West.  Just two images of Wright's "shining brow" - first, the "side" view or toward the beginning of the tour:


I admit, Frank Lloyd Wright is not my favorite, and, frankly, I think he was insane - creative genius, maybe - but the more I read/learn about him, well, I can't say he grows on me..... In any event, it's an extraordinary structure, well integrated into the mountain, here's the "front" view...



That's probably enough for now.  My bottom line: A nice vacation, and my spouse, sons, and mother-in-law all came home happy.  A satisfying Marriott experience!