A Desert Hideaway, Four Seasons Style


Beyond California and New York City I don't blog much about the US and I rarely stay in American resort hotels. It's a generalization, but I find the resort properties in the US that appeal to me are incredibly expensive and often I find the service casual to the point of being non-existent. However, this year I've had two great US based resort stays, first the wonderful Ventana in Big Sur in March (you can find my review here) and in August the Four Seasons at Troon North in Scottsdale Arizona.
I find myself coming back to this desert hideaway over and over and it's my favorite place to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The hotel appeals because of it's beautiful situation looking out over Pinnacle Peak, the charming adobe architecture, the Sonoran desert landscape and the superb service. I find it particularly relaxing in the middle of the week at the hottest time of the year when it isn't too busy. Yes, I like everywhere off-season, even Arizona!
Most people are put off by temperatures cresting 100 but I love it. The heat provides the perfect excuse to do nothing. I wouldn't want to be organizing my daily life in these temperatures but if all I have to do is walk to the pool, flop down in a cabana and order a frozen cucumber margarita it's pretty much perfect. Even better, the hotel's nightly rates are a relative bargain and hover below $200.
As you can see the whole place made me giddy. Why bother with the valet when this is the walk to the parking lot?! No, I'm not worried that it's 108 degrees!
This isn't one of those monster Disneyland like Arizonan family resorts that feel like a beached cruise ship. If you're looking for seven restaurants, lazy rivers, faux Mediterranean styling or echos of Morocco, go elsewhere. This is a more "pared down" luxury. Quieter, smaller, and during the week when it's not full, dare I say more exclusive this is a lovely place. Granted, I do think they need a more impressive spa but they have some great classes on offer and overall I enjoy both the aesthetic, the natural environment and the smaller footprint. For me it's perfect for a three or four night stay.
With only 210 rooms they focus on comfort and service and they get a lot of things right. I'm predisposed to love a hotel  where the standard rooms are beautiful,  where they have a tea kettle in every room room and two luggage racks - seriously why do most hotels only have one? I guess luggage racks are like wine lists  and pepper mills in perpetual short supply! 

Here, the rooms are all almost 500 sq feet which means there's a large bathroom, with separate shower and bath, a walk in closet with plenty of storage room, and  enough space for a seating area as you can see below. 
Rest assured I think you'll like even the basic room categories.
The room below is a little smaller but there is still room for a sofa and two chairs. 
All of the rooms have outdoor space, either  terraces or balconies. They are currently updating the outdoor furniture to fit the newly pared down, more modern aesthetic but this was what it looked like when we visited. Personally I prefer the privacy of the upstairs balconies.
The rooms have undergone an extensive soft refurbishment and it's all very tasteful, though like so many modern resorts it seems to have lost some of the distinctive character. I like the new rooms but minus the kiva style fireplace one could  now be in Singapore or London. 
I would have loved to have seen some of the suites with small plunge pools but they were under  all refurbishment or occupied when we visited. Above you can see the  wall surrounding one of their plunge pool rooms.
The plainer palette that's coming in across the resort works particularly well around the pool which now looks a lot more contemporary, with paler loungers and a fresh modern look in the outdoor restaurant. 
While the adult pool is just a few steps down from the main pool we found it very peaceful.

One reason I love coming here in the summer is that they have wonderful cabanas around the adult pool which make it perfectly comfortable to lounge even in the warmest weather. However, one aspect of the recent refurbishment that makes me rethink my summer stays is that a they've reduced the overall number of cabanas and  introduced steep charges. I can understand this in the winter months when the resort is packed and the temperatures are comfortable but in the summer it seems a mistake. While we were there the cabanas were mostly empty while the staff ran around managing umbrellas to provide shade to everyone sitting on loungers. It seemed particularly egregious seeing a mother with small children and a young baby sitting under a cluster of umbrellas when all the nearby cabanas at the toddler pool were empty. I really hope they rethink this policy during the hot summer months.

The staff at the pool are excellent and they were tireless in bring round drinks and an endless supply of water as well as small free  treats. When I mentioned my disappointment at discovering the new charge for the cabanas they said as returning guests unaware of the new policy, they'd be happy to offer us a  complimentary cabana for our stay

This is exactly the kind of on the spot,  proactive service that distinguishes the hotel. It was certainly a luxury to have a reserved cabana and I confess I liked seeing the little welcome sign every morning, not to mention the large fruit plate that came with it. Cheers to the pool staff, it seems fitting to toast them with one of my favorite margaritas!
As you can see I had a great time, I confess I bought my first kindle years ago specifically to use in this pool! Yes, when you're as white as I am you need a big hat and a LOT of sunscreen!
I love the look of the hot tub  below but it was too warm for us  to get in! However, I saw a lot of lovely hummingbirds right here.
Lets talk about service: I know I'm a difficult customer, I have high standards and if I'm not happy someone will be hearing about it. Hotels in South East Asia have ruined me because their emphasis on customer satisfaction is superb.  At so many hotels when there's a problem nothing gets done because the people you're talking to aren't empowered to do anything about it and it's often tortuous and tedious to find someone senior enough to deal with whatever is at hand. However, on my recent stay at the Four Seasons in Scottsdale I was really impressed with the service provided. 
We all like  friendly staff and proactive service that is anticipatory, small treats on the pillow in the evening, a letter from management or strawberries in the room on arrival and they give you all that. But harder to provide, and less often found, is swift responsive service when things don't quite work out. I was incredibly impressed at the degree to which they went to resolve relatively minor issues on the spot and they were  more than generous in response as you can see from the cabana discussion above. As always the measure of the hotel is not whether minor things came up, but how they deal with them. 
When a manager asked whether I like my soufflĂ© pancake at breakfast I honestly told him it was heavy enough use as a weapon, though I'd eaten half of it and  it photographed beautifully! After consultation with the kitchen he immediately offered to removing it from the bill and to send another one. I said not to worry because my rate included breakfast.  I'd had plenty to eat and I'd only mentioned it because he asked. It wasn't significant. He returned at the end of breakfast to say he had credited my account for the drinks and meal I'd had at the bar the night before which was beyond generous. It was like this throughout my stay. 
My favorite views are over this hill at the back of the property.
The staff from the pool, to the restaurant and bar were excellent and overall I thought the service had moved up a notch from my previous visit. Perhaps it made a difference that I met with their PR person and did a room tour for the blog but this wasn't a sponsored visit and  as always we paid for our stay.
Lets talk about the food... Above is the beautiful outdoor terrace where we had breakfast every morning. It's their casual restaurant called Proof and there are beautiful views. I like the fact that they serve a late breakfast and were accommodating enough to make me a smoked salmon and avocado benedict even though it wasn't on the menu.
On the recommendation of the staff we tried the revamped main restaurant and enjoyed a Spanish inspired meal, they've made this a much less formal venue (goodbye white table clothes) and I think it benefits from the more relaxed vibe. We happened to be there on a night with flamenco guitarist which was atmospheric.
Of course the beautiful views are the same as ever and we had a drink on the terrace as the sun set. There's a new and rather cute gin bar, though it didn't seem heavily used. Overall the food throughout the resort is good but I wouldn't consider this a foodie destination.

For me the joy of spending three or four nights here is that I'm quite happy to relax into the resort and I don't feel the need to go out to do anything. I try to see the Desert Botanical Gardens  or the Heard Museum on my way to, or from the airport, but besides that I'm quite happy to spend my time lazing around the pool, reading and relaxing. They have lots of resort activities including a kids club, yoga and pilates, star gazing with someone knowledgable wielding a  telescope and a 6am hike up Pinnacle Peak but I was happy to say no to all of them. In fact this is the only destination I can think of where I do nothing and the heat is a suitable excuse. 
If you're craving a short, hot weather break I highly recommend considering a low season stay at the  The Four Seasons at Troon North.

PRACTICALITIES 
Choosing a room: The room classifications  are rather confusing and if you look at the website it doesn't really help.The rooms are more or less the same in both size and lay out with large bathrooms and balconies or terraces. Though they are bringing in amenities to distinguish them, fire pits and televisions on the downstairs terraces etc. The categories seems to depend on their location in the resort, upstairs or downstairs, looking out over the pool, the mountains, the city or Pinnacle Peak  but currently it's hard to tell the difference as they're just described a Deluxe Casita, Premier Casita, and Vista Casita.   Personally I prefer the rooms over the boulder strewn mountain  behind the resort but I can see the appeal of the sunset views over Pinnacle Peak. As always it's best to email them in advance if you have a preferred view.
Booking: You make think travel agents are out of date and that you can book everything you like online but believe me at higher end properties you are missing out by NOT utilizing  an agent. At this hotel and others you should book through a Virtuoso agent or American Express Platinum for lots of free extras. You'll get the same rate on the Four Season's website but they'll throw in a welcome on arrival (in our case chocolate covered strawberries), an upgrade (where available),  a $100 resort credit per stay and a  full breakfast daily. Breakfast  is also available via room service if you book through a Four Seasons Preferred Partner agent (FSPP).
Now you see the benefits it's a no brainer and yes breakfast for two can easily cost $60 at a place like this!  I've used a variety of agents over the years and can recommend www.whatahotel.com where you can check rates online. Ourisman Travel are also very good. It's always best to check the rates and dates before you contact them to book so you know what you're asking for.
I'd recommend booking the FSPP rate because they have the priority for the upgrade and offer $66 daily for breakfast. The Amex Platinum rate may be better if the guaranteed 4pm check is of use to you and you hold one of their cards. And yes, every time I write stuff like this I think I should really become a travel agent myself ;). If I ever get around to it I promise I'll let you know first!
No wonder I love this place, there's something in the air that makes me look taller and skinnier than I am!


Comments

Anonymous said…
We stayed there 18 years ago and loved it. The service was pretty good even then. When I tried to explain that my under tipping was not because I am British but because there had been some minor but slightly annoying issues with the service at dinner they comped the entire meal and drinks. Unnecessary but very nice
N

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