Tara’s Staycation Guide 2016

Written by Mike Meyer Category: Taras BIG Travels Issue: June 2016
Group Free

So how do you make a “staycation” article different from the ones you’ve penned before? You change the focus. You tweak the lens. In this case, you try and see things through the eyes of someone else. I’ve featured these resorts in PHOENIX magazine before. But not like this. This time, readers get to experience some down time with a best-selling author and marriage specialist, an A-list Super Bowl champion, a hotel-chain founder, and a woman whose tough decision years ago resulted in one of my biggest blessings, my stepson’s birth mom. Hopefully, in the end, you will be inspired to take some time off yourself and enjoy the best our state has to offer.

Watch Tara’s Reel Travels Thursday mornings on CBS 5 KPHO and 3TV’s Good Morning Arizona or visit taraontv.com.

The view from the Lemans’ JW Starr Pass suiteJW MARRIOTT STARR PASS RESORT & SPA
A SUITE SURPRISE
Dr. Kevin Leman knew he was in for a treat when he realized there was more than one bathroom in his JW Marriott Starr Pass suite. After all, his wife Sande had brought her “artillery” on this overnighter. “I’ll never understand the need for two hair curlers, or combs that look like weapons…which I fear,” he laughed. Ironically, the Lemans met in a bathroom almost 50 years ago. Sande was a nurse’s aide helping a male patient at Tucson Medical Center. The janitor mopping the floor? Yep, Kevin Leman. Now, five kids and 48 years later, Leman admired the 2,200-square-foot presidential suite and breathed a sigh of relief. Forget the French doors, the chocolate-covered strawberries waiting patiently for their arrival, or the fact that the Dalai Lama had blessed the room during his Tucson visit years earlier. This author of more than 50 books, most of them best-sellers, was just excited he had his own toilet. That’s a man for you. And if anyone would know, it’s Leman. The author has written about the differences between men and women for years and is considered by many to be the authority on all things birth order-, marriage- and sex-related. The Lemans live 45 minutes from the JW Starr Pass and love the place. But they had never spent the night there. Of the 575 rooms at the resort, 35 of them are suites. Tonight, the Lemans were in the big one, smack dab in the center of the sprawling resort, overlooking the city they love.

PETALS, LEAVES AND THE GREATEST JACUZZI EVER!
“Sande, did you bring your swimsuit?” Leman asked after getting situated. “Yes,” she replied. “Want to go check out the Jacuzzi?” he fired back. “I don’t want to get wet,” she responded. Despite almost five decades of marriage, Leman admits he and his wife are very different and credits God for being “the ultimate humorist.” “I know,” Sande told me. “I always pack my swimsuit and I never put it on. I guess it’s one of my quirks. Maybe one day I’ll put a toe in [the water],” she laughed.“I love to look at flowers and walk around the grounds. Of course Kevin loves the Jacuzzi.” The good news is the JW Starr Pass has both. This AAA Four-Diamond resort includes the added bonus of countless walking trails throughout Tucson Mountain Park as well as a 20,000-square-foot spa to pamper those tired feet after a trek. In fact, someone must have had Sande in mind when designing one of the Hashani Spa’s most popular treatments, the “Petals and Leaves Ritual.” A specialist uses a blue corn scrub to exfoliate your body, an indigenous Sedona mud wrap to detox your skin and a luxurious hot oil scalp treatment with orange and jasmine essential oils to distract you and encourage a brief slumber during the whole thing. So while Sande was thinking of butterfly milkweed, desert marigold and staying dry, her husband put on his robe and hit the hot tub. Leman admits a big pet peeve when he travels is a lukewarm hotel Jacuzzi. “They drive me nuts,” he told me. So when he stepped into the one at the JW Starr Pass, he let out a second sigh of happiness. “It was the perfect temperature. It’s hot, like a Jacuzzi should be. And the jets? It didn’t matter where you sat. They hit you with just the right amount of force that you really feel the relaxation a Jacuzzi can offer. I’ve been in Jacuzzis that just bubble. At that point, just go take a bath. I didn’t want to leave.”

MRS. UPPINGTON FALLS IN LOVE...WITH A LEMON CROSTATA
The Lemans have been to Primo many times. They love chef Melissa Kelly’s cuisine. So do I. Last summer, I actually tracked down (okay, maybe stalked) the James Beard Award-winner at her flagship Primo in Rockland during a Maine summer road trip with my husband. Not only was Kelly working that night, but she brought me into the kitchen to watch her staff in action. Just like her original restaurant, she has an organic garden outside the Primo at the JW Starr Pass. Every day, ingredients like mint, tomatoes and strawberries are picked and used in the dishes served to Starr Pass guests. If it were up to Leman, a meal at a restaurant would last 30 minutes. He usually likes to get in and out. Fortunately, his wife prefers to savor and enjoy the food she’s served. “She’s a five-forker,” he explains. “She loves restaurants with five forks. I’m a one-forker guy and plastic is fine. So in essence, she’s the classy one and I’m not.” That’s how she earned the nickname “Mrs. Uppington” from her husband. But she embraces it, even emblazoning the moniker on her stationery and license plate.

Sande Leman enjoying the balcony and her resort robeDinner at Primo for the Lemans included fish (for him) and chicken (for her), but the marriage may have hit a snag when the dessert course came out. After one bite of the lemon ricotta crostata with Grand Marnier strawberries on top, it became obvious that Sande had developed some feelings for another man, pastry chef Chris Johnson. Where’s Andy Cohen and Bravo when you need them? Actually, pastry chef Stephanie Acosta was on duty that night, so guests would have to turn elsewhere for any food drama. I asked the Lemans what they talked about that night. With Leman’s travels, and five children whose careers include executive-producing Ellen DeGeneres’ show and serving as an assistant principal at the Leman Academy, they actually don’t have a lot of time together. “It’s funny,” Sande said. “We’ve been married 48 years. We just enjoy hanging out. We still talk a lot about the kids…our summer plans. We’re past the big in-depth conversation.”

What about couples who are struggling? Or who don’t have decades of history under their belts? “That’s where a true staycation comes in. Get away and take stock of the marriage. Really communicate and don’t bring the phone with you,” she replied. “Couples who do once-a-week dating…I envy those people,” Leman said. “We bring up kids today to think they’re the center of the universe. What a disrespectful thing to do to our children. It’s a great message to convey to them that mom and dad have a priority in this relationship to each other.” When they’re at home, Leman brings his wife a cup of coffee every morning “like a trained seal,” he told me. That tradition continued at the JW Starr Pass, as there’s a Starbucks on the lower level. Sande is not a morning person. “I call my wife and firstborn, my daughter Holly, ‘the manatee and the slug.’ They move slowly.” But that can be a good thing, especially when your morning view includes a sprawling award-winning resort, a few of the Starr Pass Golf Club’s signature fairways, mountains everywhere you turn and pool chairs ready to be claimed for the day by guests waiting to enjoy the Arizona sun. As Sande sat on the balcony savoring her coffee with a microscopic drop of cream, thankful they had taken the time to enjoy a night in their backyard, Leman made his way back to…where else…his suite bathroom.

Summer Fact Box
MUST DO : JW Starr Pass is a title sponsor of the Tucson 23, a Mexican food festival celebrating Visit Tucson’s best 23 miles of Mexican food in America! saaca.org/Tucson23.php

ROMANCE PKG : “Spa Retreat for Two” includes two 50-minute spa treatments per night and a $50 resort credit with a mountain view or city view room. $269

INSIDER TIP: One word: POZOLE! I’m so thankful that, after a beautiful renovation and update, the Signature Grill kept the dish on their menu. The best I’ve had! I wrote about it last year.

BOOK IT: jwstarrpass.com

 

Tara with Gronkowski backstageJW MARRIOTT DESERT RIDGE
GRONK AND THE BRIDE
Kirsten Cashman knew she wanted to take all of her wedding photos at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge the first time she visited the property months ago. Her friends thought Humphreys Peak might be in the running. After all, Kirsten met her future husband, Austin Kelly, in college at NAU. But when she laid eyes on the sprawling mega-resort featuring 10 pools and some of the most manicured colorful grounds a desert will ever see, she turned to her mom and said, “here.” On the way down to meet Austin for his “first look” photo, she passed a fun-loving group of guys from Boston. “Wanna last dance with Gronk?” one of the guys said. “No, we’re in a hurry…but thanks!” Kirsten replied. She had no idea she had just turned down one of the NFL’s most talented and popular players, Rob Gronkowski. The Gronk Party Bus had pulled into town the day before for Celebrity Fight Night, the largest charity gala in the state. Meanwhile, a quiet and nervous Austin Kelly stood on the Desert Ridge patio grounds waiting to see his beautiful bride-to-be for the first time in her strapless white dress.

That’s the thing about the Desert Ridge: you never know who you’ll see. And for a few days each spring, chances are you’ll bump into Reba McEntire, 16-time Grammy winner David Foster, superstar Carrie Underwood or a New England Patriot whose four brothers just got done lifting in the gym. “The first thing we usually do when we get to a hotel or resort is go right to the gym,” Gordy Gronkowski, the family patriarch and fitness expert, told me. “We get each other going, sometimes coming up with crazy exercises. It can be very intense.” The Gronkowskis may not have taken part in the Tai Chi or mat Pilates classes offered at the Revive Spa fitness center, but they did make the most of the state-of-the-art equipment. Better yet, they got a front seat to the Sonoran desert, a nice respite from the colder temps back east.

FROM THE LAZY RIVER TO VANILLA ICE
When Rob pulled in to the JW Desert Ridge, he said he got a big smile on his face. “This place is awesome,” he told me at the Founders Dinner, the night before the black-tie gala. “It’s stunning,” Gordy said. “Especially by the pools. I know my kids enjoyed the lazy river.” I couldn’t quite picture a 6-foot-6 Gronk and his brothers floating around in tubes, but they were there, along with Rob’s right-hand man and security guy aptly named “Goon.” In addition to the lazy river, the JW Desert Ridge has five pools, two whirlpools, the Serpentine Waterslide and a Kids Splash Pad. “What was that fruity coconut drink they serve at the pool bar?” Gordy asked me. “I know! I even wrote about it the last time, it’s SO good,” I replied. “They’re just like the brothers you wish you had or have,” General Manager Steve Hart said. “Like so many families who come to the JW Desert Ridge, it’s a special time. They get to just be together and have fun together. They can connect at different times of the day, or go out on their own ‘junkets.’ They can golf, go to the spa or gym.” Gordy told me there are times Rob can’t spend too much time by a pool. People start to recognize him and “it can get crazy. We’re not as popular,” he laughed. “Perfect,” I thought, “more time to enjoy those signature Kokopelli Coladas rimmed with honey and coconut, incognito.” They may have spent the afternoon by the pools, but by 7:30 that night, the Gronkowskis had made their way to the Wildfire room for the Celebrity Fight Night Founders Dinner. An hour later, after some prodding from “Music Man” David Foster, Rob was standing in front of a crowd of donors, golf shorts and all, holding up his iPhone and doing his best Vanilla Ice impression. That was AFTER Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer had dodged fine china and glassware to throw Gronk a football across the room during dinner. Speaking of food, it might be Rob Gronkowski’s favorite thing outside of football. He loves room service and orders just about anything and everything. Last year, when Gordy was checking out of a hotel in Los Angeles, he got a room service bill for $1,500. “I thought, ‘What the heck is all this for? What did he get? It was food, not booze. I got stuck with that one,” he laughed. “Never got that back.” “What does he order?” I asked. “Oh, he’ll just go right down the list,” his dad told me. I saw Rob again the next night backstage at the black-tie gala with Goon and his brothers. “Mind if I get a picture of us all dressed up now?” I asked. “No problem,” he responded. He was eating a sandwich.

COME TO LIFE
It truly takes a village to make the JW Desert Ridge’s 33,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom “Come to Life” for a charity gala honoring The Champ. Muhammad Ali, still fragile as he continues to deal with Parkinson’s disease, waited in a side room with his wife Lonnie and sister Marilyn. On the other side of the wall, Celebrity Fight Night founder Jimmy Walker and Executive Director Sean Curie worked their magic and entertained guests with a show and live auction hosted by Reba McEntire and David Foster that would rival anything in Hollywood or the Big Apple. “Come to Life” is what the JW Desert Ridge hopes Arizona residents do this summer. Offering “316 acres of fun” that include the Arnold Palmer/Nick Faldo-designed Wildfire Golf Club, the award-winning spa, and a waterpark of pool choices, the JW Desert Ridge makes for a perfect backyard summer getaway.

Tara sneaks her own first-look photo of Austin and Kirsten at JW Desert Ridge“Oh, I saw Brooks and Dunn,” Denise Kelly told me as we watched her son and future daughter-in-law take pictures on the lawn. Kelly may live in San Diego, a favorite summer destination for Arizonans, but she’ll be back here in a few months for HER summer getaway. “He just looked like a movie star. I walked in and I saw him and I said, ‘that’s a handsome man.” “Was it Brooks or Dunn?” I asked. “She doesn’t know,” the bride’s mother laughed. “Maybe they’ll come perform at the wedding when the black-tie gala is done,” someone suggested. You never know. After all, Gordy Gronkowski, still recovering from neck surgery, didn’t expect to get on stage that night and dance. But having recovered from the bride’s earlier “dance diss,” the Gronkowskis were there, shaking and grooving with Baby Daddy star Melissa Peterman and raising more than $100,000 on an auction item to spend a Patriots game with the family back east. “I can’t say enough about the service here,” Gordy Gronkowski told me. “I’m not surprised,” I responded. It doesn’t matter if you play in the NFL, everyone is treated like a celebrity at the JW Desert Ridge. Hart told me, “I know we host over 2,500 people and all sorts of mega-stars for Celebrity Fight Night, but we actually tried to focus on making sure the wedding party felt as special as the people who attended the gala.”

“Not only did I look like a princess, thanks to my ball-wedding gown, but they made me FEEL like a princess,” Kirsten told me. Later that day after taking photos, they passed Celebrity Fight Night headliner Carrie Underwood. Underwood actually Instagrammed her own JW Desert Ridge picture enjoying the Arizona sun. Kirsten didn’t even notice the country superstar turn around and smile at the bride, but her sister did. Austin’s groomsmen were still talking about their run-in with Gronk. “Austin’s taller than Gronk anyway,” his best man Andrew Zogby said. “Maybe an inch.”

Summer Fact Box
MUST DO: Grab a tube, hit the Lazy River and try the signature Kokopelli Colada at the “Just a Splash” pool bar.

SUMMER PACKAGE: “Come to Life” Golf package (they have a spa one too!). $50 resort credit, unlimited golf up to 4 people, 20 percent spa discount, resort fee included. Rates from $179.

BOOK IT: summeratjwdesertridge.com (use code ZJ5)

 

Bill Marriott and family getting ready for another birthday celebrationJW MARRIOTT CAMELBACK INN 
Growing up in Texas, spring break meant Cabo, or Padre Island… raucous, crowded, and sometimes out of control. For a young Utah student, spring break in the 1940s meant driving with the family to the Camelback Inn. Years later, he would buy the place. Today, Bill Marriott oversees an organization that has grown from a family restaurant business to a lodging company with more than 4,200 properties in 80 countries and territories. (At time of writing, Marriott was in the process of acquiring Starwood.) “People often ask me, ‘What is your favorite hotel?’” Marriott explained. “That’s hard to say… But, you know, it goes back to, ‘Where are your roots?’ and ‘Where have you spent your happiest days?’ and it always comes back to Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Arizona.” It’s no surprise he loves the place. The Camelback Inn has been a beloved desert destination even before he added the letters “J” and “W” to the name. The hotel cost $75,000 to build and started with 75 rooms. Today, there are more than 400. Step into the lobby and you’ll pass by some of the original adobe bricks and wood-beamed ceilings that put you on a Western movie set. Celebrities including Clark Gable, Bette Davis and Oprah Winfrey have all made their way to the award-winner. “You know, there’s a character at Camelback; his name is Jack Cramer. We call him Captain Jack. He’s a bell captain and when you check in at Camelback, he’ll tell you all about this history. He’ll tell you how it was the first resort in Scottsdale and what a wonderful time you’re going to have,” Marriott said. Jack now spends most of his time at the JW’s recently renovated Ambiente Golf Course, sharing incredible Camelback Inn stories as you head to the front nine.

“ELTON JOHN” MAKES HIS WAY TO THE JACKRABBIT
I can’t imagine what it’s like for Marriott staffers to know the head honcho is about to arrive with his family for the week to celebrate his 84th birthday. I envision a group determined to make everything perfect, a cacophony of panic and edginess. Marriott’s close friend and manager of another JW property, Steve Hart, says it’s the opposite. “They head to the lobby to see him, to touch him, shake his hand and get pictures with him. He’s like touring Elton John. He knows every detail about the hotel, loves his employees and is full of nothing but gratitude.” Hart may not share Bill’s last name, but he feels like he was born into the family. “When he’s here, he spends about 99 percent of the time by the Jackrabbit pool, playing with his grandkids. The other 1 percent? I’ll run him over to an In-N-Out Burger or Five Guys,” Hart laughed. The only thing that might rival Marriott’s love for his family and business is his love of burgers. The mogul’s birthday visit this year came just in time, as he was able to enjoy the newly renovated Jackrabbit pool. Marriott spent millions to give the main pool an updated, modern look and add a contemporary adults-only pool as well as a special area for kids. I’m always amazed at how the JW Camelback manages to evolve and make jaw-dropping additions without losing its original authenticity.

Bill’s favorite lemon daffodil cakeNOT YOUR GRANDMA’S BIRTHDAY CAKE
When Denny Mohler took over as senior pastry chef four and a half years ago, he was given a simple angel food cake recipe. Turns out, Bill Marriott likes lemon crème frosting. “They said, ‘This is the cake he gets every year…a three-layered angel food cake with frosting in between the layers and decorated on top with fresh live daffodil.’” Coming off a degree from the prestigious New York Culinary Institute, Mohler made the bold decision to tweak it just a bit. Nervous that there was a new hire in the kitchen, Bill’s wife Donna came in before the birthday and did a taste test. “For the first time, she sent it back,” Mohler laughed. “This is not the cake I remember,” she told the staff politely. “We scrambled to find that original recipe,” Mohler said. A few years ago, Mohler received new instructions to make the cake gluten-free. “You know what?” he told me. “The taste difference is so unnoticeable, they actually like the new version better! It’s now one of my favorite cakes to make.” You won’t find Marriott’s birthday cake on the menus at the JW Camelback, but it won’t matter. You’ve got everything from peanut butter chocolate mousse and carrot cake with ginger ice cream at BLT Steak to ice cream sandwiches at Hoppin’ Jacks to satisfy your sweet tooth.

PILATES ANYONE?
The Spa at Camelback Inn is one of Travel + Leisure’s favorites. Tucked under Mummy Mountain, it’s also one of Bill Marriott’s favorites. You can rent a poolside cabana, treat yourself to a Turkish steam bath and even take a Zumba or Bollywood dance class at the Spa. Where some spas feature 50-minute treatments, the Camelback Inn feels you deserve that extra 10. But Marriott prefers Pilates. His daughter-in-law Carrie got him into it a few years ago and he liked it so much, he put a Pilates studio on the ground floor of his corporate headquarters. Spa Director Kelli Ziegler has helped guide Marriott on the Reformer many times. As he ended this yearly visit, Bill Marriott finished on the treadmill and sat down inside the Spa’s Sprouts restaurant. It’s funny. When he was a boy, Marriott’s parents started an A&W Root Beer stand, the root of all things hospitality for this large family. Young Bill would spend his days counting gooey nickels. After all, root beer was 5 cents a mug back then. Marriott has always appreciated time off from hard – sometimes sticky – work. “Don’t be a work martyr. Do your job well and work hard, but take the vacation you deserve,” he said. “In the end, it makes you more fulfilled. Your family will be better served and your work will be more focused and more productive.” Bill Marriott ordered a root beer.

Summer Fact Box
MUST DO: Grab friends and enjoy live music most days at Rita’s Kitchen and R Bar Patio. (Order a popover from BLT Steak to go!)

SUMMER PACKAGE : “Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due.” Rates starting at $189 plus a $25 resort credit through Sept. 15.

BOOK IT: summeratjwcamelbackinn.com (use code ES7)

 

Pianist Allen Comyns taking high tea with DeeTHE PHOENICIAN
I’ve been to The Phoenician many times…for my bridal party, a spa day, a round of 18 with my husband (okay, maybe just 11 holes), a romantic dinner at J&G. But this staycation was special. And it wasn’t even MY staycation. It was Dee’s... a woman I’ve only known for a little over a year. You see, when I met my youngest stepson Dylan in 2002, I found out he was adopted at birth. “Are you my real mom?” he asked a few weeks after meeting. He was 6. But we shared blond hair and had some similar features, so he just asked. “I wish, buddy. I’m not, but I’ll bet your birth mom thinks about you all the time. She must have loved you so much that she wanted you to be raised in the best possible place and surrounded always by love.” A few years later he told me his New Year’s resolutions were to play more X-Box and find his real mom. He was probably 8. His curiosity continued for a decade, dotted with moments of frustration, sadness, anger and gratitude. Finally, when Dylan was 19, I decided to find his birth mom. Armed with a few clues and Facebook, it took me about 25 minutes. The story of what happened next deserves its own article. With the exception of my wedding day, watching Dylan and Dee meet for the first time on Jan. 4, 2015, on a pier in Oceanside was probably the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of. But instead of the Southern California coastline, this story takes place inside Arizona’s iconic AAA Five-Diamond resort, The Phoenician.

Dee’s first trip to The Phoenician was actually this past Thanksgiving, when she made the six-hour trek from Vista with her two daughters, Dylan’s new half-sisters, to meet the rest of our extended family. After making the turn onto the long drive that winds past the resort’s manicured grounds at the base of Camelback Mountain, she could hardly contain her enthusiasm. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she told me. Her teenage daughters were just excited about room service.

AquaMermaid instructor Marielle, left, and DeeWHAT’S YOUR MERMAID NAME?
When Dee was growing up, The Little Mermaid opened in theaters. She and her sister were such fans, they would tie hair stretches around their ankles, swim in the pool and pretend they were mermaids. Her childhood dream was about to become a reality thanks to The Phoenician’s “AquaMermaid” program. This time, instead of hair bands, she’d have a mermaid tail and fin. After stumbling upon a similar program at a previous job, The Phoenicians’ Director of Leisure & Recreation, Amy Robison, was determined to bring it to Arizona. For children, it’s a chance to make their mermaid dreams come true. For adults, it’s a serious core workout that’s harder than it looks, but rewarding. And if hanging in the pool with a perfectly-toned, French-speaking, bikini-wearing instructor doesn’t intimidate you, then swimming with spandex that starts at your waist and ends in fins won’t be a problem. “AquaMermaid is perfect for people who love to swim, want to try something new and live out their princess dreams,” founder Marielle Chartier-Henault told us. “What’s your Mermaid name?” she asked Dee. “Oh my gosh, I’ll have to think of one,” Dee replied. I watched as Marielle and Dee did some stretches on dry land, worked their shoulders, and moved their hips. After putting on their mermaid suits, they got in the pool and started to work on the mermaid-way of things, using your whole lower body in one continual line, trying not to bend the knees. The AquaMermaid lesson attracted the attention of 10-year-old Sydney and 8-year-old Sky, two sisters visiting from Chicago. They couldn’t keep their eyes off Dee and Marielle, watching them practice mermaid handstands, mermaid laps and even a mermaid “high five,” where the two would bend their knees, bring their feet to the surface, and touch fins. Dee told me it was a much harder workout than she thought. “Swimming with your legs together is unusual for humans,” Marielle said. “You’ll work your abs, your hips, there’s cardio.” “You still need a Mermaid name,” I yelled at Dee. “How about Sand Dollar?” she replied. “I’ve always wanted to find one in the water.” “No…Delphina,” Syndey insisted. I forgot the girls were listening in. “How did you come up with that?” I asked. “You called her D. So D for Delphina.” I think we have future AquaMermaids in the water.

SCONE SKILLS FIT FOR A QUEEN
She may not have a British accent, but Wanda Hill’s passion is English high tea. “New York City has Rockefeller Center. Arizona has tea at The Phoenician,” the Bronx transplant told Dee. Wanda has been serving tea and scones with Devonshire cream to resort guests in the Phoenician’s Lobby Tea Court for 15 years. In fact, OpenTable just named “Afternoon Tea” at The Phoenician one of the “Top 100 Restaurants in the United States.” Dee admitted clotted cream may not have been part of her “meal plan,” but she wasn’t about to pass up a cup of Whiteberry tea with an assortment of finger sandwiches. When the second course arrived, she confessed it was the first scone she’d ever had. And she got a serious boost of confidence when resident pianist and British import Allen Comyns complimented her scone skills. Like Wanda, Allen is a staple at high tea. A year after the resort opened in 1988, original owner Charles Keating was at the Four Seasons in London. He heard Comyns playing, approached him, and asked him to consider working at Keating’s “little spread in Arizona.” Comyns hasn’t looked back. He loves being able to play “the standards” like Sinatra, and although the median guest age at The Phoenician keeps getting younger, he’s still more Michael Bublé then Bieber. After Allen left to continue entertaining tea-timers, Dee told me this was the first time she’d ever really had a staycation. “The closest thing I’ve done were business trips to Disneyland, but I was in meetings all day.” After giving Dylan up for adoption when he was born, Dee has since been raising two daughters as a single mom and working two jobs. It was nice to watch her fiddle with fine china and get treated like British royalty by Wanda and the crew from The Phoenician. I watched as Dee used an unorthodox eating method on her chocolate-covered strawberries, part of Afternoon Tea’s “third course.” She took a knife and carefully pried the chocolate from the strawberry. She prefers to eat them separately. “Yep, I know. I’m doing something Allen would say is SO wrong. I got high marks on the scones, but I’m failing with the pastries,” she laughed.

Summer Fact Box
MUST DO: The Phoenician’s “Culinary Countdown” includes a $40 three-course menu at J&G Steakhouse; the traditional three-course Afternoon Tea menu for $30 (Monday-Friday only/typically $42); and a $20 two-course menu at Relish Burger Bistro. Runs June 1-Sept. 15. For reservations, call 480-423-2530.

SUMMER SPECIAL: The Centre for Well-Being Summer (and Beyond) Spa Special. Purchase one treatment and receive a second service of equal or lesser value for 50 percent off. (Monday-Thursday, June 1-October 31). Must be used on the same day and can be shared – a great way for friends or mothers/daughters to enjoy some pampering together. Not valid on holidays. For reservations, call 480-423-2452.

BOOK IT: Summer room rates starting at $169/night (May 27-Aug. 31). thephoenician.com/offers