Local Luster

Tara HitchcockJune 1, 2015
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From Sedona to Tucson, The Valley TV personality partakes in the good life across Arizona.

You know things are bad when the TSA agent at Sky Harbor refers to you by name and says, “You never stay home, do you?” Even as a former high school debater, I didn’t have a comeback. He was right. This past year, I’ve spent more time in Terminal 4 than in my kitchen. “You really need a staycation.” Travel may be my passion, but it WAS time to take a break from the pre-check line and Cowboy Ciao (yep, there’s one by the A gates!) and remind myself why I’ve lived in this great state for 19 years with no intention of moving.

JW Marriott Starr Pass
My last trip to Tucson involved a U-Haul van, an exhausted 25-year-old, and a quick In & Out Burger stop. My stepson Dane was moving to Austin and I couldn’t bear the thought of him making the 16-hour drive by himself. I always feel like I’m in a high-stakes live game of Frogger when I make the 90-mile trek between Phoenix and Tucson, but it’s worth the trip when your destination is the JW Marriott Starr Pass. As I turned west off exit 259, it was as if the city had unleashed some of its signature iconic images. I passed Wildcat-revered A Mountain, two fighter jets heading back to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and rows of blooming mesquite trees. The only thing missing was a spaghetti Western being filmed along the way. Four miles later, tucked back in Tucson National Park, there she was, the JW Starr Pass, a resort that almost seemed Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired. The slopes and saddles of the landscape surrounding the JW Starr Pass offer some of the best views of downtown Tucson, even though your closest neighbors are saguaro cacti. 

Sunset at the JW Marriott Starr PassWatch out for the Cacti
Everything you need to know about the saguaro, you’ll learn on the trails outside Starr Pass. Jim DiDomenico from Southwest Trekking, a company with a desk inside the resort, took me out on the Bowen trail for a crash course in all things prickly. As I navigated through rocks and the dirt trail, I felt like I had entered a saguaro military base, with cacti standing at attention waiting for permission to speak. Some had arms outstretched as if to greet me with a hug. Others looked like they were just hoping for a high-five. Many were waiting for their arms to grow, something that usually happens when a saguaro is 50 or 60 years old. The resort offers complimentary guided hikes every morning at 6:30, as well as world-class mountain biking. In fact, your chances of bumping into a biker dressed like a yellow spandex glow stick, cleats and all, are just as good as passing a conference attendee in the lobby. Back on the trail, I learned the Sonoran desert can also be the source of a marital dispute. We were stopped by a couple from California. “Settle an argument,” the husband asked when he realized Jim was a trail guide. “Who makes the holes in the cacti? I think it’s a woodpecker. My wife says it’s the cactus wren.”

“The woodpecker makes the holes,” Jim said. “They’re trying to create a nesting site.” I asked if they’d spotted any desert dwellers, and the wife told me they were looking for scorpions.

“You’ll need to come out at night with a black light for those,” Jim responded. 

“I’ll just stay in the bar and order a stinger,” the husband joked. Actually, he might want to try the tequila instead. After my hike, I found out there’s a nightly ritual on the Salud Terrace of the JW Starr Pass that includes a complimentary shot of artisanal tequila after a story about the legend of Arriba Abajo. Basically two guys got into a drinking contest over a girl. The good news is this tale ended with a group tequila toast.

More Pozole Please?
I met Destination Sales Executive Curry Kucherer in the Signature Grill. I immediately eyed the red pork pozole and ordered that along with the chipotle chicken salad. The pozole was so good, I asked about the recipe. (Seriously, it was that good!) Apparently, Maria Flores, one of the cooks in the restaurant, had no trouble convincing hotel execs to add her family’s hominy stew recipe to the menu. I’m glad they did, as I indulged with a second bowl. Curry met her boyfriend on the job. He works for the federal government, and when a president pops by the resort, he’s part of the package. Curry is five years into her relationship. She can thank former President Bill Clinton for that. But her relationship with the JW Marriott (or J-Dub, as she calls it) spans even longer. “It’s everything you read about. It’s set in the real desert, in this beautiful landscape. It’s the true Southwest. Our resort reflects that.”
There are seven dining options at the resort, with Italian spot Primo being their signature spot for dinner. The red barn door may seem more Maine than Italy, but that’s simply a nod to Primo head chef Melissa Kelly’s other location. The restaurant is named after the James Beard Award-winner’s grandfather. Her flatbread pizzas are some of the best you’ll find. The signature Niman Ranch pork saltimbocca is a best-seller, and you can top it all off with Italian gelato, even if the flavor is prickly pear.

Is That Key Lime Pie on My Face?
The JW Marriott Starr Pass has a motto: “Follow Whims, Not Schedules.” I decided to follow the scent of lavender and head to the 20,000-square-foot Hashani Spa for a treatment. The Hashani menu reads like a high tech car-wash list . There are gentle-sounding treatments for a quick tune-up, like the “Water Lily Wrap” or “Petals and Leaves Balancing.” But if your “car” needs a serious oil change, you’ve got the Desert Copper Peptide Ritual or the Cranial Sacral massage. I just wanted to give my face a little boost, so I opted for the Rejuvenate Oxygen facial by Intraceuticals. The facial gained big-time momentum after Madonna told Harper’s Bazaar readers a few years ago that she keeps an oxygen machine in her own home. It doesn’t claim to give you the Material Girl’s body, but it is designed to plump up the skin and make you look like you aren’t hungover operating on four hours of sleep (not that I’m referring to myself).

My facialist Karen started my treatment with a gentle Clarisonic exfoliation and a layer of daily serum to revive the skin. “It’s like key lime pie and a piña colada,” she told me as she lathered my face with round two of rejuvenating moisture cream. It took everything I had to not go all gila monster on her and start licking off the face cream. It smelled so good that when she removed it with a warm cloth, I felt like I was being reprimanded, having someone take my dessert away. But she apologized later in the form of a lip plumping treatment (which I will say, at least temporarily, worked!) Once my face was ready, it was time to grab what looked like an airbrush make-up machine and get to work. Karen told me the machine delivers nutrients directly into the skin using a cold stream of pressurized oxygen. It tingled, making me giggle at one point, but it felt good. The more oxygen and serum absorbed, the better, she said. After my treatment, Karen left the room to let me get ready. I snuck a peek at my new J. Lo-like dewy skin. Sure, I still had my crow’s-feet and laugh lines, but I did have a glow I hadn’t noticed 50 minutes earlier. To celebrate, I took the spa up on their suggestion to create my own potpourri and vowed to make another trip south when I need to take a break.

Summer Fact Box
MUST DO: Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual at 6:30 a.m.! No better way to start the day
INSIDER TIP: The house-made granola on the breakfast buffet is amazing! Great fuel for a hike or bike in the Tucson Mountain Park. Don’t miss the award-winning barbecue at Catalina Barbeque Co. You can even take a bottle of barbecue sauce home with you!
BEST PACKAGE: Margarita package from $149 per night. Includes a luxurious resort room and two hand-crafted margaritas per night. Please use rate code ZJL when booking.
BOOK IT: jwstarrpass.com

L’Auberge De Sedona
Music, the Marine and Some Meditating
“There are complete circles that bring you back,” Brenda said as we stood on the banks of Oak Creek in Sedona. “This is one of them.” We were in the middle of our Music & Meditation practice at L’Auberge, a place that forces you to disconnect from everyday stresses, celebrate life and reconnect with nature. Brenda’s “circle” started 19 years ago, when she lost both of her parents in an Arkansas tornado. “I grew up on a farm,” she said. “I did chores with my dad outside every day. We were always outdoors.”

When her parents died, Brenda and her sister scattered their ashes in a river, convinced they would continue to live, just in a different way. So here we were on the anniversary of their death looking down at another body of water, watching the current move life down the banks of Sedona. Most people know Brenda Warner as Kurt’s wife. After all, Kurt’s the one with the NFL records, MVP honors and Super Bowl ring. But Brenda doesn’t need jewelry to get noticed. Her big, blonde, spiky hair and Marine mentality give her away. (Yep, she’s a Marine!) She’s got one of the biggest hearts I know and has spent her life being a role model to others and raising seven amazing children. We began our staycation with this new program at L’Auberge called Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing.

“We’re not getting naked in the forest are we?” Brenda asked with a laugh. Nope. Instead, after “grounding ourselves,” our guide Devani Paige asked us to take a little walk… fortunately with our clothes on.

View from Brenda’s Vista Suite“Find a stone that catches your eye, your attention, feels good in your hand and bring it back to the circle,” she told us. “Allow yourself to pour anything into the stone that might be keeping you from being fully present in this activity… any stress, concern. Release that into the stone and give yourself the gift of being fully present.” Honestly, I was wondering if Brenda would start laughing. She can be cynical at times and maybe too pragmatic. But she didn’t. She chose her rock and placed it down. Devani continued the exercise by having us walk some more, notice any movement, any sound. She had us sit and focus on something specific. She asked us to make mental notes of shapes, sounds and smells. It was sensory immersion at its best. When we gathered back in our “circle,” we shared what we felt.

“I saw that everything has a role and a purpose. I saw bugs on the ground, doing their job,” Brenda started. “I noticed that everything here is just doing their part, as we are trying to do the same thing in this big, messy world.” Devani asked her how she felt. “Closer to God. Closer to the person I want to be.”

Devani admitted it helps if you are open to this kind of invitation. “This forest bathing activity brings people to their edge. They can get a little uncomfortable, but that can be good. People unexpectedly have awakenings and a-ha moments and get playful. It’s fun to witness that and be a part of it.” Devani had her own a-ha moment a few years ago passing through Sedona on a friend’s recommendation. She was actually planning on moving from Minnesota to the ocean. She came close.

“It was one of those Sedona magic moments,” she says with a laugh. She’s now one of two L’Auberge staff members trained in this Japanese healing practice, and says it’s changed her life. She’s not alone. Studies have shown that when you connect with nature, there are health benefits that follow. Devani ended our session with her flute, playing music specifically geared toward opening the energy centers, or chakras, within us. I hate to admit that I may have broken a cardinal meditation rule when I opened my eyes to take a peek when she pulled out another instrument that sounded as if she’d secretly shuttled in a backup musician to accompany her. I never realized one flute could sound like two. Call it an a-ha moment. By the end of our practice, Brenda and I decided to call off our hike (we were just way too relaxed) and capitalize on our new openness by hitting the spa for yet another new treatment. Looks like we’re setting our own records.

Freestyle rappin’ in the Kitchen
Chef Rochelle Daniel gets a lot of Sedona regulars at her creekside L’Auberge restaurant. But she also gets a lot of out-of-towners who are consistently reminded that this small Flagstaff kitchenista packs a tasty punch. In fact, one hotel guest from Boston recently told her the chowder on the menu was the best he’s ever had. Another guest flew all the way from France just to taste in person the soufflé she’d made his friend months before. Brenda and I both love food and agreed to let the chef surprise us with a sample of her tasting menu. What we got in return was an array of culinary artwork, some of the pieces looking as if Jackson Pollock had opted to sprinkle flowers instead of paint on his canvases.

Tara and Brenda grabbing a quick bite near the creek before getting “grounded.”Managing Director Greg Hanss calls Chef Rochelle a freestyle rapper. She operates best without a song sheet. I will admit, it was some of the most innovative food I’ve ever tried. In fact, at one point I felt sorry for our server Cheryl, who might normally be working at a place where she could easily set our food down and say something like “Here we have meatloaf and some mashed potatoes.” In this case, the staff must undergo a daily ritual of intense training to remember everything in Chef Rochelle’s unique dishes. Her best seller may be the Oregon dungeness crab appetizer and Arizona pine-smoked venison entrée, but my favorite had to be the Hudson Valley foie gras. (And I don’t even like foie… or even really know what it is!) As I was staring at my plate, Brenda made the bold move of using her fork to break up what looked like bark. She mixed everything together and I followed her lead. I called the chef later to ask what was in it.

“Chocolate malted barley tuile, the kind of barley you make beer with. I mix it with espresso and coffee. There’s orange lemon. You bake it off and coat it later with lavender syrup.” See what I mean? Poor Cheryl. Chef Rochelle wasn’t through. There were pickled blueberries in the dish, coconut vinegar from Jerome, grape seed oil… I could go on and on. Even her staff jokes about her creativity: “It’s like we’re building airplanes, not cooking food.” Who knew an airplane could taste so good? As the temperature outside dropped, the L’Auberge staff brought us blankets.

“This doesn’t even feel like we’re in a restaurant,” Brenda said. She was right. Instead, it felt like two women catching up on life, sitting by the fire wrapped in blankets, drinking wine and enjoying a great meal. The only thing missing was a Nicholas Sparks novel. Chef Rochelle has a 10-year-old son who may not realize how talented his mother is, but famed Chef Alain Ducasse does. The three-star Michelin chef came to L’Auberge a few months ago, stopped his server after his meal and asked, “Why does this place NOT have a Michelin star?” Chef, that’s a great question.

Summer Fact Box
MUST DO: Take your shoes off and create your own “sit-spot” on a rock overlooking Oak Creek.
INSIDER TIP: Stop by Page Springs Cellars on your way up or on the way home! The setting is authentic and charming and the wines are incredible!
BEST PACKAGE: “Celebrate Summer Love.” Customize your own romantic summer getaway. Includes accommodations at our best available rate, plus daily credit ranging from $100-$125 to use toward L’Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek, or the Spa at L’Auberge. You decide!
BOOK IT: lauberge.com/celebrate-love-summer-escape-to-sedona/

The Phoenician
Phoenix Rising
As far as impressive resort entrances go, it doesn’t get much better than The Phoenician. Cue the waterfalls, the glistening Phoenix Rising insignia and swaying palm trees. Only it’s not part of some elaborate magic show, it’s a permanent welcome sign for anyone driving along Camelback Road. I’ve lived close by for over a decade and every time I pass The Phoenician, I’m reminded there’s something better and more beautiful if I just head north up that long drive. Whether it’s the “resort within a resort,” the Canyon Suites, Arizona’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond hotel, or the acclaimed Centre for Well-Being Spa, The Phoenician has become the premier spot for travelers and locals alike.

Master falconer Robby Sinkler handling his understudyMost Arizonans know the resort’s name relates to the mythical bird, a Mayan fire spirit thought to protect ancient people from evil forces. Legend has it the bird ignites its feathers to rise from the ashes, a story that has become a worldwide symbol of rebirth. Last fall, the resort decided it was time to share that history with guests in a unique way. I began my staycation by finding a prime spot on the Thirsty Camel terrace just in time to catch the show. Only tonight, the resort’s lead, a South African king vulture named Zopilote Rey, was molting! Which meant master falconer Robby Sinkler would be working with Rey’s “understudy,” an African augur buzzard named Orion. Robby, glove in hand, shared the story of the Phoenix and then lifted a stripped-down chicken drumstick high in the air to cue his actor. “We use a food reward system, or ‘operant conditioning’,” he later told me. “It emulates how these birds hunt naturally.” While the “food reward system” works on me all the time, Orion wasn’t biting (pun intended). It may have been a confidence issue or a lack of “rehearsal time,” but the buzzard was throwing a little fit on his Phoenician rooftop “dressing room,” and had to be brought down the old fashioned way, by elevator. Robby did a great job improvising and like a well-loved Broadway producer, never lost his cool with his backup star. His sense of humor was contagious and Orion’s stubbornness was quickly forgotten once the Falconer brought out Rey and an owl for some photo ops. It was a clever way of bringing ancient history and the resort’s namesake to life. The guests loved it.

One Cactus and One Goose
Often ranked among the “Top 75 Golf Resorts in America” by Golf Digest, The Phoenician is a golfer’s dream. It’s a beautiful course and for someone who doesn’t pick up clubs too often, it’s forgiving. That doesn’t mean it’s without tournament-like challenges, which is why pros and novices alike love to golf here. My husband Kenn is one of those golfers who doesn’t play for years, only to end nine holes maybe five or six over par. He agreed to play with me only if we walked the course (yep, he’s also one of those). When I found out The Phoenician had added a fleet of Stewart XIX Follow Carts with Bluetooth technology, I agreed to put on some extra sunblock and make the trek. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not great with things on two wheels. I crashed a Vespa on live television years ago and I still get ribbed about it. But pro Shane Dorn spent some extra minutes making sure I knew the difference between a “controlled” stop and an abrupt one. I have to admit, it was fun watching people climbing Camelback Mountain do double takes as our carts followed us up No. 6. They can follow you, or you can also manually control their direction and speed using a small device that looks like a TV remote. Sadly, just after I felt I had that thing dialed in, I drove it into a cactus. My husband mumbled something under his breath about female drivers.

His payback came on the seventh hole of the Canyon Course when a large goose flew out of the water and started chasing his remote cart. Having something else to focus on eased the pain of my poor game. It didn’t matter what the wind direction was or slope of the green; if there was a sand bunker within two miles of the hole, I found it that day. At one point, I changed my entire strategy and decided to master my cart precision instead of my putt. I’d like to say I  became the Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Follow Carts by the end of the round. I’m sure I topped 5 or 6 mph! And in case you’re curious, my husband was four over on the back nine. He’s convinced his brand new rental Calloway clubs had magic dust on them.

Tara attempting to fine-tune the Follow Cart...even if she’s the one doing the “following”Jeff Sneaks Me a Fritter
“Have you been to J&G Steakhouse before?” our server, Jeff, asked. I did meet a friend here once, who was passing through town. But we never left the bar. Sadly, this was the first time my husband and I ventured into the actual steakhouse part of the restaurant. Jeff proceeded to fill us in on J&G’s history with the Cliff’s Notes version, just the right amount of information without overwhelming us with details. Inspired by renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (“He’ll put ginger on anything,” Jeff shared), J&G Steakhouse replaced Mary Elaine’s in 2008 to become The Phoenician’s flagship dining option. The floor-to-ceiling views of the city and surrounding desert provide diners with one of the best backdrops in Arizona, giving them a subtle reminder that our state’s backyard is simply beautiful. But if the scenery is what gets you in the door, the food is what will keep you coming back.

Chef de Cuisine Jacques Qualin was the first sous chef at the legendary Five-Diamond/Five-Star Jean-Georges in New York. A few years ago, he headed west to run this J&G Steakhouse. I asked Jeff for some recommendations. My husband couldn’t stop talking about the wine list. He’s picky and he wasn’t surprised to find out that the list at J&G has consistently been named “Best of” by Wine Spectator. I started with the tuna tartare, complete with avocado, spring radishes and ginger marmalade. (Jeff was right!) It didn’t disappoint and I wish they’d bottle the sauce we used to dip our crispy calamari in. Jeff overheard me talking about the black truffle cheese fritters and he promptly snuck out a sample. What’s not to like about a fried fritter you can crack open only to expose a core of truffled cheese? For an entree, Kenn ordered the salmon with truffle vinaigrette. I opted for the 8-ounce filet with wild mushrooms as a side. I tried to pace myself as I had promised friends who had been to the steakhouse to save room for their warm chocolate cake. I’m not sure if it was the Moscow Mule – whoever that mixologist was that night is truly a master! – the fritters, or the caramel ice cream/cake combo, but by the end of the night, we both agreed it was one of the best meals we’d ever had.

“Why don’t we come here more?” Kenn asked. That won’t be a problem anymore.

Summer Fact Box
MUST DO: Il Terrazzo Italian Market Sunday Brunch! Don’t miss the chef’s zeppole with mascarpone and honey on the side – the best Italian doughnuts I’ve ever had!
INSIDER TIP: All self-parking at The Phoenician is complimentary! In addition, all upper level parking garages are now covered, due to the recent installation of solar panels – providing sustainable energy as well as shade during the hot summer months.
BEST PACKAGE: SUNSational Summer. Valid Monday, May 25 through Monday, September 7, 2015. Rates starting from just $159 per night. Call 800-888-8234 and ask for rate plan “summer.”
BOOK IT: thephoenician.com/offers

JW Marriott Desert Ridge
I think I had a Marriott rewards card before I had my driver’s license. Marriott was our family’s road trip go-to when we needed a place to stay. I’ve continued that tradition with my own family, although our road has now extended to include a highway in the sky to faraway places like Cairo and Warsaw. My license may say I reside in Arizona, but my rewards card is proof I’ve ventured many times outside the neighborhood. One of my all-time favorite Marriotts is actually in our backyard, the JW Marriott Desert Ridge. I stayed here for the first time five years ago, after I realized I wanted to enjoy Celebrity Fight Night without having to drive back. That’s when I learned the JW Desert Ridge wasn’t just a place to crash; it was an actual friend’s place. I’ve been back many times and each time, I’m greeted by name (okay, so some employees were loyal Good Morning Arizona watchers). General Manager Steve Hart has a funny way of making you feel like you’re returning home for a short stay. That might be why, years ago, when Bill Marriott decided he wanted to develop the largest resort in Arizona and change the whole dynamic of the Phoenix metropolitan area, he asked his friend Hart to help create it. $315 million later, the JW Marriott Desert Ridge features 950 rooms with plans to add 350 more.

“It’s been a hoot ever since,” Hart told me. Desert Ridge may host titans of industry and icons of commerce, but it also hosts families from Maine to Marrakesh and has become a home away from home for Arizonans looking for a quick getaway.

Tara’s out-of-this-world Kokopelli ColadaThe Greatest of All Time
For the past 10 years, The JW Desert Ridge has been the home to our state’s largest charity fundraiser, Celebrity Fight Night. It’s Oscar-like. Everyone from Robert DeNiro to Andrea Boccelli has slept on the beds here. J. Lo even spent the afternoon with her kids outside in the lazy pool. “She likes her kids to feel like they’re at home,” Hart told me. Before the Alis moved to Arizona, they would also stay at the resort. No one will confirm the Champ ever grabbed a tube and headed down the lazy river, but I’d like to think he did.

“I think the thing that endeared the Ali family to our place was how they were treated and how we respected their privacy,” Hart said. Hart enjoys his job so much he actually lays out his clothes the night before. I thought only eager news anchors did that.

“This way I don’t’ waste any time getting into work,” he told me. He also has a rule. “If I walk by an associate and don’t make eye contact and acknowledge them, they’re allowed to pull me aside later. I’ll give them $100. I’ve never had to pay that out.”

Yep, That Just Happened!
This AAA Four Diamond resort lies on over 316 acres in the Sonoran desert. Their Wildfire Golf Club is now home to the LPGA Founders Cup. They like it so much that, a few years ago, one of the golfers, who didn’t win the tournament, still scored by getting married on the property. The entry is impressive, and you’re greeted with a huge hug by the McDowell Mountains, clearly visible in the background. It might be a major convention hub, but it’s not hard to find some peace and quiet here. This place felt so much like family, I actually walked into the gift shop only to find out a friend of mine worked there! I hadn’t seen Judith Nager in years. She used to run one of my favorite consignment shops in Scottsdale, What the Butler Saw. At 70-years-young, she’s now greeting guests who need everything from toothpaste to a piece of Southwestern pottery as a gift for someone left at home.

I told Judith to keep her eyes open for Steve Hart. It might mean an extra $100 if he’s off his game. Her odds of collecting aren’t great.

JW Marriott Desert Ridge garden near the ReVive SpaI said goodbye to Judith and headed to the pool to grab a fruity drink. It’s a good thing the JW Desert Ridge has one of those life-size maps with the “you are here” symbol to guide you. You can get lost. The good news is, if you can’t tell the Sidewinder Pool from the Wildfire Pool, just grab one of the Lifesaver-like tubes! The lazy river will get you where you need to go. As I was eyeing the açaí lemonade with blueberries, the bartender encouraged me to try their signature Kokopelli Colada. Forget the vanilla rum and piña colada puree, the showstopper was the honey and coconut that rimmed the glass. “Yep, THAT just happened,” my friend said as I took a big sip through the straw. Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time in the sun. I’m white and Polish and dotted with a small constellation of moles, so I’m careful outside. The JW Desert Ridge must have already known that, as the resort has pockets o’ plenty of shade for folks like me. I passed a Dennis the Menace look-a-like carrying a sprinkled donut and chocolate milk from Stonegrill on the way to the 28,000-square-foot Revive Spa. Normally I’d take that as a sign I should work out, but not today. Tai chi and aqua yoga did sound like fun, but I grabbed some complimentary granola instead and headed to the garden outside to see where the chefs here get many of their ingredients. It was nice to just sit amongst the mint and chamomile and take in the day.

Who is This Griffin, Anyway?
Like a family member you haven’t caught up with in years, there were things about the JW Desert Ridge I didn’t know. For example, you don’t even have to stay overnight to use the resort’s amenities. I bumped into a guest who wasn’t really a guest. Lisa Elbogen is a Club Member, one of more than 200 people who have joined to use the resort’s spa, golf courses, Griffin Club and more. She told me her family loves coming here. Speaking of clubs, the Griffin Club is like having a butler on staff, your own private lounge. You can upgrade your stay and have access to the Club where they serve omelets made to order and even feature a chocolate bar to satisfy your sweet tooth. Named after Marriott’s corporate symbol, the griffin (half lion, half eagle), the Club here is the original. There’s one on Marriott’s Cancun property, with more to follow. Steve Hart stopped by to say hi before I left. It’s hard to believe when he started in the business, there were only 27 Marriotts. Today there are more than 4,000. In other words, my Rolodex of friends just got bigger.

Summer Fact Box
MUST DO: Chocolate Interlude Experience! Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. Learn everything you wanted to know about chocolate, plus how to make everything from chocolate bark to Mexican chocolate brownies!
INSIDER TIP: There’s a bee farm on the property! You’ll enjoy the honey in many resort dishes.
BEST PACKAGE: Fling and Swing Summer Family Package. Available thru Sept. 7. Rates start at $169 and include a daily $50 resort credit, free golf on Faldo and Palmer championship golf courses, free meals for kids 12 and under, complimentary self-parking, 20 percent off a spa treatment at Revive Spa and more.
BOOK IT: jwdesertridge.com