Ruben Hernandez

La vida buena – for a weekend

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If you’re a longtime Valley resident, you can’t think of The Phoenician resort without thinking of Charley Keating, its creator and original owner.

For newcomers, Charles H. Keating Jr. was a high flying, savings-and-loan financier and developer who later went bust – and to jail – during the 1980s for some shady deals that bilked investors out of millions of dollars.

Keating’s dream was to build the world’s biggest, most grandiose and most spectacular resort in history. When The Phoenician was built in 1988, it was opulent by Arizona standards, with more than $1 million in Native American sculptures on the grounds, gold-leaf trimmings in the décor and exotic plants flown in from as far away as East Africa.

He almost succeeded. Located at a prime location at the base of Camelback Mountain, with views of the surrounding Sonoran desert landscape, The Phoenician is world class, especially for Arizona.

My first experience visiting The Phoenician was as a journalist working for the New Times weekly. I was assigned to interview a then up-and-coming comedian by the name of Paul Rodriguez, who was in town for a gig.

I met him in his spacious room at The Phoenician, we popped open a couple of brews from the house refrigerator, and we toasted. I’m sure he was thinking the same thing I was: That we two Chicanos who grew up on the mean streets of L.A. had made it – we were guzzling frias at one of the fanciest resorts in the world. Salud, baby!

Things have changed. The Starwood Resorts hotel chain now owns The Phoenician.

The grand old dame of Phoenix resorts is undergoing $70 million in renovations. And Paul Rodriguez’s fame trajectory has taken a dive, relegating him to B movies and stand-up comedy these days.

So when I was deciding where Kelly – that’s my “Funpanion” travel buddy – and I should take a staycation, The Phoenician became a natural choice.

Funpanion is a grant-writer for a local nonprofit, and both of us work under relentless deadline pressure. So I wanted a place where we could really “escape” from our regular lives and Valley neighborhoods.

Everything I researched on The Phoenician Web site showed that once on-site, you were in “resort paradise.” But paradise wouldn’t be cheap. The fall rates hover around $700 per room per night.

But figure spending about $1,500 for air travel to an out-of-state resort, then a weekend at The Phoenicians seems reasonable.

Once on the 250-acre grounds, we basked in opulence befitting a royal couple: 650 rooms (most overlooking the nine pools), luxury pool cabanas, 12 restaurants, a koi-stocked lagoon, 12 tennis courts, a world-class spa, three golf courses and a $25 million art collection housed in an on-site gallery.

For families there’s a Family Activity Center, and for kids poolside movies at night and a Funicians Kids Clubhouse.

I have just three words for the staff service: pamper, pamper, pamper.

So with all these amenities, how did we spend our time? Watching movies on a wide-screen, plasma television. Day napping buried in covers on a cloud-soft bed. Soaking in eucalyptus-and-grapefruit bath salts in an oversized tub amid a spacious bathroom. Dining at night at the two finest restaurants on the premises: Windows on the Green and The Terrace.

Doing nada is the ultimate luxury when you lead overactive lifestyles like Funpanion and I do.

When we checked out from our weekend getaway on Sunday, both of us definitely experienced post mega-resort depression. After a stay at The Phoenician, a normal life seems humdrum at best. Oh, well, back to reality, and loads of work to do.

The Phoenician
6000 East Camelback Road Scottsdale
In North America, call:
800-888-8234
www.thephoenician.com

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