Splash at Starr Pass
Looking forward to a summer break but not wanting to drive out of state? Look to the south, and an easy hour-and-a-half trip to Tucson instead.
Plenty of hotels and resorts offer great rates in summer, and the 3-year-old JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa sweetens the deal with its new, 1,209-foot-long Starr Canyon River and 110-foot-long Monsoon Slide.
Summer rates begin at $189 a night. And there’s a family package that includes two 12-inch pizzas, an in-room movie and soda for kids 16 and younger for $209 per night. The 575-room resort is set in the Tucson Mountains and has inspiring vistas of the city lights and Catalina Mountains.
The Starr Canyon River is a meandering watercourse that’s 3 feet, 3 inches deep. On a tube, it takes about 10 minutes to complete one loop. Brave visitors will sail down the Monsoon Slide, which rises 16 feet about the pool deck. (Kids have to be 36 inches tall to slide.) There’s also a 20-foot-long shower with 22 spray jets to cavort under.
Other Starr Pass water attractions include two swimming pools: an upper one generally frequented by adults and a larger, livelier lower pool. The dancing-waters splash pool is perfect for the little ones.
Parents can get a little alone time by enrolling children in the Rising Starr Kids Club, a recreational program for ages 4-12. It offers crafts, art and nature lessons, as well as swimming and water games, desert hikes and storytelling. On rainy days, there are opportunities to face off with Guitar Hero or other video games. A half-day session, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., costs $75 and includes lunch.
While the kids are busy, adults can enjoy the private lap pool or have a massage or other treatment at the Hashani Spa. Another option is the Starr Pass Tucson Golf Club, which has 27 holes of Arnold Palmer Signature golf.
Even in summer, the complimentary guided sunrise and sunset hikes are great ways to see the desert, and they’re family friendly. For bolder hikers, trails of various difficulties weave through the area, and maps are available at the concierge desk. You also can arrange a guided biking or Jeep tour, play tennis or basketball, or ride horseback.
Summer dining service
Starr Pass has five restaurants: Signature Grill, Catalina Steakhouse (on the 18th green), the indoor/outdoor Salud, the poolside Plunge and Primo, a AAA 4-Diamond award winner.
Plunge is perfect when you need a break from the river lazing. For $6, you can get a kosher beef hot dog or veggie dog on a wheat bun, or chicken fingers fried in canola oil and served with organic buttermilk dressing.
Or sink your teeth into the Tucson Classic Sonoran Hot Dog ($7), a beef frank wrapped in bacon and served in a bolillo, topped with pinto beans and served with charred chili on the side.
Before dinner, sip on a complimentary tequila cocktail at 5:30 p.m. on the Salud Patio. With comfortable couches and chairs to relax in, it’s easy to strike up conversations. The creative margaritas are made with a choice of more than 100 tequilas. That ought to keep you in good spirits.
For dinner at Primo, the chef uses locally grown organic vegetables and herbs to create Mediterranean-style dishes. Don’t miss the antipasto of prosciutto de Parma with arugula and shaved Reggiano ($10); or a salad of warm pear and gorgonzola served on greens with hazelnut oil and local honey ($12); or braised lamb shank with risotto alla Milanese with roast baby vegetables and orange-sage gremolata ($27).
JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa
3800 W. Starr Pass Boulevard, Tucson