Phoenix—Here in Arizona's premiere resort playground, consider the dizzying number of hotel rooms — 55,000, about as many as in all the Hawaiian islands combined — and you may wonder how it could possibly stand more palm trees, pools and cabana boys.
I wondered too. And wondered even more after the recent openings of the JW Marriott Desert Ridge, Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Westin Kierland and Sheraton Wild Horse Pass. Did Phoenix, Scottsdale and environs, already home to more than 10 high-end resorts, need another, much less four?
Me: "Would it be possible to see one of the rooms?"
Clerk: "I can't show you a room because I'm the only one here."
Me (pointing to two bored bellmen in a deserted lobby): "Could one of those guys help?"
Clerk: "Why do you need to see a room? It's just your standard hotel room. There's a bed, a little living area and a restroom."
Me: "I'm familiar with the concept. I just want to compare it to other places I'm considering."
Clerk: [Blank stare. Silence.]
The moral of this story: Amid venerated resorts such as the Phoenician and the Boulders, a Four Seasons, a Fairmont and, yes, a Ritz-Carlton, one thing was clear: There may not have been a room for me to see, but there obviously was room for improvement.
Fortunately, the four newest resorts proved more welcoming. They're also as varied as cars on an L.A. freeway, so I spent a week test driving them.
For comparison I also took a spin around two dozen other resorts, inspecting rooms and logging 400 miles around greater Phoenix. By week's end I was running on empty, figuratively and literally. But after feasting in fine restaurants, snoozing by umpteen pools and taking in Arizona scenery, I couldn't complain. These four spots were mostly one long joy ride.
JW Marriott Desert Ridge
Resort & Spa
If one were to liken resorts to cars, 11-month-old Desert Ridge would be a Hummer H2: big, bold and expensive, its pretensions proudly displayed.
With 869 rooms and 81 suites, the hotel is Arizona's largest, and although the five-story building is sand colored, there's no camouflaging its bulk.
Guests enter a lobby that looks like a giant living room. Monolithic limestone pillars lined with alabaster light fixtures cast an ethereal glow. Leather club chairs and potted palms stretch farther than a football field.
Outside lies more excess: a lazy river and three swimming pools (one sporting a miniature waterfall pavilion with rooftop bonfire), plus an Olympic-sized pool for customers of the 28,000-square-foot spa. If one tires of swimming and sunning, there are eight tennis courts and two golf courses (one designed by Arnold Palmer, the other by Nick Faldo).
At every turn, the resort shouts for attention, from the classical music broadcast in the parking lot to the vibrant yellow, green and red palette in the comfortable guest rooms.