Tantalizing Tucson

Thursday, October 22, 2015 - by Diane Siskin

There are some states in our union which are just by nature more scenic than others. Arizona is one of those. 

There are also some cities within those states that are also more unique than others. Tucson is one of those.

And in those cities there are some hotels and resorts offering more amenities than others. The JW Tucson Marriott Starr Pass is one of those.

Let me begin by telling you how I came to those conclusions.  My husband and I were looking for a destination in the western part of the U.

S. neither of us had traveled to before to celebrate a wedding anniversary. We would already be in Las Vegas for a meeting, so we narrowed down our destination choice for its easy access by air from Nevada by Southwest Airlines, on which we were flying from Panama City, Florida to the convention. 

Tucson checked all the boxes.

Tucson offers sunshine, culture, outdoor recreation, great food and lots of cactus.

According to a recent survey (by Cvent in USA TODAY) four smaller cities broke into the list of the top 50 places for meetings and events in 2015. Tucson was number 48.

Local Tucson officials at VisitTucson emphasize the city’s uniqueness, such as its location 60 miles from Mexico and its confluence of Native American, Spanish and Western cultures.

The city had a rebranding effort to gather more business gatherings as well as vacationers. “Visitors, whether they are tourists, meeting and convention attendees, or family members of students attending the University of Arizona,’’ said Dan Gibson, of VisitTucson, “want to experience the destination on their own.”

Therefore visitors are researching an entire city and its offerings. Costs are also important, so potential visitors want reasonable airline tickets and auto rentals. And they definitely want hotels/resorts which offer free/low cost parking and Wi-Fi.

Since we would be arriving in Tucson from Las Vegas, a stop-over in Tucson added only $100 (each) to our Southwest flight ticket. We found a week car-rental from Enterprise (which can be picked up and dropped off at the airport) for less than $200. That price included unlimited mileage, an important feature, because distances in and around Tucson are considerable if you want to explore the Sonora Desert and Canyons.

Gas prices hovered at just over $2.09 a gallon.

The hotel/resort we choose, the JW Marriott Starr Pass is the largest, (more than 500 rooms and several buildings) newest and the only one located backing up to the canyons on the Northwest side of town. 3800 W Starr Pass Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85745. (520) 792-3500.

It is also the closest to the Tucson International Airport (14 miles) –right off Route 19, and near Interstate 10. The resort is also the closest to downtown and the University of Arizona.

We shared our stay at the Marriott Starr Pass with hundreds of families of students at the University of Arizona because our visit coincided with the university’s Family Weekend 2015.

Rather then being detrimental to our visit, we totally enjoyed talking with people from all over the country and watching them enjoy special events offered to them. We also liked viewing first-hand how such a large property can handle so many different events and visitors and keep them all happy.

The amenities of the resort are so encompassing that you never need leave unless you so desire.
Most of the weekend visitors participated in playing on the resort’s golf course and putting greens; taking morning hikes with a professional guide on the journey of trails inside the Tucson Mountain Park.

Also offered are guided road or mountain biking and/or just road or mountain bike rentals. Three swimming pools; Reflections Pool (with rentable cabanas offering television, Starr Canyon River and Monsoon Falls Water Slide (complete with a lazy river and free tubes).

There were board and lawn games, everything from Ping Pong to Bocce Ball and Croquet. There were fitness classes at the Hashani Spa, morning yoga on the lawn and Aqua Zumba. The most unique offerings were the opportunity to experience a traditional Native American ceremony, unique to the Sonoran Desert, by Mitakuye Oyasin, who after the ceremony talked with interested guests about life from a different perspective.

The evenings permitted guests to savor the sunset from the Salud Terrace, gathered around fire pits, while listening to the sounds of local Tucson artists.

The morning and evening offerings on the terrace set this resort apart. The scenery was more than amazing, it literally was breathtaking.

The view from our guest room looked out to the canyons. Rooms throughout the resort offered different views, but after checking out some others, I didn’t find any with bad views.

Tucson offers several other wonderful resorts and spas. Northeast of downtown, backing up to Sabino Canyon and the National Forest are The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa, 
Loew’s Ventana Canyon, The Lodge at Ventana Canyon, Canyon Ranch and the Arizona Inn (downtown).

There are also several ranches, such as White Stallion Ranch and TanqueVerde which offer horseback riding and family packages. Still further out of town the Pascua Yaqui Native American Tribe runs the Casino Del Sol Resort, Spa and Conference Center.

So there is literally a hotel, resort, spa or ranch for everybody.

Downtown Tucson, which is also undergoing revitalization, especially in the 4th Avenue Historic Shopping District, features tree-lined sidewalks with more than 100 locally owned restaurants and shops.

We had one of the best breakfasts anywhere at the Cup Café within the historic Hotel Congress. (311 E. Congress Street. 520-7981618). We started our visit to the city there and didn’t want to leave its shaded patio. The service, food and setting were perfect. The café was created in 1990 in the old hotel, which stills hosts guests, and has a reputation for delicious and creative fare. It definitely is the best breakfast in town, according to Demion Clinco, head of the Tucson Preservation Foundation.

We also enjoyed our anniversary dinner at Daisy Mae’s Steak House, where we could watch our steaks and ribs being cooked over a mesquite grill right outside of the restaurant’s window. We dined with former Chattanoogan Mike Deitch, who considers Daisy Mae’s one of the city’s best. It is located near Marriott Starr Pass. 2735 W. Anklam Road. 520-792-8888.

Mike was our guide again when we sought out an authentic Mexican restaurant in downtown Tucson. Café Poca Cosa at 110 East Pennington Street, run by chef/owner Suzana Davila offers imaginative Mexican Cuisine in a popular downtown bistro setting.

The menu changes twice daily and is printed in English and Spanish on a portable chalkboard, which severs take to the table. According to my husband, the food maven, this approach encourages you to sample old favorites and discover new ones. 

Again, Mr. Deitch and his wife, Valerie directed us to Harvest, a new farm to table restaurant on the north side of town, where we ended our visit to Tucson, with an amazing array of freshly made food, including fabulous gluten-free bread, which made my meal. 5605 E. River Road. 520-529-7180.
Mike Deitch and his family, which includes three children, have lived in Tucson for 18 years. His oldest son attends the University of Arizona. Mike is the chief financial officer for Sinfonia HealthCare Corporation which is housed in a renovated warehouse in the historic area of Tucson. A local radio station shares the building. 

Mike also steered us to another Tucson favorite, Vivace, an elegant Italian restaurant with delicious fare and view of the Canyons on the opposite side of town. From Vivace’s very enticing terrace the views of canyons on the north side of Tucson are wonderful. This restaurant is located near the resorts close to Sabino Canyon. 6440 North Campbell Ave. (520) 795-7221

We found Teresa’s Mosaic Café by a suggestion of manager Christian Smith of Firestone Complete Auto Care who helped me considerably in finding my way around Tucson, a city that can change street names three times within a few miles.

Teresa’s is a true local’s restaurant featuring authentic Mexican food down to homemade tacos and tortillas. This restaurant is located at 2456 N. Silver Mosaic Drive, not too far from Marriott Starr Pass, but off the beaten pass (behind a McDonald’s Restaurant). We went for breakfast on Sunday morning, and just made it in before the crowd at 9 a.m. Teresa’s has been featured on the Food Network and has undergone a remodeling.

The food emporium which garnered the longest lines in Tucson had to be the Starbucks within the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort. This outlet, owned by the hotel, had patrons lining up in the morning across the lower level of the hotel. It stayed popular throughout the day until it closed around dinner.
Along with amenties, like Starbucks. hotel resorts are adding on surcharges and extra fees. Because some hotels don’t want to increase room rates, but not lose out on revenue they are instituting these new resort fees. At the Marriott a $32 a day surcharge/resort pass included enhanced high speed and wireless internet in the guest room for up to 5 devices. Unlimited local and domestic long distance calls, complimentary self parking (valet parking was $20 a day). Daily fitness activities at the spa, including that guided morning hike and ritual. Fifteen percent off all gift and clothing purchases at the resort’s shops and unlimited use of the driving range.

Previous revenue streams such as charges for in-room movies (which were $17 at the resort) or phone calls are fading, as guests use their own personal devices. Therefore resorts, like the Marriott, have looked for additional sources of revenue to support their many amenities.

The Marriott Starr Pass is everything a resort hotel should be. Tucson offers stunningly spectacular views and enticing settings.

The hotels, restaurants and resorts of the area provide a tasty and wide variety of cuisine. The deserts, canyons, parks, forests of surrounding the city provide adventurers and outdoors enthusiasts with generally good weather, wildlife and attractions for all ages.

It all makes for a delightful destination, Tucson, Arizona.

FYI: VisitTucson.org


Diane Siskin

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