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Oyster Hotel Review
Hip, yet serene; one of the most impressive spa resorts in the Southwest
In 2001, The Sanctuary's developers transformed a modest racquet club into a holistic retreat unlike any other -- a space so undeniably relaxing that Elin Woods, Tiger's wife, opted to hunker down here once the media caught wind of Tiger's infidelity. Since it opened, the resort and its spa have been ranked among the world's best every year by virtually every magazine and newspaper with a travel section, Travel+Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler among them. Expectations run high, and despite its accolades a good number of reviewers (notably those on TripAdvisor) manage to find substantive fault with the place -- too much noise floats through the walls in adjoining guest rooms; some of the rooms overlook the spa's parking lot; the concierge drops the ball from time to time. So the question remains: Is the Sanctuary all it's cracked up to be?
For starters, the Sanctuary is the only resort in Scottsdale set on the north slope of Camelback Mountain. This means that while the hotel is essentially in the middle of Phoenix's low-density suburban sprawl, it feels entirely detached from the strip malls beyond -- the drive up to the entrance truly feels like a drive along an old country road. Numerous other hotels and resorts scatter throughout Scottsdale, as little as a five-minute drive away, but none can boast this kind of natural serenity.
Of course, it's not the only resort in the Southwest with gorgeous grounds. The mammoth, yet no less blissful, Boulders golf resort, for example, offers a similarly scenic hideaway out in Carefree, Arizona, about an hour outside the Phoenix International Airport. Both resorts share analogous awards and accolades, and both spas offer a comparably elaborate assortment of New Age therapies, medicinal and spiritual consultations, fitness regimens, and expensive adaptations of traditional Hopi healing rituals. Between the two, there are notable tradeoffs: The Boulders' guest rooms are larger, but the Sanctuary's are more modern; The Sanctuary is closer to swank restaurants and nightclubs in Scottsdale, but The Boulders feels more remote. All told, the difference between the two resorts comes down to a matter of taste -- The Sanctuary skews younger, sleeker, sexier; The Boulders skews older, bigger, more conventionally luxurious, and more family friendly (though you could easily entertain a family at the Sanctuary, as Elin Woods did). The ambient techno at The Sanctuary isn't for everyone, nor is the faded and dated room décor at The Boulders. As for which of the two is the "best resort" -- that merely depends on who you ask.
Attentive, most often; generously apologetic when it falters
- Newspaper delivered daily
- Evening candlelight turndown service
- Valet parking (included in the resort fee)
- 24-hour in-room dining
- Concierge services
Secluded-feeling, but actually in the middle of the burbs
As the only resort in Scottsdale located on the north slope of Camelback Mountain, the focal point of Scottsdale, The Sanctuary has unparalleled views of Camelback's Praying Monk Rock. But while it feels tranquil inside the resort, you're not cut off from Scottsdale's excellent shopping and dining -- all about five to 10 minutes away.
- 10- to 15-minute drive from upscale department stores (Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Barneys, and more at the Fashion Square Shopping Center) and superb restaurants (Maestro's City Hall Steakhouse, Petite Maison, and J&G Steakhouse, among others) on downtown Scottsdale's main drag, East Camelback Road -- though you could happily eat all your meals on site at the excellent restaurant, Elements
- About a 20-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
All swank, but some more than others -- Spa Casitas are well worth the upgrade
To some, the smallish standard Casitas might not zing. Without a room upgrade, guests will have to make do with the gutted remains of what was once John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch. Despite a few modern and Southwestern decorative flourishes (arguably mismatched), the painted concrete, wall-to-wall carpeting, and comparatively small windows don't evoke the "best resort in the world" sense of luxury many guests expect from a hotel in this price range. The guest rooms are nice, of course. They maintain all the essentials -- including a spectacular bed -- and the abundant space (500 square feet), spa robes, and peek-a-boo bathrooms (slide open the shutters and you can watch someone in the tub from the bed) clearly differentiate the Sanctuary's rooms from those at a more mainstream big-chain resorts (ahem, Four Seasons Scottsdale). But while they are far more modern and up-to-date than the guest rooms at Boulders, they aren't quite as large.
The Spa Casitas are a different story. A worthwhile upgrade puts you into a more recently constructed multi-level poolside suite with a gorgeous balcony, floor-to-ceiling windows, streamlined cabinetry and furnishings, and, in some units, a private outdoor tub. Put simply: These rooms are beautiful. Whenever a travel magazine sings the Sanctuary's praises, they seem to have the Spa Casitas in mind.
All rooms include:
- Travertine marble shower and separate tub (most rooms)
- Excellent beds: soft Mascioni linens; Pacific Coast goose-down featherbed; Simmons Westbury mattress
- Toiletries from Red Flower Asian Neroli (exclusive to the Sanctuary); votive candles and Fresh bath salts also included
- Plush bathrobes and slippers
- Dual-line phone with voicemail; local and long distance calls included in the $14 per day resort fee
- Flat-screen TV; DVD rental by request
- Stocked minibar, as well as Fonte Coffee and Tea Forte
- In-room Wi-Fi and hardwired, included in the resort fee
Basic Room types:
- The standard room, the Mountain Vista Casita, comes in at a generous 500 square feet; the one- and two-bedroom Mountain Vista Suites are 1,000 and 1,500 square feet, respectively.
- Multi-level Spa Casita Rooms also include a large patio with great views, a bit more space (650 square feet), a walk-in closet, and a separate tub and a shower that overlooks the courtyard. One-bedroom Spa Casita Suites (1,200 square feet) also include a separate living room with a lava rock fireplace, an outdoor soaking tub, and an even larger patio that surrounds the bedroom and living room.
Quiet pool, great tennis facilities, and easy access to nature
- Relaxing, pseudo-infinity pool (it overlooks the dessert) with food and drinks service
- Several hiking, biking, rock climbing, and canyoneering tours available; group rates available
- Bike rental ($15 per hour; $50 per day)
- Five Deco-Turf championship-quality tennis courts (open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.); daily clinics (kept at a four-to-one student-to-teacher ratio) included in the resort fee; private lessons, court rental, and ball-machine rental also available
- The Views, a unique meeting space with its own reception area, business center, Wi-Fi, outdoor bars, and indoor-outdoor fireplace (3,204-square-foot ballroom, and smaller break-out rooms available)
One of the best spas in the Southwest
Unlike some of the more grandiose spas at other resorts (like Golden Door at The Boulders), the Asian-inspired Sanctuary Spa is a bit more intimate, though no less elaborate.
- 12 indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, including the "sanctum," a stone-walled outdoor space for two with a vitality pool and deluge shower ($125 for an hour)
- Extensive menu of treatments (pre-wedding packages, acupuncture, reiki, peels, aquatic massages for mothers-to-be, reflexology, sports therapy, and more); 60-minute massages from about $150 (treatments available 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.)
- Meditation garden and reflecting pond
- Outdoor, yet covered lap pool -- so that you don't get sun stroke while swimming in the full heat of the day -- right off the main gym area
- Watsu pool, for a floating massage
- Four-day Satori Wellness Retreats available (everything from yoga, to dance fusion, to tennis)
- Full-service salon for hair, nails, and makeup
- Large gym with top-notch equipment, open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. (unlike the gym at Boulders, which often closes at 7:00 p.m.)
- Access to the lounge,locker rooms, steam bath, whirlpool, and showers included in the daily resort fee
- The movement studio offers yoga, spinning, and other classes, all included in the resort fee.
- Fitness (such as private swim training from Olympic gold medalist, Misty Hyman), nutrition, and a variety of other consultations (astrology, tarot, guided meditation, and numerology, among others) available for about $125 to $165 for a 60-minute session
Fantastic food, even better views
- Elements, farm-fresh American cuisine with Asian accents for breakfast (about $9 to $15), lunch (about $15), dinner (about $25 to $35 for an entrée), and late-night ($15 light fare)
- Hip Jade Bar, adjacent to elements, offers fresh-herb cocktails on a secluded patio (around a fire) as well as Element's menu
- 24-hour in-room dining
Seven individually-designed homes, all extraordinary
While the standard rooms are nothing to scoff at, the private homes are exceptional (and a fine choice for large groups or wedding parties). Like the standard guest rooms, they all have the same bedding and bath products, as well as a full kitchen. Just note that each requires a two-night minimum.
- Casa Two (warm, contemporary design by George Christiansen): three bedrooms; four baths; pool; dry sauna; tennis court; from $1,500 per night
- Hi Lob (classically opulent, at the highest point of the mountain): one-bedroom home with a living room, dining room, and kitchen; a separate one-bedroom guest house; outdoor pool and fireplace; 3,000 square feet, from $1,500 per night
- Casa Montana (brick-lined Spanish-inspired décor): four bedrooms (two rooms with king-size beds, two rooms with double-size beds); six full baths; three wood-burning fireplaces; billiard room and bar; private pool and whirlpool; large patio; 3,500 square feet, from $2,800 per night
- The Gallery (sleek and modern): four bedrooms (each with their own terrace); open kitchen, dining room, and living room area with a fireplace; private pool and two separate decks (but no whirlpool); from $2,800 per night
- Casa Five: five bedrooms; five-and-a-half baths; stone-paved multi-level patio with a large pool, whirlpool, and "fire-bowl"; private tennis court; from $3,000 per night
- Casa Nine (innovative Southwest décor): main house with a "grandmaster suite" and a large great room (living room, kitchen, and dining room combined) with large flagstone fireplace and a surround-sound theater system; two-bedroom, two-bath guest house; two pools (one with a swim-up bar, the other with an adjacent Jacuzzi); large courtyard dotted with sculptures; 4,800 square feet; from $3,000 per night
- Casa Ten (modern, multi-story home with glass walls): four bedrooms; four baths (and two powder rooms); billiard lounge; open deck and hot tub (no pool); private indoor-outdoor shower and separate soaking tub in the master suite; from $3,000 per night
Considered one of the top resorts in the Southwest for nearly a decade, the serene yet sceney Sanctuary continues to impress its high-profile guests with its cuisine, spa, and gorgeous suites. It's not perfect -- few resorts are -- but it undeniably has the most desirable location in Scottsdale, overlooking Praying Monk Rock and the desert, not suburban sprawl.
Things You Should Know About Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa
- 5700 E. McDonald Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85253
- Mountain Vista Casita
- Mountain Vista Suite
- Private House - Casa Five
- Private House - Casa Montana
- Private House - Casa Nine
- Private House - Casa Ten
- Private House - Casa Two
- Private House - Hi Lob
- Private House - The Gallery
- Spa Casita Room
- Spa Casita Suite