First Impressions of the Arizona Biltmore

Leaving New York on a Monday on an 8:07 p.m. ET JetBlue flight out of JFK that landed in Phoenix at 1:35 a.m ET was not the most pleasant of travel experiences, mainly because the odor in the air made it pretty easy to guess what the two passengers sitting in front of me ate for dinner (kindly remind your clients that airplanes have re-circulated air and walking to the lavatory to emit noxious gas is good exercise). But when I arrived at the Arizona Biltmore, of the Waldorf Astoria Collection, there was an aura in the air that began putting the unpleasantness behind me. Perhaps it was the Zen-like layout and design of the space, or the finely-tuned temperature in every building. Either way, it was topped off with one of the more perfectly-mixed drinks I've ever had.

bombay sapphire gin and tonic cocktailLittle tangent: In the summer of 2001 I had the pleasure of interviewing jazz legend Percy Heath out in Montauk, NY for the Montauk Pioneer. He joined me for dinner that evening at the Gurney's Inn and lended some advice I'll never forget. Noticing the wear and tear of a full-day's trek in the sun to interview one subject after another in the August heat, Percy slapped his hand on my back and said, "Anytime I have a meal at the end of a long day, I always start with a Bombay Sapphire and tonic with lime... there's nothing as smooth and relaxing in liquid form."

I took Percy's advice, once again, upon arriving at the Biltmore and am pretty sure that Tony the bartender concocted the drink as precisely as possible. Normally, the drink is either too strong or too watered down, but not this time. I thought it was luck, until I noticed that my requested glass of water never went half-empty because Tony refilled it every five mnutes. His service to me, one tired customer, was exceptional— especially in light of the drunken wannabe-player from Los Angeles hitting on a Phoenix local who was really interested in what I did for a living until she realized it probably didn't generate a six-figure income.

I tell this story because it is emblematic, thus far, of how I've been treated during my less-than-24-hour stay. Here are some more prime examples.

*    When I woke this morning an ordered some room service for breakfast, the employee at the other end of the phone said it would be at my room in 25 minutes. It arrived 10 minutes after I hung up the phone. I rarely order room service anymore because it usually shows up cold and soggy, but not this time. The day was off to a great start.
*    Upon realizing I forgot my toothbrush about an hour later, I called the conierge who sent one up within five minutes and even called at the exact moment to make sure it arrived.
*    While I waited for the toothbrush, housekeeping arrived and did a tremendous job fixing up the room. They did it so quietly and smoothly, I barely noticed they were there while I downloaded some pictures and video I took of the property.

These may seem like small and not-so-meaningful moments to you, but keep in mind I've only been here now for about 15 hours. I can only imagine that there will be more to come, especially since every staff member I have met has made the point of taking note of how long I'll be staying here and how often I'll be in my room and/or present on the property. No, I don't think they're gonna hijack my equipment. I think they're taking note of when the best or worst times would be to check on me, my needs and/or the room.

Speaking of the room, I am staying in Room #3323 in the Valley Wing. Check out a brief tour in the video below:

I am here to cover The Lodging Conference 2010, (check in for reports at this week for updates) which begins tonight, so I took the opportunity to meander around the property this morning before the conference kicks in full gear with one meeting after another.

I can tell you that any golfers, or anyone hoping to make a golfer out of someone, will like it here. There are plentiful putting greens across the resort, most by some beautiful landscape. Perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing section of the property is the Squaw Peak Lawn. Water fountains and meticulously designed gardens and sculptures highlight the outdoor centerpiece, which is adjoined by boutique shops and the property's main bar.

The Paradise Pool is indeed a pleasant oasis in this desert heat. The dining area is kept cool with some mild mist spraying equipment and the water slide is definitely calling my name.

I took a quick peak at the Conference Center as well as the Frank Lloyd Wright and McArthur ballrooms, which are currently being set up for several events taking place this week, and was taken back by how expansive the space is. Makes sense to me as to why The Lodging Conference is being held here. The size and ambiance are more than ideal.

If I get some more time to tour the property, I'll share my experience. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions about the Arizona Biltmore and I'd be happy to investigate. Share your questions by posting a comment below, tweeting me (@travelagentmag) or writing at our Facebook page.

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