It was Saturday morning and still dark outside in St. Louis. I was trying to wrap up a phone interview for my new book One Sunday—
Which is about a broken tabloid editor from Los Angeles who gets pregnant by a sports doctor from Nashville and is forced to relocate to the heart of Dixie where she strikes up an unlikely friendship with an African-American pastor and his family in search of faith & Jesus—And cabin fever had set in. Distracted by my husband, former NFL Pro Bowl Safety and current St. Louis Rams defensive coach, Chuck Cecil, and our soon to be eight-year-old daughter, Charli, who were getting ready to load into an SUV and head for Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, I was having a hard time concentrating on the journalist’s questions.

We were planning our escape out from under gloomy grey skies and bitter 29-degree temperatures in Missouri. In just three hours, we would board a Southwest Airlines 737 bound for the blue skies and blissful 75-degree weather of Arizona. We had planned a relaxing, much-needed vacation at the Waldorf Astoria’s Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.

Two things that make me happy!
Two things that make me happy!

Three things to note: 1) Traveling on a Saturday is always easier as most of the suits are at home, 2) Spending the extra ten dollars to get an early board on Southwest is money well spent when you need three seats together that are not adjacent to the toilet, and 3) If you are heading to Arizona, book Arizona Roadrunner Limousine Service to pick you up: it’s reasonable, efficient and service-oriented: our driver Tim was friendly and super helpful getting us settled once we landed.

I was off to discover why they call the Arizona Biltmore The Jewel of the Desert. As working mom and NFL coach’s wife, our family time is scarce and when we do find occasions to rendezvous we like to unwind and revel in our together time. Thus, I had set the bar high for our seven-day excursion to the Wild West. Here is what I discovered…

There are many wonderful nuances worth mentioning about the hotel but in lieu of time and space I believe the best way for me to elaborate is to categorize them: Energize Outside, Edible Treats, and Enjoy Yourself.

The Cabana Pool
The view from our chair at the Cabana Pool!

Energize Outside. Get in the water, it’s Arizona! I don’t care if you’re a little plump and ghostly white {as I am}: just get in the pool! There are many gated pools peppered around the lush gardens and green grass of the hotel property. My favorite is the Cabana Club.The Cabana Club is great for adults and kids as it has three pools, three Jacuzzis, a wonderful three-story water slide {which I would say was just for kids but my husband and I both hooted our way down}, and lovely cabanas to nestle inside. There is a swim-up bar and televisions; this latter part was critical as our stay overlapped with the NFL play-offs. Our pool attendant Aiden got us dialed-up with everything we could possibly need from great seats to see the Baltimore Ravens beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Play-off game, burgers and beverages to telling us intriguing stories about the historical lineage of the hotel. Go Golfing. Chuck woke up at 6:30 a.m. our first day to go spank that little white ball. He explained to me that there are two courses on the property. The Adobe is the original course. Built in 1929, it boasts a classic design with adjoining fairways and short trips from the greens to tees. The second course is The Links, built in 1979. The Links winds its way through the villas and houses surrounding the hotel. They are both convenient, golfer-friendly, and in great shape year round.

Explore the space. Venture off the property and go hike Squaw Peak. I did this with my brother Jeff, who is a Phoenician. This is not an easy trail and took me some time {and breaks} to maneuver but it was worth it: it’s an amazing workout and the views from the top are spectacular. Bring water and wear your sneakers or hiking shoes unless you’re part goat. My legs were like Red Vine licorice on the way down and my face was pulsating and beet red! It wasn’t pretty.

A view from the top of Squaw Peak
A view from the top of Squaw Peak

If you’re looking for something more leisurely, go for a stroll around the property and take in the architecture, which was designed in the 1920s by Albert Chase McArthur a student and protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. The hotel offers an old world charm and historic ambience that distinguishes it from other resorts in the region. If you just want to just soak up the Vitamin D, you can play croquet on the well-manicured lawns or meander the canals or walking paths around the grounds. My daughter took her Razor scooter for a joy ride every day on the paths. To her delight, she met plenty of guests with their dogs. For those visitors who travel with a pet, the Biltmore is dog friendly! Bravo.

Edible Treats: When we didn’t eat as a family in our villa, which was a wonderful two bedroom updated suite with fireplace, ideal outdoor sitting area and kitchen, {which I believe is critical and cost effective as it allowed me to whip up a family pasta dish whenever our stomachs’ growled} we headed to Frank & Albert’s for a casual, yummy bite. The fish tacos and fresh guacamole were delectable! Call early and get an outdoor seat near the fireplace. Another don’t miss is their Sunday Brunch in Wright’s. I invited my daughter, her friend, Karlisle, and my mother, Sandy {more locals} for a ladies day with one simple instruction: Come hungry! We sampled treats from the confit cauliflower and cheddar cheese bruschetta, smoked salmon roulade, seared scallops to hot cherry almond turnovers and washed them down with bottomless Mimosas. Endless entertainment was provided by Jerry, the piano player, who humored my daughter and let her sing a tune from the Sound of Music with him. First-down for Mr. Jerry.

At Afternoon Tea a surprise for my daughter
At Afternoon Tea a surprise for my daughter

My last edible delight would be to fit in the Afternoon Tea, an 83-year tradition dating back to when the resort opened in 1929. Doing the tea does not mean just tea, although the teas we had {Pomegranate Blackberry, Hazelnut Truffle} were exotic. It means a wide assortment of trendy tea sandwiches. The mini lobster-basil salad, in profiterole crisp, and Waldorf salad, with pulled chicken and sweet grapes in curry tart cylinder were my favorite. They also have delicious pastries and desserts that are making me hungry as I reflect. What made the experience extra special was the persuasive, knowledgeable and encouraging tea-master, Steve who tempted my daughter to try things she would never have tasted at home and surprised her with an oversized chocolate birthday cupcake that made her squeal in delight.
Extra point: I’m giving an honorable mention for the Chinese Chicken salad: I ate it every day at the pool!

Enjoy Yourself: I found myself driving two hours down to Tucson mid-week and two hours back in the same day to make

Doing the FOX morning show in AZ with Mark Stein
Doing the FOX morning show in AZ with Mark Stein

an appearance on a FOX morning show to promote my book, One Sunday.

By the time I arrived back at the hotel, all I wanted to do was wash off the caked-on makeup and crawl into my bed. But my sweet husband one-upped me: he had planned a lovely Spa visit and, Lisa, my therapist was waiting, ready to deliver 90-minutes of deep tissue rapture. I melted off the table, floated back onto a cozy chair in our poolside cabana and spent the rest of the day completely de-stressing next to my daughter and hubby. Get Sweaty. Okay, I’ve gained ten pounds over the last year and like most women in their mid-40s, I have no idea how it crept up on me. Could it be the cookies and wine? I’m not admitting to anything. Needless to say I’m trying desperately to shed those extra pounds before summer.

Playing Chess with the girls
Playing Chess with the girls

The fitness center, with a litany of exercise classes and a full gym with cardio machines, makes this easy at the hotel. If nothing other than to work off the indulgences you enjoy all week, get into the gym. Honor your sleep. After traveling for work and for Chuck’s away games {more than trips than I dare to count}, I will confess that I’ve become a sleep snob. I cannot compromise when it comes to the relevance of my sleep. I will move rooms if next to an elevator, ice machine or hard-rock band. I demand good bedding and blackout drapes. Our bedroom in the villa was a sanctuary for me. It was secluded and quiet and their soft cozy bedding and down pillows encouraged me to hit the snooze button in the morning and sneak away for afternoon power naps.

Overall, The Arizona Biltmore Hotel was wonderful getaway. What made the hotel special for us were the people. They are customer oriented and knowledgeable about the ins-and-outs that make it the Jewel of the Desert. Some say it has ghosts from the posh celebrities who used to sneak way from Los Angles and dive off the pool platforms. It’s all so enchanting if you adore history and luxury as I do. Most of the staff I chatted up had been employed there over five years. One employee explained it like this: “We’re a family.” I am sure they have a little dysfunction, as every family does, but they do a great job not letting their guests see it.

For a business traveler who wants to get away for an extra day or for family looking for a wonderful retreat, I recommend The Arizona Biltmore Hotel.

Touch Down or Fumble? Touchdown!

Tell me what you think Carrie Gerlach Cecil

Pure joy at the Cabana Club Slide...
Pure joy at the Cabana Club Slide…


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