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Friday, January 15, 2010

Four Great Kid-Friendly Hotels in Scottsdale & Phoenix Arizona

Since I was born and raised in Arizona, and am a travel writer, friends always ask me where to stay with their families when visiting Phoenix and Scottsdale. So I'll tell you what I tell them.

When choosing hotels, I didn’t look at the best golf courses or spas. I looked for what the kids want – pools, water slides and fun activities. And I didn't look at what you can do off-property. I assume you'll want to hang out at the hotel for a few days.

So here’s my list of the three best family-friendly hotels (plus an honorable mention).

--Sheraton Wild Horse Pass
--Westin Kierland
--Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak
--Fairmont Scottsdale - Honorable Mention

Sheraton Wild Horse Pass – I just stayed at this Sheraton before a conference last fall. The resort, in Chandler, is not close to much. But they do have enough on site to keep the kids busy for a few days. The resort is in the Gila River Community – Native American land. The hotel is actually owned by the tribes (hence, their casino), but run by the Sheraton. Without beating your kids on the head, they’ll easily learn about Indian history, culture and customs while staying on the property. Most choose the resort, however, for its amenities. The kids’ pool includes a slide meant to look like Casa Grande Ruins (photo above). It’s cute. Family activities are described here, (look for the family activities button and you can pull up a calendar). They include movies in the pool, wagon rides, pool games, watermelon eating contests, horseback riding, Native American storytelling (and s’mores) by the fire pit and arts & crafts.

Take free boat rides on their man-made river (photo right). Rawhide, an 1880s Western theme park is on one of the stops – and you can head there at night for some Arizona-themed fun. They also offer camps for a fee – giving you time to play golf or check out the Aji spa (which is lovely).

Take advantage of “Guilt Free Dining” and let the staff take the kids for an evening while you enjoy Kai, the Valley’s only Five Diamond restaurant and Arizona’s only Mobil Travel Guide five star restaurant. It’s fabulous and a truly unique dining experience (I ate there). But make reservations early. Seating is limited, and locals are doing what they can to get in too.

The Westin Kierland – I picked this hotel because of the pools and kids’ club. The Kierland’s adventure water park has a lazy river and a 110 foot water slide. Plus a separate kiddie area with a sandy beach, spraying water fountains to run through, and a shallow pool for the littlest ones. They also offer movies by the pool, plus live music out there as well.

Check out the Westin Kids’ Club, which offer scavenger hunts, computer games, soccer, crafts, Spanish lessons, movies, field trips and a playground. Fees apply. Also for a fee, take the kids golfing (half price for kids), do a family scuba lesson ($99 per family) and check out the zoo animal program at the hotel once weekly (summer/holidays). Here's their event calendar. The Kierland has twice weekly campfires with s'mores. Mmmmmm....

You can do a scavenger hunt just with your family too – it will help you get to know the resort. Kids get their own “passport” and win prizes for completing activities.

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort – this one is near where I grew up. And I’d love to spend a night here with the kids. Check out the Hole in the Wall River Ranch, with its lazy river (photo left), water slide and waterfall and playground. They also offer Coyote Camp (fees apply - photo below) with swimming, cooking, crafts, daily Arizona-based themes. Here’s a schedule. They have a mini-golf course, and a lot of two-room suites (need I say more?).

I'm sure the restaurants here are good, but you're in walking distance of one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Aunt Chiladas.

Honorable Mention
Fairmont Scottsdale – You might know this hotel as the Princess. They recently changed the name. I picked this hotel because of their FREE kids’ club, available for all guests (you just pay for meals if they’re going to eat there). The counselors take the kids on hikes, swimming and for other activities. The facility itself has games and computers and looked clean and fun. While they’re there, you can check out the gorgeous Willow Stream Spa. The Fairmont has five pools – and some great grub including Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak. Yummy! The hotel is an honorable mention because of the free (and nice) kids’ club. The hotel itself (while a Five Diamond resort) does not emphasize family fun, as some of the others do (one way to tell – can you find a “family” section on the hotel web site?).
**Update: 3/18/10 - I just learned that the hotel will be adding a year-round National Geographic Explorer's Program for their kids' club this summer. Participants will pay a fee for the program, but it will be more extensive. They're also rolling out a new website which will include more family information. Details to come.

Let me know what you think. And please add to the list via the comments section!

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