By: Mario Stojanac and Mary Luz Mejia
Family vacays don’t always mean spending all day every day in each others’ pockets, even when there is a young one along for the ride. Our first day at the sprawling Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa has all 3 of us awaken at the crack of dawn (thank you, jetlag) and take a leisurely stroll around the grounds as the warming sun’s first rays peek over the mountains. Having worked up a little bit of an appetite, we wind our way towards Ko‘Sin restaurant, the site for our breakfast. Always on the lookout for something original and local, the highlight of the breakfast menu has to be the Huevos Rancheros, the caramel-coloured local Tepary bean providing the frijoles refritos component.
Sun, glorious sun
After breakfast it’s time for a split in schedules, with dad and junior heading off to enjoy the bright sunshine for a spot of swimming while mom indulges in a much-needed post-trip massage treatment at the onsite Aji spa.
The resort pool is shallow enough to let junior have all the fun she wants while deep enough for dad to submerge himself and cool down. Resort attendants come by frequently with invitations to play games and Nathalie was very impressed with the water spouting little frog she snagged. An onsite waterslide offers additional fun for older kids and kids-at-heart, while the poolside service from the nearby casual restaurant means you never need to go hungry. The meals themselves were generously portioned and included some great salads, as well as locally brewed Hefeweizen wheat beer from nearby San Tan Brewery, crisp and complete with telltale fruity notes.
Mary Luz: At the state’s only Native American owned Aji Spa, which means “sanctuary” in the indigenous languages of the Pima and Maricopa, I’m led to a treatment room where the magic begins. The Sacred Prickly Pear Body Treatment starts with a quick loofah sloughing of the skin, followed by the application of the sacred prickly pear and red clay fragrant mud. Once applied and lying down in my own therapeutic steam capsule (neck down only), I steam for at least ten minutes before washing off the antioxidant, restorative treatment. My skin feels like silk- a welcomed treat in the dry desert. Lucky for me, it’s not over. In a massage room down another corridor, I’m in for a full fifty-minutes of prickly pear and aloe oil deep tissue rub down of note.
It’s been over a year since my last massage (it feels like I’m in confession telling my lovely therapist this), and she smiles knowingly, kneading out the kinks a life lived in front of a computer keyboard and chasing a toddler. I sigh as time’s up- where do the minutes go when one is relaxing? And end with a cup of prickly pear tea. “If you can, don’t wash off the oils right away,” advises the therapist. I nod in agreement thinking- not a chance! This oil is gold- the First Nations people know what they’re doing!
It ‘s with a heavy heart that we depart, but spirits are quickly raised once we arrive at Phoenix’s Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort. This sprawling resort features spacious rooms as well as casita-style 2-storey suites with kitchenettes and separate lounge areas – perfect for some late night relaxation as junior snoozes upstairs. The highlight for us is the incredible water park (open till late on weekends), complete with slides, a lazy river and mini-golf, all of which makes entertaining the little one a cinch (not to mention nice and tired for evening sleep time!). Centrally located in mid-town Phoenix, the resort is the perfect starting point for trips to the deluxe Biltmore Fashion Park, the location for one of our favourite Phoenix eateries, the health-nut resto for non-health nuts that is True Food Kitchen (so much so we just had to go back for another fix before flying home!).
In our experience, toddlers are only going to have that much fun in malls and restaurants (though our dear Nat does enjoy her 1-person spontaneous dance parties). Phoenix offered us ample opportunities to keep her otherwise engaged. The Desert Botanical Gardens sees a great intersection between education and an Arizonan sense of place. Surrounded by desert and cacti and other flora, the gardens are a unique opportunity to experience a little bit of the desert surprisingly close to the city. Nat’s highlight? The butterfly conservatory, flutteringly full of majestic Monarchs. On the subject of museums, one not miss is the I.D.E.A. (Imagination, Design, Experience, Art) museum for kids. This amazingly interactive place holds Nathalie captive for a good few hours, from the giant xylophones outside to the various building and creative options inside. A further museum well worth an exploratory visit is the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History. Established in 1929 with a focus on accurately portraying Native arts and cultures, the Heard featured some spectacular collections as well as interactive opportunities to create and share with the little one.
Our time in Arizona wound down with a visit to nearby Gilbert, where the location of the Doubletree Hilton was once again a perfect springboard for daytrips. As typical deal-hunting Canadians, we’re always popping into local stores and malls on our travels, and with a little one in tow, the nearby SanTan Village Mall was about as perfect as we could expect. A sprawling outdoor mall, the variety of stores was staggering, conveniently broken up by a kiddies’ climbing gym and splash pad, as well as a mandatory trip to Frost gelato. To appease the kids, you know…