• Vacation Breakdown

    I’ve had quite a few questions about the vacation I returned from last night, mostly along the lines of “How did you find an all-inclusive resort in the US?” So here’s the scoop. Alex and I were planning to go to Mexico this fall for vacation. I wanted it to be warm and have good places to swim. Alex wanted a modern room, good food, and stuff to do. We plan, God laughs. The day after we received the quote on the resort we’d chosen after a month of research, we found out we were expecting. A baby changes everything.

    We decided to go on a domestic vacation instead to save money and travel time. Alex offered New York City and San Francisco as destinations. I still wanted warmth and a good place to swim. So we settled on Phoenix. It’s a big city like Alex wanted, and it sure is warm. Phoenix is hot in August. It’s where my parents grew up, so it is somewhat familiar to me. We have a couple of friends there as well as some family (including my grandmother).

    When a week opened up in Alex’s high travel season schedule, I started looking for a hotel, and that’s when I stumbled upon The Arizona Biltmore at Tripadvisor.com. The Biltmore is in a very nice section of Phoenix, on a large property filled with ritzy homes, golf courses, and the resort itself. In the off-season, when it is blistering outside, you can book an “all-inclusive” package for a little more, which we did. I say “all-inclusive” because it’s not what most people think of when they think all-inclusive. It’s not all you can eat and drink all the time. Instead, we got:

    • Use of all the facilities
    • Free internet
    • Daily resort fee waived ($28)
    • Free parking
    • Approximately $235 dollars in food vouchers per day (one each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) which you can use at the restaurants, the bar, or the poolside cafe. These include tax and gratuity. This was more than we paid for our room, so we felt like we got a pretty great deal. Fair warning, though: unless you’re used to paying $20 for a burger and fries, you might feel a little sticker shock when you see the menus. It’s more like having credit at the Metropolitan Grill than at Cheddar’s. The food is also more Metro Grill than Cheddar’s.
    • Two 20% off vouchers for the spa (which we were too lazy to use)

    We called to ask how to secure one of their more modern rooms (many still need refurbishing), and they told us to ask for a Resort Room. We did. It was very modern: nice bathroom, glass shower, beautiful furniture, featherbed, huge TV. As soon as you step out of your room, though, you’re in an Art Deco wonderland. The hotel was built in the 1920s with Frank Lloyd Wright as a consulting architect. The hotel has capitalized on his involvement, so there is a lot of Wright’s art (statuary, glasswork) around the hotel, and even the restaurants are FLW themed.

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    We flew in just in time for a record-breaking monsoon to hit Phoenix. There were 60+ mph winds and lots of lightning. We circled the airport until fuel became a concern and then were rerouted to Tucson, where we sat on the ground for a couple of hours before returning to Phoenix. Navigating our way to the hotel was a bit rough since some of the power grid was out (including streetlights), and the freeway was filled with accident and tree debris. When we finally got to the hotel, we just paid for valet parking and stumbled through the dark resort grounds until we collapsed in our room for the night. That was last Monday night. Once the sun came up, we were able to get our bearings and never used valet again.

    Tuesday through Friday were incredibly relaxing days. We swam off and on throughout the day (swimming rocks while I’m pregnant!), ate when we wanted (always too much), and took naps as needed (daily). The pools were usually close to empty. Sometimes we’d be the only people swimming in the largest three-pool complex (which our room faced). Our friends, Emily and Freddie, came over several evenings with their son, and we played in the pool and chatted for hours. Through the week, we used an entire spray bottle of waterproof sunscreen. I have lots of new freckles but no sunburn.

    We went shopping offsite once. The Biltmore Fashion Park (a fancy outdoor mall) is just a few minutes away. Alex picked up some new shorts and shoes while I snagged a new pair of shades. We stopped by to see Emily at Whole Foods and stocked up on some water (because I refused to pay $8 for a big bottle of water at the hotel) and apple juice for the fridge. There are all kinds of stores in the Biltmore section of Phoenix, so we could get basically anything we wanted with just a few minutes drive off campus. One afternoon, we drove to nearby Tempe to the ASU Gammage for a traveling production of Wicked. It was wicked good.

    Then Saturday arrived, and the Biltmore became the place for Labor Day staycationers. The place filled up. The pools filled up. The DJ came out. It got LOUD. We had lots of plans for the weekend, though, so it wasn’t too much of a bother. We met Emily and Freddie for brunch on Saturday and then went out with my cousin and her family to an authentic (spicy!) Mexican restaurant for dinner. We went to church with my Grandmother at Desert Christian Fellowship (love that church!) and then took her back to the Biltmore for their famous Brunch at Wright’s. It was lovely and super fancy. We tried to go swimming in the evening, but it was kinda like being in a people stew after a week of empty pools. We were spoiled!

    And maybe that’s the theme of our vacation. There were few decisions to make. We could track our charges on the television when we wanted. Our friends live nearby, so we didn’t really even have to worry about logistics. (We used the app Waze to get us around town and never had a problem.) The food was always wonderful and Italian-influenced. Breakfast was always awesome, especially the french toast and bagel with lox. Dinner was very nice. The only better bolognese I’ve ever tasted was Alex’s! Even the poolside cafe was incredible. I ate lobster rolls for lunch two days in a row. Yum. We could eat anytime from 7 AM to 11 PM. We only went over our credit for meals a few times when we went all out, but they were flexible in letting us use the credits. One night when our friends were over, we used our $100 dinner credit to buy desserts for everyone to eat by the pool! The staff was very, very friendly. They would happily offer suggestions anytime you asked. Everyone was dressed in casual clothes. There were tons of places to sit in the sun or shade, and we just relaxed.

    I started the vacation reading a novel by Nabokov, but quickly switched to more light-hearted reading to match my lighter mood. We turned on the TV once. We turned it off five minutes later and went swimming instead. Within two days, we were talking about returning next year. We’ll either skip Labor Day weekend or maybe rent a house with a pool through Airbnb in the same area (because although the food was convenient and delicious, it was hard not to overeat). So that’s how we turned the need to save a little money and travel time into a vacation we’ll never forget. I feel recreated and re-created. Now, back to work.