Restaurant Review: Elements at Sanctuary, Camelback Mountain

Have you ever gone out to a super fancy restaurant and left still hungry?  Well that will not happen here.  I repeat, that will not happen here.

I happened upon Elements via a Buzzfeed article called 32 Restaurants with Spectacular Views and was thrilled that I’d be heading to Scottsdale and immediately made a reservation for sunset time.  The restaurant and the view did not disappoint.

Set on the side of Camelback Mountain facing west, the restaurant is built for the soul purpose of taking advantage of the view.  My husband and I were seated at a booth that just faces the window, it’s one side – like one of those awkward style dates where you sit next to each other and not across from each other.  It was essentially stadium style seating facing a wall of windows facing the sunset.  It was quite the setting, and the service and food matched to boot.

I ordered steak as it came with truffled mash potatoes, and whenever you put truffle on anything, I’m game.  And let me tell you, the steak and potatoes were glorious.  Instead of a piece of steak the size of my fist like you’d get in NYC, I felt I was given an entire cow – and the mashed potatoes, I’m pretty sure I finished those.  They were so smooth and creamy and the truffle, dear God the truffle.  I may have had a religious experience with those potatoes. Anyway, the prices were very on par to what we were used to in the Northeast.  A lot of food for a comparable price.

Additionally, the service was exceptional.  I love when my water magically refills itself, but also given enough space so that the waitstaff don’t feel like vultures.  Our waiter struck a perfect balance of maintaining our satisfaction but also giving us the opportunity to truly enjoy our meal and the atmosphere without feeling overwhelmed by requests.  We never want for anything, and as always, that is the most critical.

So in summary, come for view, and stay because the food and service is so damn good.  I wish I had photographed my meal, but I can in fact leave you with the view.

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Restaurant with a view – Elements at Camelback Mountain

Hotel review: The Phoenician, Scottsdale, AZ

Have you ever stayed somewhere and still think about not just the location, but the hotel itself?  I have never had that experience until staying at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona.  It’s hard to put into words what makes this hotel so great, but I will do my best.

1. The hotel itself.  The Phoenician is part of Starwood’s luxury collection, and it’s easy to see why.  Nestled next to Camelback Mountain, the hotel boasts a number of pools (5 maybe?), a golf course, tennis courts, a fitness studio, sweeping grounds, a spa, multiple restaurants, and children’s club with activities.  While my husband and I do not have children yet, the resort clearly caters to the needs of families, couples, and guests of all ages.

2. Activities.  As mentioned above – The Phoenician caters to all types of people in all walks of life.  As a result, you will never be bored at The Phoenician.  My husband and I had a packed itinerary during our stay, with trips to Sedona, and Diamondbacks game, so when combing through the schedule, we selected to go on a guided hike of Camelback, as well as a free cactus tour.  Additionally, we participated in the kids event of feeding the Koi fish that are in one of the ground’s ponds.  There were also massive lawns as part of the property where corn hole and bocci were set-up, so we tried our hand at those as well.  Above, I also mentioned that there were maybe 5 pools, if not more.  And after our road trip, trust me when I say, we laid by every single one.  There was also a water slide, and channeling our inner big kid, went for it over and over again.  We were primed and ready to take on more, but  were unable to fully take advantage and participate in all of the daily activities.  A quick peek at their website today let me know of poolside movies and frozen t-shirt tosses.  Why aren’t we there right now?

3. The staff.  I have never, ever seen a staff hustle as much as I have here.  We stayed in April and Scottsdale was breaking the 100 degree mark.  When laying by the pool we were never short of water.  Free pitchers of water were delivered constantly in order to ensure that all guests were and remained hydrated.  The concierge was incredibly friendly and ensured that our tours and activities were booked, despite being completely overwhelmed with guests.  Additionally, the first aid staff were incredible.  I had an awkward moment by the pool where I stepped on a tiny piece of glass that needed to be removed from my foot.  If you ever want to see a grown woman act like a child, see me during a time of a foot crisis, I hate feet!  Anyway, my husband asked a staff member for some tweezers as he’s used to handling my foot hysterics, instead, my husband returned with 3 men (one of which was an EMT) and a hotel manager to ensure I was okay.   There is nothing more wonderful and embarrassing than having 3 people + your husband attending to a minor foot incident (in my head though, it was major) while you’re lounging by a pool.

4. The service.  I have been a Starwood Platinum member for over 3 years now, and I have always been treated well when visiting Starwood establishments, however, I have never felt more appreciated and loved than I did at the Phoenician.  Upon checking in, our room was upgraded and we were met with a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.  The following day, based on my portfolio with Starwood, we returned to our room to find my favorite, Peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke on ice (and yes, I did stay fit on this vacay!), what a great afternoon delight.  It was truly nice to know that my loyalty was rewarded, and in such a small but great way too!

5. The food.  So clearly I love to eat, and I don’t always make the best food choices, but their poolside dining was delicious, as well as their restaurant, Relish Burger Bistro.  I sometimes think about trying to recreate those tater tots, maybe I should?  Look at that garnish!  I can’t tell whether or not it’s a little bit sad or funny that my only picture from the hotel is of the burger but anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that it’s an actual hotel restaurant worth its salt.burgerSo Starwood Hotels, if somehow you happen upon this blog, just know that you completely nailed it with The Phoenician.  I have never loved a hotel stay more than I have in Scottsdale, and my husband and I constantly talk about how it’s not a question of if, but a matter of when we return because that’s how much we loved it.  The staff deserve the highest accolades and have my utmost respect.  Well done!

The Wild West Part IV, the Grand Canyon

So if you’ve been following this longer than anticipated Wild West road trip series, you will know the following:

Philadelphia –> Las Vegas –> Bryce Canyon, UT —> Page, Arizona (Horse Shoe Bend and Antelope Canyon)

Well, we are finally headed over to Flagstaff, AZ as a jumping off point for our Grand Canyon adventure, as dubbed in an earlier post, the main event.  (SidenoteWhen in Flagstaff, Pizzicletta is a must for any pizza lover, and who doesn’t like pizza?)

The Grand Canyon as a national park is incredibly well managed and run.  Once you pay for admission to the park, free shuttle buses take you from the main parking lot to varying points throughout.  They run frequently and are incredibly easy to use and navigate.  The bus dropped us off at our hiking point and we began to enter the Rim, dun dun dun!

We had no plans to hike and stay the night in the canyon (I glamp not camp), so we went about a mile or so down and then turned around to head back up.  We met some wonderful people along the way and could not believe the views.  The trail was actually very well maintained and easy to navigate and I would recommend it for people of all ages and varying athletic ability.  While Bryce was beautiful, I felt more comfortable navigating down into the Grand Canyon than at Bryce at times.

The thing about the Grand Canyon was that while it is so incredible vast, and awe inspiring in its size, we had just come from 3 incredibly beautiful, very different and no less grand sights.  If we had started at the Grand Canyon we might have felt differently.  And it is absolutely, 100% worth a visit.  In fact, the thought of taking my future spawn there is really exciting.  It’s a place where you can easily put your life in perspective in the sense that its a reminder that we are all very small people in a very big world.  I mean the Grand Canyon literally looks like it could go on forever.

Remarkably, the Grand Canyon was not the last stop on our Wild West adventure, but was certainly the grand finale to an incredible road trip.  I will be posting about the remaining part of our journey separately so stay tuned!

So without further ado, some of our photos.

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Little people, big world. Our first view of the Grand Canyon.
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There’s me just taking it all in
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View from the Desert View & Watchtower
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I love the perspective on this shot.
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View of our trail as we headed down. Looks easy, no?

The Wild West Part III – Antelope Canyon

To recap the trip this far, we ate our way through Vegas, spent a night in Utah, and I felt like I pseudo cheated death at Horse Shoe Bend, and were now en route to Antelope Canyon.  Funny thing is, we haven’t even gotten to the main event yet!  The main event on this Wild West road trip was supposed to be the Grand Canyon, and yet, by the time we got there, Bryce and Antelope had completely overshadowed the awesomeness that is the Grand Canyon.  Now, that’s not to say that the Grand Canyon wasn’t totally awe inspiring, because it was, but Antelope Canyon is a photographer’s dream and a natural beauty and wonder all unto itself.  It will simply take your breath away.

A little history for you. Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land close to Horse Shoe Bend in nearby Page, Arizona.  Canyon in this context is not what at least I would expect it to be.  Antelope is considered a slot canyon which very simply put, means you’re almost walking into a knot in a wood floor or a tree.  It is not a wide gaping space, but more a narrow area where as a spectator you’re at the bottom looking up, without much of a vantage point to look down.

My husband and I chose to take a Navajo tour in Lower Antelope Canyon.  To get into the canyon we had to walk down a very steep staircase into the abyss.  Small children were able to do this so don’t be deterred!  As we walked through the canyon the colors, waves, and artistry carved out by water was incredible.  Since words cannot do this place justice, below are photos taken with my iPhone, with no additional filters doing the work.  Enjoy and then look me in the eye and tell me you don’t want to visit!

antelope5Looking up into Lower Antelope Canyon

antelope4Contrast of light and dark waves in Lower Antelope Canyon

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Purple and Blue Waves in Lower Antelope Canyon

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Our Navajo Guideantelope1I love the contrast of the ridges, waves, and puncture marks, Lower Antelope Canyon

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The pink colors truly make me happy and calm

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Capturing the beauty of the moment

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On our way out – there’s my handsome husband!

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Slot canyon, totally dating myself here but the perspective reminds me of Honey I Shrunk the Kids

The Wild West Part Two – Utah & Beyond

After leaving Vegas, our road trip adventure truly began.  Our first stop – Bryce Canyon, Utah.  When we were planning our road trip our goal was to cram, but not over cram, which left us with a tough decision.  Zion National Park or Bryce?  With all the research, photo images we consulted, and TripAdvisor reviews, we basically threw a dart at a map to determine which park to visit.

Hopping in our Prius we began the 4+ hour drive, and what a drive that was.  After spending all my time on the East Coast, seeing the desert, red rocks and various plateau formations as well as snow capped mountains was absolutely stunning. I’m not one for spending time in the car, but empty long highways filled with incredible scenery made the drive fly by.

Arriving in Bryce in the early afternoon we met with the tourism office to determine the best route through the canyon based on the time we had.  We had one shot at Bryce and we had to take it.  Light snow flurries were falling as we entered and walked through the canyon, navigating switchbacks with relative ease.  (Keep in my mind of petrified of heights, so parts of the walk I found to be narrow and uncomfortable to navigate as people passed on the path, but overall, if you’re a big wimp like me, you’ll survive.)  The Navajo Loop trail was perfect for the time we had and gave us the ability to appreciate the wonder of the canyon from so many different angles.

bryceThe canyon was like nothing I ever witnessed.  The bright and varying colors looked like someone had just poured thick, delicious cake batter into a mold and watched it set in various columns and plateaus.  The oranges were vibrant, especially against the backdrop of the pine trees, and the pinks and purples littered throughout looked beautiful against the falling snow.  Doing some research, I learned that these formations are called Hoodoos, and in Bryce the formation dates back 40-60 million years ago. Walking through these formations I was reminded by how small we are in a big world.  After spending a few hours in the Canyon it was time to check-in to our hotel and eat.

We spent the night in Tropic, Utah at the Stone Canyon Inn, and I would highly recommend it!  Tropic was an incredibly small town – I don’t even recall if there was a traffic light or not, but there was a restaurant and a general store which helped us stock up on additional snacks, waters, and beverages for the next leg of our trip.

After a great night’s sleep we were off to Arizona.  I don’t even think we needed to gas up our Prius yet!

In Arizona we had a lot planned.  Fortunately I’m married to a geography whiz and amateur cartographer, who assured me it was possible to see Horse Shoe Bend and Antelope Canyon en route to Flagstaff, AZ.  The Grand Canyon was our big ticket item, but by no means were we going to sacrifice other natural wonders along the way.

Horse Shoe Bend scared the living daylights out of me.  While it is incredibly beautiful, I was too scared to get close to the edge to view the Colorado River in horse shoe form.  See photo below. horseshoeMy husband on the other hand, army crawled to the edge to get the shot.  Horse Shoe Bend has no railings, no words of caution, just the edge of stony cliff to view the river below.  While so many others were brazen, I was not and hung back.  I know I preach about adventure, push yourself, try something new, and I did.  I pushed myself to get as close as possible, which was very much outside my comfort zone.  Click here to see a 360 panorama of Horse Shoe Bend in its entirety.  After spending about 45 minutes there (watching people cheat death), my husband and I headed out toward our next site – breathtaking Antelope Canyon.

Stay tuned!  I plan on devoting an entire post to Antelope Canyon because it is so downright beautiful.