February 02, 2015

Healthy-ish Travel: Destination, Scottsdale!

By Crabby McSlacker

Yep, Cranky Fitness went out on the road yet again, and there are crappy camera phone photos to prove it!

Besides a very brief account of my wanderings in Scottsdale Arizona, this is also an informal and somewhat ungrateful review of a luxury health resort: the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort and Spa .

But before I get into any of that, on a totally unrelated note, check out the Fit Bottomed Girls post on "Morning Routines of Fit Women."

Why?  Well, the FBG's have kindly mistaken me for a Fit Woman! And so the extremely mundane details of my morning routine are included along with more legitimate and ambitious fit gals who are far more interesting.


So yeah, I recently accompanied my go-getter corporate spouse to a business function she was attending at the Marriott Camelback Resort.  And along with my clothing and swimsuit and tablet for the Fire HD 6 Review, I packed my persnickety neurotic personality and my tendency towards weirdo antics and took the whole Cranky show on the road.

So how did it go?

The Fancy Pants Resort Part:

The JW Marriot Camelback is a scenically situated, beautifully landscaped upscale resort in Scottsdale.

I was a sneak-along non-paying guest, and we got to stay in deluxe accommodations because there was a corporate party happening in our suite one evening. So you'd think being so spoiled I'd  have nothing but wonderful things to say, right? Because I did manage to have a good time.

But honestly? I vastly preferred the Red Mountain Resort which was way cheaper.  (That is, had I been spending any actual money).


Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth!

But yeah, I almost kind of enjoyed the affirmation that there are certain kinds of pampering that are wasted on me.

Like: Giganticism! (And so what if it's not a real word?) Our suite was super huge and had its own living room and kitchen and an extra bedroom we didn't use. While I appreciate having enough space not to trip over my suitcase trying to get into bed, extra acreage in a hotel room just means a longer, more disoriented stumble in the middle of the night when I get up to pee. It's not something I'd pay mega bucks for.

The decor was probably expensive but it was sort of heavy and dark.

The kitchen got me all excited at first, because there was a full sized fridge and stove and microwave, but was completely unstocked unless you made a call to guest services, which I didn't want to do because I was supposed to Keep a Low Profile.

So, not only no pots or pans or bottle openers or implements, but also no plates (paper or otherwise), silverware, napkins, paper towels,  etc.  Since I was way too cheap to eat in the resort's restaurants, and instead made runs to Whole Foods and Trader Joes, I had to remember to scrounge up extra supplies. Grossout alert: I used the same paper plate over and over again to heat food in the microwave because it was all I had for a while.

And what the f--k is up with One-Cup-at-Time coffeemakers?  I like to mix regular and decaf, and I drink large quantities, so that sucked.  I know they figure if you stay at a fancy place you should just cough up for room service, but I REFUSE TO USE ROOM SERVICE while I still have four functional limbs to walk or drive myself to cheaper sources of food and beverage. So, to you tight-wad hotels throughout the land I say: Bring back real coffeemakers, damn it!

And don't get me started on itty bitty stir 4 inch stir sticks instead of spoons.  Seriously.

Again, it probably would have been fine to call up and get a few necessities even as a stealth free-loader-stowaway, but then anytime you summon up guest services to your room, you gotta figure out the whole tipping thing. How much? What if I haven't broken my twenties yet? Anyone else get slightly flummoxed about that?

OK, so having our own private pool was nice.  It was as hot as a bathtub, which should have been annoying but was rather pleasant.

But I had way more of a blast frolicking in the vast Jackrabbit Pool.  In theory it may have been for all the guests, but while I was there it was Mine, Mine, Mine, all Mine!!!

True, I got up early, but not THAT early.  Even by 9 am, aside from the bored towel guy, there were absolutely no witnesses to my bizarro swimming pool antics.

And speaking of which...

(Cranky Fitness readers are already well aware that I loathe conventional lap swimming and prefer to make up my own spastic aquatic routines.)

Want to know a great new stroke I invented??

It's called the "Upside Down Underwater Squid."  You will look extremely sophisticated doing this advanced and challenging stroke.

OK, that's a lie. It looks so alarmingly ungraceful and disturbing that you should do it completely unobserved or risk being hauled out of the pool by a  lifeguard or armed security officer.

It does require use of goggles.

Goggles which, if you are me, will mutilate your face for hours but whatever.

How to do the Upside Down Underwater Squid:
  1. Lie on your back.  Do a breaststroke kick with your legs.
  2. Hold your nose closed with one hand.  (Trust me on this). This is a completely leg-powered stroke unless they've invented totally foolproof nose-plugs yet.
  3. Tilt your head back and drive your body downwards until you are a foot or so underwater. Level out and keep your legs going and admire the view up through the water to the sky!  It's really cool.
  4. Alternatively, tilt your head far enough back that you can see where you're headed so you don't split your scalp open if you encounter a wall. 
  5. Continue in this strange manner until you need to breathe.  
  6. Surface and grab a few breaths before heading down again.  You won't get very far or go very fast but it's a really trippy way to entertain yourself!
Another feature of the Marriott that was lost on me but might be handy if you arrive with right crowd:

They have a whole fake old west town set up in back for cookouts other large gatherings.

This is only part of it but you get the idea. This being the wild southwest, and in particular, a place for frazzled corporate overachievers to blow off steam, it's quite possible they also supply an open bar and loaded pistols and hookers. But this being a fancy resort you probably have to pay extra for those.

Behind the fake town, and somewhat more useful for my purposes, was a short but pleasant hiking trail.

Oh, and they have rabbits!  I got all excited when I saw the first one.

The novelty soon wore off however.

Fitness Centers:  The Marriott has two gyms, one by the pool which is really crappy and free.

However, there is another fancier gym inside the Spa which at first appears not to be free.  It takes some persistence to discover that you can use the better gym without forking over the $35 spa day-pass fee, although you have to grovel a little and the locker rooms are then off limits for you as a scruffy second class hotel guest.

And speaking of the spa...

Well, let's not speak of the spa. Because you have to pay to get in there, and I didn't. 

The spa restaurant is open to public, and looked reasonably healthy, but I didn't eat there.

Note: there is also plenty of "comfort" food on offer at the Marriott, and there is no requirement to seek out healthy lifestyles while at this resort.

What Else Did I Do in Scottsdale Besides Whine About the Fancy Resort?

The Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin West Tour was cool, if you like mid-century arts and architecture, which I never used to but do now, a lot.  

Midcentury digression: I think I came late to appreciating the mid-century aesthetic because as a boomer, these were the very styles that seemed quite un-hip and old fashioned as I was growing up and we moved into 70's and 80's. And gosh, those were a couple of the most inspiring decades ever in terms of style, weren't they?  Of course by 2040's the 70's and 80's will probably be back with a vengeance, and all the cool kids will be wanting to furnish their apartments or pods or whatever people live in by then with golden shag rugs and giant macrame wall hangings and avocado-green appliances. But by then I will probably be dead, thank god. 

Anyway, from a fitness perspective, the 90 minute Taliesin West Insights tour I took did not involve much in the way of walking. There was a lot standing around listening, and while I appreciated the info I thought it did not actually need to take anywhere near that long. But I'm antsy like that.

Lots of Walking and Hiking Opportunities!

I think this trail was technically in Phoenix but it was only a short drive from the hotel so whatever.

I just realized that desert scenery is kinda like midcentury design: something I've only recently come to appreciate.  It's beauty isn't as obvious as turquoise tropical beach or an alpine meadow or dramatic cascading waterfall; it's more modest and understated and somber, a perfect accompaniment for middle-aged meandering and musing. So there is lots of desert landscaping in Scottsdale, both natural and cultivated, and if you like cactus, this is a place to see a crapload of it.

Arts and Old Western Ambiance

I spent a lot of time in the arts district walking around and checking out the galleries, many of which have Very Cool Stuff.  Of course some of it is tacky, but a far lower percentage of schlock than you would find in most tourist districts.

Did I take pictures on my gallery strolls? No, I did not.  Sorry. Even the above statue was at Taliesin. But lets pretend I did and all the galleries just happened to look like giant blue hot air balloons.

Near the Arts area is an Old Town full of western store fronts, which coincidentally also look like giant blue hot air balloons.  Or else I forgot to take pictures. Anyway, for Old West fans, it's pretty cool.

I have to confess that my very favorite art experience was not in Scottsdale but in nearby Phoenix. The Phoenix Art Museum was awesome, and even had a healthy restaurant on site where I had a very tasty salad.

OK That's Enough Now. If this were a more useful Scottsdale healthy living guide I would round up a bunch of other fitness activities like golfing or whatever and supply handy links.

And I'd dig up a slew of great restaurant recommendations and say more about healthy food than that there is plenty available at Whole Foods and Trader Joes.

But meh, this post has run long enough and I didn't take that many photos, so let's call it a day.

Oh here's one last observation:  Chopped Salad! Very big in Scottsdale; practically every restaurant had it's own "famous" version. When did chopped salad become a thing? (For the record: I'm not against it. You get more stuff in a bowl if it's all chopped up first).

What sort of pampering do you guys enjoy and what doesn't seem worth megabucks?  Or any other thoughts about travel, freeloading, chopped salad, sunshine or lack of same, or anything else?


  1. Crabby,
    Glad you had a nice trip! What gorgeous scenery! I'll vaca vicariously through you!

    Bonus points for the "smoking friendly" part. ;) Chopped salad... I'm against that on principle, as vegetables don't like being treated so violently. It was also fun seeing your morning routine.

    Re: cheap posh trips... we had a couple swank house-sitting gigs in New York. One was being able to look at the Brooklyn Bridge sitting there 200 feet away through enormous windows with a lovely view of the East River, Lady Liberty visible in the distance.

    Cheers, Dave/Tabby

  2. I don't require pampering, but I do require a real-ass in-room coffeemaker. I've never had a commercial chopped salad but I'm not above chopping hell out my Greek salads some days, especially the lettuce. I think the fear and pain it causes the veggies really enhances the flavour.

  3. When we take family trips I like rooms/suites like that because I can share a room/bed with Chris but not the boys!!! I can't believe that they don't stock at least the basics in the kitchen - lame!!!
    That swimming stroke made me laugh - I feel like I would somehow drown myself trying it!

  4. Boy, when we travel we are virtually never in our hotel rooms except to sleep, so most of the frills are wasted on us. But the single cup coffee maker is silly for us too, so proximity to some sort of coffee shop is a definite nice to have. As long as the bed is comfortable, the room is climate controlled, and there aren't a lot of noises, we are good to go.

    We splurged once and stayed at the hotel at Disneyland that is built to look like the...Ahwanee? lodge in Yosemite? Obviously you're paying for primo location, but that was several hundred a night, and inside the room itself? Standard hotel room. The lobby and grounds are gorgeous, but it WAS NOT WORTH THE MONEY.

  5. Death Ride GrandmaFebruary 2, 2015 at 3:32 PM

    Wow. I almost want to swim now. Your new stroke sounds great. But I am going to have to get over laughing whenever I think of your description or I'll drown.

    I don't know Scottsdale but we are often in Phoenix. My nephew is a chef there and has 2 restaurants. His first, Beckett's Table, is my favorite. Southern Rail, his new one is great, too, but has lots of garlic which I can't eat. Grrrr.

    Did you climb Camelback? Beautiful but some crazy - steep bits.

    Our Costa Rica trip gave me a whole new appreciation for pampered travel. Oh, there are plenty of great places to stay there, but a guy who got involved in choosing our hotels made a couple of memorably bad selections. Don’t ever try Hotel Wilson in Guapiles! !! We weren't there long before it was clear that it rents, uh, by the hour. So I'd happily risk tripping on my way across a vast suite right about now.

    1. Oh man. We are headed to Phoenix for spring training baseball next month. Beckett's Table looks FANTASTIC, and Southern Rail looks pretty swell too, so I will keep those in mind while we're there!

  6. "The novelty soon wore off however." - this made me LAUGH! When we run in the early morning and see a bunny (cottontail or jackrabbit...two different kinds and YES, we do make the distinction)(it seems important at the time), we're all BUNNY!!! And then, Bunny! And then, dear god get that damn bunny out of the way because the dog is going crazy! So yeah. I get it.

    I like your resort reviews. I'd rather hear the unvarnished truth than the Lego version of EVERYTHING IS AWESOME, you know? Unless, it really is that awesome. Oh and I'm with you on the single cup coffee makers. Boo on them!

  7. I know what you mean about the big room. I just want clean and small. I don't want to pay for square feet. Also the room has to smell right. I stayed at a swanky hotel where they all natural cleaners. Way too much vinegar smells that never left. I associate that smell with cheap diners.
    Love the look of that lap pool. I have to try harder to be persistent at these places. I am guaranteed to just hand over my money to use the gym.

  8. I'm glad you took photos. I always enjoy seeing your world through your lens. You have a very good eye.. and fun commentary. I laughed out loud with the multi-bunny photo.

  9. If it's my dime, i'm happy with clean and comfortable, the hotel room doesn't have to be that big. Grandma, however considers roughing it to be a hotel without room service. This would be right up her alley.

  10. Your Upside Down Underwater Squid sounds like something I used to do in elementary school and junior high. (I didn't get too dignified; I got too hypothyroid to have the energy.)
    I wish I could comment on many details here, but I'm obsessed with the coffee. This suite had sleeping accommodation for at least four people, right? And it had one single-cup coffee maker? Everybody was expected to stand in line? Or use room service, right.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  11. Spas are wasted on me - having strangers touch me is not something I find relaxing. I do actually like a spacious hotel room though, and I would have enjoyed having the pool to myself! I would have been irritated by the kitchen with no dishes, that just seems silly.

  12. I am so doing that squid move the next time we go swimming. How cool that you had your own private pool! That's a perk I'd really enjoy, especially when it's that warm. Excellent lounging potential.

    Agree with everyone else on the coffeemaker thing; that is barbaric. I've had room service like twice ever, so can't really help on the tip situation. I just went with $5 and hoped it was sufficient.

    Thanks for the review! We'll keep that place in mind if we ever get out to Scottsdale, which I'd love to do because I have a friend there and I just want to visit the desert again. It sounds like a nice joint to spring for if you have the dough.


  14. This is why I hate coming here -- because I'm jealous of your fantastic-luxurious travels. To make matters worse, that the horse has a better hairstyle than me. And you just HAD to post a pic in the white bathrobe. I've been wanting a bathrobe like that. Damn youuuu!!! Thank you for ruining my entire day.

  15. Looks like a wonderful place to visit. I sure am going to have to check it out the next time i am around that area. thank you for sharing this great experience

  16. I must say I am jealous! Looks like a great place to visit. Thanks for sharing.

  17. You had me at Frank Lloyd Wright!

  18. Ha! I've actually thought about staying there once and again. They run a lot of deals to make it not so high falutin'. Never done it though (I'm a Hilton gal). But damn, I MUST make a point to get to Taliesin West this year. I've been a FLW devotee since I was in high school (helps that I grew up surrounded by his stuff in Oak Park/Chicago). Thanks for the reminder to make that happen!


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