The barman had called last orders by the time we checked in but agreed to stay and serve us. “Glass of wine? You’d better have two each since I’m closing” he said. Our kind of chap. Hearing that we planned to negotiate an icy staircase leading to the fire pit he had another bright idea “I’ll just pour both drinks into one big glass each and then you’ll have a hand free as you’re going down the steps.” Now that’s what I call thinking about the customer. There was snow on the ground by the fire pit and despite our big coats and heavy boots we didn’t stay long outdoors. Luckily the hotel had an indoor fire too. Residents wearing holiday sweaters were playing board games. Couples canoodled on squishy sofas. Small children in pjs stared dreamily into the distance, quietly sucking their thumbs. Christmas had settled over the Courtyard Marriott in Flagstaff AZ. If Mary and Joseph had happened by they would have been offered a queen room with roll out crib and free parking for the donkey. Presumably this hotel, like every other on-brand Courtyard Marriott, exists to provide unobtrusive support to passing professionals. It is not meant to have a personality. It is not meant to leave an impression. It is only supposed to be clean, quick and functional. “Who’d like an ice-cream sandwich?” called the young man who’d checked us in. He reminded me of Kenneth from 30 Rock. We decided an ice-cream sandwich would be just the thing so the Cackler proffered her purse. “On me” said Courtyard Kenneth “Happy New Year”. Thus this Courtyard Marriott wins our best hotel award. Visit them in Flagstaff: elevating customer service at 7000 ft.
Compare this to the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix where the front desk staff –talk about a Prickly Pair–spent a lot of time explaining to us what they couldn’t offer, and why they had to charge us more than we’d expected. We were sharing the hotel with a lanky basketball team from Philadelphia who for some reason chose to drop their workout clothes in large sweaty piles outside their bedroom doors several times a day. Perhaps they imagined housekeeping staff would come to pick them up. I don’t know why they thought this. There was certainly no evidence of this type of service. We liked the players in or out of strip but picking our way to the elevator between rank mounds of jerseys, shorts, socks and straps lacked appeal. ” A little too much like home” opined the Cackler who has a young adult son.
Eddie the bellman was the one treasure found at the Ritz. An endless source of information on good breakfast spots, I also thought to pick his brain about shopping opportunities and asked him if he knew any good thrift shops in the area. The Cackler was skundered “Not at the Ritz-Carlton” she gasped. Harrumph. She was singing a different song once she had a Tory Burch dress on her back: $50 from My Sister’s Closet, as recommended by the unflappable Eddie.
The Cackler enjoyed a sunrise tour of the Saguaro courtesy of the JW Marriott, Starr Pass, Tuscon and came back full of fascinating facts about the ancient, towering cacti. I wasn’t awake enough to pay close attention but there was something about bats and drooping and John Wayne movies. Go yourself if you’d like to know more. In addition to the guided sunrise walk, the hotel invites guests to join in a tequila toast every night at sundown. I made it to this. The service at Starr Pass is exquisite.Wifi is included in the price. They’ll book your horse-riding adventure. Pick them if you want to spend more than Flagstaff asks and give the Ritz a miss.
“Can I help you find something?” asked a service manager at the JW Marriott Camelback Resort, discovering me stranded and uncertain in the lobby “I’ve lost my sister” I replied. He was no help at all. Could I work out her whereabouts all on my own?
I reviewed what I knew:
I had checked us both in: she didn’t have a room key, nor did she know the number of the room.
The resort complex was huge and labyrinthine and the night was very dark.
I had offered to take the bags to the room and park the car, leaving her to print her boarding pass in the lobby. I had said we would meet in the BLT bar, hoping to catch the end of happy hour.
I had fulfilled my tasks and hitched a ride back to the lobby on the bellman’s golf cart. The receptionist remembered seeing the Cackler busy at the print station but had no report of spontaneous combustion, alien abduction or any of that weird Vortex activity so common in other parts of Arizona. “Perhaps she’s in the restroom” he said. She wasn’t.
I checked out the restaurant, the patio, and the concierge desk and told the receptionist I’d be in the bar if she reappeared. “No point in both of us missing happy hour” I said.
It took her 30 minutes to turn up looking worried. “I thought you’d fallen over in the room or got lost in the dark” she said ” I got them to ring the room and when you weren’t there I thought I’d have to go out in the desert and look for you among the coyotes and javelinas and mountain lions.” I reminded her that we’d arranged to meet in the bar and that, truly, it probably didn’t take the marbles of Ms. Marple to consider this a spot worth searching.
“I thought I was in the bar” wailed the Cackler “I was outside by the fire pit. When I asked the front desk to ring the room they told me you were in here. I didn’t know this bar existed.”
“Oh well, no harm done” I said, draining the last of my Dark and Stormy. “I bought you a drink” said the Cackler accusingly “It’s waiting for you outside. I see you didn’t bother to get me one” Oh dear, I am the Ritz Carlton of Sisters. Must try harder.