I must confess – when we walked into Eddy’s Resort, it was nothing like what I expected. As we toured the state of Minnesota with Explore Minnesota and arrived at beautiful Lake Mille Lacs, I expected a hotel styled in rustic tones and decorated with fishing memorabilia. Instead, we were greeted by a roaring fire in a red-tiled fireplace, a lobby with boutique-hotel panache, and an eclectic mix of colors and designs.
Fresh off of a huge renovation, Eddy’s Resort has molded its rich history that dates back to 1960 into a fun, warm and inviting resort with a definite cool factor. Huge Jenga games loom on industrial-style tables in the lobby. The walls are covered with reclaimed wood salvaged from the original buildings on the property prior to the remodel. Contemporary metal chairs with bright red fabric are blended with plaid touches and stripes. And, those sitting in those comfortable seating arrangements are treated to amazing lakeside views.
The rooms & suites
The comfortable, stylish design is continued throughout the guest rooms and suites, with splashes of red co-mingling with plaids and industrial accents. Our suite was quite large with a couch, coffee table, flat screen television, desk, coffee pot, mini-fridge, and a microwave. The king-sized bed was outfitted with crisp, white linens, comfy pillows, and good-sized night stands. The bath was spacious, with a free-standing shower, tub, and a long granite vanity.
Rooms on the first floor have walk-out patios, while second and third-floor rooms have walk-out balconies. Our third-floor, lakeside room delivered breathtaking views of the lake.
Dining & beverages at the Launch Bar & Grill
We spent our evening at Eddy’s enjoying dinner and drinks at the Launch Bar & Grill, while watching the lake shimmering lake colors change as the sun as it disappeared for the day.
Starting with cocktails and a tasty Thai Chili Hummus that packed a little punch, we then moved on to awesome walleye sandwiches. The food was great, the service excellent, the atmosphere fun, and the views spectacular.
Things to do at and near the resort
While the hotel has a modern, urban look and feel, one step out the door and you are once again immersed in the natural beauty of the area. A great place for enjoying drinks and conversation, a large patio and fire pit are located just outside the restaurant and bar.
For those wanting to get in a bit of fishing or simply explore the lake by boat, Eddy’s offers launch trips and boat charters. Never fished before? No problem. For first timers, Eddy’s holds a fishing class on Saturdays that is free to hotel guests.
The hotel also has a fitness room on site, a free coffee bar in the lobby, and for some family fun time, a selection of games are available to check out.
For those looking to try their hand at some games of chance, the Grand Casino Mille Lacs is just down the road.
Location: 41334 Shakopee Lake Rd, Onamia, MN 56359
Design: Contemporary eclectic
Rooms: 64 rooms and suites, 1 parlor suite, 4 cabins
Additional services and amenities: restaurant, bar, launch services, fitness center, games
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and Eddy’s Resort for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Nestled amidst a lush forest and bordered by the sparkling waters of Gull Lake, Madden’s Resort is home to world-class golf, stunning sunsets, an excellent staff and a laid-back lifestyle with something for everyone. A true retreat in every sense of the word, Madden’s has an activity to fill every minute of the day or, for those seeking a more tranquil experience, serenity for a quiet, scenic escape.
With four golf courses, delicious dining options, more water activities than you could fit into a week, beautiful accommodations, and a fabulous spa, it is understandable why so many have visited and returned to this wonderful resort over the last 87 years.
On our first visit to the highly acclaimed Midwest resort, we spent our time exploring all Madden’s has to offer, while also taking a bit of time to marvel in the peaceful beauty of central Minnesota.
Madden’s Resort has a wide variety of rooms and locations across the sprawling resort. Our room was in the recently remodeled Voyageur complex on the west side of the resort near the spa. If you love magnificent sunsets – there’s no place quite like it.
In 2015, the Brainerd Lakes area was hit by a massive storm that toppled thousands of trees in the region, with Madden’s taking the brunt of the storm, which destroyed much of the Voyageur building and several others on the property. Fresh off of the renovation, we were among the first to stay in the newly re-opened rooms.
Upon entering the room we were greeted with a welcome note and an assortment of locally made caramels that were spectacular!
The oversized room was immaculate and decorated in neutrals with slate blue accents. With a comfy chair, desk, flat-screen TV, a luxurious bath and a kitchenette, the room was both relaxing and well-equipped. The cozy bed covered with white, plush linens and pillows was incredibly comfortable. Glass doors led to the large private patio with a couple of chairs and fabulous Wilson Bay views.
The resort has 285 guest rooms with varying accommodation types and location options. In addition to Wilson Bay, where we stayed, there are golf villas near Madden Inn & Golf Club, Mission Bay accommodations that are close to the beach and water, and Madden’s offers all-inclusive stays at Madden’s Lodge on the Steamboat Bay side of the resort.
One of the first thoughts I had when we drove into Madden’s was what a spectacular job they’ve done in blending their landscaping and development with the natural environment. Built across 1000 acres, of which, over 600 acres remain undeveloped, the natural habitat is accentuated by colorful plants, fountains, and art. The natural and developed elements blend harmoniously to create an enhanced landscape that celebrates the natural beauty of Minnesota.
Part of embracing natural beauty is protecting it and Madden’s green initiatives for the resort are apparent throughout. Outdoor bars use reusable drinkware, the wine list features & identifies several organic or sustainable wines, guests are encouraged to reuse towels and recycle, the resort has water and energy efficiency practices in place throughout and there’s an on-property chef’s garden that supplies fresh vegetables and herbs for the restaurants.
Madden’s four golf courses
Shortly after checking in, we made our way to the Classic Golf Course, which is consistently recognized by golf publications as one of the best courses in the Midwest, as well as the world. Built in 1997, The Classic at Madden’s meanders over gentle hills and through towering trees, with pristine bent-grass tees, fairways and greens, and stunning views.
Early evening on a course is such a pleasant time of day. As the heat of the day fades and shadows dance across the fairways, a quieter pace permeates. As we made our way around Madden’s Classic course, my thoughts turned back to childhood evenings getting a few holes in with my Dad after he arrived home from work. The unhurried outings where he’d casually correct my stance and we’d take time to practice an approach to a challenging green came flooding back with a smile as we drove along on the cart.
In the distance, just across one of the Classic’s picturesque bridges spanning a pond with lily pads, a foursome shared a laugh as they headed toward their cart en route to the 17th hole.
While the park-like setting of the 6,101-yard Classic course is astonishingly beautiful, challenges await around every turn with water on 15 holes and over 50 bunkers on the par 72 course. And – the Classic Course is actually only one of four courses at Madden’s Resort.
The Pine Beach East course, Minnesota’s oldest 18-hole resort golf course, dates back to 1926 when it was built by James Dalgleish, attracting golfers from the area to the links on the shores of Gull Lake.
Located directly behind the Madden Lodge, Pine Beach East offers 5,944 yards of golf on well-manicured, generous fairways and gorgeous greens. A mix of a traditional layout and modern golfing challenges, Pine Beach East is also home to a rare par 6 hole – the 618-yard sixth hole.
On the southwest section of the resort, yet another first class golf experience is for the taking at the 18 hole Pine Beach West. Narrow fairways and fast greens put the challenge into this wooded 5,070 yard par 67 course.
For the family outing or a quick warm up, the Social 9 course offers eight par threes and one par four in a relaxing atmosphere.
The Spa at Madden’s
A world away from the hustle and bustle of the daily life, the Spa at Madden’s is the perfect place for rejuvenation and pampering. Overlooking peaceful Wilson Bay, the Spa offers a full menu of services including massages, pedicures, manicures, facials, waxing and wraps.
Grab a cup of tea, take a stroll by the lake behind the Spa and admire the J. Kreitz artwork, then indulge in a day of relaxation and watch the stress melt away.
Dining at Madden’s
While at Madden’s we had the opportunity to visit several of the restaurants. Casual & inviting, each restaurant offered fresh, modern dishes, and exceptional service.
The first evening we dined at the Classic Grill, which delivered all the way around – great food, excellent service and marvelous views. We started off the evening with a couple of martinis and then progressed to salads. The Madden’s house salad is amazing with mixed greens, craisins, walnuts, feta cheese, and honey mustard. Next up, I had the Walleye and Greg had the scallops and shrimp. As we often do, we each ate half, then swapped plates. Both entrées were delicious and the sear on the scallops was perfect, with a gorgeous caramelized crust on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside. The service was outstanding and the view was spectacular.
After sunset, we took a walk around the resort, stopping for a glass of wine at Parfecto Pizza, a fun, casual restaurant featuring pizzas, flatbreads, calzones, and salads with items available for takeout or room delivery.
Finishing our wine, we strolled back to our room to the sounds of frogs, surrounded by the beauty of the Minnesota night.
The next morning, we took an early walk around the resort with a stop by Madden Bros. Market for a chai latte and a heavenly donut.
Located in a village of shops across from Madden Inn, Madden Bros. Market is the resort’s version of a general store, with a coffee bar, gift shop, wine shop and practically anything else one may need or want on their vacation from s’more supplies to souvenirs.
Madden’s also has a variety of other restaurants, including The Restaurant at Madden Inn & Golf Club, the Dining Room at Madden Lodge, the 19th Hole & Pool Deck, The O’Madden Pub, and the Lobby Café.
There is no better way to experience the beauty of Gull Lake than from the water. Simply name your sport and Madden’s is there to make it happen. From kayaks, canoes, rowing skulls and paddle boats to water bikes, a banana boat, or stand up paddle boards, it’s on the agenda. If fun on the water includes fishing or a boat ride, fishing boats, a tritoon, pontoons and speedboats are also available at the resort.
Prefer a bit of poolside leisure or perhaps some sand between your toes? Madden’s Resort has three indoor pools, one outdoor pool, an outdoor hot, and three beaches.
Meetings, conferences, and weddings
While exploring, we happened upon several beautiful buildings for hosting events and meetings. With its copper covered tower, Madden’s Town Hall Conference Center is large enough to host 700 for meetings, conferences, and trade shows.
Next to the spa, the newly rebuilt Wilson Bay private venue space is a spectacular location for a wedding set against a backdrop of Gull Lake and room to host a reception and dance with a private bar, casual seating areas and fine dining.
5 things we loved about Madden’s
The staff at Madden’s was helpful and friendly and always quick to answer a question or lend a hand.
The golf courses are lush, not overcrowded and exceptionally well-maintained.
The resort is serene, beautiful and epitomizes approachable, lake-side luxury.
The food is outstanding.
There’s so much to do, with activities of every type, or one can simply take a stroll or quietly relax with a glass of wine and watch the sun set.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Madden’s on Gull Lake for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Steps from the sparkling waters of Detroit Lake, the Best Western Premier The Lodge on Lake Detroit in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota is an upscale rustic retreat and the perfect spot for a getaway to rejuvenate and recharge.
An indoor pool, day spa, fitness center, complimentary breakfast, spacious fireplace lounge, and a private beach provide the amenities for an enjoyable stay – but it’s the little details that make it a memorable one.
Arriving at the Lodge, we were greeted by the friendly staff and welcoming Minnesota hospitality. A bowl of chilled, lemongrass-scented towels on the front desk offered a chance for a quick freshening up, infused water and fresh fruit are provided in the lobby around the clock, and s’mores are available each evening.
Moving on into the Lodge’s common area, sunlight from the two-story wall of windows overlooking the lake filtered into the large room in the late afternoon hours. Several guests quietly read in the bent willow rockers by the windows and a couple sat talking near the big stone fireplace.
As we made our way to our room, we stopped along the way to view some of the photos and the rustic decor that create the authentic relaxed, atmosphere of the Lodge.
The rooms and suites
The Lodge has 54 rooms and 13 suites, all with breathtaking views of Detroit Lake that can be enjoyed from either a large private balcony or a walk-out patio.
Our room was a beautiful Renewal Spa Suite and how appropriately named it is with a two-person aroma-therapy whirlpool, fireplace and private balcony overlooking Detroit Lake!
Two luxurious terry spa robes were waiting on the bed when we arrived, just beckoning us to jump into the whirlpool. We stashed a bottle of white wine in the mini-fridge to chill while we unpacked and decided to relax a bit before dinner.
Rounding out the amenities in our room were a large bath with a free-standing, glass enclosed shower, Bee Kind Toiletries, loads of white fluffy towels, a flat panel TV, desk, overstuffed rocker, and, in addition to the refrigerator, a microwave, wet bar sink and coffee maker. The plush king size bed was super comfortable with a pile of pillows and high quality bedding.
Returning to the hotel after dinner and a beautiful pontoon boat ride on Detroit Lake, we headed to Lola D’s for a glass of wine.
After a quick game of tic tac toe, we sank into the leather chairs as the grand piano played softly and the last hint of daylight disappeared.
While The Lodge is located just minutes from Detroit Lakes’ many restaurant options, for those preferring to have lunch at the pool or beach, spend a quiet evening in, or enjoy a quick snack, Lola D’s offers salads, sandwiches, appetizers and light entrees.
A delicious complimentary breakfast that includes frittatas, a waffle bar, pastries, oatmeal, yogurt, cereals, a great selection of fresh fruit and an assortment of coffees is served each morning in the Lake Reflections Room.
Guests can enjoy a refreshing dip in the large indoor heated swimming pool and whirlpool, equipped with plenty of lounge chairs and social seating areas.
The beach and lakefront
Fun at the lake is mere steps from the Lodge, with 550 feet of lakefront that includes a private sand beach, a swim area, and access to a private dock, boat slips, and complimentary use of paddle boats and kayaks (seasonal).
A workout is just down the hall with the complimentary 24 hour fitness center at the Lodge. Workout options include an elliptical trainer, treadmills, dumbbells, and additional fitness equipment.
When it’s time to wind down, there’s no better way than a visit to the spa. The Spa Within at the Lodge on Lake Detroit offers spa treatments, massages, facials, nail services, and more.
Visiting the Best Western Premier Lodge on the Lake
The Lodge on Lake Detroit is a beautiful, relaxing hotel and we only wished we could have stayed longer.
A wonderful spot for a respite with stunning views of Lake Detroit, the hotel is inviting and cozy, the staff friendly and helpful, and the spa suite was sublime.
Steps from San Antonio’s River Walk, the four-diamond Hotel Contessa is a chic all-suite hotel that successfully mixes contemporary décor with Texas charm to create an upscale, relaxed experience.
Built around a soaring atrium, the lobby overlooks the beautiful bar area with palm trees, a water feature, abundant seating and serene views of the River Walk.
While we’ve stayed in many great hotels around the world, it is the staff that makes a stay memorable and the Hotel Contessa staff was exceptional. From the moment we arrived and throughout our entire stay, everyone we met at the hotel was friendly, helpful and welcoming – which truly made our visit special.
We were excited to visit this cool hotel when they asked us to pay them a visit in San Antonio. Hotel Contessa is an all-suite hotel, with 265 fashionable suites that deliver a loft-like feel.
The eclectic décor, vibrant accents, contemporary artwork, exposed cement columns and brick lined walls interject a sense of happiness into the space. A relaxing spot to retreat from the River Walk crowds, the living area features a large couch, coffee table, a flat-screen TV and a desk with one of the best power supplies we’ve found.
We instantly put the high-top table and chairs to use as we enjoyed a glass of wine and the afternoon indulgences of a cheese and fruit plate and dessert selection sent by the hotel soon after our arrival!
A granite counter area with a mini-fridge, coffee maker, large laptop safe and snack basket separates the living area and bedroom.
Floor-to-ceiling windows with views of downtown San Antonio and/or the River Walk (ours had both) serve as a backdrop to the bedroom. Interesting textiles, a bright throw pillo, and clever lamps pop against the crisp white linens of the king size bed. Two robes in the closet and a second flat screen TV round out the bedroom comforts.
The bath has a shower/tub combo, granite counter, a make-up mirror, hair dryer and Zero Percent toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames, which I really liked. With a fresh scent, they have no sulfates, parabens, artificial colors or other bad-for-you ingredients.
Even though the hotel is located on the River Walk, it was remarkably quiet. To use the real estate saying, it all comes down to location, location, location. Hotel Contessa is situated on a very quiet (and exceptionally beautiful) section of the River Walk and the result – a peaceful spot to retreat and relax.
Time to head down and check out the rest of the hotel.
I like atriums and the openness and natural light they provide. Combined with the contemporary styling at Hotel Contessa, the atrium creates a comfortable, modern-day courtyard where people continuously gathered.
The contemporary styling and cool vibe is carried throughout with interesting accents, art and lighting.
The lobby level overlooks the open area surrounding the bar and restaurant, creating an inviting meeting place for guests.
The wall of glass brings the River Walk experience inside, where couples can find a quiet spot for two or large groups can gather around larger tables or relax in one of the plentiful couch seating areas. For those preferring the outdoors, a large patio sits just off the River Walk.
Dining and libations
Combine Cork Bar’s great selection of wines, beers and handcrafted cocktails and its prime location on the River Walk, and it’s pretty obvious why Hotel Contessa’s watering hole is a hotspot for locals and visitors alike.
Then, we met master mixologist Hector and things got really interesting! Hector simply asked our liquor of choice, which of course was vodka, and offered up one of his award-winning creations – the Cavender Martini.
A beautiful blend of Cinco Vodka, rosé sparkling wine, a bit of St. Germain and a few accents, the Cavender is a perfectly balanced cocktail – not too sweet, crisp, pretty look at, and exceptionally tasty!
Las Ramblas Restaurant
Taking full of advantage of Hotel Contessa’s prime location, Las Ramblas offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with scenic River Walk views.
A perfect place to start the day, Las Ramblas offers an a la carte menu or breakfast buffet with a huge spread of hot and cold selections. Standouts – the fruit was incredibly fresh, the pancakes were spectacular, and our server was friendly and helpful, answering our questions as we sought some local input as we planned our day of adventures.
We headed back to Las Ramblas in the evening for dinner on the patio. The evening menu includes innovative dishes created with fresh, local ingredients.
We started with shrimp and grits, which was spectacular and the sauce was amazing. Next up, our main courses. I had the grouper, which was prepared with an English pea succotash, sweet Corn, heirloom tomatoes, and topped with a prawn – it was divine! Greg opted for the salmon, which was accompanied with a ratatouille, shaved radish, arugula and a smoked almond pesto butter. It was prepared to perfection and mouth-watering delicious.
We still had part of the amazing chocolate cake and cheesecake from our room delivery in the mini-fridge, so we opted to skip desert and finish off our sweet delicacies a little later.
Heated rooftop pool
With sweeping downtown San Antonio views, the rooftop pool and hot tub are a perfect spot to take a dip in the heated waters or simply relax and enjoy their tranquil perch above the city.
Ample comfortable seating surrounds the pool, which is open from 6AM to 11PM, and should the urge for a beverage or bite occur while poolside, guests can order room service delivered directly to the pool.
Also located on the top floor of the hotel, the well-equipped 24 hour fitness center has everything needed for an inspirational workout including cardio and strength equipment, free weights and amazing views of downtown San Antonio.
Woodhouse Day Spa
Taking time out for a bit of rejuvenation and recharging is only an elevator ride away at the full-service Woodhouse Day Spa.
Offering massages, body treatments and skin care services, the Woodhouse Day Spa adds a bit of pampering to your visit, whether visiting for business or pleasure. Chatting with someone on the rental car bus that had also stayed at Hotel Contessa while on business, he raved about his massage at the spa and what a great value it was.
Nearby on the River Walk
While the majority of the River Walk, and all it has to offer, is within walking distance of Hotel Contessa, several top San Antonio attractions are mere steps from the hotel.
A 100 year old cypress tree is situated between Hotel Contessa and the river and, over time, the tree’s roots have formed a small island, which has become known as Marriage Island. A popular destination for wedding ceremonies, it is also a beautiful spot to sit and read or watch the River Walk activity.
Briscoe Western Art Museum
The Briscoe Museum is located next door to Hotel Contessa. Named in honor of the late Texas Governor, Dolph Briscoe, Jr., the Briscoe houses a wide variety of American Western art and artifacts.
La Villita Historic Arts Village
Originally settled 300 years ago as one of the city’s first neighborhoods, La Villita was transformed into a historical arts district in 1939. Today, La Villita is home to shops, art galleries, restaurants, statues, and beautiful walkways and plazas.
Rio San Antonio River Cruises
One of the best ways to experience the River Walk is on a scenic cruise along the river. Along the way, you learn facts and historical information from the guides, while enjoying incredible views of the beautiful city of San Antonio.
Top 5 things we loved about Hotel Contessa
1. Stellar Staff. In a time when many hotels have standardized to a near robotic state, the Hotel Contessa staff, while incredibly efficient, still takes the time to treat guests like guests, with a true focus on hospitality. Everyone we met seemed very proud of their hotel and their city – which is really cool.
2.Unbeatable Location. The hotel is located in a quiet section of the River Walk, just steps away from the shops, restaurants, bars and attractions. We rented a car – and never drove it once. We walked around the River Walk and took a hop-on, hop-off bus to get to further locations around San Antonio.
3. Inviting design. Hotel Contessa is a super cool boutique hotel with clever décor that warmly welcomes visitors into upscale luxury that is doesn’t take itself too seriously. It works.
4. Fabulous food and drinks. Cork Bar is fun and lively and Las Ramblas has one of the best dining locations on the River Walk. But, it really comes down to delivering on the food and drink and everything we sampled was top notch and the best we had while in San Antonio.
5. Spacious accommodations. We love rooms with space to work, have a glass of wine or watch TV, without requiring sitting on the bed while doing so. Hotel Contessa goes way beyond with a comfortable one bedroom apartment-size suite.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Hotel Contessa San Antonio for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When it’s time to relax and recharge, JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix delivers the ultimate resort and spa experience.
Combining approachable luxury and an idyllic setting, delightful indulgences and stunning views await around each corner of the resort’s 316 acres.
With unparalleled hospitality, four acres of sparkling pools and waterways, two championship golf courses, an amazing array of family activities, an award-winning spa, and fabulous restaurants, the resort is a perfect destination for those looking for adventure, relaxation – or both.
Always a fan of JW Marriott hotels, we were especially looking forward to visiting the resort during spring training, which is always an exciting time in Phoenix. So, when invited, we booked flights and were on our way to enjoy some relaxation and baseball.
Checking into our beautiful room overlooking the Isle of Capri, we resisted the urge to just fall into the beautiful bed with its crisp white linens, loads of fluffy pillows, and a comfy duvet. A loveseat and an overstuffed chair provided plenty of space to both relax and get a bit of work done. A desk, flat-panel TV, mini-fridge and large safe rounded out the room’s amenities.
A large, free-standing shower, soaking tub, and large vanity, along with bathrobes, stacks of thick towels and Aromatherapy Associates toiletries, created a relaxing, well-designed bath environment.
Set against the backdrop of the McDowell Mountains and the Sonoran Desert, JW Marriott embraces the resort’s peaceful, natural setting with a creative blend of design that reflects the elements of fire, water, earth, and sky.
Sunrises in Arizona are phenomenal.
Ironically, the only time we set an alarm clock is when we are traveling – for early morning flights and sunrises. When visiting the resort – set the alarm at least one of the days, stop off at Starbucks for a coffee or tea, find a spot by one of the many fire pits at Desert Ridge, and simply enjoy the majestic rising of the sun.
Colorful gardens, vibrant landscaping and the natural beauty of the arid Arizona landscape unify to create an exceptional environment that soothes the senses at Desert Ridge.
An area not to be missed – the beautiful desert botanical garden – an ideal spot for relaxing amongst the trees, plants, and cacti native to Arizona.
One of our favorite activities while at the resort was the Chef’s garden tour. Located near the spa, the garden produces some of the fruits and vegetables served at the Spa Bistro and contributes the herbs for Revive Spa’s signature product line. One of the resort’s horticulturists, Candace, gave us a tour of the gardens, which was both educational and tasty, with fruit and vegetable samples as we went. Nasturtium tastes remarkably like wasabi – who knew? And the creosote bush, it smells like rain. Such a fun morning and tours are available to all hotel guests.
Water is abundant at this oasis in the desert.
Four acres of sparkling pools and waterways wind their way through the resort, providing guests countless opportunities to bask in the gorgeous Arizona sun alongside cooling waters.
Everyone enjoys a plunge into the lazy river for a tranquil, relaxing time floating along through the courtyard and the kids delight in slip-sliding down the serpentine water slide.
Natural water features are also abundant throughout. From the incredibly beautiful lake near the golf course to the meandering streams and falls, the soothing sound of water provides a relaxing background to life at the resort.
Fire pits are abundant at Desert Ridge and provide a wonderful place to end the day and meet new friends.
After dinner at Stonegrill, we brought our bottle of Twenty6 Pinot over to enjoy under the incredible Phoenix stars and were soon joined by four new friends from an old spot – Dallas! As one of our new acquaintances later said, “New friends are wonderful, especially when discovered in such a beautiful atmosphere.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
The restaurants and bars
We enjoyed dinner at stonegrill the first night we arrived and it set the tone for our entire stay. The food was superb, the service was stellar, and the atmosphere was comfortable and inviting.
We started with lemon drop martinis and calamari, then moved on to our main courses of salmon and shrimp and grits – yep, the south ventured to the southwest in a delicious transition. We loved it! Seriously good food in a relaxed, upscale environment.
The Twenty6 lounge is located in the center of the hotel overlooking the expanse of the pools and terraces, and features hand-crafted cocktails, wines, beers, and other beverages, and a selection of tasty small plates.
So, the obvious question about Twenty6 is – why is it called Twenty6? Desert Ridge was the 26th JW Marriott and, hence, they have christened their bar and casual restaurant with the title of Twenty6.
While the signature prickly pear margarita is an absolute must, Twenty6 also has a very cool beverage endeavor underway.
Desert Ridge has partnered with a local brewery in Flagstaff to create the Twenty6 ale and with the renowned Paul Hobbs Wines from Sonoma County to deliver the Twenty6 chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet.
We had both the pinot and the cab – absolutely delightful wines and such a very cool program celebrating their unique part of the JW Marriott brand.
In addition to the lively interior of Twenty6, the terrace provides a fabulous vantage point to experience the vibrancy of Desert Ridge.
Sharing a bottle of wine on the Twenty6 patio late afternoon on a Sunday while watching the resort in full swing, it was as if experiencing a modern day version of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Music from Roy’s Aloha Hour filled the air as children played games on the lawn, couples quietly shared conversations, people strolled in from the pools, and large groups laughed and conversed around the fire pits – a colorful blend of guests and activities sharing and enjoying their day.
Revive Spa Bistro
Revive Spa Bistro hits the spot for a healthy, organic breakfast or lunch. After touring the Chef’s garden, we stopped by for smoothies, a salad and a sandwich for lunch on the the patio near the pool. The food was fresh and delicious and the atmosphere was tranquil.
Meritage Steakhouse at Wildfire Golf Club
Located at Wildfire Golf Club, Meritage Steakhouse specializes in steaks, fresh seafood and fine wines with a country-club like atmosphere. Open for lunch or dinner, Meritage also has an outdoor patio that overlooks the botanical garden and ballroom lawn areas.
Roy’s Pacific Rim
Well-known for their Hawaiian fusion cuisine, Roy’s outdoor patio is the place to be early evening for Aloha Hour specials and live music. On into the evening, Roy’s delivers dishes crafted from fresh local ingredients with signature cocktails and fine wines.
Just a Splash Bar & Grill
Salads, sandwiches, burgers and a full bar conveniently located poolside.
Always fans of a hotel with a Starbucks, we stopped by frequently to grab a beverage or snack and would sit on the patio viewing the botanical garden and watching the golfers come and go at Wildfire Golf Club.
We waited in line one morning for our chai lattes next to pro golfers, Cheyenne Woods and Sadena Parks, who’d pulled in for a breakfast on their way to the links. Both would be playing the following week in the fifth edition of the JTBC Founders Cup, an LPGA event held each March at the resort.
When it’s time to relax, it’s time to head to Revive Spa for a bit of pampering.
The 28,000 square foot spa includes 41 treatment rooms, private locker rooms, showers, steam rooms, a sauna, a fitness center, the spa bistro, and a full-service salon – making it easy to schedule a full day of relaxation and rejuvenation at Revive.
However, even if you can only fit an hour or two in, check out the pedicures. I opted for the Gingerita pedicure and it was heavenly!
While sipping white ambrosia and coconut tea with honey pearls, my pedicure began with an exfoliating watermelon-basil vodka infused sugar scrub, followed by a warm citrus cilantro vitamin soak with grapeseed and olive fruit oils. Next up, a silky ginger body milk application, and finally, a finish of red polish. Spectacular!
Wildfire Golf Club
Home to two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Nick Faldo, Wildfire Golf Club also offers a chipping green, two putting greens, a driving range, golf carts with GPS, Meritage restaurant, and a spectacular pro shop.
The 18 hole, 7,145 yard Palmer course winds around the resort and through the picturesque Sonoran desert, featuring expansive fairways and average green sizes of 7,000 square feet.
The 6,846 yard Faldo course, meanders over 174 acres with large greens, multiple tee boxes, and features 108 sand bunkers.
The practice facilities at Wildfire include an all-grass driving range, and putting & chipping greens and bunkers.
If swinging a racquet is more your game, the Tennis Center offers eight lighted tennis courts and a full-service pro shop. Group and one-on-one instruction is available.
Additionally, bikes can be rented at the tennis shop.
Desert Ridge has two fitness centers, with the primary center located near the pool courtyard and lazy river and the second at Revive Spa. Both fitness centers include cardio equipment and free weights, with the spa fitness center also offering fitness classes for an additional fee.
For those that think shopping is a form of cardio, the retail shops at Desert Ridge have a great selection of offerings ranging from forgotten necessities to local artisan creations, to clothing and much more (including a great selection of Moleskins, of which several now call my backpack home).
Top 5 things we loved about JW Marriott Desert Ridge
A culture of hospitality. Desert Ridge has a friendly, helpful staff that make you feel truly welcome – and that is something considering the size of the resort. Special thanks to Joshua, Candace, Owen, Leah, Karyn and the entire Desert Ridge team who made our stay so awesome!
Fabulous location woven into the natural beauty of the desert. It’s easy to forget you’re so close to the city when at Desert Ridge, with its amazing mountain and desert views. Yet, when you want to get to an attraction or event in Phoenix, it is just minutes away.
A resort fee that provides tons of value. The daily resort fee includes self parking, use of the Revive Spa fitness center, a complimentary dinner appetizer per entree purchased (2 per room max), unlimited balls and use of clubs on the driving range at Wildfire Golf Club, free golf bag storage, complimentary use of the tennis facilities and use of four racquets, and a free two hour bike rental for up to four bikes.
A resort for golfers and non-golfers. While golfers can enjoy two championship golf courses, there are so many activities at the resort that non-golfers can fill their days with adventures or relaxation, never giving thought to fairways and greens.
Superb dining and drinking options. The food at all the restaurants was delicious and fresh and the creative Twenty6 beverage programs added a fun, local spin while delivering high-quality wines and beers.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to JW Marriott Desert Ridge Phoenix for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Overlooking miles and miles of massive saguaro cacti, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort welcomes visitors to a beautiful resort filled with luxurious comforts, creating a unique dichotomy in the Sonoran Desert.
The vivid green golf course dotted with white carts and brightly dressed players winds through the arid landscape of majestic plants and fauna.
The azure blue waters of the pools and the lazy river sparkle against the rugged Arizona countryside.
Tranquilly perched on a hill above the city, the resort offers stunning panoramic skyline views of bustling Tucson.
An oasis of luxury in the middle of the desert, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort is truly a destination resort, with three nine-hole golf courses, countless non-golfing activities, an array of dining options, a full-service spa, and a helpful, friendly staff – all in an upscale, relaxed atmosphere. Thank you to JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson for hosting us as their guest.
We’d never been to Tucson before this trip, so we gladly accepted the invitation to stay at such a gorgeous resort and explore the beautiful Tucson area – both which far exceeded our expectations. During our visit to Starr Pass, we enjoyed a luxurious executive suite with a long balcony overlooking the golf course and stunning western mountain views.
Upon entering the room we were greeted with a welcome note and an assortment of delectable chocolates and cookies. What a sweet arrival!
Our 900 square feet/81 square meters of relaxing bliss included a huge living area with a couch, chairs, desk and a large flat panel TV.
The large bedroom featured a king size bed with a comfy pillow-top mattress and duvet, an oversized chair and ottoman, and another flat panel TV. Both rooms accessed the balcony seating, which included four chairs and two tables.
The marble bathroom included a separate bathtub and shower enclosure, stacks of big fluffy white towels and divinely fragranced Aromatherapy Associates toiletries. The room also had large closets, three robes, a coffee and tea maker, a mini-fridge, an iron and ironing board, and a large safe.
Having stayed at JW Marriott hotels and resorts around the world, we knew that Starr Pass would deliver the exceptional service and quality for which the brand is known, but Starr Pass also included some surprises, adding their own unique flavor to the visit.
The gorgeous, expansive lobby has comfortable nooks for small groups, larger ones, and couples to share moments from the day or for those seeking a little solitude for reading or catching up on email.
Staying hydrated in the desert is crucial and Starr Pass has multiple flavors of water to make sure you do so – plain, spicy (there are jalapeños in there!), citrus and soothing melon.
A sprawling resort brimming with activities, Starr Pass offers something for everyone in a relaxed, casual atmosphere.
The huge terraces outside Salud, one of Starr Pass’ restaurants and bars, are the gathering point for the hotel from the beginning of the day to end.
While the early bird may get the worm, the early risers at Starr Pass truly get the treat each morning in the form a majestic sunrise.
After grabbing a beverage from the Starbucks just inside, a spot near one of the fire pits is the place to be for a time of tranquility and beauty before the day’s adventures begin. As the darkness disappears, the Arizona sky transforms into a vast array of oranges, reds, golds, pinks, and purples.
For those wanting to start their activities while experiencing the sunrise, Starr Pass also offers a guided hike each morning on trails that begin just outside the front door of the resort.
Morning sunrise hike
A trek through the beautiful Sonoran desert as the morning sky comes to life is an amazing way to start the day.
Winding through the Tucson Mountain District in the crisp morning air, the one hour hike is an easy trek against the backdrop of the brilliant morning colors.
The guides are great – taking the time to explain the Saguaro cacti, the native plants, and the animals that reside in the region. A not-to-be missed activity – so the night before when you are contemplating setting the alarm – do it!
Following a morning of desert adventure, the hike arrives back at the resort just in time for the Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual.
Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual
One of the key elements of enjoying travel is gaining an appreciation for the culture of the area visited.
Tuscon’s unique and rich cultural fabric is woven from a blend of the Hispanic, Old West and Native American traditions that have been passed down through the generations. Starr Pass celebrates this history each morning, inviting guests to participate in the Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual.
As the sun begins to warm the day, the traditional Native American ceremony pays tribute to the world view of interconnectedness.
With words of wisdom, the playing of the Native American flute, burning of a sage prayer tie and receiving of the eagle feather blessing, the ceremony is a beautiful time for reflection and connection for all.
Activities, activities and more activities
The only challenge with regard to activities at Starr Pass is how to fit them all into your stay.
For those that didn’t set their alarm for the sunrise hike, multiple trails leave from the front of the hotel (remember water and sunscreen – the Arizona sun is very strong mid-day). Trails can be used for hiking or mountain biking and when out in the desert, be sure to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and javelina, which look like wild pigs, but are actually members of the peccary family.
If lounging poolside or splashing about is more what you have in mind, Starr Pass has a multi-level outdoor pool, the Starr Canyon lazy river, and the Monsoon Falls waterslide. All are heated and towel service is provided.
The fitness center is located at the Hashani Spa, with a wide variety of cardio equipment, free weights, and a lap pool.
Speaking of spas, the Hashani Spa offers a full range of services, including massages, wraps, and other rejuvenating treatments.
The shops at Starr Pass go way beyond bottles of water and some aspirin. Items range from local artisan wares to clothing to cycling kits.
And, last but certainly not least, is the renowned Starr Pass Golf Club.
Golfing at Starr Pass
72 holes across three courses deliver a lush golfing paradise for those with a penchant for swinging a club.
The Arnold Palmer designed Rattler Course (3,490 yards/par 36) is considered the most challenging of the three and offers stunning views and the exceptionally challenging 5th hole. The Roadrunner Course (3,241 yards/par 35), which is closest to the resort, offers ambitious holes, impressive elevation changes, and more gorgeous views. The Coyote Course (3,512 yards/apr 36), is more tranquil, surrounded by natural beauty and is frequently visited by wildlife.
A good spot for more shopping for golfers and non-golfers alike, the Starr Pass Golf Club pro shop has a great assortment of clothing and accessories.
Be sure and download the Starr Pass Golf Club app, where you can book a tee time, get the weather forecast, keep score, and even connect with Starr Pass on Facebook and Twitter within the app.
Arriba, Abajo, al Centro, al Dentro, Salud!
Each evening as the sun winds down for the day, Starr Pass guests gather on the Salud terrace for a tequila toast and the nightly telling of the legend of Arriba, Abajo.
The story is one of love and one of tequila, of which Salud has over 150 artisan varieties, with the fable ending with a toast – “Arriba, Abajo, al Centro, a Dentro, Salud!” (Up, down, out and in). I won’t spoil the story – so you have to visit to learn the legend and enjoy one of the infused tequilas. Salud!
We had the opportunity to try most of the Starr Pass restaurants while visiting. Casual & comfortable, each restaurant offered fresh, modern dishes and outstanding service. We loved them – so much so that we never left the resort, visiting some of the restaurants multiple times because they were so tasty!
Here’s a day’s worth of favorites…
Breakfast at Starbucks
We love hotels that have Starbucks. We are usually up early to catch the sunrise and we don’t typically eat a large breakfast, so having the ability to grab a chai tea and a muffin fits our routine perfectly.
For those looking for something more substantial – Signature Grill serves breakfast specialties both a la carte and on a buffet.
Lunch… and dinner at Signature Grill
Dining on the patio in the evening at Signature Grill combines stunning starlit views as Tucson twinkles in the distance with outstanding cocktails and cuisine.
Starting off the evening with lemon drop martinis, we then progressed through salads (try the Knife & Fork salad – it’s seriously good), and on to expertly prepared main courses of Ahi Tuna and Salmon. Both were splendid! After dinner, we lingered, savoring our wine next to one of the patio fire pits before retiring for the evening.
The next day we were back at Signature for lunch at the bar (which is really cool) for the incredibly delicious vegetarian enchiladas.
Appetizers and drinks at Salud
The de facto meeting place for the hotel, Salud, is lively all day long both inside and out on the terraces.
Cantina-style cuisine, signature cocktails, and the 150+ tequilas are the specialties. The open faced quesadillas are killer and the nachos looked fabulous as well.
Dinner at Primo
James Beard award-winning chef, Melissa Kelly, serves up local, fresh and modern cuisine at Primo – it even says it on the door – and I couldn’t think of a better description. Farm to table fresh, with many of the ingredients grown at the resort.
Having enjoyed appetizers at Salud a bit earlier, we headed straight into main courses of scallops and bass. So good and creative!
Whether you dine at one or all of the Starr Pass restaurants, the artfully crafted cuisine and fabulous service will be a culinary experience you won’t forget.
Top 5 things we loved about JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort
Stellar staff. The staff was friendly, helpful, and went above and beyond to get it right, without intruding.
Stunning location. I love how it’s as if someone delicately picked up a luxurious, grand resort and oh so carefully placed it in the middle of the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert.
A celebration of the local culture. The unique activities – the guided sunrise hike, the morning ritual, and the tequila tasting – all highlighted the pride in the local culture and surroundings.
Great dining options. The food was stellar, with multiple restaurants and options, so we didn’t have to get the car out once.
Not stuffy. The atmosphere is upscale, casual without the pretense and stuffiness found in many high-end resorts. Visitors can simply relax and enjoy their time at Starr Pass.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
While island hopping in the Caribbean, we found ourselves in Aruba with an extra day before we were due in Bonaire. So, we did the logical thing – we decided to go to Curaçao!
With that, I kicked into overdrive finding all the spots we needed to cover in the 24 hours we’d be on the ground on our first visit back to Curaçao in over a decade. Following a quick 35-minute flight from Aruba that landed mid-day, our plan was to head to the hotel we’d found, drop the bags, and set out on a whirlwind visit to the island.
Arriving at the gate of the resort, we looked at each other and said, “Wow, this place is nice.” A change of plans was in the air.
Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort Curacao
Located on the southeast side of Curaçao, Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort Curacao is a fabulous resort with a great staff, a beautiful sprawling hotel, a spa, seven restaurants & bars, a golf course, a long private beach, three pools, a fitness center, two marinas, a dive and water sports center, and hiking trails.
With 350 rooms and suites, there are numerous room options. In addition to standard room plans, the resort also offers various levels of inclusive plans including a bed and breakfast option, a plan that includes all meals and beverages, an activity plan that includes water sports, tennis and the kids’ club, and one that combines the meal and the activity plan.
The rooms and suites
Our room was a standard, garden view room. Decorated in upscale Caribbean with wood accents, the room was spacious and quiet, with a large, private balcony overlooking the garden.
The bath was modern, with plenty of towels and locally-sourced shampoo & conditioners supplemented with The Spa Collection toiletries. The room also had large closets, a large safe, a hair dryer, a coffee maker and plush bathrobes.
Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort: The resort
We did end up dropping our bags as soon as we checked in, but instead of roaming around the island, we headed straight out to the Splash pool bar, ordered a couple of mango daiquiris and some fish tacos, and lounged by the pool.
With two large main pools and a third in the exclusive Sea Traditions area of the resort, there was plenty of space to relax and enjoy a Caribbean afternoon in the sun.
Just steps from the Santa Barbara’s white-sand beach, we eventually vacated our poolside oasis and ventured out for a stroll along the water’s edge.
Our journey took us along the long private beach that borders the resort’s lagoon. Set against the natural backdrop of Curacao, the lagoon’s crystal clear waters are a tranquil spot for swimming or perhaps some standup paddle boarding.
Finding a lounge chair and shady spot under an umbrella, we lingered, watching the sailboats and yachts pass and occasionally taking a dip in the warm Caribbean waters.
The boat traffic captured our attention, so we decided to take a walk down the long, floating pier toward the marina.
The resort is actually home to two marinas, Barbara Beach Marina and Seru Boca Marina, enabling watercraft up to 180 feet to dock in the same waters where the Spanish Armada set down anchor years ago when they first discovered Curacao.
As the afternoon wound to an end, we headed back to our room to get ready for dinner and, upon reaching our room, we found a surprise welcome greeting from the hotel!
After devouring the sweet treat, we made our way to the lobby – a beautifully designed, open-air great room with magnificent views looking out over the property.
We grabbed a couple of chairs, watched the sun disappear for the day, and then our thoughts turned to dinner and drinks.
The restaurants, bars, and cafés
Santa Barbara has several dining options on the property…
Splash Bar & Grill – near the pool, serving drinks and casual fare throughout the day and evening
Jun’s Sushi Bar – located in the great room, offering specialty cocktails and fresh sushi in a casual atmosphere
Shore – Caribbean fine dining with stunning views
Medi – a popular spot open for breakfast, lunch and dinner
We selected Medi for the evening and dined on the veranda, where we enjoyed a vast selection of buffet offerings.
The following morning, we had a lovely cappuccino and croissant at Bella Italia, which operates a small store and restaurant on site at the property.
Things to do at Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara has countless things to do, from aquatic adventures to hitting the links on one of the best courses in the Caribbean.
Kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and snorkeling equipment can be rented at the Beach Activity Center near Splash Bar & Grill. Scuba diving and boating excursions with an outside tour operator can also be arranged at the hotel.
Santa Barbara’s Tafelberg Tennis Center features four Hydrogrid® clay courts which are automatically irrigated by an underground system. Court are available for play throughout the day and into the night, with lighted courts available for those who prefer to get their game in during cooler times of day.
Walking, hiking, jogging & biking trails
With its sprawling design, there are plenty of walking paths throughout the resort, from oceanside walkways to strolls amidst the resort’s gorgeous landscaping.
For those seeking a bit more adventure, Santa Barbara Plantation includes 2,000 acres of natural landscape beckoning to be roamed, with rock formations, caves, caverns, and incredible plants and flowers. Guided hikes provide the opportunity to learn more about the plantation and Curacao’s rich history or trail maps are available on the Santa Barbara website for those seeking some peaceful solitude.
Bikes are available for rent at the resort for use on the trails.
Keeping up with your gym routine is a snap at the Santa Barbara, whose 24 hour fitness center has a wide selection of cardio equipment, free weights and other fitness equipment.
A tranquil day at the spa is a peaceful escape and time of rejuvenation. The Atebi Spa at the Santa Barbara offers a full menu of treatments, including massages, facials, and body wraps.
Old Quarry Golf Course
Designed by Pete Dye, Santa Barbara’s Old Quarry Golf Course delivers 18 holes of golfing paradise that has earned the distinction of being named one of Golf Week’s best courses in the Caribbean and Mexico.
Named after the Santa Barbara plantation’s 19th-century limestone quarry, the par 72 golf course meanders through the rugged terrain, winding its way from the sea, through the hills and valleys near Tafelberg Mountain, and back to the Spanish Water Bay.
Tee times can be arranged at the Old Quarry Pro Shop, which also offers equipment rentals, lessons and has a great selection of golfing attire – worth a visit for golfers and non-golfers alike.
We stopped by the charming capital of Curaçao, Willemstad, on the way to the airport.
Whether visiting for a morning or a full day, Willemstad’s markets, winding streets, narrow passageways and charming neighborhoods are fun to explore and a delight to photograph.
Known for its brightly colored buildings that line the harbor, Willemstad’s two districts of Punda and Otrobanda are separated by the Sint Anna Bay, with the beautiful Queen Juliana Bridge spanning the bay and connecting Punda on the east side and Otrobanda on the west.
Getting to Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
The Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort is located at the Santa Barbara Plantation, Porta Blancu, Nieuwpoort about 40 minutes from the Curaçao airport.
Consider taking a shuttle, which can be arranged from the hotel website and is available 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. We rented a car and only used it getting to and from the airport, with only our stop in Willemstad.
Should you want to venture out during your stay for a day, cars can be rented at the hotel.
Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort and the island of Curaçao – Wow! We love you!
We loved our, albeit brief, time at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort. The resort was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the staff at the Santa Barbara were exceptionally nice and helpful, from the restaurants to the bars to the pro shop.
We must agree with the sign that sits on the opposite side of the harbor across from the beach at Santa Barbara – “Curaçao. Wow! We love you.”
The content & opinions expressed in our Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort Curacao review are entirely our own.We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.