During the spring break in March 2005 our family spent a week in Scottsdale, Arizona at the family-friendly Hyatt Regency Resort at Gainey Ranch. At the time of this vacation, Katie was 8 years old and Emma was 20 months old. I was worried beforehand about the 5 hour flight from Toronto to Phoenix as it was the longest that the girls had been on at that point, however, it turned out to be uneventful. We arrived in Phoenix to weather that was cooler than normal but still had a very enjoyable week.
The city of Scottsdale, Arizona is located in the "Valley of the Sun" within the metropolitan area of Phoenix. Scottsdale is in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert and is just west of the McDowell Mountain range which makes for a beautiful geographical location. The Scottsdale area is considered to be one of the premier golf and resort destinations in the world and the year round warm weather and abundant sunshine (more than 300 days a year) makes it very popular with tourists who appreciate the winter refuge, particularly during the high season of February through April. As the luxury resorts have taken over Scottsdale it has become more like Beverly Hills than the rugged Western town that it once was so whether your pleasure be golf, exploring nature, shopping or spas, rest assured that Scottsdale has what you are looking for.
We chose the Hyatt Regency Resort at Gainey Ranch because it seemed like the most family-friendly of the resorts in the area. The resort is in a fantastic location in Scottsdale and is beautifully framed by the McDowell mountain range. The biggest attraction probably being the pool complex which consists of 10 separate pools including one that has a sand beach for kids to play on. There is a kids club at the resort called Camp Hyatt Kachina, however, my children did not use it at all during our stay. There was a car rental agency located at the resort so we were able to rent a car for part of our stay.
There is a Native American Learning Center at the Hyatt which is a showcase for Native American artisans who share their art and traditional knowledge. We visited the center several times as we found it to be a great resource to learn about the natives of the area. There were a number of activities held in the center during our visit that Katie took part in. Her favourite was probably the moccasin making class. We had some lengthy discussions with the gentleman who was in charge of the center about the history and traditions of the natives in Arizona which I found highly informative.
The historic Old Scottsdale area of the city is a great place for a walking tour even with small kids. Your family will get a flavour of the wild west as you stroll the wooden sidewalks and browse through the many shops and galleries. The stores range from galleries showcasing beautiful southwestern art to western wear shops to tacky souvenir shops. Chances are your kids will gravitate to the tacky if they are anything like mine.
During the course of our stay we had to make two trips to Rawhide Western Town which is a wild west theme town/theme park that celebrates the frontier history of the area. Rawhide is, essentially, a tourist trap but one that is a lot of fun. Rawhide boasts cowboy stuntmen at the Six Gun Theatre, burro and stagecoach rides, a petting zoo, the Rawhide Steakhouse, live country music and much more. Stores selling western wear and cowboy toys are very popular with the kids. My girls had to have pink cowgirl hats the second that they spied them on our way in to the town.
One of the activities that I found the most interesting was our Jeep tour of the Sonoran Desert. Our pistol-toting guide named Scout picked us up early one morning to head into the desert in his jeep. The bumpy ride was not very popular with Emma who, strapped in her car seat in the back, screamed until she fell asleep.
I had never been to a desert before and was shocked that there was so much vegetation - it was certainly not what I had expected. Our guide explained that the extensive vegetation is due to the fact that the Sonoran Desert has a bi-seasonal pattern of rainfall, meaning that the desert actually has two rainy seasons - summer and winter. The Sonoran Desert is the only place in the world where the distinctive-looking saguaro cacti, which we typically associate with the desert, grow in the wild.
My biggest concern about driving into the desert was rattlesnakes but, fortunately, we didn't see any in the desert or during our entire week in Arizona. Katie was so impressed with the desert tour that when we returned home she decided to talk about the Sonoran Desert for her grade 3 speech and you know that a vacation activity has had an impact when kids want to learn more about it after they have returned home.
Another popular activity in Scottsdale is shopping and, much to my delight, we managed to find time to fit some in both at Scottsdale Fashion Square and Kierland Commons (an outdoor mall).
With the range of activities available, Scottsdale is a great destination for families looking for a winter escape and if your family doesn't mind the heat (it is a dry heat after all) then you could definitely consider it for a summer vacation as well. My one regret after our vacation in Arizona was that we weren't able to make it to the Grand Canyon. The distance that we were going to have to travel from Scottsdale to the canyon seemed like more than we could manage with a toddler along. And that is all the excuse I need to plan a future trip to Arizona - because, after all, everyone needs to see the Grand Canyon at some time in their life.
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When I was researching prior to this trip I used Frommer's Arizona 2004 and Fodor's Pocket Phoenix & Scottsdale.