Royal Palms Resort and Spa seems imperfectly placed for peace and quiet, a few paces off four-lane Camelback Road at the edge of Scottsdale, Ariz.
But traffic noise evaporates like a drop of rain in the desert as you walk beneath the row of towering California Fan palms that line the resort’s driveway, past a 250-year-old yellow cantera stone fountain and into a lobby that was once the guest room of a dream home.
The splash of 32 fountains scattered about the nine-acre resort masks the highway’s hubbub. Lush landscaping, a tradition since the property was the estate of Delos and Florence Cooke, provides more buffering.
“There is that sense of seclusion,” said Alex Gregory, director of sales and marketing. “Once you turn up the drive through the palms, you completely forget you are so convenient to everything.”
Royal Palms’ courtyards, stucco walls, arched arcades, plazas and patios —and, of course, those fountains — coupled with rooms accented by wrought iron, wooden beams, tapestries and antique furnishings give the 119-room resort the feel of a restful hacienda. Yet, it is more than a sublime spot for a siesta.
“A little more than half of our business is meeting business. We have more than 200 meetings a year,” said Gregory.
Like the resort, meetings there aren’t run-of-the-mill. “People don’t necessarily see it as a typical meeting venue, and it really is not,” said Gregory. “We tend to see a little more high-end, a little closer to C-level events. Customer events and incentive programs are a lot of what we do.”
A winter home for a wealthy couple
Royal Palms, in some fashion, existed long before Camelback Road began to bustle. The Cookes arrived in the valley in 1926, bought 65 acres dotted with orange groves at the base of Camelback Mountain and began building their escape from Northeast winters. Florence liked plants a lot; Delos reined her in by limiting her landscaping expenditures to $10,000 a year. She still managed to plant thousands of plants, among them 900 palms, including those that now line the entrance.
Despite its long tenure, the Royal Palms in its current format is relatively new. After the property passed from private ownership, it became a popular inn. When the inn fell on hard times in the mid-1990s, Fred Unger, owner of the nearby Hermosa Inn, bought it and spent $28 million to achieve today’s gracious getaway. The resort opened in 1997.
New structures blended seamlessly with the melange of Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean and Mexican Hacienda architecture of the Cookes’ original mansion. Today’s guests could have trouble sorting out old from new. The guest bedroom of the Cookes’ mansion is now the lobby; the Cookes’ formal living room, with its antique fireplace, is a boardroom/private dining room.
In restoring the resort, Unger kept the original owners in mind. “We try to stay true to what they had a vision for,” said Gregory.
“They have done a great job of carrying through the atmosphere. It all blends perfectly well together,” said Pamela Maydanis, who handles community and public relations for a local general contractor that uses the Royal Palms for meetings and events and also houses its guests there.
The scale of meeting spaces is appropriate for the size of the resort. Its largest spaces, the Estrella Salon (2,450 square feet) and the Palmera Salon (2,120 square feet), seem larger because they adjoin the outdoors. French doors open to reveal private patios, secret gardens and covered piazzas. Fireplaces are tucked into courtyard corners.
Outdoor spaces add fresh air, sunshine
The outdoor spaces are nice for breaths of fresh air, phone calls or private conversations. “There are discreet places to be, but you are not more than 30 paces from where you want to go,” said Barbara Ketcham, senior consultant, hotel operations, for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a Washington, D.C. association that has held a CEO retreat at Royal Palms for a decade.
Winding paths lead to pocket gardens where cactus, bougainvillea and other plants thrive.
“There are lots of nooks and crannies here, by design,” said Gregory.
There are also several lawns, swaths of green interrupted by reflecting pools or fountains. At one of Maydanis’ meetings, guests built their own burgers at a cookout on the Alegria Lawn.
A favorite for receptions of 60 to 70 people is the Cervantes Library Lounge. “When the hotel was an inn in the late 1940s, it was the main front desk. The front desk is now the bar,” said Gregory. With book-filled shelves, overstuffed chairs, game tables and an adjoining patio, “you really feel like you are in someone’s living room rather than a banquet hall,” he said.
For groups that book the entire resort, like America’s Health Insurance Plans, Royal Palms becomes “a secure little campus,” said Ketcham.
In February, the resort was fresh on her mind, having just wrapped up this year’s retreat. It had been unusually cold in Scottsdale, but the nip in the air only served to remind Ketcham why she keeps bringing the retreat back to the Royal Palms.
Sitting at her outdoor registration area in front of the ballroom, Ketcham was kept warm by space heaters, including one that a banquet captain had brought from his home after he decided she might not be warm enough.
Other staff are equally attentive, she said. “The whole staff is like that; I don’t know where they get them.”
With its small size and a staff-to-guest ratio of 3:1, Royal Palms is a natural for meetings that “want people to interact and enjoy one another in an environment where they are the focus and the big deal. We do that very well because we are not a mammoth property,” said Gregory. “You don’t need a golf cart to get around and running shoes to get to the meeting. Royal Palms is more residential, like having a friend at your home.”
Spa and restaurant have a following
Unlike most of its neighboring resorts on Camelback Road, Royal Palms does not have a golf course, tennis courts, shops or an array of restaurants. It does have a noted spa, where orange-scented treatments pay tribute to the site’s history as a citrus grove, and a much-loved restaurant, T. Cook’s, where locals line up for Sunday brunch and whose chef also oversees banquet meals. For sunbathers and swimmers, there’s a tile-lined swimming pool.
Summer’s sizzling deal
Scottsdale is known for its sizzling summers; but even with the heat, planners are booking Royal Palms’ summer package, with its $149 price tag for accommodations, meals and audiovisual equipment. It’s an economical way to sample the resort’s royal treatment.
And Gregory jokingly points out that there are ways to beat the heat:
”We do have those 32 fountains and a pool, so if you get too hot, you can always jump in.”