By David Armstrong, Contributing Editor
The siren call of baseball spring training long eluded me, until last spring when toasty weather, intimate ballparks, relatively cheap game tickets and a terrific hotel lured me to sunny Scottsdale, Arizona.
The hotel in question is the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a luxuriant, AAA 5 Diamond city resort spread over manicured grounds. The property is tucked into this Phoenix suburb of 230,000, near where 15 Major League Baseball teams warm up for the regular season.
(Spring training runs from February 23 through March 29 in 2016.)
Cactus League games don’t count in the standings. But you get to preview your favorite team, scout this year’s can’t-miss phenom, and bask in the sun and relaxed ambience.
Then, if you’re fortunate, you repair to a top-notch hotel, regroup and get ready for the evening.
In March 2015, my wife, Georgina, and I flew into Phoenix’s sprawling Sky Harbor International Airport, picked up our rental car and drove to the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, located just inside the Arizona Highway 101 beltway that loops through Greater Phoenix.
The hotel is 23 miles (37 kilometers) from the airport and 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) from Scottsdale Stadium, where the San Francisco Giants play spring games in a 12,000-seat downtown ballpark.
Salt River Fields, an 11,000-seat stadium where the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies play spring games, is just 8.5 miles (13.7 km) from the hotel.
The “Princess’’ is a big place. It has 648 rooms, five swimming pools, four restaurants and two golf courses. It also boasts a well-equipped Well & Being Spa.
Like many leading hotels, it is increasingly environmentally minded. You get half-off the daily $20 valet parking fee if you’re driving a ‘green’ vehicle. We rented a Toyota Prius hybrid, so we qualified.
The daily fee for self-parking is $10.
Between baseball, sightseeing at Taliesin West – famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s western architecture school and faculty-and-student residences – and supping and sipping in downtown Scottsdale, we didn’t expect to spend a lot of time in the hotel.
We didn’t stint on exploring the area, but such are the virtues of the Princess that we enjoyed the hotel to the fullest.
Part of that entailed simply looking at it. The place is beautiful, with meticulously maintained grounds flecked with ponds, trees, flowers and gently sloping, winding walkways.
The hotel buildings together comprise an expansive compound and, depending on where you start out, it can take a while to get to the farther reaches of the property.
But it’s hardly hard. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can do what we did and enjoy a drink at the outdoor Plaza Bar or just stroll the grassy grounds.
We stayed in a Fairmont Standard guest room in the main building. At 525 square feet (48.77 square meters), it was roomy enough for us to settle in and get comfortable.
Some guest rooms look out at the nearby mountains; others overlook the hotel’s ponds and greenery.
The surrounding Sonoran Desert has its own attractions, not least Arizona’s towering Saguaro cacti, but the soothing lawns and other plantings at the hotel are balms to the eye.
The Princess is one of 70-odd hotels and resorts operating under the Fairmont flag. Fairmont is part of Toronto-based FRHI, which was recently sold to France’s Accor SA. Time will tell what, if anything, Accor will do to materially change Fairmont.
As it is, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess receives plenty of management attention. The check-in desk and concierge services are smartly run and the restaurants are busy but welcoming and efficient.
Our carpeted room came kitted-out with a 42-inch (107-centimeter) flat-screen TV, mini-bar, coffeemaker, sitting chairs, a two-person-size couch, walk-in closet and full-length mirror. The bathroom had a double sink, separate shower and bath.
The bedroom also had an iPod docking station, Wi-Fi access and round tables good for stacking newspapers and magazines or snacks, drinks and squeeze-bottles of sunscreen.
Guest rooms at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess are accessible by elevators and stairs, and walls flanking the hotel’s eye-pleasing courtyards include colorful, Mexican-style tilework.
A favorite of leisure travelers and families, the Princess does not neglect business travelers. It has a FedEx Office Print & Ship Center, a business center in the Princess Conference Center, two grand ballrooms and large and small meeting rooms.
The Princess’s proximity to Arizona 101 eases the way to and from downtown Scottsdale, with its historical mementos of Western pioneer days, well-kept streets, relaxing urban walks, decent parking and cozy Scottsdale Stadium.
Good food is on offer, too. I recommend FnB restaurant for imaginative takes on fresh, local, seasonal fare; and the Sugar Bowl, an inexpensive 1958 time-warp eatery, for the likes of toasted tuna-melt sandwiches and heaping ice cream sundaes.
Of course, you can’t go wrong at the hotel, either. We ended our stay with dinner at star chef Michael Mina’s on-property restaurant Bourbon Steak. Busy, pricey and tasty, it’s a classic steakhouse with very good beef and lamb, a big wine-list, top-shelf bar, and indoor and outdoor seating.
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is located at 7575 E. Princess Drive, Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.A. 85255. To book accommodation, phone 480.585.4848, or visit www.fairmont.com/scottsdale.
Rooms start at $499 per night. The hotel also charges a daily $29 resort fee, which includes basic Internet service and half-day access to on-site Trailblazers Family Adventure Center for children aged 5 to 12.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others.