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Phoenix Rising

Three chains brought a bit of Las Vegas to the city this year with shiny new mega-resorts. While not in the same category as the city's most luxurious properties, they deliver the Big Lobby, the Big Spa, and the Big Bed in a less starchy atmosphere. They were built for conferences, and badges predominate.

JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa The largest resort in Arizona—950 rooms!—is the latest in Marriott's series of rock 'em, sock 'em properties, which have worked so well in Oahu and Palm Springs. Desert Ridge is huge and pulsing, like the Love Boat, with an enthusiastic, college-age staff that brings the cavernous place to life. There are pools in every conceivable shape, two golf courses, a spa, and two terrific celebrity-chef restaurants, developed by Roy Yamaguchi of Hawaii and Mark Miller of Santa Fe. The Mediterranean-inspired decoration can be garish, but many of the rooms have exhilarating views, especially if you face north. Unlike at the Phoenician, however, you're welcome to drink beer out of a bottle in the lobby, and there's a Starbucks that takes room charges, so you won't start each day cursing the $25 continental breakfast. Everything about the place is meant to make you comfortable or make you smile, and it does.

Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa Twenty minutes south of the airport, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass stands all by itself, shimmering on the flat, dusty land of the Gila River Indian community. A casino has long been the draw here, so the community added this hotel, with a Southwestern-style lobby to make each new arrival gasp and a bar ensconced in man-made boulders. The location won't work for everybody—you might as well be on the moon—but those who crave casino action will find some pleasant surprises: the rooms are attractive and luxurious, much more so than you probably expect from Sheraton; the golf course is buzzing; and the Aji Spa is one of the biggest and most beautiful in the city.

Westin Kierland Resort & Spa Handsome is the word for the Westin, the best-looking of the Big Three, its atmosphere mixing the boutique-hotel energy of its sister chain W with a Western look of leather, Mission furniture, and Arizona photography. If you shop at Restoration Hardware, you'll like it here. It's more vertical than horizontal, more a hotel than a resort, and sometimes its feng shui feels out of tune. But you can play golf; have a treatment at the spa; walk to the shops at Kierland Commons; and, best of all, eat at Deseo, developed by Douglas Rodriguez of New York's Chicama. The Nuevo Latino food is excellent; the ceviche menu is alone worth a visit.

Spa life in Phoenix has changed completely. Your visit used to be over in an hour. Now you make an afternoon of it. New spas are everywhere, but the following are the ones you'll most want to try.

Sanctuary Spa The spa at the Sanctuary gazes up toward Camelback Mountain and seems to exist in its own weird energy vortex. Checking in, you want to sign "Obi-Wan Kenobi." There are 11 treatment rooms, and for a little more money you can have a spiraling, outdoor room, the Sanctum, where the Force is even more likely to be with you.


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