Pooling Their Resources


The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa

The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa

The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa has been rated North America’s No. 1 Westin for meeting planner satisfaction six of the last eight years. While the pools may be a prime gathering spot—“People come and they hang out for days at the pool,” Gelfand says—the Westin also has event venues that don’t require a towel.

Among 64,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, in addition to ample outdoor space, the Westin has a 17,479-square-foot ballroom that can divide into six spaces and seats 2,000 in a theater setup. The full-service catering and banquet department is available to help on the food front. Expect a heavy and delicious dose of farm-to-fork offerings that are designed around local growers’ offerings.

After dining, or at least an hour after eating according to the old axiom, guests can head outside to one of five pool areas, which include a lap pool, brand-spanking-new decking and furniture, and a smattering of cabanas equipped with a refrigerator, TV and lounge chairs. If there are kids around, the Westin Kids Club, which puts on activities and takes full advantage of the property’s 177-foot waterslide, is sure to keep them occupied. At night, cookouts and music are par for the course.

With mountains jutting up along the horizon, the Westin has turned its property, which spans a whopping 250 acres, into a weather homage. There are the pools, yes, but also a handful of other things that will feel like Christmas morning for those whose trek to Tucson marks the end of a winter hibernation: 27 holes of golf and six tennis courts. The resort’s “Desert Scape” nature trail, built in collaboration with the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, is expected to debut this month. An outdoor art walkway is currently being designed with the help of the Southern Arizona Arts & Culture Alliance.

The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain

Located about 25 miles from downtown in the Tucson foothills, The Ritz-Carlton,  Dove Mountain is in a “stunningly Southwestern setting,” according to spokesperson Bonnie Crail. The description is apropos: Dove Mountain is home to a saguaro cactus forest, which features towering cacti that expand as they lap up rainwater, and renowned trail heads. This quintessential Southwestern setting naturally spills over into The Ritz’s function space, giving attendees a rich desert experience.

“The entire meeting wing of the resort is designed to reflect the natural elements of the high Sonoran Desert,” Crail says. “Everything from vibrantly colored rocks and rare geodes to interesting wood pieces and remarkable Southwestern and Native American art adorn this part of the property.”

The Ritz offers more than 44,000 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor function space. The Ritz-Carlton Ballroom has 9,000 sq. ft., while the Tortolita Ballroom, named after a nearby mountain range, has 5,000 sq. ft.

Twenty-seven holes of golf, function lawns and outdoor dining are testament to The Ritz’s embrace of the outdoors. That embrace, by the way, is not merely aesthetic: The footprint and location of the main building were adjusted by two feet during construction so as not to disturb an ancient saguaro residing on the grounds.

Three pools provide a combination of Ritz elegance and quintessential Southwest flavor. The private tranquillity pool at the hotel’s spa is overlooked by large red-rock formations covered in centuries-old Hohokam petroglyphs. (Hohokam is the name of a Native American culture that lived in the area from about 300 to 1500 A.D.) The spa pool also has cabanas and a mid-pool tanning island that, according to Crail, has become the “centerpiece of a particularly iconic image of the resort.”

The main pool is a family-friendly area with a 235-foot waterslide and a play area for the youngsters, while the most meetings-friendly pool is the Turquesa, which is shallow and has cocktail tables, in-the-water lounge chairs and bar service. Guests can even request splash dining, a private option in which the tables, chairs, servers, chefs and diners are all in the water. Companies are also invited to spotlight their logo onto the mountain abutting the Turquesa pool.

For a less corporate but equally cool touch, guests are invited to enjoy music from a Native American flutist, who plays “a haunting musical refrain” by the main fire pit during sundown each night. “Many people say this is a stirring, highly memorable moment for them and a highlight of their stay,” Crail says.

Loews Ventana Canyon

Loews Ventana Canyon

Loews Ventana Canyon has its own hallmark: a spectacular, natural 100-foot waterfall. And the waterfall was actually the inspiration behind the Loews sprouting up where it did.

“The hotel dates back to the 1980s, when the owners were scouting areas to place a hotel and resort,” VerHeul explains. “They were in a helicopter, and they were looking at a property close to the current property. As they were flying over the area, they saw the waterfall, and said, ‘That’s where it needs to be.’”

The waterfall flows down to the resort and provides an idyllic backdrop for meetings and events. An outdoor terrace area uses the tumbling water as a soothing soundtrack, while guests enjoy the scenery and weather. “I always think that the weather in Tucson is like the perfect September day in most other cities,” VerHeul says.

The nearly 40,000 sq. ft. of outdoor meeting space also includes Loews’ exclusive Coyote Corral, which, at 22,000 sq. ft., is a customizable Western-themed area that you won’t find anywhere else. Its entrance is framed with rustic wood beams, with the words “Coyote Corral” etched into a sign in the type of font usually associated with the Old West. Making it more Western yet are the cacti and horn-topped animal skulls that sit where, in a conventional meeting space, you might expect to see the doorman.

VerHeul says the Coyote Corral is reminiscent of the Old Tucson Studios, a popular theme park and movie set located nearby.

“We can re-create that feeling right on property,” she says. “You get the old Western storefronts, the ranch entrance, and it’s fully stocked with the A/V equipment—everything you need to have a formal meeting, but in a really informal setting.

“Putting together a themed event is so easy. And that’s what a lot of groups are looking for. They want to do something different and take the Arizona concept a little further, and we can offer that along with the pool and other standard features of the resort.”

Inside, Loews has 37,000 sq. ft. of space, including the 10,800-square-foot  Kiva Ballroom (a kiva is a room used by Puebloans for religious and spiritual ceremonies) and the 8,875-square-foot Grand Ballroom. All told, there are 25 meeting rooms and parlors. And one corral.

Loews, recognized as an environmental leader for its design and preservation, became the first Arizona resort to have certified butterfly and tortoise features earlier this year. “This is just one more way we are embracing nature and giving guests an up-close-and-personal experience with our local flora and fauna,” says Brian Johnson, managing director

The 1,500-square-foot butterfly garden, certified by the National Butterfly Association, features 20 types of plants that are expected to help attract more than 60 butterfly species. Also, two desert tortoises now reside at the resort’s new 800-square-foot tortoise exhibit, which is certified by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Tucson has some older gems as well, including the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa, that combine decades-old structures with modern amenities. Pools, naturally, are part of the equation.

The Westward Look Wyndham Grand sprouted from a hacienda-style family home that was built in 1912. The resort has 80 acres to play with, including hiking paths, four specialty gardens and horseback riding trails. There’s an acre-size garden replete with organically grown fruits and vegetables.

The 16 meetings rooms, with more than 20,000 sq. ft. of space, utilize the area’s abundant natural light and are equipped with multiple outdoor terraces. The 4,312-square-foot Sonoran Ballroom is the most recent addition, while the Mesa and Canyon meeting rooms have a patio steps away. The Sonoran Rooftop terrace offers 360-degree panorama views. There is a trio of outdoor heated swimming pools.

“Planners and groups are always looking for new and creative ways to have a memorable event,” says David Yamada, general manager. “Having events poolside sets the environment for fun during the day and stargazing at night. We have catered many poolside receptions and events. In many cases, the more relaxed ambience increases networking.”

Lodge on the Desert

Lodge on the Desert is another venue aged to perfection. Originally built as a hacienda lodge in the 1930s, the boutique hotel is located in midtown and until four years ago had just 35 guest rooms. A facelift and expansion upped that to 103 rooms, although the lodge made a point of retaining its charm.

“It’s a Tucson classic: Pueblo-style architecture, adobe walls, walled property,” says Montie Slavin, director of sales. “It’s kind of an oasis in the city, so when we updated it, we kept the character of the property.”

The intimate Lodge on the Desert embraces the fact that it is smaller than other area resorts. “The really neat thing is our size,” she says. “When we have a group in here, we have the opportunity to find out what it wants that experience to be and deliver on it. Because everybody here is so close to the ground, we’re all about the guests. We know who those people are and what their experience needs to be.”

The pool area features a gas, stone fireplace and two ramadas. The meeting space is well suited for small to mid-size groups, with 3,700 sq. ft. inside and 6,700 sq. ft. of lawn and patio  area outside.

Not long after Gelfand moved from Florida to Tucson, as he and his wife were walking, she came to a halt. She looked at him and asked, “Do you smell that?” He sniffed away but was at a loss. “It smells fresh,” she said. Indeed, the air is clean, the sky is blue and the pools are inviting all year long.

David Vranicar is a freelance writer and author of the book, The Lost Graduation: Stepping off Campus and into a Crisis, available on Amazon.

Hotel Chart

Click here for detailed information on the hotels in this story.

Outdoor Adventures

Tucson is surrounded by five mountain ranges and is accordingly chock-full of outdoor adventures.

  • Hiking: Bird-watching trails, canyon trails, flat trails and summit trails provide amazing hiking options. The surrounding mountains are protected by city, state and national park designations, and the hundreds of miles of trails accommodate people of all skill levels and ambition.
  • Horseback riding: Connect with Tucson’s western roots by taking a horseback stroll. Horsemanship lessons and wrangler-guided trips are available for individuals and groups, with specialty rides scheduled around sunrise, sunset, moonlight and more. The White Stallion Ranch, Al-Marah Arabians and All Around Trail Horses are some of the local outfits that can set you up.
  • Rock climbing: For those seeking some adventure, try rock climbing on the nearby mountains. Mount Lemmon, for example, is a short drive from Tucson and has more than 1,200 climbing routes. Climbers can also scramble over boulders, which can be great for beginners and advanced climbers alike.

Tucson Convention Center

No pool–but still cool. The Tucson Convention Center is a great spot for large meetings and events. It has more than 205,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of shindigs. Spaces range from cozy, including the 700-square-foot Apache and Cochise meeting rooms, to enormous, such as the Grand Ballroom (20,164 sq. ft.) or Galleria (15,300 sq. ft.).

The Tucson Convention Center also has three modifiable show facilities that can host concerts, sporting events, even ice shows. Multimillion-dollar renovations are in the works and the ’70s-era structure is slated to receive a facelift soon.