I used my points for only the second time in the 10 years I have been a Marriott customer, staying six nights at the Starr Pass Resort in Tucson in mid-March. We found it well worth the sacrifice.
The place was beautiful, the service was excellent, the golf was very challenging, the food was certainly good and the views were quite memorable. Great place to chill out.
We stayed five nights on points, then took advantage of a package (golf and spa for us, just golf if you both play) that seemed a reasonable price, especially considering the price of golf in March at Arizona.
The resort is spread out, meaning the rather fun lazy river, the spa pool and the larger pool area were not right on top of each, making for a bit more of a spacious, secluded feel. There is also some hiking/mountain biking right there, including 30-minute to two-hour walks.
The hotel is about 10 minutes outside of downtown and secluded, so plan on eating often on site at least a bit. Primo is the most expensive restaurant, and you will probably need a reservation if there is a conference or two at the hotel - usually are, I would think. The food was good in all restaurants, Signature Grill was a favorite, and we found sitting by the fire on the Salud deck with a view of the mountains before sunset and the Tucson lights after sunset to be quite relaxing. Rooms were very good size.
It can be a bit of challenge if you want something quick, like a sandwich or pizza, got to go room service for that. That was my only want, a sandwich shop open all day so you could grab something to go or just eat light and quick. It is a different area than East Tucson, which you are five minutes from roads of chain restuarants and stores, giving it more of a feel you might find in the suburbs of Phoenix. In other words, expect to run up a food bill at the resort, and it can add up quite quickly.
We went to the Sonora Desert Museum, which was cool and more like a desert zoo. We saw the bird show and reptile show, both fun - but we like that kind of stuff. We drove through the Saguaro National Park, which had hiking trails of different duration - including some long ones.
We wound up hiking at another great spot, Sabino Canyon. We took the tram up to the stop nine, the last one, then hiked back on the side of the canyon to stop 1. Because of the rainfall this season, we had to cross a creek - read strongly running water about knee-high - at the end which was a bit tricky. It should be noted folks about 60 were crossing, too, so not really dangerous, but it would have been easy to lose your balance and get soaked. Great views of canyon, great place to go. Talk to the volunteer inside about hiking options. You can also walk down the paved tram road, get the views and then stop at whatever tram spot works for you ---- or go the trail route like us.
We also visited Tombstone, kind of silly, but still fun. They need to work on their public restrooms, though. It was a little too much like the old west in those, I think. The OK shootout is goofy fun, the 15-minute movie informative and the courthouse worth walking through. The Bird Cage is OK, too.
We were not thrilled with Tubac, artist colony of shops in middle of nowhere, though we did find a nice store or two. Will Rogers and John Wayne once had places there - they obviously wanted to get away, waaaaaay away....
We missed out on Kitt Peak, reviewed by many as a good to excellent evening telescope/astronomy show. You need reservations in advance, as in several weeks in advance if going in March. The sky there is beautiful, lots of stars, so that is one thing we wish we had done. If you are going with kids, you probably want to do this, or so we were told.
Too bad both minor league teams are leaving for Phoenix area, because Tucson has a smaller town feel than Phoenix, and I kind of like that. The Rockies and Diamondbacks have been playing there, but are moving to a stadium outside Scottsdale they will share. There is talks of Japanese teams coming in and playing major league squads, but that remains up in the air.
As for the golf at Starr Pass, the courses are, I think, fairly difficult because they often feature shots that require carry, especially off the tee. I think 10 handicap and worse definitely would think about the Silver or third tees, especially if you are coming from the cold and this represents your first round or two of year. Coyote is supposed to be the most playable, more forgiving of the three courses and some told me the most fun. I missed playing it. Even if you are guy who can break 80, expect to lose some golf balls on the Roadrunner and Rattler. The courses, though, were certainly resort quality.
Hope this helps those thinking of visiting Tucson. Starr Pass is a bit secluded, which we liked, and exceptionally nice.
We started our stay with a nice visit to the University Marriott in Tucson just on the edge of the University of Arizona campus. Excellent service again. Took a campus historical tour, picked up good information at the visitor's center near campus. The little cupcake place on University Avenue provided a nice treat. Easy to walk to a few pub restaurant choices in college hangout area.