Summer In The Desert

Summer In The Desert

Ellen Clark

Cool bargains help vacationers beat the heat in Arizona, Nevada, and California resort areas

“Are you crazy? You could fry an egg on the hood of your car in the desert at this time of year,” announced my ever optimistic sister-in-law.

“Maybe, but there’s always air-conditioning, and the rates are fabulous,” I countered.

So, my husband and I set off for Palm Desert, California, and a daytime high of 109 degrees.

There’s no arguing that the desert is HOT in the summer, but there are ways to beat the heat. By reserving outdoor activities for the early morning and after sunset–and hitting the spa, shops, casino, or museums during the toastiest part of the day–you can keep cool and take advantage of some terrific bargains.

The prime spots for summer resort bargains in the desert are the Palm Springs area in California, the deserts of Arizona, particularly around Tucson and Phoenix, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

The biggest draw are the room rates. Reduced by as much as 75 percent, luxurious rooms that would be untouchable by us regular folks in high season are affordable in the summer months.

For example, in June my husband and I stayed at the posh Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert for 50 percent less than it would have cost us in January. At the newly renovated Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, the summer rates are a third what they would be in the winter. And Phoenix’s ever so lovely Wigwam Resort offers summer reductions of up to 40 percent. Some resorts have special summer packages as added enticement to visit in the off-season.

Though Las Vegas’ occupancy rate is almost 90 percent mid-week, even in the summer, there are still some deals. Some hotels, like the luxurious Four Seasons, offer summer packages that include such extras as full buffet breakfast and fitness center privileges.

A number of desert resorts have extensive spas, great places to spend the sizzling daytime hours. Everything from massages to aerobics classes and mud baths to aromatherapy can be enjoyed inside at great summer prices.

In the Palm Springs area, Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort, and the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort offer summer savings of up to 60 percent and have luxurious spas in which to spend the most torrid hours of the day. Las Vegas’ new Regent Grand Spa at Summerlin, 15 minutes from the strip, offers the latest in pampering techniques. In Arizona, the Westward Look Resort and Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, the Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale and the Wigwam Resort and Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix also offer a full range of spa treatments.

If spas aren’t your thing, how about spending the toasty daylight hours over a hot video poker machine in an air-conditioned casino? Naturally, Las Vegas is the prime spot for this, but visitors to Palm Springs can try their luck at The Spa Hotel and Casino, where special summer rates are offered.

Even if spas bore you silly, sizzling temperatures make you melt, and casino crawling doesn’t thrill you, there are other cool summer desert options.

In Arizona, the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale not only cuts the room rates, but has a couple of unique attractions. The Hopi Learning Center offers an intimate look at this Native American culture, while the 2 1/2-acre water playground, with its 47 waterfalls and 28 fountains, keeps the whole family cool.

In the Palm Springs area, Oasis Waterpark boasts the largest wave pool in California, definitely a way to cool off. And Celebrity Tours gives air-conditioned coach rides through Palm Springs’ celebrity neighborhoods.

Las Vegas is surely Entertainment Central, and not just for adults. For the younger set, the World of Coca-Cola details the history of Coke and has a climbing wall, a wandering robot, and a tasting station. At M&M World visitors can go to M&M University, a fun trip through a maze of color and interesting effects. And for the teenage set and those who are young at heart, GameWorks not only houses Vegas’ largest video arcade, but has formula one-type cars that Indianapolis 500 wannabes can hop into and try their hand at racing down the moving ribbon of raceway on the screen in front of them.

Another way to beat the heat is to take advantage of the cooler evenings. Go to the spa or take a nap in the afternoons, then take to the streets and tennis courts (most resorts have lighted courts) after sunset.

Summer evening activities in the Palm Springs area include the Family Golf Centers’ driving range, which is open until 10 p.m., and VillageFest, an arts and crafts vendors and farmer’s market that takes place on Thursday night from 7 to 10 p.m.

Shopping in air-conditioned comfort is another cool summer-in-the-desert option. The tony Galleria in Scottsdale lifts mall shopping to a new level. Musical fountains and a million-gallon aquarium in a tropical rain forest atrium share space with 165 shops, galleries, and restaurants. In the Palm Springs area, Palm Desert Town Center is the largest enclosed mall in the area. And in Las Vegas, the glass-domed arcade at the Bellagio Hotel is lined with designer boutiques.

For a less expensive way to stay cool–and learn something at the same time–there are the museums.

Tucson has a number of intriguing museums. The Pima Air Museum has one of the largest collections of historic aircraft in the world. The Fort Lowell Museum, a reconstructed commanding officer’s quarters from the 1880s and ’90s, offers a look at life on a military post in frontier Arizona. On the University of Arizona campus are three places worth a visit–the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium, the Center for Creative Photography, and the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

Phoenix has museums displaying everything from Native American artifacts to Wyatt Earp’s gun. The Heard Museum’s 18 exhibition galleries feature the finest in Southwest primitive arts. The Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum has one of the best displays of minerals and ores in the Southwest. And for anyone who ever wanted to be a fireman, the Hall of Flame Museum has more than 90 restored fire engines and hundreds of artifacts.

In Las Vegas, the Imperial Palace Auto Collection is a must for car buffs. With more than 200 vehicles on display, it was voted one of the 10 best auto exhibits in the world. But the ultimate Las Vegas museum experience is the Liberace Museum, where highlights include a pair of jeweled patriotic hotpants and a million-dollar, mirror-tiled Rolls Royce that belonged to the flamboyant entertainer.

For more information, contact:

Arizona Office of Tourism, (800) 842-8257.

Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, (602) 624-1817.

Phoenix & Valley of the Sun Convention and Visitors Bureau, (602) 254-6500.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, (702) 892-0711.

Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 967-3767.

Palm Springs Visitor Information Center, (800) 347-7746.

COPYRIGHT 2000 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group