Monday, May 6, 2013

PHOENIX: Embassy Suites Biltmore

I’ve stayed at many Embassy Suites during my business and leisure travels and found that, while generally predictable, they are usually predictable in a good way. The Embassy Suites Biltmore in Phoenix is an exception in that it is unpredictable in many good ways.

Exterior of Embassy Suites Biltmore
The Embassy Suites Biltmore is a lovely property, styled in homage to Frank Lloyd Wright, with much to recommend about it but at least one caveat as well.

The hotel is conveniently located in the Biltmore area near 24th St. and East Camelback Road. Home to upscale shopping and restaurants and near the fabled Arizona Biltmore, it’s convenient to many of the city’s attractions. Within easy striking distance of Arizona Highway 51, it’s convenient for those en route to somewhere else as well.

Prairie style architecture
While the property has been in existence some 30 years, according to one of the hotel’s bartenders it has not always been as lavishly appointed as it is today. The first thing that struck me as we drove up was the architecture that was clearly done in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style, as are several buildings that Wright designed on the nearby Arizona Biltmore as well as Grady Gammage Auditorium on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.

The property continues the theme inside, using squares and vertical lines to imitate Wright’s famous façades and the colors, while typically Southwest, are also true to Wright’s Prairie vision.

Frank Lloyd Wright lines
But enough about the physical property; it’s the hospitality that will make or break a hotel, no matter how beautiful the building or how pretty the property.

In that sense, the Embassy Suites Biltmore does not disappoint. From the desk clerk who checked us in to the bartenders at the nightly manager’s reception and the on-site steak house to the housekeeping staff who quickly met my request for additional blankets (In Phoenix? Odd, I know!) to staff members we passed in the hall, everyone was friendly, polite, and gracious.

During the weekend we stayed there, however, there were significant shortcomings related to the hotel’s complimentary food and beverage offerings.

Atrium Lobby
The hotel was hosting a reunion of retired military that weekend, and the manager on duty allowed that there were probably more people staying in each room than had actually been declared, so they were caught off guard by the number of people who showed up for free drinks the first night and the cooked-to-order breakfast the next morning.

The wait for a complimentary cocktail at the manager’s reception the first night was about 15 minutes, though a manager stepped in to assist the bartender by serving those who wanted just a beer or glass of wine. Mixed drinks required ice, and the bartender’s station had the only ice well. That was excellent responsiveness to an unexpected situation.

Desert Colors used throughout
However, the lines for the included breakfast the next morning were even longer and moved even slower.

While most of the Embassy Suites at which I’ve stayed have offered a selection of buffet items as well as eggs and omelets cooked to order, this particular property cooks everything to order. A nice idea, but not terribly practical when guest loads are heavy. On our first morning, the line barely moved during the 10 minutes we waited before we bailed out in favor of a local haunt. Sometimes, a “free” breakfast is worth exactly what you pay for it.

Guest room sitting area
When I brought it to the manager’s attention, she apologized and said they’d made arrangements to add a buffet the next morning to reduce the waits, again demonstrating good responsiveness to guests’ needs.

When the next morning came, the waits were indeed shorter – and the guest load was obviously lighter as well – but staff still needed to pay more attention to detail. Both coffee pots were allowed to run dry without being replenished and numerous tables went uncleared despite the smaller crowds.

The facility has a pool and patio, work-out room, business center, computer kiosks in the lobby for checking in on-line, a “grab ‘n’ go” center where guests can purchase those sundries they may have left home without, and an Omaha Steakhouse on site.
Guest room sleeping area

If you’re patient and don’t mind waiting for a beverage at night or breakfast the next morning, you probably won’t be disappointed. If you’re less patient, there are several other eating and drinking establishments nearby.

Even if you choose to pass on the “freebies,” the Embassy Suites Biltmore is still well worth a visit.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photos to view larger images

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