It was a sunny Arizona afternoon, brilliant blue skies beckoning even in the summer heat, as I made my way down shaded walkways and through quiet gardens at Royal Palms Resort and Spa.
My welcoming glass of Champagne in hand, I admired the glorious beauty of blooming hibiscus and bougainvillea and sat at a shaded table in the mansion courtyard, with massive Camelback Mountain looking down over everything. There might be a lot of romantic getaways in Arizona, but Royal Palms Resort and Spa has always seemed the most romantic—and my husband and I had 24 hours to enjoy what I consider to be one of the best resorts in Arizona for couples.
The History of Royal Palms Resort
Royal Palms Resort and Spa began as a private villa—El Vernadero—for Delos and Florence Cooke in 1929. Cooke, a railroad mogul who was also an executive with Cunard Steamship Line, wanted a winter escape to share with his wife during their retirement. The 65-acre estate at the base of Camelback Mountain included a 3,500-square-foot Spanish Revival villa and beautiful gardens that Mrs. Cooke oversaw personally. Delos Cooke only lived two years to enjoy his property, but his beloved wife stayed another six years.
I love wandering the original property and seeing the touches that the Cookes must have overseen with such joy—the iron gates, the alluring mahogany wood doors that are still at the front of the property, a fountain imported from Guanajuato, Mexico, and beautiful hand-crafted tiles made in Mexico.
I also love the mural the couple found on a visit to Spain that hangs on the wall facing the Mansion Courtyard. You can feel this love as you walk through the gardens and around the property.
After the Cooks, the property briefly belonged to two other families before landing in the hands of a well-known bandleader of the day, Al Stovall. Stovall predicted that folks would someday flock to the Southwest looking for romantic resorts, so he made plans to open a small inn. He converted the mansion to an inn and added 15 casitas, opening as the Royal Palms Inn in winter 1948.
Accommodations at Royal Palms
Royal Palms has evolved over the years, keeping the best of the original Cooke family home, but growing and expanding to make this one of the best Arizona luxury resorts. There are a variety of accommodations (119 total) that include rooms, suites, casitas, and villas. I've stayed in most of the room types over the years—with the exception of the villas—and each has its own unique flavor. When you're looking for romantic getaways in Arizona, you can definitely find accommodations at Royal Palms, no matter what your style or preference.
The Estate Rooms are the most traditional “hotel room”-style accommodations, but even those are elegant and comfortable. These rooms definitely offer a Mediterranean feel.
The casitas are larger, each with gorgeous garden access. There are some casitas in the Valencia gardens east of the original home and near the original orange groves that offer the most amazing fragrances each spring. If you stay in one of the Valencia Casitas in February, open the patio doors and breathe in the scent of those blossoms!
The Designer Casitas, located west of the original mansion, have a king size bed, patio, and beautiful walk-in shower. These secluded garden casitas highlight why I believe this is one of the best resorts in Arizona for couples. You will forget the rest of the world for a little while!
There are a number of suites located throughout the property. I love the Montavista Terrace suites surrounding the reflecting pool. These have a large patio that let you enjoy Arizona outdoor living.
I also recommend the Spa Terrace suites, located near Alvadora Spa and overlooking Camelback Mountain. Each Spa Terrace suite has a fireplace, large deep soaking bathtub, and walk-in steam shower. Breakfast on the patio in these suites is, well, sweet.
While I've not stayed in one of the villas, I have been able to tour them. And, on my most recent trip in June, I stayed in the room adjacent to the Presidential Villa. The setting is quiet and romantic, tucked into a garden just a minute from the Mansion Courtyard and T. Cook's. The Presidential Villa is a minimum of 1,700 square feet (you can combine it with the room I stayed in to create a 2-bedroom, 2,300 square foot space).
There is a beautiful clawfoot tub (in both the Presidential Villa and the accompanying suite) and patios that offer complete privacy and relaxation. This Arizona luxury resort really goes out of its way to make you feel presidential when you book this villa. There are two entrances, both indoor and outdoor fireplaces, a large living room, butler's kitchen, dining room, indoor/outdoor shower, and three private patios.
My own room had a front patio that overlooked the resort's gardens as well as a private patio with water feature. It is absolutely ideal for a romantic meal for two under the Arizona stars.
For spa lovers, I recommend the Alvadora Villa, located steps from the spa and pool. This can be either one- or two-bedrooms and features European deep soaking tubs, indoor steam shower, outdoor shower, and private patios with outdoor fireplace.
Royal Palms Serves up Culinary Delights
Back in the day when Royal Palms originally opened, the restaurant was known as the Orange Tree Restaurant. I can only imagine the celebrities and dignitaries who have dined in that room over the years. I will admit I was worried all those years ago when it closed and relaunched as T. Cook's. I feared it would somehow lose its charm and sense of place. Never fear. T. Cook's is outstanding and you're in for a real treat when you eat at Royal Palms.
Start Your Romantic Evening with Cocktails
When you're looking for romantic getaways in Arizona, one of the must-haves is a great bar, where you can have a before-dinner drink and feel comfortable. You'll find that at The Mix Up Bar, where the bartender literally mixes up the season's freshest ingredients to create innovative but approachable cocktails.
I am usually a bubbles girl—I start almost any evening out with a glass of Champagne. However, I remembered from previous visits that the cocktails at The Mix Up Bar are great, so my husband and I ordered two of the house specialties—a Mixup Mule for Bill and Prickly Penicillin for me.
These were not your typical drinks. Bill's Mixup Mule was vodka, lemon, and ginger beer—but with a housemade ginger beer that really made this a smooth drink. After laughing about the name, this tequila lover ordered the Prickly Penicillin—Blanco tequila, Mezcal, aquafaba, and lemon honey ginger syrup. I was worried it would be too sweet, but it was just right, layered with flavor and that hint of smoke from the Mezcal at the back of my throat. A great start—paired with truffled popcorn—to our evening at this romantic resort in Phoenix.
Romantic Meal for Two at T. Cook's
After drinks, we walked the few steps to the adjoining T. Cook's. We chose to eat in the restaurant because we were there during a very hot time of year. But you have so many choices, your only difficulty will be deciding where you want to spend your romantic evening.
In addition to the restaurant, you can choose to dine outside on T. Cook's patio, or work with the concierge to set up private Via Cappello. Named for Casa di Giulietta on Via Cappello in Verona, Italy, these little private alcoves throughout the resort are ideal for dining. Nothing says romance better than a private meal for two in a hidden garden setting.
As you wander the grounds, you can let your mind imagine the possibilities…and then sit down to a perfect dinner prepared by Chef Todd Allison and his staff.
I don't think I've had anything at T. Cook's that I didn't enjoy. This meal was no exception. We started with bread and the resort's signature pesto sauce while we waited for our first course—which we shared because I knew there was too much food on its way—Maine Diver Sea Scallops with braised onions and caviar butter.
Next, we moved on to our main courses. While my husband chose the filet mignon, I opted for Colorado Rack of Lamb. Both dishes were exceptional. I must say that my husband's side—the whipped Idaho potatoes served with crème fraîche—were a total wow moment for me. I'm still on the hunt to find potatoes that rival those of Joel Robuchon in Monaco, and these came darned close. My lamb was exquisite, served over barley and topped with a mint chimichurri.
Of course, we couldn't resist dessert and I opted for the Amaretto Sponge Cake while Bill chose the Butter Croissant Bread Pudding with Tiramisu ice cream and a whiskey butter sauce. I enjoyed my cake, but that bread pudding was over the top. I'm not a huge bread pudding fan in general, but I would order this again in a heartbeat.
We walked around the grounds after dinner, the evening pleasant after the heat of the day. I love the Arizona night skies and breathing in the desert air at night is always emotional for me. We wandered toward the pool, which was stunning under a full moon.
Relaxing at Royal Palms
Yes, cocktails and food count as relaxing—as does wandering the beautiful grounds at Royal Palms—but there is also a great pool and the Alvadora Spa.
As part of your resort fee, you have 24-hour access to the pool and fitness center. Be sure to relax by the pool and order a cool sip from Cabana Café, located poolside.
Alvadora Spa is a treasure for Royal Palms Resort and Spa, and your resort fee also includes access to the facilities. I'd recommend booking a treatment, but you should at least go in and relax, enjoy the facilities, and soak up that spa smell. You wind through the resort, past the pool and the there you see the entry. It greets you as if you were entering an Italian villa.
This is a small, intimate spa that continues that feeling that you're retreating in an Italian villa. One of the earliest spa experiences I had at Royal Palms Resort and Spa was the Citrus Ritual, which I recommend for any couple seeking a romantic getaway in Arizona.
The Citrus Ritual starts off on such a spectacular note because it takes place in Acqua Dolce—a beautiful stone-lined room with private patio and garden tub. The treatment begins with a full body exfoliation while you relax on warmed stone tables with water flowing gently from overhead. The treatment continues with a relaxing soak in the garden tub, then a massage using the most amazing orange blossom lotion.
I've had other treatments over the years at Alvadora Spa and enjoyed each of them. I found the Alvadora Salt Glow massage to be delightful. Using desert sage and salt, this massage reminded me of the Sonoran Desert after a rainstorm. It left my skin feeling wonderful and mind drifting away.
If You Go To Royal Palms Resort and Spa
Royal Palms is, without a doubt, one of the best resorts in Arizona for couples. It is quiet, romantic and luxurious. You feel as if you are in some secret escape away from the world, but you're only 15 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Downtown Phoenix, and Old Town Scottsdale. You have some of the best golf, dining, shopping, and sightseeing in the world at your doorstep. Be sure to check out Wander for more of what to do while you're visiting Arizona.
Royal Palms Resort and Spa is AAA Four Diamond and Forbes Four Star and a member of both Fine Hotels & Resorts and Historic Hotels of America. The resort made the Condé Nast Traveler's Gold List in 2017 as a favorite hotel in Arizona. Located at 5200 E. Camelback Road in Phoenix, driving up that palm-lined drive always makes me feel like a special guest arriving at the home of a dear friend. I hope to return over and over again.
To book your romantic getaway in Arizona at Royal Palms Resort and Spa, visit online at royalpalmshotel.com or call 800.672.6011 or 602.283.1234. To make reservations to dine at T. Cook's, visit tcooksphoenix.com.
Royal Palms has a rich history and the resort has preserved the spaces while modernizing the luxury resort. Wandering through all of the gardens—past the orange groves planted before I was even born, past the cacti, succulents, and an array of flowers I didn't know could even grow in the desert—I believe Mrs. Cooke would love to wander through her gardens today.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.