Until a recent visit, all I knew about it was that it was the city the characters in vampire movie The Lost Boys came from (a cult hit when I was a teenager) and that it was probably very hot.
Now I know that it’s home to some drool-inducing taco joints, fascinating museums, great bars and that lying within easy reach of all these is one heck of a luxury hotel – The Phoenician.
The Phoenician is ‘one heck of a luxury hotel’, writes Ted. It sits just underneath the 1,420ft-high Camelback Mountain
Enticing: The Phoenician has an incredible palm-tree-laced three-tiered pool complex (pictured)
What this adds up to is that Phoenix is a most alluring base from which to explore the other-worldly delights of the Sonoran Desert and the Grand Canyon National Park.
The 645-room Phoenician sits just underneath the 1,420ft-high Camelback Mountain – and hiking this is an absolute must.
The hotel can arrange for a guide to meet you in the reception at an ungodly hour and lead you up a fairly demanding trail to the summit, or any point you fancy calling it a day at.
We called it a day at a dusty helicopter landing zone about three-quarters of the way up, but even that was truly rewarding.
The views from there, and from the ascent, were spectacular.
One gazes upon a landscape thickly peppered with huge cactuses and punctuated by big rocky hills, so well-ordered and surprisingly green Phoenix seems slightly incongruous amid the desert vista.
I was hypnotised.
And by the time I got back to the hotel, I was desperate for sustenance.
Oasis: The hand-tiled ‘Mother of Pearl’ pool on the lower level. For kids there’s a tree house and water slide
Step forward Mowry & Cotton, The Phoenician’s breakfast venue, so popular that the hotel has a well-oiled waiting system for it. You put your name down at the front desk, then help yourself to tea and coffee and relax on a sofa until a table becomes free.
Following an eggs Benedict so substantial I’ve frankly only just digested it, I availed myself of my room’s luxuries.
There was a huge tub but I opted to put the hotel’s plumbing through its paces by trying the separate rain shower. The verdict? Marvellous.
Lolling on the gigantic bed while watching a movie came next followed by a bit of terrace-gawping.
Mowry & Cotton restaurant, where Ted enjoyed an epic eggs Benedict after finishing his Camelback Mountain hike
This aerial view shows the The Phoenician bounty on offer – 645 rooms, seven tennis courts, a huge spa and more
The view was filled by the hotel’s incredible three-tiered pool complex. Palm trees swayed, deliriously delighted children dashed about and content adults sculled and sunbathed contently.
This exotic set-up contrasted beguilingly with the arid Sonoran surrounds.
The rest of the hotel is similarly glamorous and glistening.
There’s an athletic club with ‘virtual exercise classes’, a collection of boutique-style shops, a three-story spa with 24 treatment rooms, an 18-hole golf course and last, but not least, the ‘Funicians Club’, a daily supervised program for guests between the ages of five and 12.
The bedrooms at The Phoenician are well-appointed, luxurious and many offer superb views out over the pools
Upscale entrance: The lobby (pictured) is a grand, glistening and glamorous affair
Hiking Camelback Mountain (pictured) is an absolute must. It’s always best to set off early in the morning, before the Arizonan heat envelopes you
Ted’s view from Camelback Mountain after about 30 minutes of hiking
I mentioned it was a good base to explore the Grand Canyon and the desert, but it’s also clearly a great base for discovering Phoenix itself.
For a fascinating insight into the history of the city and how the locals have regenerated some of the formerly run-down areas, I highly recommend booking a tour with the Arizona Pedal Cab Co.
You sit in a tricycle cab and trundle from one point of interest to another.
My tour guide, Billy Oxford, was superb. He spoke with humour and passion – and knew all the short-cuts.
The Heard Museum, on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix, is also a must.
Here you can learn all about the history and culture of American Indians via 11 galleries.
A shot of downtown Phoenix at dusk. For a fascinating insight into the history of the city and how the locals have regenerated some of the formerly run-down areas, Ted highly recommends booking a tour with the Arizona Pedal Cab Co
The Heard Museum is a must. Here you can learn all about the history and culture of American Indians. It’s incredibly moving, writes Ted, especially the exhibits that reveal how American Indian children were wrenched away from their parents and ‘Westernised’ in boarding schools far, far away
The Heard Museum has beautiful outdoor courtyards featuring outstanding traditional and contemporary American Indian art
It’s intriguing and, at times, incredibly moving, especially the exhibits that reveal how American Indian children were wrenched away from their parents and ‘Westernised’ in boarding schools far, far away.
The museum also has beautiful outdoor courtyards featuring outstanding traditional and contemporary American Indian art.
Much of the rest of my itinerary was taken up with exploring Phoenix’s food and beverage options, which are excellent.
Try the Phoenix Public Market Cafe for tasty brunch options, Carolina’s for delicious, authentic Mexican food, The Churchill for a range of options – it’s a hipster courtyard that’s home to 10 local businesses, including a sandwich shop and a pizza café – and The Gladly Restaurant for, among other things, superb oysters .
UnderTow offers seriously exotic cocktails, as this image of a concoction delivered to Ted shows
Carolina’s serves up delicious, authentic Mexican food – and it’s all very reasonably priced
Cheers to the good times: Postino is a buzzy downtown bar where Ted sipped a rose or two
The Phoenix Public Market Café has plenty of tasty brunch options and can rustle up great coffee
The Desert Botanical Garden has more than 50,000 desert plants on display throughout five thematic trails
Ted bought a gift for his daughter from this delightful stall at the farmers’ market
There’s also a fantastic Botanical Garden and a farmers’ market that takes place every Saturday outside the Phoenix Market Café at Phoenix Public Market Place. Here you’ll find everything from artisanal bread and cheese to handcrafted wooden animals courtesy of Arizona Mantel Works, run by a retired carpenter.
I bought my two-year-old daughter a little wooden tortoise and a mythical jackalope – a jackrabbit with antelope horns.
When I told their smiley creator they would be making their way back to London – where I live – he was utterly delighted. ‘Wow,’ he said, ‘my creations will be all the way over in London, England, amazing.’
I pondered his comment and realised London would seem as exotic to him, with all its cactus-less streets and parks, as Phoenix does to me.
I don’t think I could swap it permanently for Phoenix, but this Arizonan gem has my vote as an intriguing, other-worldly holiday destination. And having the uber-swanky Phoenician as a hotel option makes it all the more enticing.
Ted was hosted by The Phoenician and was a guest of Visit Arizona and Visit Phoenix.
The Phoenician offers rooms from $179 (£146). For more information visit www.thephoenician.com.
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.
Boss Transportation offers a first-rate luxury car service in Phoenix. Visit Bosstransaz.com.
American Airlines’ Heathrow to Phoenix return fares start from £508 per person in economy, £953 in premium economy and £1,717 in business class.
Does the world’s biggest airline have the world’s best premium cabin? Inside American Airlines’ £1.6k business class, with enough legroom for basketball players and headphones that go to 11 for quality
Take a bow.
Take a bow whoever it was who did the deal with Bang & Olufsen to supply the headphones for American Airlines’ business class cabins. Because they are, quite simply, superb. And when I say superb, I mean quality that’s been turned up to 11.
But on my Boeing 777-300 AA flight from London Heathrow Terminal 3 to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in seat 4A, there’s a delay in reaching the sonic Shangri-La they transport you to because the headphone jack is mysteriously hidden from view.
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The American Airlines Boeing 777-300 business class suite features a very long lie-flat seat and comes with Casper bedding
Ted at the controls of the Boeing 777 at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 before it took him to Dallas
Welcome aboard: Ted is pictured here before take-off at Heathrow with a welcome glass of Champagne… except it’s not actually Champagne
The seriously classy Bang & Olufsen headphones distributed to AA business class passengers
There is a pin right next to me that the jack for the headset fits perfectly. But it’s inert for the headphones.
Someone wasn’t paying attention in one of their ergonomics classes.
In the end, a stewardess comes to the rescue having witnessed my helpless button prodding and looks of bafflement at the fact that the three-pin socket next to me isn’t playing ball.
As she reveals the mystery socket location – on the side of a cubby hole you’d need a system of angled mirrors to spot – she freely admits that the situation is a little bizarre.
And that’s not all.
Other ergonomics modules seemed to have been missed on armrests – the one to my right is too far away for me to actually rest my arm on – and storage location. There’s a second good-sized cubby hole for storage available, but I almost have to get on my hands and knees to get to it.
The buttons for manoeuvring the seat are very well placed, though, just to my left above that phantom headphone socket. The panel also harbours a USB I can plug my phone into, a reading light and the handset for the entertainment screen.
Which is, pleasingly, pretty good (though not as good as the one on the return 777-200 leg, more of which later…).
Ok, the touch screen is a little unresponsive and the screen size is not industry-leading for business class (15.4 inches), but it’s good enough for near-total movie immersion.
The Boeing 777-300 business class suites occupy some serious cabin real estate. Pictured are Ted’s feet
The ergonomics of the 777-300 business class cabin are generally good, but there are a few bizarre quirks. For instance, the headphone socket is hidden from view in the cubby hole pictured
AMERICAN AIRLINES FACTS AND FIGURES
- American Airlines operates 6,800 daily flights to more than 365 destinations in 61 countries from its hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
- It has 130,000 employees that serve more than 200 million customers annually.
- Since 2013 American has invested more than $25 billion in its product.
- American was recently named a Five Star Global Airline by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and Airline of the Year by Air Transport World.
- American is a founding member of One World, whose members serve 1,100 destinations in 180 countries and territories.
What’s more, the entertainment is available gate-to-gate – but the cabin crew collect the headphones just before the plane lands. Which is a shame, but not surprising given that they retail for at least £300 ($380).
What else on the tech front?
Oh yes, the all-important Wi-Fi. I can report that it works just fine. I pay $19 for it to last the entire flight and it never drops out.
I’m also a fan of the suite’s dimensions.
The legroom is on the ample side of ample, with the seat transforming into a 6ft 6in bed in lie-flat mode.
I’m 5ft 10in, so plenty of room to stretch out.
There’s a fairly extensive table area to my left, as well, along with not one but two windows (just like BA’s A380 First suite, but without the powered blinds).
The seat width, meanwhile, is brilliant, I have to say. Huge.
Or to be precise 21.5 inches – that’s half an inch wider than BA’s new A350 Club Suite seat. Plenty of wiggle room for the rear-end. And the seat can be adjusted without any hassle into the perfect position.
Two buttons move the headrest, two more move it horizontally all the way to lie-flat and back and another two move the entire seat back and forth.
Plus, there are one-touch buttons for the bed and take-off and landing positions.
There’s an amenity kit, of course, placed in that remote cubby hole I mentioned (along with a bottle of water in a little holder).
It’s by Los Angeles-based luxury leather accessory company This is Ground and is indeed a luxury leather accessory.
It opens out book-style to reveal two pockets containing lip balm and hand lotion by top beauty brand Allies of Skin (which ‘creates smart, effective products for the modern day multi-hyphenate’, crucial work I’m sure you’ll agree), plus unbranded mouthwash, a cleverly designed toothbrush that clicks into a protective holder, Crest toothpaste, tissues, earplugs, an eye mask, socks and a pen in a looped holder with ‘Aviator’ written on it.
There are quality toiletries in the bathrooms, too, by C.O.Bigelow.
The amenity kit is by Los Angeles-based luxury leather accessory company This is Ground and is indeed a luxury leather accessory, writes Ted
The amenity kit opens out book-style to reveal two pockets containing lip balm and hand lotion by top beauty brand Allies of Skin, plus unbranded mouthwash, a cleverly designed toothbrush that clicks into a protective holder, Crest toothpaste, tissues, earplugs, an eye mask, socks and a pen in a looped holder with ‘Aviator’ written on it
Top-quality bedding is also on the inventory – a deluxe pillow and duvet by Casper.
Privacy screens are becoming all the rage in business classes and this one doesn’t feature them, but it’s no real loss.
I feel cocooned and cosy and no one can see that I’m working my way through the Stars Wars franchise from Episode IV.
And I can see only a tiny corner of my neighbour’s screen across the aisle.
So far, it’s a business class suite that feels like, well, the business. A little care-worn in places – I spy a little bit of glue spillage around the edge of the table veneer and there’s a bit of trim that’s sticking up by the window – but it definitely conveys the feeling of VIP-ness.
Some might find the decor in the all-direct-aisle-access cabin a little lacking in imagination – it’s all monochromatic grey tones. But I find it unobtrusive and relaxing, and actually quite stylish.
Grey is in, I read somewhere.
And I can understand why airlines might plump for plain palettes – it dates more slowly and so doesn’t need to be overhauled too often.
For breakfast (pictured) Ted enjoys fresh fruit (melon and pineapple) and a warm fresh and flaky croissant, accompanied by a mouth-watering roasted tomato tart (Brits – this is a popular American brunch dish) and a proper cup of coffee
Lunch (pictured) is smoked salmon hash with Bearnaise sauce, vine tomatoes and sautéed spinach. A lovely bit of rustic comfort food, writes Ted
When quaffing white wine Ted finds that mini cakes with a fresh strawberry are a perfect accompaniment
Luxe loos: There are quality toiletries in the bathrooms, by C.O.Bigelow
Ted finds a couple of noticeable imperfections in the 777-300 cabin, including some splodges of glue (left) and a bit of wayward trim (right)
AN EXPERT’S VIEW ON THE AA WINE
I show the full American Airlines business class wine list to London-based wine consultant Emily Harman. And she is impressed with some of the choices, but not the welcome fizz…
Masia Parera Brut Methode Traditionelle Cava
Perhaps a slightly disappointing start? If I fly business, I love to be offered Champagne. Cava in general now is from very low-quality appellations. This is quite a large producer, which is easy to find in supermarkets, so I might skip the aperitif.
Collet Brut Champagne, France
A lesser-known producer but quite interesting to offer Champagne that is Pinot dominant, in this case a high percentage of Pinot Meunier. I always find Blanc de Noirs/pinot dominant Champagnes to offer more texture and because of this, they tend to appeal to more people.
The whites: Starmont Chardonnay Carneros, California, and Campo alle Comete Vermentino Toscana, Italy
Lovely to see a nice alternative to Sauvignon Blanc in the whites on offer. Especially as we are now entering summer. A chilled Vermentino would be a great lighter, aromatic option to the Chardonnay.
The reds: Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon, California, and Corte Giara La Groletta Ripasso Valpolicella, Italy
Two very full-bodied options for the reds. It is a shame not to offer a lighter or at least medium-bodied options for the red wine drinkers on board.
Dessert wine: Quinta do Noval LBV Port, Portugal
An iconic port estate producing high quality wines. I would very happily sip a glass or two of this port, especially if there was a chocolate dessert anywhere within reach!
There are similarly high standards in the food, drink and service departments.
The flight departs at 8.40am and, it being breakfast time, I naturally accept the offer of Champagne when I board.
Except it’s not Champagne.
It’s actually Masia Parera Brut Methode Traditionelle Cava. An ok cava. But you can only call sparkling wine Champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region of France.
How do I discover it’s not Champagne? To my shame – despite my WSET 1 qualification – not because I tasted the difference, but because later a stewardess pours me a glass of fizz and tells me that it’s ‘better than the fizz served upon boarding’.
It’s certainly highly quaffable.
I’d later ask American Airlines – BA’s major codeshare partner – what was afoot vis and vis the fizz, and it confirms that what’s served mid-flight is Collet Brut ($34/£27 a bottle) Champagne, as per the menu, but what’s served before take-off is said cava.
Why? Something about mid-flight beverages being ‘duty free’.
I get it. It’s a money-saving ploy. But perhaps those boarding could be offered ‘bubbles’ or ‘Spanish fizz’ or ‘a sparkling pick-me-up’ to avoid accusations of deception.
Anyway, moving further down the list, a glass of Starmont Chardonnay Carneros from California that I try later is super – well-mannered and full of perky lemony flavours.
However, the white Campo alle Comete Vermentino Toscana (average price around £12-14 per bottle), from Italy, is a let-down. The wine list really talks it up, waxing lyrical about its ‘mineral freshness’ and ‘aromatic floral notes’.
But I don’t get any of that. To me, it’s just a semi-decent party wine with a slightly sharp finish.
I’m a little surprised I don’t like it because American Airlines proudly boasts that master sommelier Bobby Stuckey put the list together. There’s even a picture of him on the menu – grinning – alongside a brief biography.
This suggests confidence in the selection.
Also, the Campo alle Comete is favourably reviewed online (and a wine consultant I show the list to is impressed with this choice, see boxout). Perhaps the altitude has skewed my taste buds…
I’m 100 per cent impressed with the food, though. From start to finish, through every course, every plate delights and is nicely presented.
For breakfast fresh fruit (melon and pineapple) and a warm fresh and flaky croissant are accompanied by a mouth-watering roasted tomato tart (Brits – this is a popular American brunch dish) and a proper cup of coffee.
My main plate for lunch is smoked salmon hash with Bearnaise sauce, vine tomatoes and sautéed spinach. A lovely bit of rustic comfort food.
Then I enjoy a little dish of delicious mini cakes with a fresh strawberry. Perfect with white wine.
Just before touch-down in Dallas a plate of mini chicken and leek, and mushroom and spinach, pies arrive, along with more fresh fruit and a marvellously moreish salted caramel and chocolate ganache.
The a la carte menu for the flight from London to Dallas (left). Pictured right is Bobby Stuckey’s business class wine list
And the crockery? All porcelain pieces by deSter, which is a major airline supplier. But it’s good quality stuff.
All in all, it’s a dining experience far, far removed from any economy or premium economy cabin offering.
All that’s lacking for me is a dine-on-demand option which, for instance, Qatar Airways offers in business class.
The service, meanwhile, is exceptional. I write in my notes that ‘the cabin crew are a riot’.
But they don’t just have a flair for fun.
This is the sort of cabin crew you always really hope you’ll get on a flight – chirpy, relaxed, friendly, chatty but utterly professional. And generous with the Champagne… And cava.
Ordinarily, here the review would end and, without further ado, I’d present my conclusions.
But I’m obliged to continue, because on the return overnight flight, from Phoenix (my trip is a mini Texas/Arizona tour), it’s a different plane – a 777-200, as I mentioned – and the business class cabin is also different.
And mostly in a good way, with the niggles from the journey over now ironed out.
Ted flies back from America from Phoenix, but this time in a Boeing 777-200 (actual plane pictured)
Ted pictured in the 777-200 business class cabin, which is called SuperDiamond and created by Collins Aerospace
The niggles Ted finds in the cabin on the way over are now ironed out. He writes: ‘The seat is slightly shorter at 72.2 inches (6ft) in lie-flat mode but is a smidgen wider at 21.9 inches and has better back support… The ergonomics, meanwhile, are spot on’
This image shows Ted’s window seat as it appears when he boards (minus the cava). Casper bedding is on the seat and B&O headphones and amenity kit inside a storage bin
The seat is manoeuvred via touch-screen buttons (pictured). Note the one-touch functions for take-off and landing mode, recline and lie-flat
Hello handy storage compartment: AA has tidied away the sockets and remote control in the 777-200 cabin
Privacy levels are very good. Every passenger is tucked away in their own cocooned suite
FLYING AA FIRST FROM DALLAS TO PHOENIX
Well, isn’t this splendid? My sojourn to America includes a two-hour hopper flight from Dallas to Phoenix in Arizona on an American Airlines Airbus A321 in first class. And I’m rather taken with it.
Ted’s meal on the AA flight to Phoenix
The layout is two by two and the reclining seats are huge – for a domestic service. They’re like executive office chairs, with large arm rests in the middle, slightly bigger than the width of the in-flight magazine. The coffee just keeps on coming via very pleasant stewardesses and there’s a mid-flight snack comprising fresh fruit – pineapple, grapes, blueberries and a strawberry – and a yoghurt. It’s served on a little porcelain dish with a napkin, which pleases me. Terrific.
The seat – called a SuperDiamond and made by Collins Aerospace, for any aviation seat nerds out there – is slightly shorter at 72.2 inches (6ft) in lie-flat mode but is a smidgen wider at 21.9 inches and has better back support.
The ergonomics, meanwhile, are spot on.
The armrest to my right is in the perfect position, the headphone jack is not hidden, but is in a very useful easy-to-reach storage compartment with a lid, designed so that when closed, it doesn’t squash the lead.
And the TV is a whopper – an 18-inch touch-screen that’s superbly responsive.
The seat buttons, I note, are now on a little touch-screen pad. Nifty.
Plus, all the trim is looking… trim.
It’s a gold star for the food, service and quaffing juices too (great to see you again, Bobby).
I have hickory smoked carrots with a seasonal greens salad for a starter, four-cheese spinach ravioli with creamy Parmesan sauce and blistered cherry tomatoes for mains and an ice-cream sundae for dessert.
Breakfast, about an hour before touching down in Heathrow, comprises fresh fruit, bread and yoghurt. All very yummy.
I try one wine – a cabernet sauvignon from the Imagery Estate in California (£13/$16.50) – and it’s tremendous. Smooth, soft and rounded.
Bobby, you’re back in the circle of trust.
I manage about four hours of solid sleep and disembark feeling fairly spritely.
So what’s the summary? Scroll down…
Yum’s the word: Ted’s starter of hickory smoked carrots with seasonal greens salad. Top right is a cabernet sauvignon from the Imagery Estate in California, which marks Bobby’s return to form
Four-cheese spinach ravioli with creamy Parmesan sauce and blistered cherry tomatoes for mains (left). An ice-cream sundae for dessert (right)
Breakfast, about an hour before touching down in Heathrow, comprises fresh fruit, bread and yoghurt
Since 2013 American has invested more than $25billion in its product. Pictured is a Boeing 777
So, does the world’s biggest airline (by fleet size, revenue, profit and passengers carried) have the world’s best business class?
That accolade, with some justification, should go to Qatar Airways and its Qsuite.
Is it world-class? Possibly. It’s certainly very good and ticks enough boxes to earn a four-star rating from me.
You’d have to be a fussy high-flyer indeed not to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
A raising of the eyebrows is understandable with regard to certain aspects of the ergonomics in the 777-300 cabin and that Italian white.
But once those hi-fidelity B&O headphones are on – you really won’t care.
By Ted Thornhill
My tickets grant me access to three AA business class lounges – the Admirals Club at Heathrow Terminal 3, the Admirals Club at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and the The Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow.
On the downside, the décor and furniture in the Admirals lounges are functional, non-descript and uninspired. I was expecting swish and swanky selfie-bait.
On the upside, the facilities are comprehensive and the catering is competent. The Heathrow lounge has a scattering of armchair-style seats, a high table you sit at on stools, which is equipped with USB sockets, a small breakfast buffet and showers.
The décor and furniture in the Admirals Club lounges are functional, non-descript and uninspired. But there are good showers and a decent breakfast buffet on offer. Pictured is the Heathrow Terminal 3 Admirals lounge
The showers are highly respectable – three-star hotel standard (ish).
The breakfast buffet is good, too.
The spread includes a cheese board, fresh fruits, cured meats, Danish pastries and croissants and cereals. (The catering is by Rhubarb, which also does the food and drink at London’s Royal Albert Hall, for catering industry nerds.) I have a croissant and a decent latte from a machine.
The Heathrow Arrivals Lounge (pictured) is very stylish. Ted lingers here for beans and scrambled eggs
The Arrivals Lounge has four-star hotel standard bathrooms (pictured)
The view is also enticing (for aviation nerds). A row of windows on one side allows you to gaze upon long-haul BA and AA aircraft parked at their gates.
The Phoenix lounge is of a similar standard and feel, with the addition of a small bar and slightly different food – think cookies and tacos.
The Arrivals Lounge is much more stylish and has luxe bathrooms (up to four-star hotel standard) and hot and cold breakfast offerings. I linger briefly for beans and scrambled eggs then head off to grapple with my cross-London journey home.