By Roger Cox, Editor
I am not, as you may have concluded from reading these reviews, a fan of gargantuan hotels, and at 884 rooms the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa qualifies as a gargantuan hotel anywhere but Las Vegas. If you happen to have a room at the nether reaches of one of its long corridors, you may wish for a bicycle or a golf cart to get from there back to the elevator and lobby. On other hand, having almost 2,000 guests demands a wide range of activities and services, enough that there are people, I suspect, who spend an entire week's vacation there without ever leaving the grounds.
As you walk through the front doors of the hotel you enter an eight-story atrium lobby, with a wall of glass on the far side open to views of the Santa Rosa Mountains in the distance. The centerpiece of that lobby is now a spacious bar and lounging area, with a sushi bar at one end and a scattering of coaches, chairs, and banquets. On some weekend evenings, it can seem like the liveliest place at the hotel. The far side of this bar area overlooks a dock, where boats take you out into the open through a maze of lakes to any of several restaurants, the spa and fitness center, or the clubhouse for either of its two 18-hole golf courses. Those canals flow around an island that holds not one but three large free-form swimming pools, where there is a live band on weekends. There is a second, quieter Springs Pool with tented raspberry-red cabanas and a Kid's Klub.
What you cannot reach by boat is the tennis center, a complex of 20 hard, clay, and grass courts, which stands across from the entrance to the hotel bordering a village of rentable timeshare villas.
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My reservations about the size of the hotel aside, I have always been impressed by the dedication and inventiveness of the Peter Burwash International staff who manage this complex. Tennis director Jim Leupold has been there since a few months after the hotel opened in 1987, long enough to have evolved a program notable for its variety and attentiveness to service. Game matching is given high priority, with a crew to work the phones relentlessly in order to ensure you get to play. Beyond that and the private lessons you'd expect, the calendar includes daily drill sessions (one an intermediate level for 3.5 to 4.0 players, another for 4.5+), a doubles round robin utilizing all three Grand Slam surfaces, wheelchair tennis, and on selected holidays junior clinics.
Meanwhile, spectators turn out in large numbers for the PBI Tennis Show, held weekly from December into April (and much more often during the BNP Paribas Open). It has been called "The Harlem Globetrotters of Tennis," a moniker that suggests a combination of extraordinary ball handling served up with large doses of humor. Leupold himself has traveled internationally with the show (which has now touched down in 99 countries), and it never fails to please.
Courts & Fees. The complex consists of 20 courts: 15 hard (6 with lights), 3 clay, and 2 grass. These are bordered by beds of flowers, oleander hedges, colorful shrubs, and a scattering of trees. Court fees: $24/hour on hard, $28/hour on clay, $32/hour on grass (all lower mid May-mid Oct.).
Caveat: There are times when huge conventions fill the hotel, potentially snatching up all the best tee times, spa appointments, and court reservations. To better cater to its vacationers, Marriott established a Guest Services desk whose staff calls guests 14-21 days in advance of arrival offering to make the same kinds of appointments or reservations for them, including tennis. It's called Vacation Planning, and if for some reason you haven't heard from them, give the hotel a call and set up whatever you need in advance.
Spa & Fitness
Golf Courses. There are two 18-hole golf courses, both designed by Ted Robinson, and an unusual 18-hole championship putting course.
The Palms: Built in 1987, these 18 holes wind around the resort's waterways.
The Valley: This course shows such classic Ted Robinson features as effective water usage, multi-tiered greens framed by palm trees, and undulating fairways.
The Greens: Located adjacent to the lobby bar at the hotel, this 18-hole putting course stands out for its use of classic features of full-length courses, including sand bunkers, water hazards, strategically placed trees, and rolling "fairways," all played with only a putter. Par 54, 1,435 feet.
Spa & Fitness Center. Located along the lake, a couple of hundred yards from the hotel lobby, the 38,000-square-foot Spa Desert Springs has adopted a "California casual" decor of split-face limestone and Brazilian ipe wood throughout its interior. Both the men's and women's areas have saunas, steam rooms, and hot and cold plunge pools, and outdoor whirlpools, the latter overlooking the resort's Ted Robinson-designed golf course. A door from each leads to a Spa Bistro, which serves light snacks. New to both areas, however, is a Turkish hammam: a spacious steam chamber infused with essential oils and set at 105 degrees (which allows for a longer relaxation period than a traditional steam room). Digitally programmable Kohler Desert Rain showers with five heads let guests fully choreograph their shower experience. The men's side also has a 50-inche flat-screen TV. Outside, there's a saltwater pool with views of the golf course and homes lining the lake.
The spa treatments draw heavily on the healing ingredients and customs of the surrounding Sonoran Desert—including locally harvested citrus and dates, cactus flower, and aloe. However, it remains eclectic in also adopting European customs of using mud as a detoxifier, Ayurvedic warm oil and crushed herb treatments, Turkish sea salts, and more. There is also a new emphasis on "spa together," in which couples and groups can enjoy treatments together. Finally, they have added a 600-square-foot Spa Sanctuary, a private suite destined to cater to VIPs and the Hollywood elite. It has a private entrance and butler.
Those wanting to workout have the Fitness Center, a complete workout center with lines of treadmills, exercycles (recumbent and upright), and elliptical and standard StairMasters plus a full suite off LifeFitness machines, free weights, and dumbbells. It's is a partly mirrored room with windows on outside entrance. TVs hang from ceiling in front of workout machines and each of the cardio stations has its own television. There are also a variety of classes, including morning power walks (3.5 miles in about 45 minutes), spinning, yoga, and mat Pilates. There's also a shop with spa products and workout gear, a salon and hallways leading to women's locker in one direction, men's in the other. These each have tile showers, sauna, steam, and menthol steam and hot and cold plunge pools. A door from each leads to the Bistro, which serves light snacks, and to an outdoor lap pool bordered by lounge chairs. There's another small fitness center, with a handful of cardiovascular machines, at one corner of the tennis building where it has windows on the outside.
Desert Springs has a "Kid's Klub" that operates out of a small building adjacent to the Springs Pool. Designed for children ages 4 to 12, it provides arts and crafts and varied indoor and outdoor activities to entertain them.
Generous in size, the hotel's basic rooms have elements of residential decor, like crisp white bedding, crown molding, sofas or an armchair and ottoman, full-width terraces—the best with views of the Santa Rosa Mountains—Italian marble baths with separate showers and tubs, flat-screen TVs, and a CD player. The wings of the hotel wrap around the Oasis Pool putting some of them a long walk from the main lobby.
The main restaurant is the Rockwood Grill, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a garden terrace just off the lake. It is supplemented by the Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, seafood at Fishermen's Landing, sushi in the Lobby Bar, a poolside grill, and a Starbucks.
If you like large hotels with diverse activities and amenities, also look at:
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Travel Instructions. The nearest airport is Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), 11 miles west.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention & Visitors Authority website or contact them at 69-930 Hwy. 111, Suite 201, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270. Phone: 760-770-9000 or 800-967-3767 or Fax: 760-770-9001.