Sunsational FAM in Scottsdale

FAM — n. adj. v.

Yes — a FAM covers all parts of speech in the English language.

A FAM is a familiarization trip that hotels and destinations like to host for people interested in booking meetings or events in their city. You are seeing, eating, doing, tasting, smelling (yes, smelling), hearing, and experiencing everything you possibly can in a short frame of time, as quickly as possible!

I just returned from spending 3 nights in Scottsdale, AZ. I have only briefly been to Phoenix just about a year ago, so was excited to do a deeper dive into this lovely suburb just about 20 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Hosted by the incredible team at the Experience Scottsdale visitors bureau, I had the privilege of attending the 30th Annual Sunsational FAM. First, I cannot say enough about this team of professional individuals who did everything in their power to provide a 5-star, VIP experience. They succeeded. Experience Scottsdale have been long-standing partners of HelmsBriscoe, and even won Destination Partner of the Year at HelmsBriscoe’s 2017 Annual Business Conference. I think that says it all.

Our “home” for the 3 night stay was the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa. This resort, near the McDowell mountains, and is part of a 730 acre master planned, family owned community featuring amazing shopping and dining options, all within walking distance.

True to their brand, when you arrive at this Westin, you have a feeling of “ahhh” relaxation. Entering the lobby, you have a stunning picturesque view of their 27-hole golf course. With 8 dining outlets, you really never have to leave. I was most impressed with the grounds and their POOL, which I didn’t have time to use! But there was a water slide, lazy river, and FlowRider surfing simulator. They often host corporate events out on the pool deck, and can even rent out the FlowRider for attendees to play around on. There is a 15,000 square foot spa, with 20 treatment rooms and treatments incorporating the native Agave plant, and even tequila!

I mean, hello.
I could hang here.

The guest rooms were spacious and suited for both work and relaxation. It was a very comfortable room, equipped with Westin’s signature Heavenly bed.

Really comfy room, it was perfect for work and relaxing, and you could hear the nice AZ birds with the window open.

An example of this hotel team thinking outside the box was their amenity program. Instead of having warm cheese or brown guacamole sitting in your room all hours of the day until you arrive, you are presented with a voucher to pick your own amenity! There were a couple options, and I went for the wine and snack dippers. They even had my favorite sauv. blanc, Kim Crawford. I thought this was a creative way to “send” an amenity, but the only downfall I can see is that people will forget, or just won’t do it, since you have to physically go downstairs to pick out what you want. I happened to go right before I was checking out, and took the snacks with me to go at the airport. Anyways, credit for trying something new!

On this FAM, we toured 12 hotels!

I will provide a brief review of each of the properties along with some photos.


Mountain Shadows Resort: this is a new build property tucked up against Mummy Mountain. It used to be a Marriott, but they tore the whole thing down and started from scratch. 183 guestrooms, with 42 condominiums (coming soon). It is modern, with a mid-century vibe. Beautiful furnishings, spacious guestrooms, and lots of meeting space for the perfect group. I believe having a group of 60 guests would get you all the meeting space.

Breakfast on Paradise Terrace + grounds and interior of Mountain Shadow
Photo from the old Marriott

Andaz Scottsdale Resort and Spa — casita style, open layout sort of property. Rooms were very homey and all have their own private outdoor entrance (equipped with door mat!) and private patio. Spacious bathrooms with large shower and vanity. Very modern meeting space, light and bright. Located off of a major road, but tucked behind a shopping center. It was quiet and serene, but in the heat of the summer I can see it being troublesome going to and from your room, just because it’s all out doors. Would be great for a young, tech group.

Rooms, grounds, and cute housekeeping bicycle carts at Andaz!

Hotel Valley Ho — well, we were greeted with a glass of Frozè (like, Rosè, but frozen), need I say more. This is a funky mid-century modern style hotel as well. Sort of Jetsons meet Brady Bunch. Lots of options for suite upgrades. We got to see the Sands ballroom, which was originally Trader Vics — lots of history inside! This would be a great room for a social group, or fun corporate event.

Retro-chic at Hotel Valley Ho.

W Scottsdale — located in “Old Town” Scottsdale. This is your typical W property, funky, edgy, cool. Rooms need a refresh in my opinion. This hotel prides themselves on their food and beverage. We had a house-made organic craft cocktail, mixed to order at the end of our tour. They are within walking distance of bars, restaurants, and an events center. While we were touring, you could see that Heineken was having a meeting there, and had their branding all over the place. So, that’s what types of group I think this hotel attracts.

The Scott Resort & Spa — formerly Kimpton Firesky Resort. This is also off a major road, but once you are inside and on the grounds, you would have no idea. Definitely needs a refresh, which is coming in the next year. They will be going for a Spanish Revival meets Havana nights look and feel. The bones of this property are nice, meeting space was actually fine, with 2 large ballrooms to choose from. It actually very vaguely reminded me of the Four Seasons Santa Barbara (gasp!). Something about it. Has some nice outdoor space and a fun tropical pool, which would be a great backdrop for an outdoor reception. We had some phenomenal appetizers here…the grilled artichoke was 2 thumbs up. Check out their plans for renovation here.

Can’t wait to see the changes at the Scott!

JW Camelback Inn — Hits all JW expectations and more. Also a casita-style property, providing a homey feel. There was live music and nice atmosphere on their main patio off the lobby. You could tell lots of locals go to hang out here. 453 rooms that are cozy with a Southwestern vibe and beautiful wood beams on the ceiling. They will be renovating their meeting space and adding a 15,000 square foot ballroom, slated for completion May 2018. This will better serve larger groups requiring ballroom and many breakouts — perfect for a sales kick-off or national meeting.

Beautiful grounds and cozy room at JW.


Hermosa Inn — they call this a “boutique hideaway”, and that’s exactly what it is! Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, this hotel is filled with artistic history. It used to be the home of cowboy artist Lon Megargee, later turned into an inn, and now a boutique property. Lon’s art dons the walls all over the resort (below are some of my favorites). It is said that his friendly ghost haunts the grounds. This is another hacienda-style property, creating a comforting and home-like atmosphere. It is the perfect location for very high-end executive retreats and board meetings.

Homage to Lon Megargee at Hermosa Inn

The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch — This is a great conference property, meaning, it is built to house meetings and conferences! With meeting planner packages, versatile space furnished with ergonomic chairs, and actual “break rooms”, this hotel is a meeting planners dream. It gets the job done, but also has special touches and attention to detail that make this a unique location for a your “run of the mill” conference.

Attn. to detail at Scottsdale Resort

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa — This is named appropriately. A serene environment, this hotel truly is a little sanctuary snuggled up against Camelback. Also very residential, there are private entrances to each casita, making it feel like you are “welcome home”. There is one large ballroom that can split into 5 breakouts. I think the spa and fitness center is really the winner here though. Complete with a lap pool, you can take private swim lessons from Olympic gold medalist, Misty Hyman. Perfect for retreats, C-level executive meetings, and an intimate launch or kick-off party.

Praying Monk in the background at Sanctuary.

Doubletree Resort Paradise Valley — this is a large property with tons of meeting space. There is a huge event center on property, and they are equipped to service meetings of all sizes. They also have 2 nice resort pools, a large park for outdoor events, and a great food and beverage department! We got to sample their award winning burger, it was really yummy! Rooms are well appointed, with cool wood work detailing in the ceilings. A very nice Doubletree, that is conveniently located on Scottsdale Road.

Hyatt Regency at Gainey Ranch — Walking in the doors of this Hyatt Regency, you immediately feel like you’re on vacation. Upon entering the lobby, there is a green vista view of their 27-hole golf club and “water playground” — featuring 10 pools! When you’re finished at the 10 pools, you can head over to the Spa, where there’s another pool. There is no lack of recreation or relaxation options. Over 70,000 square feet of meeting space and almost 500 guest rooms, this hotel can accommodate any type of group. While we were there, there were a couple of medical/pharma groups in house.

Spa pool at Hyatt, I could hang here all day.

We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center — This resort is part of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, aka a gaming hotel! The hotel and conference center are completely separate facilities from the casino and gaming area. Although they are separate, you sort of get a little touch of the Vegas feel. Still not far from the airport, but you do get a remote feeling out there. Attention to detail and family focused, you really do feel like you’re part of the tribe. Great for groups looking for something different, but still receiving all the amenities of a city resort.

To end our trip, we had a great farewell dinner in the desert at La Puesta, part of the Fort McDowell grounds. It was this amazing event space, like a Spanish barn, where we had a live band, games, and yummy Southwestern/Mexican food. Highly recommend for an off-property dinner! Or a wedding.

The scene and ambience was so lovely.
My new friends!

Actually, to really end our trip, a few of us were treated to horse back riding in the desert. Another great idea for a team building activity. This was at MacDonald’s Ranch; they were super nice cowboys and girls.

Such cool scenery, I LOVE the Saguaro cactus!

These FAMS are not only a great opportunity to explore and learn about a new destination, but to connect with industry colleagues. I got to meet a fellow HB’er, Brandon Tully, and had such a great time hanging out with her, and learning about her business and industry insights!


That about wraps it up, in a nutshell! It’s hard to put everything we did into words, but I fell in love with Scottsdale and am excited to continue sending my clients and groups to there! If you have any questions about what I saw, or need a referral, connection, or recommendation to any of the mentioned sites, just email me at

The lucky meeting planners who got to attend the Sunsational FAM
Special thanks to Kelli with Experience Scottsdale!