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Gondolas in the desert: Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch is full of surprises

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch is an Arizona resort with tons of surprises. Like gondolas, world-class dining and great golf at the Gainey Ranch Golf Club.

Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa - Pool
Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Gainey Ranch has an interesting pool scene.
Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa - PoolHyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa - Waterfall PoolHyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa - Back GroundsHyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa - Gondola

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - No one really expects to be taking a gondola ride in the hippest Arizona resort town.

Scottsdale isn't exactly a water wonderland after all. Newsflash: It's in the middle of the freaking desert. No joke, those cacti you see as you go from cutting-edge club to funky art gallery in Old Towne are real. They aren't props commissioned by the city founders.

Scottsdale is a lot of things. But it's never been mistaken for Venice.

Yet, there you are on one of those skinny double pointy boats with a beaming gondolier doing his thing. This is the scene out back at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, one of the more secret scenes in the whole greater Phoenix valley.

It's not that the Hyatt people go out of their way to keep the gondoliers on the down low. Far from it. Still, if you don't stay here and explore, there's a good chance you'll miss a lot of things about this resort. Hyatt Gainey Ranch is a popular spot to meet for drinks (it has a happening bar scene with frequent live music and sometimes inebriated guests dancing on the stairs) or for dinner.

Come for either of those, and you'll never get a grasp of all that's really here.

I'd been to Hyatt Gainey Ranch at least a good half dozen times before this review stay and had no clue about the gondolas. Or the waterfall pool. Or the secret James Bond-like entrance to the next-door Gainey Ranch Golf Club.

Call it the Hyatt Scottsdale unplugged.

It's cool to have a hotel where the guests experience sides of the resort that the stopping-in public mostly miss.

"Back here, it's like your own oasis," guest Alice Lucas said, gesturing around a mostly empty pool deck.

That's partly because a lot of the people staying at the Hyatt Gainey Ranch are stuck in meeting rooms most of the day. There's 70,000 square feet of meeting space, and it's a very popular hotel for company retreats, convention groups, brainstorming seminars and the like. You'll see this crowd shuffling back to their rooms, plastic-coated name tags dangling, around 5 p.m. each evening. Then, you'll see the bar scene really start to take off.

However, alas, Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute haven't been spotted trying to lead a conga line.

Hyatt Gainey Ranch can be a fine base for a vacationing golfer too. Guests can play the Gainey Ranch Golf Club, which is otherwise mostly shut off to non members. This three nine-hole complex isn't close to the best golf in Phoenix-Scottsdale, but it's very green and features a big waterfall behind a finishing hole (Lakes No. 9) near the clubhouse.

Desert dwellers are impressed enough by this waterfall that there were two different couples getting their wedding pictures taken with it behind them on this day.

If seeing so many brides dressed in white doesn't convince you that you made the right choice golfing rather than hanging around the house, nothing will.

"She's making you waste a Saturday on a golf course without letting you actually golf even before you're married," one gruff white-haired duffer yelled to a dazed-looking, tuxedo-clad groom-to-be. "Son, you're doomed."

Jokes are funnier when you have inside access too. That's what you're Hyatt Gainey Ranch room key gives you. There is a little, back gate, keycard-locked door at the edge of the pool that opens to a quick path to the golf club. This is the rare resort with a linked course where you don't have to do any driving - or shuttle van riding - at all to the course.

Just walk through your secret door.

OK, it's not one of those exploding pens Q would give James Bond. But it's still cool in a convenient way. There aren't many places in Scottsdale you can golf where you don't need wheels.

Hyatt Scottsdale's good food, dim rooms, great bell service

As comebacks go, John Travolta has nothing on the Hyatt Gainey Ranch. The resort used to have one of the top two or three restaurants in a sometimes surprisingly great Valley of the Sun dining scene in Vu. When Vu's head chef bolted to a San Diego golf resort, Gainey Ranch's dining no doubt immediately suffered.

After eventually making the wise choice to shutdown Vu and go in an entirely different direction with new restaurants in the opposite wing of the hotel, Gainey Ranch is back to delivering on good dining. SWB - a new casual Southwest bistro - isn't nearly as tasty as Vu, but it's much, much better than your average hotel fare.

The best thing about Hyatt Scottsdale Gainey Ranch just might be the service of the bell staff, though. How often does a bell boy affect the quality of your stay? Unless you're some 40-something blonde vixen who likes to seduce college kids. Well, at Gainey Ranch, the bell staff makes a difference.

On a rare rainy Scottsdale stretch, the bell hops handed out complimentary loaner umbrellas for anyone who asked and ran around like crazy men to try and insure no one got wet. They were quick with directions and quicker to help.

The worst thing about Hyatt Gainey Ranch has to be the lighting in the rooms. The rooms are big - huge compared to many standard Scottsdale rooms - but they can seem cave-like at night. They don't seem to be one lamp short, more like two or three. You're half tempted to call room service and order lights.

Sure Scottsdale is sunny most days, but even here you need light at night to work.

Then again, maybe you can hire one of those gondoliers to hold a flashlight over your head. If you take one of the boat rides around a lake near the golf course (and they're very popular with families), sit under a pool waterfall or lounge on the tiny strip of sand on one side of a pool that allows Gainey Ranch to claim a beach, you'll probably be in a good mood anyways.

After all, you've enjoyed some insider perks.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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Dates: January 12, 2018 - May 31, 2018
TPC Scottsdale is considered part of a world-class destination as it sits adjacent to the AAA Five-Diamond Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. This setting offers the ideal location for business, group and leisure travelers.
Price range: $272