National travel club AAA handed out its annual stash of diamonds this week, and five Arizona hotels and two restaurants picked up five gems each.
It’s vindication for a fivestar snub by rival Mobil Travel Guides earlier this week.
AAA also awarded four diamonds each to 27 Arizona hotels and 22 restaurants, 10 more than earned that many diamonds last year.
All of Arizona’s fivediamond award winners, and many of those bagging four, are in or near Scottsdale.
Mobil shut Arizona out of its top tier and dubbed only four of the state’s hotels and four restaurants worthy of four stars.
In AAA rankings, The Phoenician resort, the posh Phoenix hotel with a Scottsdale address, leaped from four to five diamonds this year. It wasn’t an accident, said spokeswoman Debi Bridges.
"We spent $12 million in renovations, and we continue to add money to our physical property," Bridges said. "And we’ve been working on guest interaction, continuously retraining our 1,300 employees."
The resort’s tony Mary Elaine’s restaurant has been a five-diamond eatery for six years, and the Terrace Dining Room has been awarded four diamonds for 10 years.
The resort’s 14-jewel total is a rarity, Bridges said.
She said Phoenician management is perplexed about the discrepancy between Mobil’s and AAA’s assessments of the resort.
This year, Mobil awarded the Phoenician and Mary Elaine’s four stars each, but both have enjoyed five-star status in previous years.
AAA Arizona Vice President Jim Prueter agreed the big disparity in ratings is surprising.
Prueter said AAA scrutinizes service and physical attributes of a property and uses specific criteria to award diamonds. All the fivediamond winners deserve their accolades, he said, regardless of how rivals rate them.
"We don’t know what Mobil does," Prueter said. "We think they have lost their way."
He said the state’s sheer volume of diamonds is a great endorsement.
"We are recognizing 56 properties at the four- and five-diamond level — more than our share on a national level, but not more than we deserve," Prueter said. "It shows there is a lot of commitment to this market."
Among AAA’s 2005 rating changes, the Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center and the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa jumped to the four-diamond level this year, but the Ritz-Carlton Phoenix slipped out of the two top tiers.
Four Scottsdale or east Phoenix restaurants — Michael’s at the Citadel, Mosaic, the Palm Court at Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center and T. Cook’s at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa — netted four diamonds each for the first time.
Prueter said many travelers may not be able to discern the difference between a four- or five-diamond experience, since the expectations for both are first-class amenities and atmosphere and excellent service.
Surprising touches may propel a hotel or restaurant to the pinnacle, he said.
Prueter cited examples such as a pillow menu with a multitude of choices from feathers to foam, or an unexpected dollop of truffle foam floating on a cup of soup.
The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North is a four-time five-diamond winner. General manager Tom Kelly said the posh property, tucked into the far north Scottsdale desert, is still working harder, in hopes of keeping the five diamonds and adding another star to the four it earned from Mobil.
"We appreciate our four stars and we’re very, very proud of our five diamonds, " Kelly said. "But we’d like to have five of each."
AAA five-diamond awards in Arizona (number of years on the list): Hotels
• The Boulders Resort and Golden Door Spa, Carefree (16 years)
• Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (14 years)
• Four Seasons Scottsdale Resort at Troon North (four years)
• JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, Paradise Valley (29 years)
• The Phoenician (one year)
• Marquesa, in the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (14 years)
• Mary Elaine’s, in The Phoenician (6 years)
4 diamond hotels
Four-diamond hotels in or near the East Valley (number of years on list)
• Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix (one year)
• CopperWynd Resort and Club, Fountain Hills (three years)
• Hilton Scottsdale Resort & Villas (two years)
• Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch (17 years)
• JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, Phoenix (two years)
• Pointe South Mountain Resort, Ahwatukee Foothills (three years)
• The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix (15 years)
• Royal Palms Resort & Spa, Phoenix (seven years)
• Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Paradise Valley (three years)
• Scottsdale Marriott at McDowell Mountain (two years)
• Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center (one year)
• Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, Gila River Indian Community (two years)
• The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, Phoenix (two years)
4 diamond restaurants
Four-Diamond restaurants (number of years on list)
• Acacia, Four Seasons Scottsdale (five years)
• Alchemy at CopperWynd, Fountain Hills (two years)
• The Chaparral, JW Marriott Camelback Inn, Paradise Valley (15 years)
• Deseo, Westin Kierland, Phoenix (two years)
• Elements Restaurant, Sanctuary, Paradise Valley (three years)
• La Hacienda, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (12 years)
• Kai, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, Gila River Indian Community (two years)
• Latilla Dining Room, Boulders Resort, Carefree (11 years)
• Michael’s at the Citadel, Scottsdale (one year)
• Mosaic, Scottsdale (one year)
• Palm Court, Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center (one year)
• Ristorante Tuscany, JW Marriott Resort at Desert Ridge, Phoenix (two years)
• T. Cook’s at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa, Phoenix (one year)
• The Terrace Dining Room, The Phoenician, Phoenix (10 years)
• Wright’s, Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix (three years)