Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is this Heaven?? No, it’s Scottsdale!!—Scottsdale, AZ: March 1-3, 2013

This (slightly adjusted to fit the situation) quote from the best baseball movie ever, Field of Dreams, soundly sums up the experience of this GoFamily as we fulfilled our lifetime dream (okay, maybe it was just MY lifetime dream) of attending Spring Training in Scottsdale, AZ. This year not only were the San Francisco Giants coming off their 2012 World Championship, but the stars aligned as far as our schedules were concerned to go. While our boys took the field at Scottsdale Stadium for warm ups and batting practice, the desert sun toasted the backs of our legs and necks as we stood there eagerly hoping that one or more of our team would take a break and sign a baseball with a Sharpie pen. As I stood there in the sea of orange and black, tightly gripping my camera for that action shot of Buster Posey, Sergio Romo, or Pablo Sandoval, it was hard not to recall Shoeless Joe's inquiry.

How to get there??
We left Friday night and landed at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport after 10 pm after losing an hour of time. We grabbed our rental car and headed off to Scottsdale, about a half hour drive.

Where to stay??
People stay at various hotels in Scottsdale for different reasons. Some want a spa, some want luxury. We wanted proximity, and proximity we got. The Holiday Inn Express and Suites, located at 3131 N. Scottsdale Road, 1) sleeps five in one room with no one on the floor, and 2) is .4 miles from Scottsdale Stadium. It is not in Old Town itself, but is only several blocks south, and there is plenty of great Old Town eating, drinking, and shopping within walking distance.
We did not expect too much from a chain hotel but the Holiday Inn Express and Suites was a pleasant surprise. The room was brand spanking new—clean and spacious, with two queen beds in the bedroom, which can be closed off from a sitting area with a fold out sofa (which really only sleeps one) and a desk. There are two flat screen TVs with plenty of entertainment options. There is a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a coffee maker. There is plenty of drawer space and 2 closets. Wi-fi is free (as it should be).
The pool was right outside our room on the second floor, which allowed us to watch the kids from the balcony if we so desired, but we actually went down to the pool. We used the pool three times on Saturday, before the game, after the game, and after dinner.

The pool area has a large seating area with shaded tables available. There is a large jacuzzi and waterfall features. Pool towels are provided.
The best part, you can't smoke in the pool area. In fact, the only place you can smoke at HIE is on the balcony of your room. LOVE THIS!!
A hot breakfast is included every morning. Breakfast includes eggs, toast, pancakes, sausage patties, muffins and sweet rolls, yogurt, fruit, hard boiled eggs, etc., plus of course, coffee, juice, milk. Another unexpected perk is the 5-7pm nightly happy hours—with unlimited beer, wine, soda, and snacks! Fun to sit by the pool and have a little beverage and snacky before getting ready for dinner! Lemonade and ice tea are offered in the lobby from 12-8pm, and coffee is available all day.
I attempted to use the fitness facility which is nice but a little sparse as far as equipment is concerned. All the equipment was occupied when I got there and so I opted for a neighborhood walk instead.
The single craziest amenity the Holiday Inn Express offered is a free shuttle anywhere within 3 miles of the hotel. As long as it is available, from 7am to 10pm you can be driven wherever you like. We did use this service to go to breakfast on Sunday morning.
BRASS TACKS: The hotel was not a bargain—but this is March in Scottsdale. I don't know that we could have done much better for what we got. We paid about 215$ a night all told, but it was worth it and we would stay here again. You can also see my review of this hotel on hotels.com (www.hotels.com).

Where to eat??

Well, as well as staying in a great place, we ate in some fine places too!
Saturday night we headed to the Old Town Tortilla Factory
(www.oldtowntortillafactory.com ), located at 6910 E. Main Street, an easy .9 mile walk through Old Town from our hotel. The restaurant was recommended by my friend and Spring Training veteran, Katherine Markgraf—thank you Kath!! Anyway, we did have a reservation which was fortunate, as it is a busy place. We sat at a lovely outdoor table surrounded by palm trees. Service was good and everyone enjoyed their food. The girls had the Old Town Tacos and Craig and I had the Pork Chile Verde and the Tesoro Margarita. Nicholas opted for the chicken fingers, a bargain off the kids menu for only $5.
BRASS TACKS: We paid about $143 for chips and salsa (which were not included), food, 3 margaritas, and three sodas, including tax and tip. That's a little pricey for us. It is a lovely restaurant with good atmosphere, service, and food. We would return to this restaurant.
Well, no trip to Scottsdale is complete without a stop into the Sugar Bowl (www.sugarbowlscottsdale.com), located at 4005 N. Scottsdale Rd. 
This is a full service restaurant but I'd say most people come here for the ice cream. The interior has the look and feel of an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. If you don't feel like getting a table, but would rather stroll through Old Town with your cone, you can do that too. About 15 flavors of ice cream are available on any given day. For about $12, we had five happy GoFamily members, adding delicious ice cream to stomachs already full of Mexican food. Thank goodness we walked!
Though breakfast was provided at our hotel, on Sunday morning we met our friends Katherine and Phil, at the Breakfast Club (www.breakfastclub.us), located at 4400 N. Scottsdale Road. We got there at 8 am and this place was already hopping. They do not take reservations and your whole party has to be there to be seated so we were lucky to be seated indoors, actually we may have gotten the last available table! The highlight of the morning was seeing Hunter Pence leaving the restaurant. We were all in Giants gear so he definitely acknowledged us with a wave—the kids were totally oblivious-so not expecting to see him in civilian clothes. I was like, "You do realize that was Hunter Pence I was just talking to??" Sigh-youth is wasted on the young! Anyway, if you aren't a Giants fan and you don't know who Hunter Pence is you can disregard the last sentence and just focus on what we ate….
My family all ordered from the Quick Start selections, which are the typical eggs, meat, toast and potatoes and I had the breakfast burrito, smothered (yes, they actually use the word "smothered") in pork chile verde, thanks to the urging of Katherine, who apparently does not care how piggy I appear—no pun intended, really. (Actually, funny that I mention this, because the waitresses wear black exercise pants and workout gear and generally were a shameful vision of health.)
All our food was plenty yummy, and I hear the jalapeno biscuit is mighty fine as well.
The breakfast was all pretty reasonable, as all menu items seemed to be under about 10$
The Breakfast Club was over a mile away, and though we did take the free shuttle there, we walked back. Old Town is peaceful and quiet at this time of the morning and we walked back via the Scottsdale Mall, which is not a mall at all, but rather a city center with fountains, sculptures, lawn, and civic buildings.

Well, after the game we of course had to go eat again, so we headed to the legendary Don and Charlie's (www.donandcharlies.com ), located at 7501 E. Camelback Road. This place came highly recommended, and when we arrived there for our 5:30 reservation, the place was packed. Don and Charlie's is known for its wall to wall plastering of sports memorabilia. Apparently Willie Mays had been in there the past three nights. Did you know Willie Mays charges $200 for a signed baseball? He gives the money to his foundation, Say Hey, but $200? Anyway, we ran into people at the games who had paid it!
Everything about this restaurant was fine, but not outstanding. The food was fine, the service was fine, the ambiance was fine. It was dark and hard to see. I saw negative reviews on yelp and trip advisor and the like and I get why. It's just overrated. One thing that was very noticeable was that the average age in the joint was about 65. Of course I have nothing against seniors! That would be ridiculous! But, there is no doubt that as we age we become more creatures of habit. Many there came because they have been coming there for 50 years. That gives you the general picture—the place is a little tired. The place has actually only been open for 25 years, just seems longer
I must give a small disclaimer. I was not feeling tremendously well when we went here. I was wiped from two days of sun, baseball, and walking everywhere. Like I said, everything was fine. I would not avoid this place. I just feel like I would not hang my head if I missed it.
BRASS TACKS: This time we had just two drinks and my kids all ordered off the kids menu, which led us to a bill of about $92.50. It was considerably less than the bill the night before, but we enjoyed it less.

The Games!
What is there not to love about the games??
Well, it is not easy to get tickets to see this championship team! We are not season ticket holders and we got online for tickets the minute they were available and requested the "best available" tickets and both days we were in the bleachers, which can be far into the outfield, Saturday far worse than Sunday. We did check out StubHub, to see if we could get tickets right in the thick of the action, but these seats were seriously going for like 85$ a ticket, and we had only paid about 20$ per for our bleacher seats. Truth be told, the entire stadium is really only about 20 seats deep, so there really is no such thing as a bad seat. No matter what, you are going to do so much better for your 20$ in Scottsdale than you are going to do at AT&T Park. 
At AT&T, you are freezing your backside off, but in Scottsdale it's 80 degrees and who even cares if you are far away. Everyone came to be a fan and everyone has a story and everyone's friendly. Just go get another beer and enjoy.
One warning, if you came to see all your favorites playing in these games you've got another thing coming. Your MVP or Cy Young Award Winner may pitch one inning, then he's coming out. While we were there we never saw Angel Pagan, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Marco Scutaro, Ryan Vogelsong (sigh), or Madison Bumgarner. One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of Giants' (or whoever your team might be ) players are playing in the World Baseball Classic, which is going on concurrent with Spring Training. Who we did see was Ricky Oropeza, Brett Pill, Andrew Susac, Joe Panik, Adam Duvall, Jackson Williams, and Heath Hembree, guys Bochy is playing to see if he wants them on his team. They are all great and so excited to be there! If you want the big names, though, all is not lost! Sergio Romo, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Panda were all there—and literally within an arm's reach!!

Getting autographs—
Autographs are big. The boys are very choosy and capricious about when they will sign autographs and not. The younger guys seem a little more accessible—the older more seasoned guys, not so much.
I went for a walk at 7:30am, and there was already a line of people in the parking lot waiting to catch a glimpse of a favorite or two as they arrived at the stadium for the morning and get an autograph. Hmm… Really your chances are almost as good getting to the game early. Both days we arrived at the stadium one and a half hours before the game and we were able to get right up to the edge and wait. 
Brett Pill came over to make fans happy
 Really you just need to be lucky, though. Even though the chances of getting an autograph are far higher than in San Francisco, there are still oodles of fans who have the same goal as you do. You just need to be in the right place at the right time.My son got Hunter Pence's autograph, but my girls, who were standing right next to him, did not. 

The Reverend Hunter Pence signed
my son's baseball
Brandon Belt came over but worked his way right, and we were standing left. Through the weekend we got five autographs, and it was a huge highlight. One fun note was getting the autograph of Ricky Oropeza who ran out to first base with my then 8 year old son at San Jose Municipal Stadium.
 A lot of people leave the game to form a line outside the stadium again in the parking lot to watch the players leave. I don't know how much luck they have. If I was a player I would just want to go home. In our situation, the Giants won both games, so we didn't much want to leave. I suppose if we were getting trounced, the parking lot line might seem more appealing.

Though my daughter's hair is is the picture,
we missed Brandon Belt's autograph!
Anyway,I found the 90 minutes before the game began to be a photography fan fest! I think I had way more fun with my camera than my poor kids did hoping for autographs. I had a good zoom lens but nothing TOO fancy—you just don't need it. They are that close!
The store is worth a mention. All sorts of great souvenir gear. Buy the shirt—how often are you going to make it to Spring Training??
In the presence of greatness!!
The Scoreboard at Scottsdale Stadium

Your World Series MVP and his skipper
Your 2012 National League MVP
SERIOUSLY, how can you NOT love this guy???

How much was it??
Well, there is no doubt about it, this was not a bargain vacation. The total bill for this vacation was about $2750. That included five airfares, two days of car rental, two days of hotel stay, four meals out, bleacher tickets for five for two games, and incidentals. Remembering that all GoFamily vacations are about value and not necessarily the financial bottom line, I will say that we would do it again and we would do it the same way. We had the time of our lives in 48 hours and a long standing dream was finally realized. I would definitely recommend this vacation for baseball lovers!

Thank you for reading this post! We don't take another vacation for several months! Be sure to look for future posts about travelling with another family! Travelling with the wrong another family can ruin your family vacation!

Like my posts?? Get notified about all my future travel advice by following me on Twitter at @nadiamariet.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Nadia. Love the photos. Wondering about the Holiday Inn, is it not a non-smoking hotel- or do they have an area for smokers? I'd hate to be next to the room of someone who smoked on their balcony! Pool looks nice. Love the kid's photos. So cute.

    Can't wait to read about traveling with the wrong family. Hope it wasn't us!!



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