Billed as a “desert oasis near downtown Tucson,” the AAA Four-Diamond JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa does indeed live up to its name and reputation as one of Tucson’s premier destination resorts.
Set on 50 acres that back up to the Tucson Mountain Park, the 576,000 sq ft resort is all marble tile floors, high ceilings and wide open spaces, with plenty of stone, granite and wood thrown in—highlighting the best of everything offered by the Great Southwest. It’s a striking property, with two buildings gently curving around the pools and the emerald-green championship golf courses.
Dining means Southwestern and international cuisine at any of its seven eateries. The morning pozole is not to be missed at the Signature Grill, and one evening, we savored a particularly indulgent dinner at Passagio, their signature Italian restaurant, which began with delectable calamari fritto and spicy meatballs and then meandered through a perfectly cooked Aspen Ridge ribeye and scallops with squid-ink pasta.
Attendees are welcomed through the airy lobby of the 8-story main building, though a private check-in can be arranged in the convention wing, connected to the hotel via an open-air bridge. “Our rooms-to-space ratio is phenomenal with 575 guest rooms and 88,000 square feet of meeting space,” says Daniel Padilla, director of sales and marketing. This includes 35 specialty suites, and all are well-appointed and plush, with mountain, desert, pool, lazy river or city views, oversized bathrooms and every amenity—including all king and queen mattresses.
When it comes to memorable events, those 88,000 sq ft of meeting space not only offer up state-of-the-art facilities, technology and services for groups (their “sweet spot,” says Joanna Fleeger, destination sales executive, is groups of 250 to 450 attendees), but the actual experiences are some that planners will only find in Arizona and truly set this destination resort apart.
Padilla shared that the resort’s onsite DMC curates unique experiences, and the resort’s desert location is the icing on the cake. “Whether it’s a tamale cooking class with our executive chef, who’s from Mexico City himself, [or a] salsa making competition, or margaritas [it’s always special]. [They can] partake in golf tournaments that we have here; we’ve had groups that have done triathlons, where they actually swim against the current of the Star Canyon River and run through the golf course…
“And then we have a lot of hiking trails. So, throwing in those three different components all in one definitely makes it fun for different team building activities or really just giving them an extra activity to do.” This is quite the venue for out-of-the-box, as we confirmed with Fleeger, who added they’ve had Western shows with stuntmen falling out of windows, Day of the Dead processions, movies projected on the side of the mountain and stargazing sessions, among other special events.
In addition, unique to the JW is a series of Daily Rituals. Every morning at 7:00 a.m., attendees can join a Native American elder on the Salud Terrace for the Mitakuye Oyasin Morning Ritual (“All My Relations”), where the sunrise, the sound of the traditional flute, the scent of burning sage and an eagle feather blessing encourage reflection on the connection we have with nature and each other. At 7:30 a.m., attendees can take a guided morning hike on trails through Tucson Mountain Park for about an hour and a half. In the evenings at 5:30 p.m., The Legend of Arriba Abajo on the Salud Terrace closes the day with a tequila toast—all are complimentary.
As you might have guessed, planners will find the JW Marriott Starr Pass an excellent choice for incentive groups and their families. There’s the water collection—from the Star Canyon lazy river to the Monsoon slide, the three nine-hole golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer, and then there’s the Sonoran Desert itself. It’s a real treat, Padilla notes, “getting to enjoy the view by hiking where we are in the Tucson Mountain Park, where you’ll find the highest condensation of saguaros that you’ll experience anywhere else in the Sonoran Desert—and all that’s just right outside our front door.”
And we’d be very remiss if we didn’t mention the 20,000 sq ft Hashani Spa, which blends ancient Native American treatments and ingredients with modern techniques. It offers a varied menu of body wraps and treatments, facials (the AZ Copper Peptide facial is out of this world), eye treatments and mani-pedi salons for both men and women and Pilates, yoga and meditation classes. The spa also boasts a steam room, a private patio, an Express Treatment Pod, a saline lap pool and private poolside cabanas.
This being Arizona, you might think the heat would be cause for concern, but keep in mind Tucson easily enjoys 6-7 months of temperate weather and clear skies when the resort’s outdoor spaces can best be appreciated. When the temperatures rises during the summer months, the only time attendees have to be out of doors during the work day is when they cross the bridge from the main building to the convention wing. In other words, they won’t even break a sweat.
Of note: Earlier this year, the hotel was bought by Southwest Value Partners, a company that has actively invested in Arizona for over 30 years, and they were said to be exploring options for renovating the property in late 2024 and into 2025.
For more information, visit marriott.com.