The big oversell: Sedona Rouge a nice hotel but luxury claims overblown

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SEDONA, Ariz. - This town of red rock wonders carries an image of being about as hip as Liza Minneli is these days. For good reason as your grandfather or grandmother can probably tell you (if they've been to Arizona, chances are they rave over Sedona).

Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa
Sedona Rouge's front courtyard aims for Scottsdale resort cool.
Sedona Rouge Hotel & SpaSedona Red Rocks
If you go

When the girl behind the counter of a souvenir/novelties shop on the main drag is asked what people do on Saturday nights in Sedona, she shrugs. "There's nothing to do here," she says, looking as bored as someone who's been subjected to a Tyra Banks Show marathon.

This is the scene the Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa came into, promising excitement, world-class amenities, a happening - all the things this beautifully scenic town is missing, basically. Just over a year after its June 2005 opening, the verdict on whether Sedona Rouge delivers on that promise is decidedly mixed.

It's a nice hotel. But you may find yourself asking for something more. Especially at these prices.

Sedona Rouge charges $199 and up for a standard room, although you can sometimes get one, without a red-rock view, for $179 "steal." In other words, Sedona Rouge charges Phoenix-Scottsdale resort corridor prices.

In Sedona.

For that, you'd better be something special.

Sedona Rouge has its moments. The rooms are nice, and the red everywhere - pillows, chairs, curtains - add a touch not found in most carbon-copy chain hotels. The 32-inch flat-screen TVs are fun to have. The rain shower works well enough. The beds are plenty comfortable. And the little empty fridge in your room can be a godsend.

It's just that when you're paying $200-plus per night, you don't want to hear traffic noise rushing past on Highway 89 and open those red curtains in the morning to see a parking lot. It's just not the exclusive, ultra-relaxing retreat environment you expected.

Of course, you can always just go to the spa. Sedona Rouge pushes its spa facilities with the near fever of a Mary Kay salesperson. You're given a big packet explaining the treatments and a welcome letter from the spa director at check-in.

The spa is a short walk through the courtyards in a side building.

"It's fine," said Ashley Jancewicz, who was visiting with her boyfriend from Scottsdale. "But it's a little on the small side. It's not the kind of spa I'm used to, really."

These are the little disappointments that threaten a Sedona Rouge stay. Sedona is only about a two-hour drive from Phoenix-Scottsdale, but it's another world. Everything changes when get out into the real desert on the highway and the elevation starts climbing. In many ways, that's a good thing.

You're not getting this kind of scenery in Scottsdale. In Sedona you can step outside your hotel room and walk straight into the towering red-rock formations in a few minutes flat. Sedona Rouge's mistake is making it seem like you're going to get a Phoenix-Scottsdale luxury experience with those natural wonders.

The one place where Sedona Rouge comes close is Reds, it's bistro. You'll get plenty of red here - plates, napkins, glasses, the bar itself - in keeping with the hotel's overall theme. More important, you'll also get tasty dishes from chef Kyle Evans.

If Reds isn't the best restaurant in Sedona (personally this reviewer preferred Gallery on Oak Creek), it's one of the best.

Good thing too, because after a long drive at night to start a quick weekend getaway you might not want to take another trip into town. Sedona Rouge is not located in the heart of the downtown tourist area; it's out in the commercial district, surrounded by banks, furniture stores, pool shops and the like. There's a big grocery store that's open late in the shopping center next door, no small perk with that in-room fridge.

The drive downtown takes eight minutes tops, but it can be inconvenient if you're traveling with family members or friends who want to do different things. With most of the other hotels, you can step out of your room and be on shop-lined streets.

For the golf part of trip, though, Sedona Rouge works just as well as any other base. You're going to be driving or taking a shuttle to courses like Sedona Golf Resort and Oakcreek Country Club anyway.

Once you return to Sedona Rouge, it's almost certain to provide a nice, quiet evening under starry skies (it gets country dark here). Not that quiet is a rare commodity in a Sedona night. But still ...

"I could be in the office or some club full of 20-year-olds in Scottsdale," Vincent Worley said, leaning back in one of the hotel courtyard's patio chairs.

Sometimes, if the night's nice enough, you don't mind that the luxury claims are a little overblown. But your wallet might feel more comfortable about things if it woke up somewhere else in the morning.

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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