The Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass is a destination resort that embraces its locale on the Gila River Indian Community and incorporates its Native American roots into every aspect of the resort. You can count on terrific theming, top of the line dining, and stellar service. Adults and kids alike will love vacationing or staycationing at this stunner south of Phoenix in Chandler, Arizona.
Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass: An Overview
What drew me to this exceptional resort in Chandler Arizona was the story of the resort. Nestled on the Gila River Indian Community, the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass (formerly the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa) is owned by the Pima and Maricopa tribes. Yes, they actually own the resort and have an agreement with a Sheraton and a management company to run it. Their influences are stamped throughout the resort, from the grand lobby with the 10 murals on the ceiling, to the naming of the restaurants, to the artwork and décor. The name Wild Horse Pass pays homage to the 1,500 wild horses that run free on these tribal lands.
What will have me return is the quality of service, amenities, and location. The Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass is truly an escape from the norm. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back to a much simpler time without sacrificing any of the modern amenities. That’s due to the amazing theming that makes you feel a part of the Native American spirit that dwells here. It’s not overdone, but rather respectfully, tastefully, and with the scale you’d expect at a large 500 room resort.
What Works for Families
When a resort gets it right, it really sings! I call that “hitting the high notes.” Here are those high notes:
The theming is what I would call “sophisticated tribal.” You can’t miss the enormous ceiling murals depicting 10 images of important tribal elements, from their origins to their craftsmanship to the respect for their elders.
Two tile murals flank the entrance with a greeting in the Pima and Maricopa languages: “Friend, welcome to my house. It is good to see you. The creator be with you.”
Talk about setting the tone for a vacation destination unlike others! I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this from a Sheraton. What a pleasant surprise. In keeping with the indigenous people’s beliefs, all entrances to the resort, spa, and golf club face east. In the Pima and Maricopa tradition, they see it as a means of being in tune with Mother Nature. Plus, it’s consistent with their traditions of praying, worshiping the sun, burying the dead, and building their homes all eastward.
Even in February, the temperatures in Arizona are warm, so a pool is a welcome oasis of coolness. The Hanyo Pool (“Hanyo” in Maricopa means “oasis”) is centrally located behind the main lobby and beckons you to take a dip. Snag a lounge chair, pick up a towel poolside, grab a drink and just chill! The kids have a large pool and a water slide at their disposal. Pretty sweet setup!
Location, location, location.
The Sierra Estrella and South Mountain ranges are a stunning backdrop for the resort.
While the resort is located in Chandler, it is only 11 miles south of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. As you leave the interstate and enter the resort grounds, you can’t help but feel a sense of place and that you’re part of something much bigger than yourself. The landscape envelops you, and you exhale and lose some of the tensions and hurriedness that were piggybacking on you.
Keep in mind that the resort’s location is outside the city center, so to thine own self be true. If you need to be downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale, then this probably isn’t the location for you. You’ll need a rental car to stay here. However, I found that to get anywhere in Phoenix or Scottsdale, a rental car is a necessity. After staying at another hotel in Phoenix for a few nights, I welcomed the change of pace and the serenity of the Sonoran Desert. I found the location to be awe-inspiring.
What Doesn’t Work for Families
The kid friendly dining options are limited. Best place for family friendly food is Hanyo Grill. Ko’Sin is fine for kids, but you cannot have anyone under 13 in the signature restaurant, Kai. However, nearby options include Rawhide, an 1800s western themed town with an acclaimed steakhouse, entertainment and attractions. Enjoy live action stunt shows that will make you feel like you are back in the wild wild west. In other words, something for everyone in the family!
Our only negative experience was unthoughtful neighbors who got back to their room at 4:30am and spent the next 2 hours chatting. Poor form! As a light sleeper, guess I should have had my earplugs with me. So keep in mind that the rooms are not soundproof to loud chatter in an adjoining room.
My first impressions of our deluxe room: very spacious with a modern bathroom featuring a glass shower and a soaker tub. Major plus: the plush towels. The bed was comfy, and the room had a nice layout.
Hands down, the room’s best feature was the serene balcony with panoramic views of the mountains. Turns out Mother Nature puts on a show with the nightly sunsets.
The phrase to describe the amenities: prepare to be pampered!
Aji Spa (“Aji” is the Pima word for sanctuary) lives up to its name by being a serene, restful oasis from the outside world. What sets this spa apart is its menu of indigenous Native American treatments. The Pima and Maricopa tribes had to approve these treatments to be offered to the public. It includes 17 treatment rooms, and guests receiving treatments have full use that day of the indoor and outdoor whirlpools, steam rooms, saunas, spa pool, fitness and motion studios, and relaxation lounge with fireplace. The spa also has a full-service salon, cafe/wine bar, and boutique shop. Day passes are also available. My favorite part: sitting in the spa’s relaxation lounge with a glass of wine and chilling in front of the fireplace.
Naturally, it would have been ideal to get a treatment, but scheduling prevented it this trip. My suggestion: the indigenous collection of treatments which had to be approved by the tribes. I would have chosen the Ho’ishp Sacred Prickly Pear Body Treatment. Instead, I had the Prickly Pear margarita poolside and somehow managed.
Although I was a guest of the Sheraton Grand without kids, I couldn’t help but have my eye out for what activities and details my kids would like. Moms, we never turn that part of our brains off, do we?
The first standout: River Adventure Boats. Guests 12 years and older are invited to experience the fun of paddling, cycling and pedaling their way along the river. Younger guests are welcome to explore the river on the pedal boats and double kayaks with adult supervision. Options include:
- Pedal Boats
- Hydro Bikes
- Single/Double Kayaks
- Stand-Up Paddle Boards
An Interpretive Trail 2 1/2 miles long meanders the resort’s replication of the Gila River. In total, more than 50 signs guide you down the trail and share tidbits about the culture, history, and plant life.
-Saddle up at Koji Equestrian Center for a trail ride and you may be lucky enough to spot some of the wild horses that also inhabit this property.
-There’s also an Adventure Club of half and full-day supervised activities ranging from Native American-inspired projects to pool play and family friendly movies.
-Enjoy storytelling around the campfire during “Stories and S’mores” or learn about the ancient cultures and traditions at “Storytelling & Song.”
-Friday-Sunday in the summers, there are a variety of family activities with a cultural focus, such as jewelry making classes, Circle of Life culinary class, chemeith (flatbread) making class, and “Canvas and Cocktails” fusion of art and beverages.
I found summer rates as low as $ 126/night, so on our TravelingMom scale ($-$$$$), this makes the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass a $ 1/2. Also there is a resort fee of $25 per room per night. Because this resort is part of the Starwood Hotels group, members of the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) loyalty club can earn or redeem points here.
With 7 food and beverage options available, the resort clearly has a lot to offer in this category. However, with families, you may need to vary eating at the resort and off-property. That being said, I have to tell you about our dinner at Kai.
Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa ranks as the best restaurant experience I’ve ever had. Yes, that good! The food is sublime, and the service is impeccable. No surprise that Kai has earned highest accolades as the only restaurant in all of Arizona that has the AAA Five Diamond Award. It is also recipient of the Forbes Five-Star Award and ranked as number 3 in the country on the Open Table list of 100 Best Restaurants in America 2015.
Kai, meaning “seed” in the Pima language, pays homage to its Native American roots by incorporating locally farmed ingredients. Dishes tantalize the palate: Grilled Tenderloin of Tribal Buffalo Smoked Corn Puree, Cholla Buds, Chorizo and Scarlet Runner Bean Chile, and Saguaro Blossom Syrup; and Bellota Iberico Llomo Wrapped High Country Elk Loin Fossil Creek Chevre Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, Natural Jus & Truffle Emulsion are just two of the offerings.
We would have devoured this chocolate soufflé they gave us for our anniversary if we hadn’t already stuffed ourselves with first plates of trout and lobster and main courses of elk and buffalo. I loved watching the servers coordinated precision in serving the other tables because they made it look effortless. (Note: recommended for guests over the age of 13.) Parents, take the night off if you can and dine at Kai. It’s mind blowing!
As for the other dining options, I loved the chill vibe at the Hanyo Grill. We noshed on fish tacos and nachos, sipped our margaritas (a Rosarita and a Prickly Pear), and drank in the scenery. Brandon makes a mean margarita, y’all!
These tacos were as good and fresh as they look!
Summary: a dreamy location with stellar food, a sense of identity, and deep respect for the tribal lands the resort is located on. I’d love to go back with OR without my kids because it’s a Native American Gem!