A taste of what’s to come at Tulalip resort

Inside a pretty lavender envelope was something unexpected. Along with an invitation to a family wedding came a chance to peek into this region’s future.

Back from a quick trip to Arizona, where my nephew was married at a scenic ranch near Phoenix, I read The Herald’s Saturday article about the new Tulalip Hotel. The 370-room luxury hotel, attached to the Tulalip Casino, is due to open in June.

Among several hotels suggested for guests traveling to Saturday’s wedding was the Radisson Fort McDowell Resort and Casino. The posh, 250-room hotel on tribal land northeast of Scottsdale, Ariz., is owned by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.

The 40-square-mile reservation, established in 1903 and home to about 600 tribal members, is a small part of what was once the ancestral territory of the Yavapai people. It’s now the Fountain Hills area.

In our rented Chevy Malibu, we drove about 25 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Friday to find the resort complex that also includes the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club.

We spent a little time in a too-smoky casino and clicked our way to customized slumber in Sleep Number beds. As part of a large wedding group, we dined together in the hotel’s Anhala Mesquite Room restaurant and caught up on family news while sitting around two gorgeous outdoor pools — the pools are open 24 hours and there’s a bar right there, even if your swimsuit is dripping.

The weather? Let’s just say I wasn’t thrilled to land at Sea-Tac Sunday night and hear a pilot drone on about 40 degrees and raining. In Arizona, it was mid-80s, in the 60s at night — perfect.

I’m not sharing all this to fuel envy, and I’m no travel writer. It did occur to me, though — while sitting poolside watching my 9-year-old splash around under a waterfall — that Snohomish County is about to have a similar destination.

The Tulalip Hotel and casino complex will be bigger and in some ways much nicer than the Arizona spot I wasn’t ready to leave Sunday.

On Tuesday morning, I walked through the $78 million Tulalip Casino with Vicki Cynkar, a Tulalip Resort Casino marketing representative.

Customers are allowed to light up, but the air was nowhere near as thick with cigarette smoke as the nearly unbreathable atmosphere of Arizona’s Fort McDowell Casino.

Phillip Dorchester, general manager of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, said Tuesday that smoke has always been an issue at the 13-year-old, 160,000-square-foot casino. The tribe, he said, has a master plan that includes a new, larger facility.

Opened in June 2003, the 227,000-square-foot Tulalip Casino has a ventilation system that blows air from vents spaced about six feet apart all over the floor up through the center of the massive building. You can smell smoke, but it’s nothing like 1950s bowling alley air — which is what the Arizona casino brought to mind, and nose.

There wasn’t a trace of smoke in the Arizona hotel. It’s elegant, airy, and filled with tribal art and woodwork.

I was struck by how the Arizona hotel’s builders separated the pool and lobby areas from the nearby casino. If you didn’t know the gambling mecca was there, you wouldn’t have sensed it from the pool area or rooms. For us, it was child-friendly.

My older kids, ages 21 and 25, spent two late nights in the casino with their older cousins. Hardly high rollers, my daughter made $13 and my son lost $10. I worried a little about them walking back to the hotel at night. An outdoor pathway, with cactus landscaping, connects the hotel and casino.

At the Tulalip facility, Cynkar showed how the new hotel will connect to the casino by an indoor passageway, a much better situation than having to walk outside. For those who aren’t gamblers or golfers — and I’m one of them — the nearby Seattle Premium Outlets shopping center is a tourist draw the Arizona facility lacked.

For me, our trip was an eye-opener. At the wedding, we met people who had come from as far as Japan. Many in our family traveled from California. By Friday night, the resort hotel had a packed parking lot. Many of the guests were retirement age.

Now when I drive past that huge hotel being built at Tulalip, I can picture who’ll fill its hundreds of rooms.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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