18 Jan CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa | Carefree, Arizona Hotel Review
This New Year’s my husband and I flew out to Carefree, Arizona to ring in 2020 at CIVANA Resort. I had heard about Civana by way of my Mom, actually. She heard a mention on Ellen, naming CIVANA a top 10 wellness retreat destinations by USA Today, and told me that I had to check it out.
As the saying goes, Mom was right. After reaching out and receiving an invite from CIVANA to come experience, flights were booked and we were already gearing up to film, experience and explore their special New Year’s Celebration.
Irony: had you told me fifteen years ago that I’d be celebrating New Year’s Eve at a wellness retreat center I’d have laughed you out of the party. But, this former partying bad girl turned wellness travel authority couldn’t have been more eager to fly out to CIVANA for her 3-night well-being experience and restorative stay to ring in the new year.
CIVANA — derived from the Civano Period of the Hohokam Tribe of Arizona. This was a period of great prosperity, growing community, and harmony with nature for the Hohokam tribe.
Formerly a community center, turned wellness destination and spa, this desert destination was originally a hotel where Lucille Ball and Dick Van Dyke used to stay when they filmed at the Carefree Studios (any I Love Lucy fans out there?). The property turned over ownership multiple times before landing in the wellness-oriented hands of what is now CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa. After a forty million dollar acquisition and renovation, the spa reopened in February 2019. CIVANA is now equipped and built on the pillars of sustainability, attainability, and relatability for those seeking wellness options on an affordable budget.
Two founders purchased the property with a desire to create a wellness center that is affordable for more to visit on a regular basis. CIVANA was founded on a single mission: To Inspire Wellness.
‘That meant creating a wellness experience that invited more into wellness. More people. More choices. More affirmation and celebration. More unbounded joy and exploration,” says Co-Founder Marc Skalla in a private interview. ‘The founding team, myself included, all had incredibly personal and transformational immersive wellness experiences and we felt the world needed more wellness.”
Skalla continues, “For us part of this meant looking at a different model, one that offered an a la carte experience. By doing this we were able to create a rich wellness experience at a more attainable price point. This meant CIVANA was no longer a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list destination, but rather a place you can visit regularly.”
Like any wellness journey, there’s an evolution. The blossoming of CIVANA to be what it has become today to offer so many others an affordable touch and education on personal well-being is admirable, and an experience I’m eager to share with you in this review.
Pulling up to a single level circular entry, the car dropped us off under the large awning hanging overhead. A friendly and smiling man greeted us as we stepped out from the car saying, “Welcome to CIVANA!”
Heading in through the main door, we were informed “This isn’t how the entry will always look, but will be beautiful once the lobby renovation is complete.” I admire a resort that keeps up its appearances, constantly seeking to be its best, while being transparent with its guests as well. Anyway, the construction wasn’t loud, and what caught my eye instead was the warming, eloquent fireplace just off to the left-hand side, calling my cold hands.
It was January, perhaps a bit colder than I expected in contrast to my Miami home base. However, that is the desert in the winter: cool mornings and evenings — refreshing to wake up to — with a kiss of strong sunshine midday to thaw you out.
Sustainable and native to its environment, there wasn’t any grass for the landscaping. Rather, the property was lined with stones and countless varieties of cacti like pieces of artwork to awe and admire. Their height, shapes, most awkward but in their unique weird ways, so beautiful to see their massive state.
While checking in, we were offered an interesting winter tonic of elderberry and some other mixes. Not my favorite, a bit too pungent for me, but I’m sure they have other flavors varying throughout the seasons.
We were a bit ahead of schedule arriving before our room was ready. Easy fix: we parked our luggage in the spa lockers, changed, and explored the grounds. Plenty to do and see while we needed to wait.
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WHERE IS IT?
CIVANA Resort is located in Carefree, Arizona. A fun fact, it’s actually illegal to cut down a cactus (you can get 5 years in prison) and there are rules and regulations against building fires, and fireworks.
I think the town’s name — “Carefree” — says enough to know you’re in a good place to find some inner peace and mindful space.
CIVANA is about a 45 minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, named the “Happiest Airport in the United States.” Not sure I can vouch for that given title, but no complaints.
SAVE THE DATE. CIVANA hosts a 4th of July ceremony featuring drones instead of fireworks to celebrate. Legal, and more sustainable for our environments.
Next to the Presidential Suite, I think we got the cream of the crop in the Mountain Spa King Suite. Entering with key card access, Room 2203, was home for the next three nights.
Clean, recently renovated, with a comfortable King-size bed, we had a plush, white comforter topped with white linens and soft pillow that had a light “crunch” to them. The entryway had tile, so you can hear heels or neighbors walking from other units.
Our neighbor wasn’t feeling so well, and had a cough next door that we could hear through the walls. Outside the room, conversations can be easy to hear. If you’re a light sleeper like myself, bring some earplugs to block out any potential disturbance to your restorative sleep. And, if you don’t have a coughing neighbor or someone wearing heels, there’s typically no noise but a peaceful hum of silence around you.
Decor had calming colors with a clean interior design of natural tones and elements (including woods, stone and light shades in the palette.)
A blessing for myself who is super light sensitive, the room did have dark-out shades, so no matter the the sunrise time, I could sleep in for as long as my body needed.
A bonus, the room had a refrigerator near the entryway, large, tall closets with drawers and plenty of storage to hang or store your items out of sight. Breaking the room nicely, the bed had a divider shelf that served as a headboard, which overlooked the balcony. 2203 gave us a direct view of the sunrises and the entrance of the spa. Although I don’t think you can go wrong with a balcony view here (every room has a balcony or patio, by the way), we did get probably one of the best views, so request this room when you book!
The bathroom had an interesting setup that connected the tub and shower. Nice to experience in a hotel, but I honestly wouldn’t want them connected in a home. There was great lighting in the bathroom (the kind you can finally pluck your eyebrows or do the perfect make-up tones using), a double sink, hair dryer and salts for using the tub in the case you used it (we didn’t).
Toiletries were provided, although they were in single-use plastic containers. We did hear insider scoop that they’re soon switching over to refillable bottles in each room. This is a huge plus and good news to hear, from a sustainability perspective, one that I would have suggested to CIVANA otherwise.
Overall Bedroom Scores (1 to 5, 5 being the highest):
FOOD & DRINK
There are three options for dining on property, and I tried them all, leaving full, happy and nourished.
- Cafe Meto
- Terras (main dining)
- Room Service (prepared from Terras)
Cafe Meto offers breakfast and lunch, with coffees and teas, open from 6a to 3p. Most days, we ate lunch here, grabbing coffees in the lobby (where they’re complimentary), and spending on their unique blend of broccoli and guacamole called “broccomole.” Not only did this taste really good and fresh, we later found out that the spread was a repurpose of the pulp of the juices they made. None of the fibers go to waste. Sustainability that tastes really good!
Terras Restaurant is the main dining facility that hosted us for dinners and the New Year’s Day buffet brunch. Dinners were full of fresh flavor, making it easy to distinguish that the food was sourced locally and in season.
I do think the portions could have been a bit bigger, and for the pricing. The first night we left still a bit hungry after. Second night we ordered in room service, which was really fast, precise to what we ordered (not always achievable ordering over a phone), and had more options for food than the regular dine-in option.
If CIVANA happens to be doing a breakfast buffet while you’re there for any holiday or special occasion, just GO. It is the best value for your money, the food is plentiful, has a very healthy variety, a full fruit station with accompanying superfoods, and was one of the best meal experiences we had while visiting.
Overall Food & Drink Scores:
Healthy options: 4.5
The entire basis of CIVANA is about well-being, so their rankings and offerings in this category really deserve a separate space and review, and definitely more time to experience them all. For that reason, I can only base my feedback on what we did experience, not as a whole.
The Spa was the standout, and well worth the investment put in to the renovations done to it recently. The spa services more like therapies: healing, educational and medicinal for the body and soul.
Day 1, I had a hydro-facial with Simret, an inspiring woman originally from Africa now living with her husband in Arizona. Simret was kind, informative, taught me about my skin-type (never knew I had combination skin), and patiently answered my million questions about the natural oils and fruit scrubs she was using on my skin.
Day 3, I had a recovery massage with Marissa, who clearly is a woman who has been doing body work and healing therapy for a very long time on athletes. If you want a tip for the best massage ever, communicate to your therapist beforehand. Tell then exactly what you have going on in your body, your life, any physical pains, recent injuries, pains you’ve noticed, your recent activities (or lack there of), and any other pertinent information to let him/her know how they can best respond to your body’s needs. You’ll save the therapist time guessing, you’ll walk out feeling better, and end up getting a much better massage than if you just “let the therapist do their work.”
I went in to Marissa with strong pains in my left ankle, still healing from a sprained ankle running injury from a few months back. She left me with some tips on how to work the scar tissue and ankle mobility for after I left, and after our session, it was the first time in months I hadn’t felt pain in that area walking.
There are 70+ classes and workshops offered weekly at CIVANA, included in your stay. The second day we attended a meal planning workshop held at Cafe Meto. To be honest, it needed a bit more depth for the information shared. I’m not sure if this is a personal preference, as I’m already pretty good at prepping meals for myself. However, I would have loved to experience the chef tour that they offer.
The Yoga was ok, although I’m a tough yogi to please. I do like that she offered variations for all levels and left options open for advanced options. There are two yoga rooms, one for acro and meditation, the other for fitness and yoga flow classes.
I honesty didn’t get a chance to take more classes that were on the schedule, but love that they offer such a variety of classes varying from meditation, yoga, aerial yoga, TRX and body sculpting. I definitely look forward to doing more fitness classes the next we return.
Overall Wellness Amenities Scores:
Spa Facilities: 4.5
CIVANA is a sustainable resort, with a focus on personal well-being for the individual and the environment around the property. I’ve listed off bullet-points highlighting the sustainable efforts CIVANA is exhibiting that I witnessed and vouch for.
- Solar panels (viewable from the drone shots below)
- Sustainable food/dining (juices and use of the pulp as mentioned above in the ‘food & drink’)
- Sourced from local vendors, fresh produce
- Water bottle given to guests upon arrival and refill stations throughout the property
- Granola and most of the food is made on property
- Landscaping is designed to with-stand the heat of the summers and daytime, and the cool, dry air of the winters and dark skies (doesn’t suck up more water than designed to)
- Bio-degradable plastics that are used on property
- High efficiency (inquire for specifics)
- Not a single cactus was taken down in the construction of Civana (it’s illegal)
Overall Sustainability score: 3.75
One thing I’ll note, and why I gave the overall score a 3.75: plastic. Single-use plastics in the rooms, wrappers, plastic for wrapping food in the restaurants add up for waste. I did hear this is set to change, with refillable pumps for products in the bathrooms coming in the near future, so change is near.
We went for New Year’s Eve, and I loved the added efforts they made to offer their guests something extra special to go home feeling revived with. For the New Year’s Eve, for example, we attended a Lantern ceremony setting intentions for the new year on eco-friendly lanterns and papers that bio-degrade.
New Year’s Day buffet was probably the standout meal, with the freshest of fruits and superfoods, options for grilled vegetables and fresh baked goods (using the pulp from the juices for healthier muffin and cookie options), along with options for meat, fish, dairy and egg-eaters as well. Suitable for any and all on their health journey.
I’m sure you can bring kids, but CIVANA is best set for a girls weekend getaway or couples retreat.
In short, we’ve already booked a revisit for July 4th to experience the warmer desert temperatures, some hiking, mountain biking, and outdoor activities. Of course, we can’t wait to film and share and experience of the drone firework show mentioned above, that is set to double in size from the previous year’s event for its 2020 show!
Overall Score: 4.5
Living far above my expectations and looking forward to our return. Which, if you know me, I rarely revisit the same spot twice — goes to show you how special CIVANA Resort is!
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