On an East Coast road trip when I was a kid, my family stopped at Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. Fallingwater is a home built into the natural setting of rocks and waterfalls designed by the esteemed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and even though I was fairly young when we stopped at the site, I remember being impressed by it, so on our recent trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, we made plans to visit Taliesin West.
Taliesin West was designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1937 as his personal winter home and studio. Today it serves as one of two architectural schools in the United States (the other is in Spring Green, Wisconsin) and is also one of the apparent highlights on a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona.
I admit I was a bit skeptical before we even left for the tour at Taliesin West, mainly because of the ticket prices. There are six tours available at Taliesin West. The least expensive one is a one-hour panorama that offers a brief overview of the property for $24.00 per adult. At that price, we decided we might as well take the two-hour night lights tour, which ran a steep $35.00 per person, but nearly all of the reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp lauded the tour and said the ticket price was well worth it.
Well, I might as well state my feelings right off the bat: The tour was a nightmare and our tour guide was an embarrassment.
Our guide was an architect student and the farthest thing from a tour guide … and this was his first nighttime tour. He didn’t have a flashlight so we couldn’t see anything he pointed at. People asked questions, and the guide not only didn’t know the answers to those questions but just shrugged them off, so other people in the group who knew about Frank Lloyd Wright and had read books about him did their best to fill in the gaps. People even asked him questions he should know the answers to, such as the projects he personally was working on; he answered with one or two words. The tour, which was supposed to be two hours, was barely more than an hour and a half, and most of that was filled with awkward silence.
At Taliesin West in Scottsdale. Paid $35 for a ticket. The tour guide is a nightmare. Don’t know if I’ll last 2 hours.
OMG. This guy is horrible. Think I can get my money back if I leave now?
Guide warming up. Tour still not going well. Tours with new guides should not cost full price.
Tour over. Can’t wait to write an email to Taliesin West regarding the disaster that was that tour. #ArchitectsAreNotGuides
And then I followed it up with a response to someone who was following my tweets:
Our tour through Taliesin West was one of the worst I’ve ever had. Wouldn’t recommend for anyone. Unfortunate, but that’s the truth.
On the ride home from Taliesin West, none of us knew what to say. How in the world did this tour get 4.5 stars from both TripAdvisor and Yelp? I’m not going to lie: I felt ripped off and angry.
Once home, I reread the reviews and found that a tour guide makes or breaks this tour. Those who had one- or two-star experiences specifically mentioned their guides. Because I knew I’d be sharing my experience with readers of Kaleidoscopic Wandering, I decided to contact Taliesin West so they’d have the opportunity to state their side of the story. Jason Silverman, the residence life coordinator for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture was responsive to my concerns. He wrote:
I’m the liaison between the School and Tour Office and I’m writing specifically regarding your experiences with (tour guide’s name). Students are required to give tours as part of their academic program and I am responsible for their training. Nearly all feedback from student tours is positive but of course I don’t hear everything they say, or what every visitor may think. As a former Taliesin student (and tour guide) myself, I’ve almost always found that visitors enjoy hearing first hand of Taliesin life, even though the student guide’s knowledge of Mr Wright’s history may not always be as scholarly as our regular guides. In most cases I believe the visitors find the more ‘personal’ tour a fair or even added value in the trade off, but if in fact (tour guide’s name) didn’t even know the basics, there indeed is a problem.
Mr. Silverman went on to thank me for my feedback, and he has offered to personally give me and my family a tour of Taliesin West next time we are in Scottsdale. I hope to make it back to the property so that I can take him up on his offer, as most people have obviously been very happy with their experience.
I don’t want to tell you not to visit Taliesin West, because I get the very distinct feeling that what we experienced was abnormal. However, I also can’t recommend it either. Read the reviews if you’d like, but I honestly believe that the right tour guide here makes or breaks this experience.