Some like it hot. I do not. After a steamy day of going from museum to shop to cafe to hotel, I am in dire need of something big, cold and...
Some like it hot. I do not.
After a steamy day of going from museum to shop to cafe to hotel, I am in dire need of something big, cold and relaxing.
No, not a beer. Well, OK, a beer would be nice, too.
I’m talking about a pool. A hotel swimming pool. A beckoning oasis of deep, crisp blue.
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Over 10 years, I’ve dived and dipped into hundreds of Olympics, kidneys, minerals and infinities, from Bali to Baltimore. Most are fine but forgettable, so I cling to fond memories of laps gone by on my short list of classic dips. Come dive into the deep end of my list of favorite pools. You don’t even have to shower before entering.
Hotel Gellert — Budapest, Hungary
The Turks invaded then receded from this part of Europe, but they left behind a love of watery luxury. Bathhouses decked out with fountains and colonnades still offer a classic soaking experience, with a rubdown costing a little extra.
You can stay at the Hotel Gellert or simply pay less than $10 to play pasha in its art nouveau 27-meter indoor swimming pool ringed with butterscotch-colored marble columns and lion heads spitting water.
Hotel Inter-Continental — Chicago.
The liquid miracle of The Miracle Mile. Rooftop pools are all the rage today, but people were agog in 1929 when what was then the Medinah Athletic Club built a 129,000-gallon junior Olympic-size pool above the grand ballroom.
With its tiled walls, viewing stand and potted plants, what is now the Inter-continental’s pool retains the feel of a Jazz-era hangout. After a long day of dirt, grime and noise wandering the exciting urban scene in central Chicago, the pool seems like a great secret oasis in the heart of the city.
Great pools usually come with the steep price tag of a luxury hotel but here are a few of my favorite “cheap dips” from around the country:
Best Western Ramkota Inn, Sioux Falls, S.D., 605-336-0650. Great indoor water park with 130-foot slide.
Caliente Tropics Motel, Palm Springs. 888-277-0999. www.calientetropics.com. Poolside tiki and torches.
American Inn, Hardin, Mont. 406-665-1870. A 140-foot slide at a simple motel near the Little Big Horn National Historic Battlefield.
Days Inn, Memphis. 3839 Elvis Presley Blvd. 800-329-7466. www.daysinn.com. Guitar-shaped pool across from Elvis’ Graceland mansion.
Chico Hot Springs, 1 Chico Road in Pray, Mont. 800-HOT-WADA (468-9232). A rustic spa with a large hot mineral swimming pool.
The Palace of the Lost City — Sun City, South Africa
The Palace of the Lost City is the epic top-end hotel of Sun City, the once-controversial gambling resort in an enclave within racially segregated South Africa. Today it’s a swimmers’ paradise open to anyone with a fat enough wallet.
The Valley of the Waves pool area has 13 waterfalls, 20 cascades, two man-made rivers and six ponds. A wave pool featuring six stone lions that spew fountains of water from their mouths can churn out 5-foot-high breakers. The Temple of Courage is topped by a crumbling stone rotunda from which a nearly vertical water slide sends the brave on a swift 210-foot descent into a pool. If you can’t make it all the way to Africa, many of the same water effects are at its sister hotel, Atlantis, in the Bahamas.
Park Hyatt Tokyo — Tokyo
Long before “Lost in Translation” made the Park Hyatt Tokyo an international celebrity, it was my favorite hotel in Asia. The hotel occupies several high floors of the Shinjuku Park Tower, one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers. The aerie atmosphere extends even to the hotel pool, which sits in a cathedral-like space on the 47th floor. The 20-meter pool is pretty in itself. But it’s the setting that is so stunning. From lounge chairs at poolside I could gaze out at the forest of steel and glass of the business district’s high-rises. In the evening, the neon of the Shibuya and Ginza districts shimmered in the distance. Mesmerizing.
Renaissance Esmeralda — Indian Wells, Calif.
Since the mercury here regularly gurgles above 100 degrees, it’s little surprise that the desert resorts scattered around Palm Springs have one of the best collections of cool pools in the country. The Korakia Pensione’s small, lovely Moroccan-style pool made the Travel Channel’s national Top 10 list.
My personal favorite is the array of splash spots at the Esmeralda, also one of the area’s top golf and spa resorts. Three adjacent pools, one with a gushing waterfall, create a kind of aquatic garden.
Kids are the key here. Nearly all the pools are no deeper than 3 feet, so Mom and Dad can hang around the central bar watching a ballgame while the offspring cavort a few feet away. A stretch of trucked-in beach is the spot to make sand castles in the desert.
Flamingo Las Vegas — Las Vegas
Vegas is one of the true pool Meccas of the world. You can choose from the wave pool at Mandalay Bay, the massive classical-tinged swimming areas at Bellagio and Caesars Palace, and the acres of shaded pools at the Tropicana.
But my choice is the Flamingo, boasting 15-acre grounds with four pools. The centerpiece is a massive lagoon with an 18-foot waterfall that is the hotel’s party place on hot days. Kids like a linear pool that’s connected by a series of small waterslides. My favorite is the small adults-only oval pool, with its fantastically shocking-pink world. It’s ringed by tall flamingo statues in front of pricey cabanas that come with their own television and telephone. Be prepared: It can be very crowded on weekends.
Amandari — Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
In the quiet hills far from the tourist routes sits one of the heartbreakingly lovely Amanresorts of Asia. The luxuriously cool and shady cottages are hard to leave. But I loved spending a couple of hours lolling in and around the hotel’s infinity pool, the tag put on pools that use a flat rim with a gutter just below to create the illusion that the water simply floats off into space.
The far wall dropped into a ravine with a green forest canopy sitting above some of Bali’s iconic terraced rice fields. Palms swayed in the warm, humid breeze and a small river rushed down the hill toward the sea. I folded my arms over the edge and watched as a Balinese woman with a large kayak balanced perfectly on her head walked by. A remarkable travel moment experienced without even getting out of the pool.
Grand Wailea — Wailea, Maui, Hawaii
For pure “wow” factor, this ultra-expensive Maui resort can’t be beat. My preteen son and his friends prefer the wild times of the Grand Wailea to any other hotel pool in the islands. The eye-catching Hibiscus Pool features 2.2 million Mexican tiles. It’s the quietest pool — no one under 16 is allowed.
The kids won’t squawk. All the real action is over at the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool. A series of interconnected pools feature six waterfalls, slides, swinging ropes, whirlpools, an infant pool, a swim-up bar and a poolside sandy beach. The Lava Slide is a 238-foot-long ride, while the churning Ana Puka Slide spins swimmers in circles.
Spending over $400 a night gives the guests a sense of entitlement, and the crowd at the Grand Wailea can get a bit testy when the lounge chairs near the pool run out around midmorning. Do try to tear yourself away from the pool for a dip in the beautiful beach that fronts the hotel.
Hyatt Regency Kauai — Kauai, Hawaii
There are other great pools on nearly every island, from the water-park atmosphere of the Westin Maui and Hilton Waikaloa Village on the Big Island to acres of water at the Marriott Kauai and Princeville Resort in Kauai to smaller jewel-like pools at the Halekulani in Waikiki and the Hotel Hana-Maui.
My favorite among these is the pools at the Hyatt Regency Kauai, on the sunny south side of the Garden Island. The Hyatt requires a major water-park-like experience, since it fronts the rugged, rough Shipwreck Beach, making ocean swimming an unwise proposition on many days.
Guests can splash in a five-acre saltwater lagoon or a couple of freshwater pools. But what gets the Hyatt Regency on my list is the wandering man-made river that flows from the hotel’s terraced gardens down to a small pool next to the saltwater lagoon. Along the way are lots of inlets and grottoes for a watery version of hide and seek. On the downside, the channel is about 4 feet deep and covers a lot of territory, so keep an eye on the youngest of your swimmers.
The Biltmore Hotel — Coral Gables, Fla.
A gorgeous landmark in the town that dubs itself “the city beautiful,” the Biltmore’s 700,000-gallon pool is the largest hotel pool in the continental United States. It would be hard to feel crowded here. Sometimes the pool can be oddly empty — the high-end clientele seems to prefer sitting waterside to performing cannonballs or cherry bombs.
Before World War II, the pool was the site of spectacular water “galas” that would draw thousands of onlookers. Johnny Weissmuller, the future Olympic swimmer-turned-movie Tarzan, once taught swimming here.
If you are a pool fanatic, check out the nearby Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, which has been called the most beautiful public swimming pool in the United States.