Take a dip in style in the best hotel pools

Hotel Caruso
/ Source: Forbes Traveler.com

“We’re all attracted to water environments, and we associate pools with luxury,” theorizes Elon Kenchington, COO of the Gansevoort Hotel Group. “The swimming pool also captures a desire from our childhoods.”

At their dramatic rooftop pools in New York and Miami Beach, the Gansevoort Group aims to capitalize on that combination of primal aquatic desire with grown-up sophistication. The 110-foot-long pool on top of their Miami venue is lined with palm trees and plays underwater music; it’s also elevated, so swimmers have views of the ocean and the surrounding city. At night, Kenchington says, “we add candles and rearrange the atmosphere into a leisure-lounge bar feel.”

As our list of incredible hotel swimming pools attests, resorts’ aquatic oases have moved far beyond chlorinated squares with diving boards and lifeguard towers.

In some cases, swimming pools even appear to have gone off the deep end. At Chile’s San Alfonso Del Mar resort, a 3,323-ft long saltwater lagoon lies adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. Covering 20 acres, it’s recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest swimming pool in the world.

So why wouldn’t swimmers opt for the real thing nearby? For starters, San Alfonso Del Mar’s miniature ocean is nine degrees warmer than the adjacent Pacific. It also uses a special technology that filters the nearby seawater with a “pulse-based disinfection method” to make the water suitable for swimmers and—in this case—boaters and windsurfers.

Even pools that lie much farther from the coast often steal a page from Poseidon’s playbook. At Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel, the 11-acre pool complex, dubbed the Mandalay Bay Beach, includes a 4,100-square-foot wave pool with a sand beach.

Mandalay Bay Beach’s other “natural” offerings include “European Style” (topless-optional) bathing at the Moorea Beach Club, where 21-and-older guests can pay an extra admission fee to enjoy an “elite day-club environment.”

“We’ve also got the only beachside casino in all of Vegas,” says Mandalay’s vice president of hotel marketing, Scott Voeller. “You can come in dripping wet and play cards.”

Across town, at the Golden Nugget casino, the ocean theme takes the form of real sea life, including five species of sharks, which live in a 200,000-gallon aquarium at the center of the hotel’s pool.

The fish are separated by a thick acrylic wall, but swimmers are privy to an extremely close-up view. “People will line up against the acrylic glass with their hands next to their face and watch the giant eight-foot sharks swimming by,” explains McVay. “It feels almost like you’re in the water with them.”

Fabrice Rambert

The Golden Nugget’s pool-goers can also travel through the middle of the tank, literally, via a three-story waterslide (also with see-through walls) that traverses the middle of the aquarium.

At other hotels’ pools, the ocean and its denizens are kept at bay. “Our pool has floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views of the sea and the Macau Peninsula,” says Charles Ngai, public relations manager at the Crown Macau Hotel, on Macau's Taipa Island. Located on the property’s 16th floor, the 25-meter infinity-edge swimming pool also features piped-in underwater music and a juice bar to freshen up the swimming experience.

Several hotels on our list feature secluded options in addition to their public pools. At Sri Lanka’s Amanwella Resort, private plunge pools complement the 150-foot infinity pool that looks out to coconut groves and the Indian Ocean.

And at the opulent Jade Mountain resort on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, each guest room includes a private ensuite infinity pool, the size of which increases in direct proportion to room category. Finished in “one-of-a-kind glass tiles,” Jade Mountain's mini-pools overlook the Caribbean Sea below.

Hotel managers attest that an appealing pool can act as much more than a peripheral amenity—it’s frequently the main attraction, and a major source of business.

“We’ve invested $35 million [in the pool complex] over the last two seasons,” says Mandalay Bay’s Voeller. “The pool is our most important business driver during the season (March to November); and our analysis suggests that it also increases our room rates.”

“People come from all around to see The Tank,” says the Golden Nugget’s McVay. “I have people calling just to ask, ‘Can we come just to look at the pool?’”

The Gansevoort Hotel Group’s Elon Kenchington says that pools are a central part of the company’s business strategy: “When we negotiate and look for new properties, our first criterion is to create a rooftop pool.”

Kenchington says that while the Gansevoort’s pools and surrounding decks tend to draw buzzing crowds of the “social elite” who are interested in sipping cocktails and being seen, he personally prefers a more traditional use for the pool—morning exercise: “At six o’clock a.m., before anyone’s out, when you swim laps in that rooftop pool, you feel like you’re on top of the world.”