How to Plan a Perfect Pool-Centric Vacation
When it's time to make vacation plans, there are two thoughts uppermost in every parent's mind. No. 1: We don't have a big budget; we need to do something that keeps everyone active and entertained without breaking the family budget. No. 2: Where can we go where kids of different ages can all have fun together?
Of course, you also need to take factors like proximity and climate into account. But there's one ingredient that's absolutely indispensible when planning the perfect budget-conscious family vacation: A fabulous pool. Not only are kids always happiest when splashing around in the sun, but it takes the pressure off you to plan activities. Throw in a water slide, a lazy river or some poolside games, and kids can be happy all day without a lot of stressful planning.
Here is my criteria for the perfect family poolside vacation:
- A very large pool with shallow and deep areas; two pools are even better.
- A hot pool or Jacuzzi for nighttime soaking.
- A water slide, lazy river, or other fun feature.
- Pool toys and floating lounge chairs allowed.
- An activity center to provides games or poolside activities.
- A poolside bar or restaurant.
- All-inclusive meals.
- A spa.
- A fitness center.
- Tennis or bocce ball courts or outside games like shuffleboard.
Climate is another factor in planning the perfect family pool vacation. Some destinations are nice September through May, but can get baking hot in mid-summer; others are perfect for a late spring, summer or early fall vacation, but too cold to swim the rest of the year. Here are five top hotels with spectacular pools that work for a pool-centric family getaway pretty much any time of year.
1. Rancho Las Palmas, Palm Springs, Calif.
With the opening of Splashtopia in 2008, Rancho Las Palmas raised the bar for the family pool resort about as high as it can get. The $35 million renovation of this classic Palm Springs resort introduced two acres of water-themed fun including two shriek-inspiring 100-foot water slides, a "sandy beach" with a shallow play area for younger kids, an unusually long lazy river that dumps into a tranquil lagoon. There's a spa, two separate adult pools, and a cliffside Jacuzzi so mom and dad have something special just for them. Not to mention golf and tennis, too. The Splash Grill, just steps from the pool, makes coming up with kid-friendly meals easy – and no one has to change out of their bathing suits.41000 Bob Hope Drive
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
2. Terranea Resort, Los Angeles, Calif.
With three Oceanside pools on 102 acres taking advantage of every breathtaking cliffside view, Terranea Resort feels like Cabo, Maui and Cancun rolled into one, without ever having to get out your passports. Located on a jutting peninsula near Los Angeles, with ocean on three sides and Catalina Island directly across the channel, Terrannea has been featured in numerous movies for it's insanely dramatic setting. Designed just for families, the resort pool has a thrills and chills 140-foot water slide and splash zone; in addition there's a second large pool, two Jacuzzis, a fire pit and private cabanas with 22" flat screen TVs, Ipod docking stations and poolside dining service. A secluded beach cove has soft sand, tide pools, and an activity center offering kayaking, stand-up paddle surfing, scuba diving and snorkeling. The nine-hole golf course is relaxed and family-friendly, so kids can learn without feeling like they're intruding on an adult game. A children's center is available for those moments when mom wants to escape to the enormous state-of-the-art spa or Dad wants to tee off without interruption.100 Terranea Way
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
3. Westin Kierland Resort, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Floating down the lazy river in a plump yellow inner tube, you won't be able to remember why your kids sometimes drive you crazy, or even that they do. Not when you're listening to their happy sounds as they splash and slide behind you. (There's a water slide, too.) But if you do want a little non-kid time, hey –the famously family-friendly Westin Kierland has a separate adults-only pool and jacuzzi, and a gorgeous spa as well. In addition to guestrooms in the main hotel, the Kierland development features an adjacent section of condos of all sizes so there's a space configuration to accommodate any family, including multi-generational family groups. There are lots of organized activities out of the family fun center including stargazing, dance lessons, and high-tech pursuits. My girls made a movie during our visit, with the staff gamely joining in with cameo appearances. When you arrive, kids check in separately at the Kierland Mining Company and receive a "Compass" guide to all the resort's kid activities.6902 E. Greenway Parkway
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
4. Aria Hotel and Resort, Las Vegas Nev.
Brand new uber-resort Aria is so huge, it's more like a city unto itself than a mere hotel. There are — count 'em — three all-ages pools and an adults-only pool, so kids can pool hop to their hearts' content. And unlike many pools in Las Vegas, Aria's is strictly chaperoned; guards ask to see your room key before you enter, which prevents any risqué behavior or untoward intruders. While Aria's pools don't have as many "water-park" type features, the hotel complex boasts a theater that hosts the Cirque du Soleil's glitzy Elvis production, 15 different restaurants, and an over-the-top 80,000-square-foot spa and fitness center that's as big as some hotels. And thanks to Las Vegas' overbuilding crisis, there are deals galore, making this a way to treat your kids to an extravagant atmosphere on a dime.3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
5. Great Wolf Lodge, Concord, N.C.
Just opened in 2009, Great Wolf Lodge has the distinction of offering a year-round swim-fest for kids thanks to an 80,000-square-foot indoor water park that boasts suspension bridges and spouting geysers in addition to the now-expected slides and tubes. And no worries, there are outdoor pools as well for when the weather warms up. The resort itself offers Mom and Dad some romantic possibilities, too. Built in the style of a classic National Park lodge, it's got that woodsy log cabin-style décor, with beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces, and big carvings to emphasize the rustic atmosphere. In addition to two restaurants and several snack shops, there's a golf course and spa so everyone has something fun to do while the kids splash away.10175 Weddington Road
Concord, North Carolina 28027
Melanie Haiken lives in San Rafael, Calif., with her two daughters, Linnea, 13, and Melia, 16, but travels whenever she gets the chance. She has written about many destinations for Family Travel in the United States and abroad, including San Francisco, New Orleans, Nashville, Costa Rica, the Bahamas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.