Everyone knows that booking a hotel with a fantastic pool is a winning strategy for families. But what if the vacation was the pool, delivering water thrills that your kids will be talking about for years? We've rounded up seven of the best such pools in the country, plus five cool hotel pools in the Seattle area that serve as an excellent anchor for a weekend getaway. (Note: *Rates can vary quite a bit by day and time of year.)
1. The world’s first water elevator: The Grand Wailea, Maui, Hawaii
Whale migration and sunsets aren’t the only magical events happening on Maui. At the Grand Wailea, families are having the time of their lives via a massive pool complex with four jungle pools, four intertwining slides, a whitewater rapids slide, a Tarzan pool with rope swing, a sand beach, six waterfalls, caves, three Jacuzzis and an infant pool. Do not miss a ride in the world’s first water elevator (built into a volcano!).
Rates: Starting at $299 nightly
Other things to do: Take a boat tour to see humpback whales or watch from shore for free. Explore the sea creatures of the Hawaiian Islands and beyond at the Maui Ocean Center. (The road to Hana is gorgeous, but can be a long day for younger travelers.) Consider driving around the Northwest edge of the highway, which is not as crowded, and still provides stunning views.
>Next: Hawks Cay Resort
2. Practice your swashbuckling: Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida
Hawks Cay boasts five pools throughout the resort, but your buccaneer in training will be drawn to the water slides, water cannons and raining palm trees in the Pirate Ship pool. Kick back in a lounge chair as your watch your child’s imagination come alive fighting their pirate friends while they get soaked. Resort guests can also visit dolphins onsite through the Dolphin Connect research program, the only one of its kind at a resort in the U.S. The program is a leader in the advancement of marine mammal education, breeding and conservation techniques, and the perfect chance for kids to learn the importance of protecting our oceans' animals.
Rates: Starting at $235
More things to do: Aquatic activities of all shapes and sizes are available at the resort or you can head out to explore the Florida Keys at your own pace. Grab your older children for a SNUBA adventure (snorkel scuba diving), have a go around the miniature golf course or just soak up the sun on the beach in this small community. Head down to Marathon to visit the rescued sea turtles at the Turtle Hospital. Keep going south to Key West to eat your weight in Key lime pie, pet a shark at the Key West Aquarium and see the sunset on the southernmost city in the continental U.S.
>Next: Omni Rancho Las Palmas
3. Swim up for a movie: Omni Rancho Las Palmas, Rancho Mirage, California
The kids will never want to leave Splashtopia — they can cruise down water slides, float down the lazy river, play at the tots' beach or just dive into the massive pool. During the summer, pull up a few lounge chairs or inner tubes to enjoy a dive-in movie with the whole family on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Rates: Starting at $299
More things to do: The hotel's central location at the foot of Mount San Jacinto near Palm Springs has several natural exploration opportunities. Stop by the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Garden for a day of animal and plant encounters highlighting many of the desert's natural wonders. Gaze at the Mojave Desert tortoise, Mexican wolves, bobcats and badgers in the North American exhibit, or wild dogs, leopards, meerkats and sand cats in the Africa exhibit. Drive about an hour to Joshua Tree National Park to see Dr. Seuss trees, big horn sheep, lizards and wild flowers.
>Next: Bonneville Hot Springs
4. Soak up therapeutic waters: Bonneville Hot Springs Resort, Stevenson, Wash.
Two hot tubs and one pool make this the place in southern Washington to soak up mineral-rich, 84-degree waters. The indoor and outdoor pools may not be big, but they do allow for a few races from one end to another. The 44 rooms with hot tubs on the balcony have mineral waters in them as well. Imagine tucking the kids into bed and popping onto your balcony for a soak while you look up at the stars.
Rates: starting at $175
More things to do: Follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark as you explore the Columbia River Gorge on foot, bike, by car or kayak, or puzzle over the Bonneville Lock and Dam. Hikers can head to Mount Hood, while waterfall enthusiasts won’t want to miss spectacular Multnomah Falls. Portland is an easy drive away for city lovers.
>Next: Glennwood Hot Springs Resort
5. Enjoy the world's largest mineral hot springs: Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, Glenwood Springs, Colorado
The largest mineral hot springs pool in the world spans about two blocks or one football field in length. No, it is not in Norway or Budapest. It’s in Colorado. The pool is open year round and a great spot for warming up after playing in the snow, or winding down after a long hike or an epic day at the local amusement park. And it's not just about soaking: There are also two tube runs. There is a height restriction on both tubes, but little swimmers can ride down with mom and dad. Guests get unlimited hot springs access, but the public can also enter for a fee.
Rates: Starting at $155
More things to do: Raft down the Glenwood Canyon River, hike to Hanging Lake and through White River National Forest, and — if you are a true thrills seeker — head to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park & Historic Fairy Caves. Take in the sweeping vistas of Mount Sopris and the Colorado River as you take the tram to the top, before you hop on the Cliffhanger Roller Coaster or you ride the Giant Canyon Swing at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Both will bring you over the edge of the canyon.
For less extreme fun take a ride on the Alpine Coaster, the first and longest alpine coaster in the country, which allows you to control your speed. And don't miss the historic Fairy Caves: Admire stalagmites and stalactites, illuminated to highlight the caverns' natural beauty, pan for crystals, dig for fossils or just stage an epic laser tag battle.
>Next: The Golden Nugget
6. Surf's up: Silver Mountain Resort, Kellogg, Idaho
Surf simulator? Check. Lazy river? Check. Water slides? Double check. The indoor waterpark at Silver Mountain Resort (Idaho's largest) is reminiscent of Washington state's Great Wolf Lodge, but you can ski or hike your days away and then warm up inside this aquatic wonderland. Let your kids try their luck at surfing and boogie boarding on the FlowRider Surf Wave, while you float down the lazy river.
Minor’s Island is a water playground with two flume waterslides, a giant tipping bucket, interactive valves and two rivers to run across. Play a little basketball in the Hoop Lagoon or twist your way down the Moose Sluice, a giant water slide big enough to take the whole family down in a raft.
Rates: Starting at $103
Things to do: Pack up your bikes or rent them when you get there so you can bike the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a beautiful 73-mile trail through Silver Valley. The area is a growing ski destination in winter, and a nature lovers' wonderland in summer.
Ride the 3.1-mile gondola, the longest in the North America, up to the mountain house to take in the views and let the kids play at the playground while you enjoy a quiet lunch. Geology buffs in the family? Tour the area’s many active and decommissioned mines. Families can raft (with the help of multiple whitewater rafter outfitters) down the North Fork of the Coeuer d’Alenes River or take on the Clark Fork River.
>Next: 5 Seattle-area pools
5 Seattle-area pools for a weekend getaway
Sheraton Downtown, Seattle: Seattle locals and visitors alike will be happy to jump into the 40-foot lap pool with views of Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula and Cascade Mountains at the end of a busy day exploring downtown Seattle. Many of the city’s major attractions are within walking distance, including the Seattle Aquarium, Seattle Art Museum, the Central Library, Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market. Park your car and enjoy a staycation or a weekend downtown. Your kids will love you for the pool; you will love the nearby dining and shopping.
Rates: Starting at $185
Westin Bellevue: Bellevue may be known for luxury shopping and tech empires, but it is also a center of family-friendly fun. Start your day with a swim in the heated 25-meter lap pool with views of Bellevue Square, then wander on foot to Bellevue Art Museum, movie theater, bowling and shops. It is also a quick drive to the Bellevue Botanical Garden and KidsQuest Children’s Museum.
Rates: starting at $185
Courtyard by Marriott Tacoma Downtown: The Courtyard by Marriot is a haven for visitors who want to explore, but not do a lot of driving. Their indoor heated pool is the perfect place to let your kids’ blow off steam before dinner. Tour the Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass during the day; don't forget to visit the Washington State History Museum or the Children's Museum. Drive over to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium to say hello to the polar bears and sharks. You could spend a whole day learning about all of the animals in residence. Make sure you plan accordingly.
Rates: starting at $149
Best Western Plus Lakeway Inn, Bellingham: Whether you are skiing Mount Baker or just wandering the downtown attractions in Bellingham, your kids will thank you for booking a stay at this hotel. Let them warm up, practice their swimming and do a few somersaults in the hotel’s indoor pool. There will be plenty of time to go to the Bellingham Railway Museum, check out the local music scene and enjoy the theater at Western Washington University during your stay.
Rates: Starting at $150
Holiday Inn Express Wenatchee: Spend the day on Mission Ridge teaching your kids to ski while there is still snow before you head back to the Holiday Inn Express to warm up in the pool. Get to know Wenatchee through a walking tour via the Arts on the Avenues, featuring 85 sculptures scattered throughout the city. Dive into the delectable dining options at Pybus Public Market, where you can enjoy Mexican and French sit-down dining, or pick up a few items for an outdoor picnic in one of the local parks.
Rates: Starting at $116
Oxford Suites Silverdale: Kick back in this hotel located at the edge of the Olympic Peninsula. Drive over the Hood Canal Bridge, explore the Naval Undersea Museum (admission is free!) and behold the natural beauty of the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Seasonal whale-watching is available nearby, but when the whales are gone you can let the kids pretend to be the local orca in the heated indoor pool.
Rates: starting at $125
*Rates can vary quite a bit by day and time of year