Welcome to the playgrounds of summer. Check in, and take the plunge.
1 of 8Photography Gary Clark
Cool Pools, Great Stays
You're perched at the end of the diving board, toes dangling off the edge, peering at your reflection in the glassy water below. You bullet into the pool until you touch the bottom, all the while holding your breath. You can't hear a sound. Your cheeks puff out, and a tiny bubble escapes the side of your mouth. It's time to come up for air. How you hate leaving your crystal clear underwater hideaway.
Aah, the sheer bliss of summer.
Swimming pools--the ultimate summer chill-out spots--provide fun, relaxation, and refreshment from the heat. You'll find many of the best pools around at hotels throughout the South. Check in to one of these spots, and you're in for a treat. From classic luxury to family fun, each offers a unique oasis. Dive in.]
Left: Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando features two over-the-top pools.
2 of 8Photography Gary Clark
Water Wonderland: The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation
You'll drive 75 miles east of Atlanta and finally turn on a road called Linger Longer to get to this Georgia retreat. How fitting. After spending a few days here, those two words will become your motto.
At this luxurious resort, plan your entire stay around the water, which seems to be everywhere you look. From the glorious lakeside infinity swimming pool to the indoor pool in the spa to the waters of Lake Oconee, you can spend your entire vacation staying cool and wet. On the lake, guests water-ski, fish, kayak, and canoe.
Left: The infinity pool at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge looks as if its water spills into the lake.
3 of 8Photography Gary Clark
The Ritz-Carlton Lodge
The property sits on 35 wooded acres along the shores of the state's second-largest lake. Although The Lodge boasts 251 guest rooms, suites, and cottages, it doesn't feel like a big sprawling hotel, but more like a friend's country home. Feather beds, granite baths, and balconies make each space luxurious. The only challenge is to decide if you should linger longer in your room, the lake, or one of the pools. What a dilemma.
Left: You'll find spacious balconies and granite baths in the 251 guest rooms at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, outside of Atlanta.
4 of 8Photography Gary Clark
Hip Hangout: Hotel San José
Bigger isn't always better--at least not in the case of swimming pools.
The one at Hotel San José in Austin measures 8 x 24 feet and never exceeds more than 5 feet deep.
That's a modest size, smaller than most backyard pools and only a fraction larger than the ones you blow up. Still, this pool rates as one of the coolest places to be in all of the Lone Star State. Surrounded by tall stalks of bamboo and Southwestern succulents, this dipping hole provides a Zenlike escape from the sweltering three-digit temperatures you endure in the Texas summer. Folks hang here with their canine companions, who are also welcome in the pool. Guests chill in the water while sipping wine or Shiner Bock beer. The vintage tables and chairs in the attached courtyard, where you can sit back and relax, offer some of the most happening seating around.
Crushed granite pathways connect the 40 rooms of the property, the lobby, the outside bar, and the pool. This hot spot captures what hip travelers love about the Texas capital--it's ultracool and edgy while remaining down-home and comfy.
Guest rooms come in several floor plans, from spacious suites with balconies to European-style efficiencies with shared baths down the hall. The low-lying platform beds, a basic mattress on wood slats, are covered with Indian-print bedspreads, while the polished concrete floors are softened with cowhide rugs. The place is sparse. Truly, though, that minimalism adds character, something the San José in no way lacks.
Left: The pool steps at Austin's Hotel San José make a great place to chill out.
5 of 8Photography Gary Clark
Family Favorite: Nickelodeon Suites Resort
You'll never see a kid have more fun than at this Orlando hotel. Decked out in Nickelodeon "Slime green" and bold orange, this place has mastered the family trip. "By bringing my son here, I'm now his hero. This has been the best vacation my family has ever had," says one guest.
The first and only Nick-themed lodging in the world, the hotel features two interactive water spots: The Oasis and The Lagoon. Both are huge--like regular dipping holes on steroids--with colorful waterslides, sand play areas, water toys, climbing nets, and splash zones. There is even a 400-gallon dump tank that fills with water and randomly unloads on unsuspecting guests. Every day, visitors enjoy poolside activities, including games, contests, and challenges. Hosts and hostesses on microphones yell "Who's ready to play?" to keep the crowd wild. The louder, the better is the rule.
It's fun to the extreme.
6 of 8Photography Gary Clark
Nickelodeon Suites Resort
Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants, and all the other Nick characters mingle around the place, greeting guests, posing for pics, and spreading mischievous fun.
The property, designed with kids in mind, features two- and three-bedroom suites with separate living rooms and kitchen areas. The kids' quarters, which offer bunk or twin beds, are done up with images of cartoon characters on the wall. Plus, Nickelodeon Family Suites provides video game systems in the rooms--a major selling point for rug rats. Adult bedrooms come a bit more traditional, although by no means stuffy. And don't bother bringing anything but flip-flops, sunscreen, and your swimsuit--that is all you'll need.
Left: Meet some of the most popular Nickelodeon characters at the Nicktoons Café.
7 of 8Photography Gary Clark
Nature at Its Best: The Homestead
At The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, the 74-foot-long spring-fed pool has long been considered a source of healing. That's why we think of these natural hot springs as acool pool.
The springs have been enticing travelers since the resort's founding in 1766. Visitors "take the waters" to soothe aching joints and tired muscles. Steam rises from the 98-degree water year-round, creating a comfortable indoor sauna surrounded by palm trees and arched windows that filter the light.
The elegant pool house, which reflects the stately Jeffersonian redbrick style of the resort, sits adjacent to the spa, where you can also get treatments using the water from the hot springs. Outside the pool house is a traditional swimming pool complex, which includes a children's wading hole and snack bar. Here is where you head in the sweltering summer.
When it's time to stroll back to your room after a leisurely day of soaking, you'll find the classically decorated rooms vary in size but are all as lovely as the property. Twenty-two Presidents, including Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Reagan, and Clinton, have chosen to visit The Homestead, tucked beautifully in the Allegheny Mountains. We can see why.
8 of 8Photography Gary Clark
Your Guide to Cool
"Cool Pools, Great Stays" is from the July 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.