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A Peek Inside South Beach’s Best Hotel Pools

August 31, 2007 By Doug in Miami: Travel News  | 15 Comments


When it’s mid-August in Miami Beach, and the temperature dial is creeping ever closer to the 100 degree mark, while the humidity is soaking your shirt to your skin, a plunge into something cool and wet is the only outdoor daytime activity worth considering.  The ocean is always nearby, but sometimes, particularly when the riptides are flaring and the jellyfish are frolicking, you find you’ve got an itch that only a pool can fix.

To SoBe locals and tourists staying at the boutique hotels, freshwater swimming options may at first appear somewhat limited, the only obvious choices being the Flamingo Park pool, functional, but a little too popular with the kiddies, and the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, which, while not without its charms, can be a bit too much of a jaunt for those who prefer to do their backstroke closer to the Beach.


However, as is often the case around these parts, looks can be deceiving: unseen to many, from about 16th Street on up, nestled between the hustle bustle of Collins Avenue and the oceanfront walk,  there is a well-hidden world of tropical, palm-studded enclaves—stunning, watery playgrounds replete with cabanas, outdoor beds, and oversized pillows; they’re populated with models, rock stars, and Euro-hedonists, and obscured by towering hedges and white fences.  This is the domain of the resort pool! The top players among them: The Delano, The National, The Raleigh, The Shore Club, and the Palms.

Strolling along the oceanfront walkway, you’ll pass by their rear gates.  Thumpy, jazzy trance rhythms tease you as smiling tourists sashay in and out, towels draped over their shoulders, speaking a myriad of foreign tongues, past attentive guards and signs announcing that only registered guests may enter. 


So how hard is it to actually get into these luxurious compounds? What exactly is going on in there, anyway? How do they compare in terms of ambience and amenities? This week, with camera in hand, I made it my mission to find out!



Try to blend in with the guests and make your way through the back gate, and you’ll soon discover that it can’t be done.  You’ll soon be asked to produce your guest card, or at the very least to provide your last name and room number.  The solution to this conundrum is surprisingly simple: go through the hotel lobby.  It’s probably best to pick a weekday in the slow season, when the crowds are lighter and security is less intense.  Saunter through like you belong there.  Walk with a sense of purpose and head east.  Eventually, you’ll find the rear doors, usually opening to a back veranda with lazy ceiling fans and trendy patio furniture.  Linger there for a few minutes, pretending to look at a menu or have a cellphone conversation while you scope out the place.


The Raleigh Hotel pool bar, casting anchor in the distance.

The pool bar is the resort equivalent to first base.  Usually, once you get there, you’re nearly home safe.  Should anyone intercept you en route, approach them and ask if the pool bar is open, before they have a chance to request your guest credentials.

One pool bartender, who asked not to be identified, offered the following advice:

“As long as you’re spending money, they’ll usually leave you alone.  The bartenders and the waiters don’t really want to kick people out, because it hurts business.  So if you’re at the bar, spending money and taking care of the staff, it’s easy to become the bartender’s visiting cousin, so to speak, if anyone comes over and starts asking questions.”

A couple of the resort hotels, such as the Raleigh and its sister hotel, the Standard, offer $20 day passes for non-guests who who wish to enjoy the pool facilities.  No need to volunteer that you’re a non-guest, though: simply wait for the walkie-talkie people to approach you.  If they do, they’ll be more than happy to accept your $20 payment at that time.  Other hotels, like the Delano and the Shore Club (home of the ultra-chic “SkyBar”), allow non-guests to hang out at the bar after 5:30 pm and 7 pm, respectively.

Playing the pool bar card is not without its disadvantages, unfortunately.  The drink and food prices are as over-the-top as the opulent surroundings. 


Spend a few hours there, and you might as well have booked a penthouse suite.  The idea is to make your way from the barstool to the lounge chair, as quickly and seamlessly as possible. 

The best way to do this and complete your task? Befriend a guest; buy them a drink and ask for them to cover for you.


At first glance, it might appear that you’ve entered a carefree world of fun.  Rum drunk girls with silicone-enhanced figures slur in broken French with visiting European businessmen, and couples snuggle on poolside canopy beds, while servers pass briskly amongst them with trays of piña coladas and mojitos.  However, largely invisible to the naked eye, in many of these establishments there are strategically placed cameras, carefully scanning every wrinkle, curve, and bellyflop. 


In some of the larger hotels (like Loews, for example), security people monitor the scenes from an office inside the hotel on multiple television screens, looking for something that seems out of place, ready to radio the ground troops should they encounter anything amiss.  Don’t let that stop you, though! Just be aware that your exotic adventures are quite likely being captured in technicolor.


In terms of personality and style, the pools are as varied as the people who float in them.  Here are most striking traits of each:

Best choice for an uncomplicated afternoon:

See more Raleigh pool pics.

Of the seven spots I visited, the Raleigh Hotel, recently renovated by discriminating hotelier André Balazs, stood out head and shoulders above the rest in terms of friendly staff and accessibility to the amenities.  Everyone from the management to the servers was congenial and unpretentious in this tranquil deco haven.  Were you to be caught without your guest card, $20 will enable you to avoid an embarrassing and hasty exit.  The ambience is also par excellence: the curvaceous pool boasts an outer, shallower extension, which is kept warmer during the winter months than water in the interior section.  At the far end is a cascading waterfall, which is fun to drift under as you kick back in your inner tube.  They’ve flirted with the idea of converting to saltwater, though they have yet to do so. 


Beds and comfy lounge furniture adorn the surrounding area, providing you with a true resort experience.  Sister hotel to the Standard (in Miami Beach), The Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, and the Mercer in New York.  If I had to pick one setting to spend a relaxing afternoon in, this would be my pick!

Best place to have a Fantasy Island flashback:

See more Palms pool pics.

You’ll find yourself scanning the skies for zee plane shortly after your arrival at The Palms South Beach.  Despite its monicker, it’s actually a little north of SoBe, situated near 30th Street, and if feels like it could be worlds away.  As you step off the veranda into the compound, you’ll think you’re on a remote Caribbean island.  A white, Queen Anne style gazebo grabs your attention as you stroll in; from there, you’ll pass two colorful, perky macaws on your way to the pool bar, a funky palapa hut with stools around it. 


Flowery foliage, gently swaying palms, and hammocks complete the experience.  The security is there, but it doesn’t look like anyone is really very intent on doing anything strenuous, so it’s probably worth it to grab a banana daiquiri and take your chances.

Most likely spot to catch Jenna Jameson getting jiggy:

See more Shore Club pool pics.

The Shore Club pool area is dripping in sex and epicurean appeal, a favorite watering hole for visiting celebs.  The crowd is an electic gathering of hip hoppers, hipsters, and globetrotting party-set, with a sizeable gay and lesbian presence.  Somehow they all manage to play together nicely in this Moroccan-inspired deco-dent locale, floating in one of the two pools, lounging, and sipping what may possibly be the best frozen mojitos in the world on the stools of their outdoor lounge, the trendy RumBar.  At night, the place transforms into one of the hottest nightclubs on the beach: SkyBar, a complex of drinking niches including RumBar, the SandBar, Redroom, and the Red Room Garden.  The landscaping is lush and fertile (like the patrons…), containing a labyrinth of secret passageways, in a design modeled after le Jardin Marjorelle in Marrakesh.


When I first arrived around 2 pm, I saw a sign posted near the pool area which read: “Hotel guests only.  Please present your Privilege Card for access.  Thank you.”

I ignored it and made tracks over to the nearest barstool, where I was left uninterrogated.  My afternoon at RumBar slipped by effortlessly as I sampled their frozen tropical libations.  They also make a killer tuna wrap with a choice of fries or salad, but it doesn’t come cheap at $24! Meanwhile, with a liter of Fiji water priced at $13, you’d think it had been hand-delivered from the South Pacific.  Nonetheless, this is just the price you pay for unparalleled sensual swankiness, which this place, designed by famed English Modernist architect David Chipperfield, offers in spades. 

Safest bet for escaping the paparazzi:


Nothing says security like the Loews Hotel.  Access to the pool area appears at first to be a simple matter of following a stairway up from alongside the front of the hotel straight out to the rear.  However, should you do so, you’ll soon find an attendant who’ll ask for your last name and room number.  PR Director Sarah explains that of all the hotels on South Beach, they are the most customer-focused, wanting to ensure that the facilities are for the exclusive use of the hotel guests.  Therefore, neither the pool, nor the poolside bar, nor any of the other facilities are available to non-guests.  While an overheated local may find such policies frustrating, it’s no doubt a better deal if you’re actually staying at the hotel and want to enjoy the amenities free from the hassles of freeloading outsiders (who, me?).

Best locale for some stylish splashing:

See more Delano pool pics.

The Delano is style personified.  Built in 1947 and designed by Robert W. Swartburg, it was named after then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  As soon as the doorman welcomes you in, you’ll find yourself in an immense, dimly lit corridor; sinuous sheers beckon you on from the sides.  Once outside, you’ll feel as though you’d wandered into a scene from Alice in Wonderland: mismatched chairs and tables randomly appear, stimulating your imagination as you traverse the great lawn.  Beyond it is the swimming pool, possibly unique in its feature of “soothing underwater music.”  On the surface, the water flows freely over the sides, while its periphery is lined with cabanas and ornate bungalows. 


It morphs at the end into a mere wading area, where a lone patio table and accompanying chairs provide a striking visual in the shallow water.  This hotel, like the Shore Club, also possesses a certain sensuality, but here it’s less about hook-ups and more about raw aesthetics.  Though it feels very exclusive, the Delano pool bar welcomes non-guests after 5:30 pm.  Before that, it’s kind of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.  A piña colada and a piece of key lime pie will buy their silence.

Where to go when you want to impress the Sultan of Brunei:

See more National pool pics.

The National.  Its long narrow pool stretches back a seeming eternity (205 feet, to be precise), met at the end by a waterfall streaming forth from a second pool a few steps higher.  Canary Island date palms line the sides, creating a motif straight out of the Arabian Nights.  Refurbished in 1997 and restored to its 1940s spendor, this hotel has long been a favorite for traveling celebrities.  Among its amenities include poolside massage therapy, spa services, and gourmet dining in their restaurant, Tamara.


  If this wasn’t enough, the hotel also employs its own production department to coordinate fashion/film shoots and music videos.

In the rear, A bar awaits; aptly named Zee Pool Lounge, it’s surrounded by lush greenery, lawn chairs, and enough black and white cabana tents to house the most happening harems.  Of all the hotels, this one was the best at striking a balance between posh and family-friendly.

Though its policy is said to be guests only, I was able to make my way back to zee Pool Lounge without any effort, where I encountered a hostess.  I simply asked if I could sit at Zee Pool Lounge, and she said yes, showing me in.  I was then able to enjoy myself for quite a while there without anyone asking any questions.

Best place to get lost in the crowd:

See more Ritz Carlton pool pics.

The Ritz Carlton.  Despite the name, this place feels more trendy casual than ritzy.  It’s got style, yes—it was originally designed in 1953 by Morris Lapidus, a local architect famous for his Mi-Mo (Miami Modern) creations—but in its present incarnation, it isn’t as larger-than-life as its cousins up the street.  On the ground floor, abutting the oceanfront walk, is the Dilido Beach Club, the only beachfront restaurant on South Beach, while upstairs, people both beautiful and ordinary alike co-mingle on the expansive pool deck, as servers busily peddle their pricey cocktails to the public.  To reach this area from the hotel lobby, you’ll need to pass reception and climb a set of stairs to the second level.  From there, you’ll notice the glass doors leading outside. 


The outside bar is immediately to the right as you walk out the door.  The set-up makes for a more discreet exodus to the pool area, where you can blend in with the guests with a minimum of effort. 

Despite the easy access, the bartender did question me, in a non confrontational, yet thorough manner.  “How long would I be visiting?” “When did I arrive?” “Where was I visiting from?”  In the end, he’d surmised that I wasn’t actually staying there, but after two frozen cocktails, priced at $16 a piece, and a $14 chicken wrap (18% gratuity pre-included), he didn’t seem exactly anxious to boot me out to the curb.


Whether pool crashing’s your game, you simply want to research the most aquatically-gifted locale for your next visit, or you’re just insatiably curious, like me, seeing the world behind the tropical hedges can be an eye-opening experience, as long as you’ve got some cash to spend and you have an appreciation for the fine art of doing nothing.  But in the end, the flashiness and grandeur of these elite retreats are no match for the natural beauty of the glowing Atlantic just beyond their gates.  Perhaps then, what’s true in Kansas holds up just as well in South Beach: if you want to go searching for your heart’s desire, you don’t have to look any further than your own back yard!


Related Categories: Miami: Travel News,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

See more articles by Doug

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15 Comments on

"A Peek Inside South Beach’s Best Hotel Pools"

Frank says:

I fall into the category at the end of your story, “There’s no place like home”. The pools sound interesting but I’ve never enjoyed frolicking in chlorine. Give me the old Atlantic Ocean and let the hotel crowd take advantage of the over priced cocktails and the Clorox aroma that they leave with. I did find the information to be very informative and will use it when I have friends that are coming to Miami Beach and are looking for this type of relaxation and accommodations.

Posted on 09/03/2007 at 4:52 AM

s1lv3rtwenty2 says:

Very nicely written article.  I look forward to putting these tips to the test in the very near future.

Posted on 09/04/2007 at 9:28 AM

Sarah Weller says:

Fantastic article, informative commentary, and interestingly written.  You have helped me a lot in devising a great stay.  I remember when I was 18yo, I used to pool hop everywhere in Australia where security didn’t exist, and it was fantastic!

Posted on 10/12/2008 at 10:46 PM

sungal says:

I’m curious to see if anyone has gotten into the delano. Even as a hotel guest it’s hard to get a chair. Doug, do you go in, sit at the bar, and go in and out of the pool with the barstool as your home base, or are you ever lucky enough to score a lounge chair. It’s funny, I was reading the begining of this article thinking, I wish this article would tell me how to sneak Sneaking into a pool is something you never get to old to do!

Can’t wait to test out a few. Is it possible to take a bus to the Venetian pool? How much would a taxi be?

Posted on 01/27/2009 at 1:03 PM

Doug says:

Hi, I didn’t go into the pool at the Delano….just sat at the bar and walked around a little, snapping pictures.  If you’re planning to get poolside you have to refer to step 2 above: chat up a guest! Once you get him/her to vouch for you, if anyone asks, just use the guest’s name and room number.  Of course, this tactic might not work if your social skills are at all lacking or there aren’t any friendly guests around!

The Venetian Pool is easily reached by taking Bus 24 from Government Station downtown along Coral Way through the Gables.  It was closed when I saw it last week, so call ahead to make sure it’s open.

Posted on 01/27/2009 at 1:11 PM

Doug says:

Sarah, thanks for your kind words! I didn’t notice your post until today.  I hope it will help you in your pool hopping efforts stateside!

Posted on 10/22/2009 at 5:14 PM

pacp poco says:

I think the person who wrote the Morris Lapidus Biography needs to know that a biography is by definition a written account of a person’s life with details like: Place of Birth, date of Birth, Schools where he egressed, life awards, etc… I recommend more refinement

Posted on 03/30/2010 at 8:52 AM

fatimah says:

omg i love this flamingo pool it’s so cool i love it im going there tomorrow i like the bartender to cooland also i love the pretty clear water!!! i love pools especially flamingo pool!!!!

Posted on 06/18/2010 at 6:22 PM

jasmine says:

Thank You!!! This article really helped! My husband and I look forward to pool crashing but will follow your advice.

Posted on 08/29/2010 at 2:35 AM

Doug says:

Hi Jasmine, I’m glad it helped!

Posted on 08/30/2010 at 6:32 PM

elizabeth says:

Hi—-My friend and I were in South Beach from March 15 to 22, 2011. We went to the Fauntinbleau Hotel. My friend and I arrived early and stayed all afternoon with no hassel from security. I t was a beautiful pool and outside area. We had frozen drinks and complimentary lemon ice water and able to get two comfotable loungers. We even wandered around the hotel. We saw the famous bowtie floor, but The Pink Poodle lounge was gone, In the 90’s I had a drink in the lounge. The Pink Poodle lounge is famous for hosting the Rat Pack; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

Posted on 04/03/2011 at 12:08 PM

Doug says:

That’s good to know! The Fountainebleau has a lot of history to it.  As long as people are buying food and drinks, why should they care if they hang out by the pool?

Posted on 04/03/2011 at 12:34 PM

Daniel Fisher says:

I love the place. Cozy as it seems. And the fact that it has security cameras, we would be in a safe pool then.  Best suggested.

Posted on 09/06/2011 at 12:53 PM

Malcolm says:

Great article.  I plan to try and infiltrate this weekend.  Thanks!

Posted on 02/22/2013 at 8:52 PM

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