Laps of honour: four of Miami’s most beautiful hotel pools
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For a globetrotting swimmer, Miami is close to perfect. Not only does just about every hotel have a proper pool — that is, one long enough for laps — but more importantly, the city is surrounded by the great endless pool that is the mighty Atlantic.
This is important for a swim junkie like myself. More than a few days without half an hour of freestyle in cool water and I start to get antsy and short-tempered. A trip to the gym satisfies the need for exercise, but cannot provide the sense of having left the terrestrial world for the peaceful rhythms of the aquatic one.
And so, for me, the best reason to stay in one of South Beach’s waterfront hotels is not the Art Deco architecture but the possibility of having the perfect swimmer’s morning. Roll out of bed; walk directly to the beach; get in a thousand strokes or so; retreat directly to the hotel for coffee in your dripping swimsuit.
The water in South Beach is shallow a long way out, so it tends to be calm, and you can easily find a long stretch of clear, pale-blue ocean all to yourself, shallow enough to stand if you get tired. (Though do keep an eye out for rip currents.) Most of the hotels have amenities on the beach, lifeguards or, failing that, a waiter who will bring you a cold drink and a towel when you emerge from the waves. If you are not yet an open-water swimmer, this is a great place to, er, dip your toes in.
Some swimmers prefer the controlled environment of a swimming pool. Fair enough, but be prepared to get some looks. As a rule, Miami’s pools are not used for exercise; they are intended for sitting next to. In several trips, I can’t recall ever seeing another lap swimmer at a Miami hotel pool. So you may have to dodge a beer-toting tourist who is unclear on the concept. I find that at around sunset the pools are empty; everyone else, I presume, has evacuated to the bar.
With that proviso, some thoughts on the great Miami hotel pools. Top rank, in my view, goes to the National Hotel, on South Beach. It actually has two: a square one up by the beach, which gets more traffic, and behind that a narrow, very long one — 62.5 metres — lined with palm trees. Beautiful, long, uncrowded laps. A day pass for the pools is an absolute bargain at $45.
(Downtown, the W Miami on Brickell Avenue has an even longer pool at 91m, but it does not offer day passes. When I dropped by recently to have a look, the desk told me to buzz off, so I can’t report the details.)
Second place, just a few doors along from the National, goes to The Setai hotel: three pools, each a solid 24m and at a different temperature. The average Miami pool is a bit too warm, but The Setai’s coolest is a rare and ideal 24C, and it’s no kids allowed. (Children can swim in the Family Pool.) Alas, The Setai doesn’t do day passes; you’ll have to book a stay at the hotel, which is absolutely lovely and wildly expensive.
It would be odd to talk about Miami pools without mentioning The Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables. The hotel itself, built in 1926, is a grand old Spanish Revival relic, complete with ornate fountains out front. Walking in makes you feel like Bob Hope on a golf vacation, circa 1939. The pool is less a pool than an artificial lake shaped like a giant, lopsided U. It is 2,130 sq m and must be well over 60m long; it was once, reputedly, the largest in the world. I’m sure it would be odd to do laps in, given the asymmetric shape and the lack of lanes, but it would be fun to try. Rent one of the nine private cabanas, complete with love seats, outdoor showers and a flatscreen TV. Rental starts at $219 a day for two guests on weekends (each additional guest is $20) and are cheaper on weekdays (from $179 for two).
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