What every traveler needs to know about hotel pool etiquette

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The hotel pool: It’s a place where many travelers will spend much of their waking (and napping) hours while on vacation. What’s more, it’s often a place you go for some peace and quiet, with the occasional dip in the water to cool off. But as you’ve likely experienced, there are plenty of ways that fellow guests can ruin what is supposed to be a tranquil escape.

Or, as Paul Bodner — the “pool butler” at the Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort in Portugal — calls them, “the usual suspects”: running, shouting, diving and eating food while in the pool. “Smoking can also be very rude, especially when lounge chairs are close to each other,” he said.

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We’re here to lay down the law about what flies — and what doesn’t — whether you’re visiting a megaresort that’s home to multiple pools (some for adults, others for families) or a boutique property with a single pool that grown-ups and children alike have to share.

Don’t claim chairs if you’re not there

Hospitality professionals agree you should never lay claim to a lounge chair (or worse yet, chairs) if you’re not imminently about to use them. That means no putting down a towel, or a bag or a magazine, and then running off to breakfast or lunch. “It’s rude to save a chair if you’re not there because other people may want to use it in the meantime,” said Andrei Mocanu, the general manager of the Golden Rock Inn in Nevis.

The pool at The Cape in Los Cabos. (Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

Some properties even have rules in place to counteract the issue. “We have a strict policy that says you can keep a personal item on a chair for one hour,” said Sybrandt Windell, the food and beverage director at Acqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. “After that, the items are removed and the chair is reset for someone else.”

And at the SLS Baha Mar in the Bahamas, the popular Bungalow Pool has a 20-minute limit. “Otherwise, it really isn’t fair to other guests,” Andrew Marolla, the property’s director of daylife and nightlife operations, told TPG. “If you really want to save yourself a space by the pool, the courteous thing to do is reserve a cabana.” 

Keep calls quick and quiet

The consensus is that talking on your phone is fine. In fact, Marolla says it happens all the time. There are a few caveats to keep in mind, however. “You shouldn’t be screaming, sharing confidential information or saying something that could hurt or offend someone nearby,” said Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, the author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and the founder of The Protocol School of Texas. And Mocanu, of the Golden Rock Inn, said all calls should be kept to a minimum. “If you’re getting into a two-hour conversation, it’s best to find a quiet place so as not to disturb other guests,” he explained.

Imbibe with caution

For many travelers, a day spent by the pool is not complete without a refreshing alcoholic beverage (or, let’s be honest, three). And most resorts and hotels allow and encourage it — many even have poolside or swim-up bars. The key here is to just be responsible, especially since hot days and lots of alcohol don’t always mix well. Make sure to stay hydrated with water and have some food so you’re not imbibing on an empty stomach.

The Swim-up bar at The Solaz in Los Cabos. (Photo by Melanie Lieberman / The Points Guy)
The swim-up bar at the Solaz in Los Cabos. (Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

Also, keep the drinks out of the pool. “At our resort, some adults will sit at the edge and that is OK, but it’s best not to bring it into the water with you,” Bodner, of Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort, said. “Also, if you’re staying at a hotel with no pool bar and their policy allows outside drinks, then it’s perfectly OK to bring them. But, for safety reasons, all drinks should be served in plastic.”

Finally, what might be appropriate at an adults-only pool doesn’t apply when young ones are in the vicinity. “If you’re at a family resort, be mindful of your surroundings,” said Acqualina Resort & Spa’s Windell. “Try not to be rowdy or use foul language if there are kids around.”

Mind your music

The guidelines are the same whether or not the pool has a live DJ, a softly playing soundtrack or no tunes at all: Personal music is for your ears only, which means you should always wear headphones.

For you parents out there, this goes for noise from iPads or other mobile devices as well. “If the kids are done swimming and want to relax with some cartoons, make sure they keep the level as low as possible or wear headphones. Otherwise, it’s best to take them somewhere else,” Windell said.

And, if you must play your music out loud, Gottsman advises taking it to the beach (if there is one), where it’s okay to play, she said, “as long as it’s not competing with other music, or is not blaring or offensive.”

Let kids be kids (mostly)

According to Gottsman, “The No. 1 rule is to watch your own children. Don’t expect others to keep an eye on them, or allow them to run free. It’s a safety issue, first and foremost.”

If the property has a pool that’s open to both adults and children, timing can be everything. “Bringing young kids earlier in the morning or late afternoon is always best, not only to avoid splashing other guests but also because the kids may have the entire pool to themselves,” said Marolla. Cocktail hour is another part of the day when the pool may empty out.

The Kids pool at the Hilton Waikoloa. (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
The kids pool at the Hilton Waikoloa. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

That’s not to say families can’t hang out in the shared pool when it’s crowded. “Kids are free to jump in the pool and have a lot of fun, but when there are other guests around, it’s up to parents to tell them to tone it down a bit, say, if people nearby are trying to read a book,” Mocanu said. (He once had some young guests who started cutting banana leaves and building a tent by the pool. Big no-no.)

And anytime there’s a pool designated for families, use it — and feel free to be a bit more lax about the noise level and let kids just be kids.

Save your towels

Most resorts will be happy to refresh your towels as often as you like — but it’s not exactly environmentally friendly to grab a new towel every time you cool off in the pool. In the same way you wouldn’t have the hotel change your sheets daily, try to make the towels last (unless they’re soaking wet, of course). “You can just tell the pool boy not to change it, and that you plan to use it all day,” Mocanu said.

Respect COVID-19 protocols

As the world opens up and we continue to adjust to different protocols and regulations pertaining to COVID-19, it’s important to be aware of the specific rules wherever you are staying — even at the pool. While some places have loose rules in pool areas, others require guests to wear their masks when outside of the water or their lounge chair or cabana. For the safety of yourself and others, respect the hotel or local authority’s guidelines so everyone can have a great pool experience.

Bottom line

Most of the hotel pool guidelines boil down to common sense: Just be considerate of your fellow guests.

Also, keep in mind what kind of vacation you want when selecting the hotel in the first place. If you want your kids to have the freedom to splash and squeal to their hearts’ delight, look for a resort with a pool (or two!) designated just for families. And if you’re planning a getaway with friends and want to drink and listen to loud music, book a hotel where the adults-only pool is designed to be a party, with a live DJ and swim-up bars.

Additional reporting by Tanner Saunders.

Featured photo of the Hilton Doubletree in Fiji by Katie Genter/The Points Guy

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