High-end pools without high-end prices: A guide to resort day passes
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Do you have dreams of your family going down waterslides while you relax by a fancy heated pool with a cocktail, but you can’t justify a whole vacation spent paying for an expensive resort just to sit by the pool for a day or two? There’s an app for that. Or rather, there are websites that sell day passes to popular resorts so you can stay wherever you want, but play at the poshest pools around.
My family uses these sites to book resort days on cruises when we are in ports we have already explored extensively in the past. However, this day pass system is far from reserved for cruisers. It is alive and well in places like Miami and Hawaii, too, where most folks arrive by plane. Using a resort pass, you could stay at an Airbnb or more budget hotel and then spend a day of your vacation living it up at the pool and beach of a pricier resort. Or, you could book a day pass as part of a “staycation” closer to home, since even some hotels in metro areas such as New York City have pool day passes available.
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My colleague, Betsy Eccles, was in need of a reset recently and tested out a day pass at Walt Disney’s Swan Hotel in Orlando. Here’s her report:
“While working alone in Charlotte has its perks, I recently decided to venture out and come work remotely in Orlando for a month. Being a big Disney fan (annual passholder and all) Orlando just seemed like the right place. I was able to find a rental close to the theme parks, and with mild February temperatures, thought it was the perfect time to come. Unexpectedly, Orlando is unseasonably warm. Seeing that it was going to reach almost 90 degrees last weekend, I knew a day at the parks would be way too hot to be enjoyable. Ironically enough, I saw an Instagram ad pop up for ResortPass, so I checked it out. It had the [Disney] Swan and Dolphin resort listed as a potential place to get pool access.
"For $25, I was guaranteed a reserved chair at the pool of my choosing (they have a few), access to the fitness center, pool bar and grill. When I arrived, I followed the instructions (ResortPass’ pre-communication was excellent) and checked in. I was escorted to my chair and given the rundown of everything. I stored my backpack in one of the lockers in the fitness center right beside the pool, so it wasn’t in the sun all day. They’ve made it easy with the ability to walk up to the pool bar to order drinks or use mobile ordering from your chair for food and beverages. After a few hours of sun and cocktails, I showered in the locker room (which was very clean and updated), changed into other clothes and headed to the theme park.
"It was a wonderful experience and I cannot recommend it enough. I even tried to book again for Sunday, but they were already sold out, I did rebook for a day in two weeks with my friend who is coming to visit. It’s a great option for those that don’t have annual passes, and are being a bit more money conscious [but] still want a Disney-esqe experience.
"As for masks, you do not have to wear one in the pool or while laying out in your chair (all chairs are spaced apart), but do [need to] wear one walking to the bar or bathrooms. Everyone did a great job of following the guidelines, and I felt safe.”
How does a resort day pass work?
With a resort day pass, you typically pay a flat rate — either per person or per cabana — that includes access to the hotel’s recreational amenities. Some passes kick it up a notch in the value department to include a food and beverage credit for on-site dining venues and/or transportation to and from the port if cruisers are the target demographic.
Some resort day passes even include a private hotel room for your family’s use during the day. In more urban areas, the pass may only include use of the pool and/or fitness center. (Spa passes are also available for adults.)
It’s best to reserve your day passes in advance since they are capacity-controlled. If you just show up at the resort, you might be turned away if its allotment of passes has already sold out for that day. Most often, the resort’s recreation department handles day pass clients, so you’ll usually check in at the recreation desk near the pool or in the spa/fitness area.
Apps and Sites That Sell Resort Day Passes
There are a handful of sites that sell resort day passes. Start with a search of these sites:
ResortPass: Perhaps the gold standard among resort day pass purveyors for U.S.-based hotels, ResortPass works with the major hoteliers, including Hilton, Hyatt (including Miraval), IHG, Marriott (and many of its brands from The Ritz-Carlton to Moxy), Omni, Fairmont, Four Seasons and more. Day passes start at $25 per person.
This site works with many resorts right here in the U.S., including in California, Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, Texas and New York. If you sign up for its newsletter, you’ll be notified when new hotels are added.
Its list of overseas options was meager — just six Mexico resorts and eight in the Caribbean. So, if you’re looking for day passes beyond the U.S., one of the other options below will be a better fit for you.
Daycation: While Daycation’s footprint is smaller than ResortPass, it’s got some nice options in the U.S. and beyond. Resort brands include Kimpton, Fairmont, COMO, Marriott, Hilton, Park Hyatt and others. With Daycation, you can purchase day passes as well as rent cabanas.
In the U.S., most of Daycation’s resort day pass options are in Florida with more than a dozen options in the Miami Beach area. Some of the standout options in that area are the Tidal Cove Waterpark at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa ($65/day), and SLS South Beach (day passes starting at $40 per person or cabanas for up to six people starting at $375).
If you’re outside the U.S., here are some of the standout offerings:
- Bahamas: Breezes Bahamas Resort & Spa, British Colonial Hilton Nassau and Warwick Paradise Island Bahamas.
- Caribbean: Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, Autograph Collection (British Virgin Islands), The Westin Punta Cana Resort & Club (Dominican Republic), Bay Gardens Beach Resort (St. Lucia), Eagle Aruba Resort & Casino, and others.
- Costa Rica: Selina Manuel Antonio, Selina Puerto Viejo, Selina Santa Teresa and Selina La Fortuna.
- Mexico: Selina Cancun Lagoon Hz, Selina Playa del Carmen, Allegro Cozumel, Melia Cozumel Golf and Occidental Cozumel.
DayPass: If you’re looking to spend a day at an all-inclusive or luxury property, DayPass may have what you’re looking for, though its inventory isn’t very extensive.
It includes destinations such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the Middle East; Indonesia’s Bali, Thailand’s Koh Samui and Singapore in Southeast Asia; Punta Cana and San Juan in the Caribbean; and Miami Beach and Port St. Lucie in Florida.
The day passes on offer are interesting though. Properties of note include the InterContinental Abu Dhabi (from AED 99 per day), the Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife (from 40 euros per day) and the Park Hyatt Siem Reap (from $30 per day).
Closer to home, check out the all-inclusive day pass to the Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. It’s $120 per person and includes lunch, dinner and all the resort’s amenities, including four pools.
Resort for a Day: You need to be a cruise traveler to book a resort day pass from this company.
Its portfolio includes resorts in Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cabo San Lucas and Cozumel in Mexico, Curacao, Grand Cayman, Grenada, Hawaii, Jamaica, La Romana in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, San Juan in Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Martin – and even a few resorts in Florida cruise ports like Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
While Resort for a Day usually sells Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark passes, day passes can currently be purchased in advance directly from the resort.
Day Passes: The sister site to Resort for a Day, Day Passes is for non-cruise travelers but offers access to many of the same resorts.
Essentially serving the same destinations as Resort for a Day listed above, Day Passes has some standout resorts, including all-inclusive and adults-only options, that will make for the perfect day in the sun. In Jamaica, for example, two Hyatt all-inclusive resorts are available, Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara, both starting at $132 per adult. In Bermuda, the Elbow Beach Resort is available at $74 per person.
A real-world example in Miami
When TPG studied the lists of resort day passes that can be purchased across the above-mentioned services, we were impressed. There are some terrific options for families that will allow them to punch above their weight class and use a day pass to gain access to some pretty cool resorts.
I was interested to see Tidal Cove Waterpark was available as a day pass from several of the companies we’ve talked about. Marriott spent millions renovating The JW Marriott Turnberry Resort & Spa and it added this incredible waterpark in the process. The kids’ pool is 4,000 square feet, and there are seven waterslides, a FlowRider surf simulator, a meandering lazy river and 25 luxury cabanas. This could be the perfect way to spend a pre-cruise day if you’re departing on a Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean or Carnival cruise out of PortMiami. (Read a comparison of those three family-friendly cruise lines.)
ResortPass, Daycation and the DayPass all offer day admission to Tidal Cove Waterpark, though we noticed different pricing across the companies. ResortPass had certain dates starting at $55 per person for a Resort Membership Day Pass but that rate fluctuated between $125 and $250 for various weekends throughout 2021. DayPass and Daycation rates seem to also be between $125 and $250 any day of the week. Across the board, kids under 3 are allowed in free and taxes and fees may differ across the companies.
JW Marriott own entry rates to the waterpark start at $55 for guests when access to the waterpark isn’t already included in the room package.
This resort just unveiled the waterpark and there are some decent packages available to stay on site. However, later in the year, the per night cost creeps up. At that point, you may be better off staying somewhere like the Holiday Inn Port of Miami – Downtown, less than 2 miles from PortMiami, from around $150–$170/night and then buying a pass to spend your pre-cruise day at the waterpark.
Call the Resort Directly
If you’re traveling and want to book a day pass at a resort but it’s not listed at any of the booking sites, don’t give up. Call the hotel directly and inquire about the availability of day passes. That approach has worked for my family in the past and it’s also a great opportunity to negotiate for the hotel to throw in a day room if you’re visiting during low season. It never hurts to ask.
Right now, some resorts have capacity restrictions due to COVID-19, so you may need to call more than one resort to find one with availability on your preferred date.
Depending on where you’re traveling or how your family prefers to spend its vacation days, a resort day pass may be a terrific solution. Day passes can also be a terrific way to sample a resort to determine if your crew would like to vacation there at some point in the future – or to simply have a great afternoon at the pool.
Additional reporting by Tanner Saunders.