How to Play at Fancy Resort Pools Without Staying the Night — Buy a Day Pass

Jun 26, 2019

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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 where we have already explored extensively. However, this day pass system is far from reserved only cruisers, it is alive and well in places like 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, book a day pass as part of a “staycation” closer to home as some hotels in metro areas, such as NYC, even have pool day passes available.

How Does a Resort Day Pass Work?

With a resort day pass, you typically pay a flat rate — either 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.)

Grand Hyatt Kauai (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Grand Hyatt Kauai (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

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 US-based hotels, Resort Pass works with the major hoteliers, including Hyatt, Marriott (and many of its brands like The Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Westin, Sheraton and W), Omni, Belmond, Fairmont, Four Seas, Caesars and more. This site seemed to have the most options for resorts right here in the USA and if you sign up for its newsletter, you’ll be notified when new hotels are added. Its list of overseas options was meager, so if you’re looking for day passes in the Caribbean, Mexico or elsewhere, one of the other options below will be a better fit for you.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Daycation: Targeting travelers that want to spend a day — close to home or while on vacation — at a luxury property, Daycation has a deep catalog of options. Resort brands include St. Regis, Kimpton, Fairmont, COMO, Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and others. Bermuda, the Caribbean and Mexico are well represented but you’ll also find day passes at places like Park Hyatt Chicago, Fairmont Dallas and the new Tidal Cove Waterpark at The JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa. The one negative of Daycation is that it lists a lot of properties that aren’t yet bookable but are instead listed as “available soon.” That’s kind of a bummer since I got excited when I saw Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland, but it wasn’t actually bookable. However, I could book a day pass there via ResortPass ($35 for adults 15+, $15 per child and free for infants).

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, when we checked it out, its inventory wasn’t very extensive. It included destinations such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the Middle East, Bali in Indonesia, Thailand’s Phuket, Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) and a couple of other spots. The day passes on offer are interesting though, including the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai and the all-inclusive Club Med Bali. And, the app also sells a pool day pass for hotels that may not have lazy rivers and waterslides, but do have nice traditional pool decks.

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 Bermuda, the Bahamas, Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico and even a few resorts in Florida cruise ports like Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Spend the day at Atlantis
Spend the day at Atlantis (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

3 Top Family Picks for Resort Day Passes

When TPG looked 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.

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

One of Mommy Points’ favorite hotels in the world is the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, where her family has vacationed three times over the last few years. Day passes here give access to the Grand Hyatt’s river pool with waterfalls, caves and a 150-foot waterslide. You can also spend time visiting the saltwater lagoon, one of jacuzzis or the beach. Free Wi-Fi and self-parking is included in the price, which is $75 per person (infants are free). Upgraded passes are also available at reasonable prices.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

A Lagoon Lounger (shaded love seat) for two or an Oceanfront Lounger for two costs $200 all-in. Both options include everything you get with the day pass plus reserved seating and a cooler with complimentary bottles water and juices. Would your family of four prefer a poolside cabana with four chaise loungers and a cooler of juice and soda? That’s available for $300, which is just $50 more than hotel guests would pay for the same cabana.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

So, would it make sense to stay elsewhere and then use a day pass to visit the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort? Maybe, depending on what your family values most in a vacation. If you wanted a cabana by the pool for a day, the price isn’t that different for guests vs. non-guests and then stay at an Airbnb or spend just 25k Marriott points or $150 – $200 per night to stay at the Courtyard Marriott Kauai Coconut Beach instead of paying Grand Hyatt Kauai style prices. This only makes sense if you were really just looking for one big pool day on your vacation, but for families who like to spend more days of their trip hiking and exploring, it could work.

Tidal Cove Waterpark at The JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa

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, 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 Resort for a Day all sell day admission to Tidal Cove Waterpark for $75 per person (ages 3+) on weekdays and $105 per person on weekends. Kids under 3 are free. Taxes and fees may differ across the companies. This is the same price JW Marriott charges its guests when access to the waterpark isn’t 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.

Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort

As I was poking around, I came across day passes in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and the Omni caught my eye because you can purchase passes to its kids camp. That’s a neat option if Mom and Dad would love to spend a day lounging in a cabana while the kids get to play with their peers. Kids’ club passes start at $65 per child, and you can book just the morning session (9am — 1pm), just the afternoon (1–4pm) or the entire day from 9am — 4pm.

Related: Guide to Hilton Head Family Vacations

Buy a pass for the kids club at the Omni Hilton Head.
Buy a pass for the kids club at the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort.

If you book an Airbnb or other home/cottage rental in the area, it may also make sense to buy a day pass to the Omni. Adults (13+) pay $30, kids 3–12 cost $15 and children under 3 are free. You can also purchase a Family Cabana day pass for $250 and it accommodates up to six people with a shaded cabana with sofa seating, two poolside lounger chairs, four bottles of water, two adult beverages and some pretzels.

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!

Bottom Line

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 simply have a great afternoon at the pool. Have you booked a day pass anywhere? Would you do it again?

Featured image by Summer Hull / The Points Guy

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