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Feeling the heat? Sneak a dip at Tampa Bay's best hotel pools

Easy

Tahitian Inn

No worries about bringing your Mickey Mouse towel to the Tahitian Inn. This landlocked boutique hotel in the heart of South Tampa welcomes outsiders to its pool and Torch Tiki Bar so long as you buy food and drinks.

The pool has resort-like lounge chairs and shaded seating areas with couches and tables. It can get crowded with kids during the summer, so beware if you're in the mood for a poolside nap.

Founded in 1952, the hotel underwent a major renovation several years ago to keep up with the big chains and polish its title as a local institution. It recently made celebrity news when Michael Lohan, the estranged father of Lindsay Lohan who was accused of battering his girlfriend, jumped out of a hotel balcony to elude police. In April, the Tahitian filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because of a dispute with a lender.

The Torch has daily drink specials and happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays, with $3 well drinks and $1 off domestic beer. It serves burgers, flatbread pizzas, salads and sandwiches from the hotel's Kon Tiki restaurant.

The Torch is open from 1 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with live music on some days. 601 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 877-6721; tahitianinn.com.

Moderate

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino

Walking through the sprawling Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, you don't see any signs pointing to the pool. In fact, unless you ask about it, it's hard to find.

But it's worth the hunt.

The hotel, in its ongoing effort to become even bigger and better, recently completed a major makeover of its pool area. It kept the long, narrow walk-in pool but added a new bar and cabana-style chickees, and reconfigured the deck area. The resulting vibe is sexy and modern.

Anyone can grab a drink and food at the poolside bar, enhanced by pretty servers in bikini tops, comfy chairs and TVs showing music videos. The beautiful views of the pool and fountain can easily erase memories of losing your shirt in the casino, which may be the whole point.

Only hotel guests are allowed to swim in the pool, and they must show a room key to get a wristband to borrow towels and sit on the chairs. However, for a fee, the public can spend the day at the pool by renting a chickee.

Originally used by the Seminole Indians for shelter, the chickees have a thatched roof and open sides and offer good relief from the sun. Each has a mini refrigerator, TV, couches and lounge chairs. The hotel provides water, but all food and drinks are extra, and no outside items are allowed.

The seven poolside chickees are available from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The standard chickee, which has room for six to eight people, rent for $125 Monday through Thursday and $200 Friday through Sunday. The large one, which seats 10 to 12, goes for $150 during the week and $250 on the weekend. Chip in with friends, and you get affordable day's relief from the heat.

For reservations, call the Body Rock Spa at (813) 627-7650. 5223 Orient Road, Tampa; seminolehardrocktampa.com.

Moderate

Loews Don CeSar Beach Hotel

You can spend a lot of time at Florida's so-called "pink palace," even if you're not sleeping over.

The hotel has a boatload of shops and restaurants, including an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and stores that offer sundries, gauzy vacation clothes and high-end jewelry. You can even book a pedicure or massage at the hotel's fancy Spa Oceana.

But as for getting wet? You have to be official.

Only overnight guests or people who have purchased a hotel membership are allowed to swim in the two sparkling pools (which flank a whirlpool), or use the Don's private beach facilities.

There are no scary lasers or guards keeping you out of the pool area, which was jam-packed on a recent Tuesday afternoon. But imposter swimmers are easy to spot without the signature blue and white hotel towels.

The public is welcome to belly up to the Beachcomber Bar and Grill at the pool, which serves food until 7 p.m. and drinks until sunset. Maybe when no one is looking, you can dangle a toe in the pool. 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-1881; loewshotels.com.

Moderate

Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa

You can't miss it heading into Clearwater Beach. It's big and pink — the Don Cesar of Clearwater Beach — and the centerpiece of the city's fancy, new BeachWalk promenade.

Of course, you want a peek inside.

Fortunately, you don't have be a guest to check out the pool area.

The hotel lets outsiders grab drinks and food from the Swim bar and restaurant on the eighth-floor pool deck overlooking the beach. The poolside bar isn't cheap — a Diet Coke costs $3.50 — but the expansive views are worth it.

Think twice before trying to go for a dip. A posted sign limits use of the pool to hotel guests and their guests, and if you don't have a Hyatt-issued white towel with thin blue stripes, you'll look out of place.

Your best bet for getting wet would be to park in the hotel's public garage and take the elevators to the ground level. The doors open onto the street across from the beach and gulf.

At $2.75 an hour, the garage can get expensive quickly, but it's a convenient option when the city lots fill up. Visit the pool for a drink or lunch to enjoy a bird's-eye beach experience. 301 S Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach; (727) 373-1234; clearwaterbeach.hyatt.com.

Moderate

Postcard Inn on the Beach

It's one of the hippest places in St. Pete Beach, an old Travelodge remodeled into a kitschy, retro haven. Its bar area draws party people in droves every weekend.

You can use the pool at the Postcard Inn if you have a room. And if you want a room, you don't necessarily need one for the entire night. Postcard Inn offers day rates to use a room between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The prices vary, and availability is more open when it's not high tourist season, so you'll want to call and make sure it's an option. But consider splitting the cost with friends. You'll get total use of the pool as well as your own personal bathroom and place to nap. Not a bad deal.

At the pool you'll hear a sampling of indie and '80s tunes coming from the outdoor speakers. You can even lie on a series of actual poolside mattresses for some serious relaxation.

If you don't opt for a room, you'll have to pass on the pool. But you can visit the bar, which is a hot place to be seen on the weekends. From 11 a.m. to sunset you can check out the PCI Beach Bar, decorated in the Inn's nostalgic style with old license plates, plus the nearby Snack Shack for treats from 11 a.m. to sunset. 6300 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (800)875-2347, postcardinn.com.

Difficult

Hilton ­Clearwater Beach

It should come as no surprise that a hotel known for its Outback Bowl college beach parties has tight pool security. Who wants a wild bunch of pool crashers?

Only registered hotel guests are allowed in the Hilton's two pools, located on the south side of the hotel. Security guards and hotel employees stand at the gate helping guests enter and exit. The gate requires a hotel key card to open and locks behind each guest.

It's fairly easy to walk in behind someone else, but the hotel strictly frowns upon it, and a big group will certainly get noticed. Instead, outsiders are directed to the tiki bar on the beach a few steps away. 400 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach; (727) 461-3222; hiltonclearwaterbeach.com.

Feeling the heat? Sneak a dip at Tampa Bay's best hotel pools 06/21/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 21, 2012 3:16pm]
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