Floating around: We brave chlorine to rate Islands' best pools

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Even in ancient times a swimming pool spoke of elegance and wealth. That concept has been taken to heart in Hawaii, where resort hotels long have made pools a key ingredient in defining luxury. As I am a swimmer who rates pools with a critical eye, here's my selection of Hawaii's best hotel pools, places that, one way or another, tell you it doesn't get much better than this.

Big Island

I start with the island of Hawaii because I think two of the best pools in the state are to be found there, at resorts in Kaupulehu and Waikoloa. The term "swimming pool" understates what each facility offers, which is a series of pools beautifully integrated into resort grounds.

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, an elegant 243-room enclave on the North Kona Coast, boasts three distinctive oceanfront pools. My favorite is the King's Pool, a veritable aquarium in which guests can swim and snorkel. It's accessed from surrounding lava rock ledges, where you can relax away half a day in poolside lounging. The pool, fed by underground streams, is crystal clear, refreshingly cold and home to native fish.

If swimming with fish is unappealing, guests can head to either the long, free-form Seashell Pool, which opens to the blue waters offshore, or the blue-tiled Beach Tree Pool, a multi-armed, free-form pool under the palms. The latter includes a number of lounge areas and shallow sections.

At the Hilton Waikoloa Village, poolside elegance also means a collection of imaginative and fun pools on a grand scale, masterfully integrated into beautiful grounds.

The Lagoon Tower Pool starts with a spiraling water slide and then winds its way beneath artificial rock caverns, wood-plank swinging bridges and swaying palms. It ends in a sheltered, beachfront kid's pool.

A short walk beyond is the Lagoon, a natural coastal feature integrated into the hotel grounds. Access to the open sea allows for visits by green sea turtles and fish. Paddleboats and kayaks can be rented.

The Kohala River Pool is a series of pools and lounge areas linked by water slides, walkways and monumental, marble statuary personifying the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac.

Kauai

Developer and hotelier Chris Hemmeter had an eye for visual impact and the pools at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club prove that point. One integrates pool and hydrospas into a circular design inspired by the architecture of San Simeon and is great for distance swims.

The main pool is large, free-form and tropically landscaped. Both have expansive lounge areas. 

At the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa in Poipu, the multi-level pool complex meanders amid lushly landscaped grounds that surround smaller lounge areas. A water slide is unendingly popular with kids. The pool complex widens into a sandy-bottomed lagoon with a stretch of beach for easy entry.

While the infinity pool at the Princeville Resort on the island's north shore isn't large, the setting, with the pool's edge aimed at Hanalei Bay and the mountains of the Na Pali coast, makes it special.

Lanai

The pool at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, set on a hillside that overlooks the ocean, is long enough for a good swim. Spa facilities are adjacent and poolside food service is first-rate.

Maui

Maui's five top-ranked pools, in no particular order, are at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa; the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua; the Hyatt Regency Maui; the Sheraton Maui Resort; and the Hotel Hana-Maui.

The Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa integrates formal fountains into its large free-form pool, with extensive lounge areas surrounded by meticulously maintained grounds adjacent to the beach. 

The large double pool at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua faces the ocean in a grand expanse of lawn that offers a sense of elegance.

The first of Hyatt Hawaii's signature pools, the complex at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa boasts faux rocks, slides and falls on landscaped grounds. 

The meandering pool at the Sheraton Maui leads to Kaanapali's widest stretch of beach. Tall palms and lush grounds surround several lounge areas.

The infinity pool at the Hotel Hana-Maui borders a hillside lawn that slopes toward the ocean. Tall palms provide shade.

Oahu

The Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa's "Super Pool" was a highlight of its 1988 renovation. Shaded by palms, the 10,000-square-foot Super Pool includes the tiered Keiki Pool for kids. Despite its grand scale, the facility gets crowded when the hotel is full. The Hilton also has the Tapa Pool and the Kalia Tower Pool.

At the up-market Halekulani, the orchid on the bottom of the pool provides the luxury hotel with an iconic image -- and guests with an elegant, oceanside retreat -- in the heart of Waikiki.

To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].

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