There are a few things that most of us check before booking a hotel: First, if it's clean; second, if it's affordable; and third, if it has a pool. And though we might have been hoping to splash about or swim some laps in an Olympic-size pool, we so often book a place that has a tiny water-filled hole with too much (or too little) chlorine and the occasional child-size Band-Aid floating on the surface. Sure, having a hot tub helps justify a Podunk pool, but why should we settle for anything less than spectacular? To answer that question: we shouldn't. To give you a sense of the greener pastures -- or, in this case, the bluer lagoons -- U.S. News Travel has scoured the globe searching for the most magnificent hotel pools. Here's what we found:
Marina Bay Sands Hotel
Marina Bay, Singapore
In Singapore, bigger is better. And this standard is certainly not lost on the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This stunning three-pronged resort rises a whopping 656 feet above Singapore's Marina Bay and boasts seven restaurants, two theaters, a shopping mall and a museum, not to mention a massive casino. Lying across all three towers is the Sands SkyPark, a sprawling rooftop deck that accommodates dining spots and nightlife venues; the hotel describes it as "longer than the Eiffel Tower laid down." But in our opinion, the resort's infinity pool is by far its most dazzling feature. Stretching almost 500 palm-tree-lined feet along the SkyPark's edge, this is the world's largest outdoor pool at this height. But let's forget about size and discuss the real reason the Marina Bay Sands' swim-spot deserves a slot on this list: its views. Swimmers and poolside loungers can practice their backstroke and work on their tans while savoring Singapore's downtown skyline.
Hotel Caruso Belvedere by Orient-Express
Perched along Italy's Amalfi Coast and less than 50 miles southeast of Naples, the Hotel Caruso Belvedere by Orient Express occupies what was once an 11th-century palace. Here, guests gorge on contemporary Mediterranean cuisine, unwind during outdoor massages and snuggle up in plush Neapolitan-style beds beneath frescoed ceilings. But as wonderful as all that sounds, nothing beats a dip in the hotel pool. A rose-lined path extends from the Caruso Belvedere's drawing room, leading to the highest point in Ravello. From there you'll find the hotel's infinity pool curving around the cliffside, making it hard to tell where its water ends and the Tyrrhenian Sea begins. Swim to the pool's edge, where you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the village and harbor below. If you're afraid of heights, then delight in the scenery from a cream-colored lounge chair; from there you'll be well placed to enjoy the ancient ruins that flank the pool's edge. And to top it off, a pool concierge is there to provide fresh fruit, ice-cold drinks and even an iPod that's loaded with your choice of music.
The Joule, A Luxury Collection Hotel
Dallas and Fort Worth are two sides to the same coin: While Fort Worth holds tightly to its old-fashioned, cow-town culture, Dallas has launched itself into all aspects of the modern world. The Joule, located in the former Dallas National Bank Building, exemplifies this marriage between the historical and contemporary, with sleek, modern furnishings housed in a structure that dates back to the late 1920s. And the best place to experience this melding of the old and the new is at the hotel's heated, rooftop infinity pool. It extends eight feet beyond the building's edge, allowing swimmers to admire views of the surrounding downtown skyline. Take a break from doing laps to enjoy a Watermelon Sangria, thanks to The Joule's rooftop café. You can even spice things up with a rowdy game of poolside foosball.
Ubud Hanging Gardens by Orient-Express
If you prefer secret hide-outs to centralized hotels, then the Ubud Hanging Gardens by Orient Express deserves your attention. This member of the Orient-Express family is tucked away among the towering volcanic peaks and the verdant rice terraces of central Bali, an island in the Indonesian archipelago. Each of the Ubud Hanging Gardens' 38 villas is designed like a traditional Balinese hut and lofted on wooden pillars amid the island's leafy tree line. And although each villa comes equipped with its own private heated pool, visiting the main infinity pool is definitely a must. Its two levels extend one on top of the other, mimicking the structure of the rice terraces on which the gardens stand. Swimmers can delight in fantastic views of the forest canopy or nearby mountains from either the sun deck or the pools' dark stone edges, which blend magnificently into the surrounding scenery.
The Hotel Chocolat
Soufrière, St. Lucia
No other hotel caters as well to the sweet tooth. The Hotel Chocolat rests on a cocoa plantation, The Rabot Estate, located in St. Lucia's southwest coast near Soufrière. Sitting high in the Piton Mountains among a forest of lush cocoa trees, The Hotel Chocolat offers its guests access to the estate's leafy trails. Guests are even invited to participate in the harvest before sampling the delectable crop at the Boucan Restaurant, which serves chocolate-infused dishes like rib-eye steak with a dark chocolate and port wine sauce. But when it comes time for some R&R, nothing beats an afternoon at the hotel's beautiful infinity pool. Chocolate-colored quartz frames this lavish 50-foot-long swimming hole, which opens out into the breathtaking Pitons. After your swim, settle into plush lounge chairs and sample a fruity cocktail or a glass of Prosecco from the Club Bar. And since the Club steward makes regular rounds to replenish drinks and cocoa-infused snacks, you can appreciate all the flavors The Hotel Chocolat has to offer without sacrificing prime poolside real estate.
Canyon Point, Utah
This member of the Aman Resorts family, Amangiri, meaning "peaceful mountain" in Sanskrit -- truly lives up to its name. Guests will enjoy true tranquility at this resort, nestled among the striking rock buttes and desert scenery of Canyon Point in Southern Utah. Amangiri incorporates Utah's coral-colored cliffs and tenacious flora into its design. And nowhere is that more apparent than at the resort pool. This oasis at the heart of the Southwest's unforgiving terrain actually wraps around one of the massive rock walls, which ultimately forces the pool to adopt a "U" shape. Surrounding Amangiri's watering hole are plush lounge chairs and daybeds, while a steamy hot tub and outdoor fireplace allow you to soak in the views even when it's too cold to swim.
San Alfonso del Mar
While experiencing temperatures that are consistently above 80 and having direct access to the Pacific Ocean, you might think that the main reason to visit San Alfonso del Mar is its proximity to the beach. However, once San Alfonso's guests take one look at the Saltwater Lagoon, the beach will be the last thing on their minds. This incredible pool measures more than half a mile in length and reaches a depth of 115 feet, making it the largest swimming pool in the world. Like the ocean itself, the Saltwater Lagoon gradually deepens the farther you swim from the shore, and it has several walled, shallow pools to ensure the safety of children and not-so-avid paddlers. But swimming isn't the only thing this pool is good for: Because of its size, you can also cruise the lagoon by boat or even don some scuba gear to explore the pool's floor.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Although Dubai is the self-proclaimed Tourism Capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi isn't slacking when it comes to accommodations. Take the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort: Flanked by the rolling sand dunes of the Liwa Desert, Qasr Al Sarab acts as an oasis, complete with grassy lawns and a traditional Arabian design. But nothing says "paradise" quite like the hotel pool. The free-form, infinity design and surrounding palm trees make it seem more like a natural lake than a swimming pool, while a built-in fountain and scattered islands add a sense of luxury to the scene. From the pool (and the adjacent hot tub), you can savor panoramic views of the dimpled dunes that gather around the water like thirsty travelers. And speaking of thirst, that's the last thing you'll have to worry about; poolside concierges are waiting to serve you ice-cold, fruit-infused cocktails from the Ghadeer bar as you soak up the desert sun.
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
If you're in search of the perfect tropical getaway, you don't have to look beyond our borders. The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea seems to have luxury down to a science. This immense resort in Maui boasts a beautiful beachfront locale, gorgeous guest rooms, a sumptuous spa and delectable dining options, all of which helped earn it the number-two spot on our 2011 list of the Best Hotels in the USA. But if we had to call out just one Four Seasons feature that makes our eyes pop and jaws drop, it'd be the pool. Guests looking over the vanishing edge of this 4,100-square-foot serenity pool are bombarded with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the nearby island of Lanai. In fact, the pool's beauty earned it the right to grace the June 2011 cover of Condé Nast Traveler. If you're not up for a swim, you can enjoy the vistas from one of the poolside cabanas with a cocktail in hand.