The pool at Villa by Barton G in Miami Beach,...

The pool at Villa by Barton G in Miami Beach, Florida was once the pool of fashion designer Gianni Versace, and its star is the Thousand Mosaic Pool whose tiles are flecked with gold. Credit: Domino Arts

You can walk up a staircase that rises through the middle of one hotel swimming pool and never get wet. In another hotel pool, you can float in shallow water amid concrete islands sprouting full-grown royal palm trees. And still another hotel gives you a choice of three pools, each kept at a different water temperature.

Nearly every hotel in South Florida, of course, boasts a swimming pool. Some lie just a few feet from renowned ocean beaches. Some are on rooftops high above the urban scape. Most are standard rectangular bodies of water with the usual amenities - poolside chaises longues, shallow and deep ends, a bar close at hand for beverage service, perhaps some rentable cabanas for privacy.

There are swimming pools here, however, that boast some unusual features - qualities that make them standouts of the genre. Call them cool pools.

Here are 10 such pools in South Florida. Listed hotel prices are beginning rack rates in the current high season; prospective guests should check for special offers, day-of-week differentials and discounts for multiple-day stays. Rates are lower in the off-season, May to mid-December at most hotels.


WESTIN DIPLOMAT HOTEL, HOLLYWOOD

Stretching from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean, this hotel has the region's only two-level pools. The rectangular upper Infinity Pool runs from the hotel pool deck out toward the beach, with a circular see-through oculus that lets swimmers in the perpendicular Lagoon Pool below see the swimmers above. Edges of the 240-foot-long, free-form Lagoon Pool are studded with palm trees, cabanas and two waterfalls that cascade down from the upper pool. Both pools have saline generators to reduce the use of chlorine and make the water softer. At night, LED lights in the Infinity Pool glow in programmable colors.

RATES From $275, 888-627-9057, diplomatresort.com


RALEIGH HOTEL, MIAMI BEACH

Many regard this Art Deco pool as the prettiest in the region. Built in 1940, this scalloped beauty is ringed with a sinuous flowing channel that carries bathers around its perimeter. At one end, resembling the portholed pilot house of a tugboat, stands a bar at pool level with restrooms above. Between the pool and the beach is the Oasis, a quiet open spot with cabanas and chaises longues by day and a frequent site for chic South Beach parties at night. The Raleigh also is the home of the Martini Bar, a celebrated gathering spot. If you can afford the rent ($3,500 a night), the best view of the palm-lined pool is from the hotel's three-bedroom penthouse.

RATES From $350, 800-848-1775, raleighhotel.com


FOUR SEASONS HOTEL, MIAMI

On trendy Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami, this hotel boasts an Olympic-size pool on the seventh floor of its building, the tallest in Miami at 700-plus feet. But it's not that pool that is unusual; it's the large shallow one next to it. Only a foot deep, this free-form pool has 28 full-grown royal palm trees growing out of concrete islands set in and around it. Sun-seeking guests can float on chaises longues in the pool, and if they have a yen for a beverage while getting a tan, a waiter will wade into the pool with drink in hand to serve them.

RATES From $395, 305-358-3535, www.fourseasons.com/miami


W HOTEL, FORT LAUDERDALE

Located on the fifth floor of this beach-side hotel, this pool overlooks the ocean, but also has two unusual features. Glass panels in the bottom of the pool enable guests in the Living Room lounge below to gaze up at swimmers. Most extraordinary, however, is the staircase that leads from the Living Room to the deck above. Encased in a Plexiglas tunnel, it goes directly through the water, making it possibly the only pool that guests can walk though without getting wet.

RATES From $409, 877-822-0000, wfortlauderdalehotel.com


NATIONAL HOTEL, MIAMI BEACH

What makes this pool unusual is its shape - it is very long but not very wide. In fact, it looks more like a blue canal than a pool. That's just what owner Hans-Joachim Krause envisioned when he renovated the hotel in the 1990s. At 205 feet long but only 17 feet wide, the palm-lined waterway runs from the hotel to an elevated pool close to the beach and a handy beach bar.

RATES From $349, 800-327-8370, nationalhotel.com


FONTAINEBLEAU HOTEL, MIAMI BEACH

Biggest in South Florida, this iconic hotel has a penchant for unusual pools - over the years it has had one shaped like a cat with two little islands for eyes and a narrow channel for a tail, one bordered by an enormous concrete octopus that spouted water from its tentacles, and the main pool with a faux-stone grotto with waterfalls and a swim-up bar. Alas, those are gone, recently replaced by a "poolscape" with 11 pools that took two years to build. Today the main pool resembles in the abstract a bow tie, a tribute to hotel architect Morris Lapidus, who always wore bow ties. By night, colored lights embedded in the pool twinkle like underwater stars. Then there's the Round Pool, ringed with cabanas and boasting the Island Cabana (it goes for $1,000 a day) on an isle in the center of the pool. Cabanas are available adjacent to six pools, rentable at $250-plus a day.

RATES From $429, 800-548-8886, fontainebleau.com


VILLA BY BARTON G., MIAMI BEACH

Visitors to South Beach still mill at the front gate of the former mansion of fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was murdered at that spot. After several changes of ownership, it is now owned by and named after entrepreneur Barton G. Weiss. Inside the villa grounds is the Thousand Mosaic Pool, whose tiles are flecked with 24-carat gold. Decorating the pool floor is a mosaic of the head of Medusa. The pool is for use by hotel guests only, but the public can visit it when taking afternoon tea ($55 Wednesday-Sunday, $75 with Champagne) or when dining at the restaurant (reservations required). Should a hotel guest want to cross Ocean Drive to get to the public beach, a personally assigned butler will set up an umbrella there.

RATES From $795 for each of the villa's 10 suites, 305-576-8003, villabybartong.com


THE SETAI, MIAMI BEACH

Some bathers like cool water, others prefer to swim and soak in a warmer ambience. So the upscale Setai built three pools, each kept at a different temperature. In one, the waters are kept at 65 degrees, the second's are at 75 degrees and the third at 85 degrees. The warmest pool is recommended for families. It also is the closest to the beach.

RATES From $775, 305-520-6110, setai.com


BILTMORE HOTEL, CORAL GABLES

This 1926 hotel, whose tower replicates the famous Giralda Tower of Seville, has the largest hotel pool in the continental United States, measuring about 23,000 square feet and containing 700,000 gallons of water. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the Biltmore staged aquatic galas at the L-shaped pool, which is large enough to fit two Olympic-size pools. Among those who performed there were Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller, Hollywood actress Esther Williams and Jackie Ott, whose act had him jumping into the pool from an 85-foot-high platform. Today the pool is open only to hotel guests, those who rent one of the 10 private cabanas ($99-$129 weekdays; $119-$159 weekends) or Biltmore gym members. Cascade, an informal poolside restaurant, also is open to the public.

RATES From $359, 800-727-1926, biltmorehotel.com


VENETIAN POOL, CORAL GABLES

It's not part of a hotel, but the Venetian Pool in this affluent Miami suburb is a major tourist attraction. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this huge pool was built in the early 1920s in a former quarry. The free-form Italian-themed facility has caves, waterfalls and barges as well as gondola-reminiscent "barber poles." Fronted on one side by loggias, porticos and even a small sandy beach, this public facility draws more than 100,000 visitors a year.

RATES Nonresident admission is $10.50 ($6 ages 3-12 - younger than 3 are not admitted), 305-460-5306, coralgablesvenetianpool.com

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