My family threw together a last minute road trip to the Palm Springs area to have a low key family celebration of my 40th birthday. We were not too worried about hotel availability because August is in the low season for the Palm Springs area due to the very hot weather this time of year. This was our second trip ever to the Palm Springs area, and I was actually still deliberating hotels on the day we were leaving as I just couldn't determine which hotel would be best for us. After reading countless reviews and scouring all the pictures on various hotel sites I decided to book a stay at Rancho Las Palmas which is in Rancho Mirage (an area just outside of Palm Springs).
My main criteria for hotel selection was the following:
* Hot weather (not an issue)
* Fun factor for my 9, 6, and 4 year old - mainly a great pool area
* Nice rooms and landscaping - Luxury(ish) or at least upscale feeling
* Golf / SPA
I realize now that what I was really hoping to find was a Vegas style pool scene (for kids) ala MGM Hotel, but in Palm Springs. Let me tell you - it does not exist, but Rancho Las Palmas is as close as you will come in the Palm Springs area if family pool fun and upscale accommodations are your main priority.
RLP's Splashtopia features two 100 foot water slides that are surrounded by a lazy river and a beach that leads into the pool (I think they call this a "zero entry" beach). Also in the middle of Splashtopia you will find many built in water features/toys that the kids (and adults) will find amusing and cooling all day long. Splashtopia is awesome! We stayed at the hotel for 3 nights and 3 full days and the kids never got bored!
TIP: Splashtopia requires water sliders to be 48" or taller and the always-on lifegaurds enforce this rule with a vengeance. My 6 year old did his best to sneak by and was turned away (gently) every time. He quickly forgot about this as the lazy river, beach, water features/toys are for kids of all sizes (small ones will need parents on the lazy river). Another nice touch - lifegaurds. The hotel has at least 3 or 4 of them actively watching the Splashtopia activity all day long.
Let me backup a minute to booking the hotel. After finding reviews about RLP and the great pool, I looked it up online. Suddenly I had a flashback to my first trip to Palm Desert (Palm Springs Area) about 5 years ago. During that trip, we stayed at the Marriott in Desert Springs and along with my 2 small children there were also my 4 nephews/nieces, their parents, the grandparents, etc. You get the picture. In my flashback, I remembered that we left the Marriott one day and traveled to a sister Marriott in the area because that Marriott had a better pool for kids - guess what, Rancho Las Palmas is that place. My flashback left me feeling uneasy, because I remember not being all that impressed with anything about that hotel.
I did more research and found that the Marriott sold Rancho Las Palmas (RLP) to KSL Resorts http://www.kslresorts.com/, and KSL Resorts are no slouches. They run the famous Coronado in San Diego, they used to run the Grand Wailea in Hawaii, and many other very upscale resorts. I read on to find that KSL spent 35 million on upgrading the rooms, the grounds, and yes - the pool area. Ever being the cynic I still was worried about the hotel and pool area quality, so I compromised and booked a room for one night - specifically I got the "Splashtopia Package" on-line using the Ranch Las Palmas website (more about the package and my booking experience later).
By booking for one night, I left the door open to leaving the hotel should it not be up to snuff. Again, this time of year the hotels all have vacancy, so I wasn't too worried (but a little). Anyway, long story short, we arrived to the hotel late at night, and we were immediatley very impressed with the grounds, the lobby, and our room. I am picky and so is my wife. All of the decor is extremely tasteful and upscale feeling. The electronics everywhere - including the rooms are state-of-the-art new (flat screens, etc.) The bed was extremely comfortable, although I heard complaints from the kids (and my wife) that the pull out bed in the couch was not the greatest. Yes, my wife got the honor of sharing the uncomfortable couch bed with our youngest, but hey, it was my birthday weekend after-all and the other 2 kids slept with me - albeit in a nice comfortable king size bed. I digress. Early the next morning we woke up and were impressed with what we saw from our poolside balcony. Out of curiosity, we did quickly run out to nearby 5 Star luxury hotels - La Quinta and Hyatt Championship, and decided to go back to our hotel and extend reservation through the weekend. We couldn't be happier that we did.
We did have a bumpy start at the hotel. We arrived by car at 1am . I went to the registration desk and was happy to see a great lobby with no line. Unfortunatley what should have been a quick registration turned out to be a 45 minute registration because (according to the hotel clerk) the RLP Reservation Web Site and the hotel system are not the same, so "sometimes" same day reservations are delayed. In other words they did not have the reservation I had booked 10 hours earlier in the day. It must have been stuck in traffic on Interstate 5.
Thank Goodness I had printed my Reservation Confirmation and brought it with me. I learned that the website reservation I made was a better rate than what I would have received as a walkup to the hotel. The confirmation sheet assured that I got the right price and it showed that I had purchased the "Splashtopia Package". The clerk was very nice, but slow, and I was tired so this was not a good start, and this experiance was part of the reason I looked at other hotels the next day despite the obvious beautiful grounds.
More on the Splashtopia Package... the package is supposed to get you a room that is next to the pool on the bottom floor. I was annoyed to learn when I checked in that the designated "Splashtopia Package" rooms were all taken. The clerk did her best and apologetically gave me a 2nd floor room in a building across the way, but still by the pool. This turned out to be a blessing, and leads into my next tip.
TIP: RLP is huge and has many buildings. Most of the buildings are a healthy walk to the pool. In my opinion building 12 or 10 is the absolute best. Ask for a room on the bottom floor.
Other stuff that is good to know...
RLP is very very close (you can walk, but driving is better in extreme heat) to The River at Rancho Mirage mall. http://www.theriveratranchomirage.com/ The mall has great restaurants - PF Changs, Cheesecake Factory, Yards, a movie theater, Borders bookstore, and much much more. A nice destination for the evening if you want to get off the resort for a while. People come from all over the desert to get to that mall, and it is literally right across the street from RLP (but still a decent walk).
Downtown Palm Springs is a 20 minute drive from RLP. If you want to go to downtown Palm Springs I suggest you start on North Palm Canyon Drive (note there is also a South, East and West) so the North distinction is important for navigation systems. If you are cabbing it - have the cab driver drop you at the Hyatt on North Palm Canyon Drive (285 North Palm Canyon Drive). From there head toward the nearby action. There is a fun nightlife for families or otherwise. Many of the restaurants have live music, etc. Walk a few blocks before you pick yours. We didn't do that and were disappointed when we came across restaurants that looked more fun during our "after walk".
Golf. I am overlooking what is a huge category for many travellers to Palm Springs area. I have to say that the Ranch Las Palmas "country club" doesn't match up to most (actually, not any) Public Courses I play in the San Francisco Bay Area. That is an indictment of the RLP golf and a slight nod to the Bay Area. If you are looking for a premier Championship golf course do not even bother with RLP. I won't spend much time on this topic because the whole point of my family trip was to focus on the stuff that we could all do together, but consider yourself forewarned.