Water Slides, Lazy River and Other Water Features Make Rancho Mirage a Favorite with Kids
There are many reasons to go to Rancho Las Palmas, but Splashtopia is undoubtedly the best. From the moment we checked in, we knew this Rancho Mirage resort was a family destination. Parents and kids were bustling through the lobby, eager to get to the main attraction, the two-acre water park within the resort, featuring two 100-foot water slides, a lazy river moat for tubing, water cannons, waterfalls, hot tubs, a sandy beach area and more.
We arranged for an early check-in, and our poolside room was ready and waiting for us at 11:00 am, even though the hotel was sold out. From there it was suits on and out to the pool. The lazy river was moderately crowded, but there were still plenty of empty tubes floating by for us to catch and climb onto. The young lifeguards were very attentive but let everyone do their thing. Only a few times did I hear them blow their whistles, such as when a child was body surfing sans tube in the river – which truly could be a danger, as the pull of the current is very strong.
Plunge to Your Delight
For most kids, it’s all about the water slides. The stairs leading to the top of the slide wind through a stone fortress, adding to the mystique and excitement about what lies ahead. We had read on the website that all riders had to be at least 42 inches tall, so my three-and-a-half-year old son ate lots of vegetables the week before our trip, hoping to grow an inch. We bought him thick-soled swim shoes to elevate him a bit more, and we kidded him to spike up his for added height. Alas, he did not pass the lifeguard’s measuring tape, and so he cried all the way back down the stairs.
Knowing my son is an athletic wonder — despite his 41-inch stature — and having seen him fearlessly plunge down steeper and longer water slides last year at Legoland, I was sure he would be one of those exceptions it was rumored the manager would allow on a case-by-case basis. So later we tried again, and we got lucky with a lifeguard who either didn’t notice my son’s height or determined he was good to go. For three glorious and exhilarating rides down, my son was in water park heaven.
Both days of our stay we encountered short lines at the slides, even at peak hours, and kids (and parents) were polite about sharing and taking turns at the water cannon. The atmosphere was definitely geared toward families — G-rated, yet with a sophisticated ambience. The adults were mostly 30ish and up moms and dads, happily playing with their kids. It was a contrast to some other Palm Springs resorts — overrun with loud-talking, hard-drinking buff-bodied models in skimpy suits, and music blasting so loud you think you are at a disco. Not that there isn’t a time and place for that; just not with the kids around.
Lounging Around, Copious Cabanas
Though we had no trouble locating three lounge chairs together for our family, I heard regulars at the resort remark that on busy days it can be hard to find a spot to set up camp. If you have the cash to spare, a private poolside cabana is the way to go. At a cool $125 to $265, depending on season, the tented and spray-misted cabanas come with deluxe loungers, table and chairs, towel service, a fruit plate, a mini fridge stocked with bottled water and a dedicated server to keep a fresh drink in your hand at all times.
Fit to Ride
With our fill of water for the afternoon, it was back to the room for a nap for my son and partner while I headed to the fitness center. When I called the front desk for directions, the clerk offered that a driver in a golf limo would gladly pick me up at my room and take me there. As it had seemed a long and circuitous route by car from registration, across the sprawling 28-acre property, I thankfully accepted.
On a beautiful day, it was no surprise that the array of elliptical machines, treadmills and steppers and Cybex machines at the fitness center were idle. A couple other guests wandered in and out, but for most of my 45-minute workout I had the gym to myself. Afterward, I got a ride back to the room from the lobby.
Later, after hailing the limo cart for multiple rides around the resort, I was embarrassed to realize that our room as actually about a two-minute walk to the lobby through the grounds, along a beautifully landscaped path by the duck pond. Still, the limo cart rides were a blast for my son, even though the staff must have thought we were lazy bums.
Fine Dining Family Style
After a quick spiff up it was off to dinner at bluEmber, the resort’s signature restaurant. The Plaza outside was lively at 6pm, with a jazz band starting up, and guests sipping drinks and relaxing in lounge areas around the central fire pit, atop which featured the restaurant’s namesake blue flame.
We were eager to experience the restaurant’s renowned “best in the desert” patio, but because it was a cool night, we opted to dine indoors. Again the resort demonstrated its mastery as a family resort that caters to discriminating adults by featuring a children’s buffet at their fine dining establishment. The assortment of kid favorites was immediately offered to our son as we were seated by Tony, our charming server, and a father of five, who appreciated the pacification that quick service can bring to little ones. The warm walnut bread served the same purpose for the adults at the table.
Executive Chef Sean O’Connell came by to introduce himself and told us about some of his specialties. We were impressed to hear how passionate he was about sourcing his fresh produce, dairy and meats from the finest purveyors in Southern and Northern California.
We started with the heirloom tomato salad, with Burrata cheese, sweet basil cress and cold-pressed virgin oil. The tomatoes were indeed perfectly sweet and ripe, but it was the olive oil that was truly amazing. We learned from Chef Sean that bluEmber is the only restaurant anywhere that serves this exquisite oil, as he obtained the entire production from an Oroville estate in Northern California.
We also tried the roasted butternut squash ravioli, with forest mushrooms, in a white Balsamic butter sauce, which were rich and delicious.
For entrees, we ordered the miso glazed Chilean sea bass, served with wilted spinach, shitake gyoza, in a ginger sake broth. This dish was by far our favorite of the evening, cooked perfectly with a delicate crispness on the outside, and with a light and subtle flavoring.
We also ordered the Chef’s special dried-aged beef, which Chef Sean sources from a hormone and antibiotic-free ranch in Yuma, Arizona. This exceptional dish was prepared with forest mushrooms, potato fondant and Madeira wine reduction. Also delicious. Our meal was complimented by an exceptionally smooth and full-bodied Merryvale cabernet from Napa Valley.
Dinner is not dinner without dessert, when you are dining with a three-and-a-half-year old, and so we topped off our culinary indulgence with white chocolate ice cream with candied pistachios and Sambuca. A perfect finale to a fine feast.
Pond View Room, Ducklings Included
The rest of our evening was pleasantly quiet. Despite a resort full of kids, things settled down around 9 pm, and my water-logged and exhausted son was off to slumberland. My partner headed out to the nearby Agua Caliente casino, about a 10-minute drive away, for her annual slot machine fix, while I zooned out channel surfing on the wide screen in the room.
The room itself was comfortably outfitted with a king bed, small sofa, coffee table, desk and chair. The extra-large bathroom featured a glass-walled tub and shower, granite counter tops, and plenty of fluffy towels. Everything was clean and new looking, thanks to the recent $35 million renovation and refurbishing of the resort a few years ago.
Our tinted sliding glass doors opened to a small private patio overlooking the fairway and a large water fountain in the pond. To my son’s delight, we awoke the next morning to the cheeps of a line of ducklings following their mother across our patio on their way to the pond.
Considering the time of year, amenities, setting, and of course the fantastic Splashtopia, the room rate and $25 resort fee was reasonable, though it was easy to burn through our $100 Taste of Rancho dining credit in a day and a half with a couple breakfast burritos and donuts at the Splash Grill and a few $10+ poolside drinks, so come expecting to pay resort rates for anything you buy on the property.
Though we did not partake in the 27-hole golf course or Spa Las Palmas, the resort has a reputation as a world-class venue for sport and spa. Perhaps next time, as this trip was for splashing in the sun and having a great family vacation. Mission accomplished.
Summer rates average around $199 to $269 per night for pool view. Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa is located at 41-000 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270. For reservations call 866-423-1195. More information is available at www.rancholaspalmas.com .