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HOTEL REVIEW

Desert heat? Bring it on

No matter that it's 108 in the shade. At the Hyatt in Indian Wells, low-rate specials with cool activities draw kids and adults.

August 24, 2008|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

MORE than ever, every one of us needs a vacation.

There seems no immediate relief from the litany of daily anxieties, macro and micro, that conspires to keep us eternally jittery -- wars, gas prices, bad coffee. Yet I have found a temporary solution: heat. Really intense, desert heat. Call it nature's tranquilizer.

Nobody, not even Type Triple-A personalities, can resist the angst-taming powers of pina-colada sipping in 108-degree shade. I speak from experience.

While others were paying top dollar to flee to cool lakes and oceans, I packed up my son, Eli, and six kinds of sunscreen and headed to the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort, Villas & Spa in the desert community of Indian Wells, about 15 miles east of Palm Springs. Why? Weekend rates dropped to $149 a night this summer ($182.66 including taxes and resort fees) and even lower with some packages or weekday rates.

By most standards, that's a bargain for a nicely appointed, recently renovated 550-square-foot room that comes with two queen beds, a sitting area, a mini-bar, separate refrigerator, double closet, powerful air conditioning and an enormous bathroom with a tub and glass-walled, marble shower.

Those rates and features lured hundreds of groups and individual guests to the 530-room hotel on an early August weekend. I signed up for the Summer Splash package, which granted 25% discounts at the property's five restaurants, bars and cafes, and services at its Aqua Serena Spa & Salon, and a free day of Camp Hyatt for kids 3 to 12 with each paid day.

Faster than you can say "It's Mommy Time," Eli, 9, was happily braiding lanyards and commanding the pool slide at Camp Hyatt while I checked out the 45-acre property. It was hard to know where to begin.

The $18 daily resort fee covers facilities including three tennis courts, access to the spa's steam room, sauna, locker room and beauty salon, the 24-hour fitness center's exercise equipment and classes, and outdoor games such as croquet and table tennis. The fee also allows all-day use of newish cruiser bicycles in a range of frame sizes.

The resort features seven pools, including several small kiddie ponds, and Oasis, a separate, large, grown-ups-only pool with 16 high-tech cabanas (TVs, fans, Internet), deeply padded lounge chairs, scores of umbrellas and its own bar. Some guests were miffed that on Sundays the Oasis becomes a loud party scene, when, for an admission fee, locals can hear a DJ, see fashion shows, get poolside massages, drink, mingle and, mostly, ogle.

During most days and nights, half of California seemed camped along the various pools, where the heat is noticeable only when you walk barefoot on the sun-hot concrete. Kids pop up in the six clustered pools like gophers escaping Bill Murray, which makes for great entertainment, except for the parents trying to track them.

Avoiding sunburn and flab, I headed to the well-equipped gym, where hotel guests and Indian Wells residents (who are granted free access) occupied every treadmill and cardio device. The free fitness classes attracted not just buff athletes but also those who, what the heck, were just giving exercise another shot.

After a workout, guests can cross the lobby to the adjacent 30,000-square-foot Aqua Serena Spa, where a sauna, steam room and lovely outdoor whirlpool melt muscles and stress. And, pssst -- a little secret: The Medical and Skin Spa, within Aqua Serena, has a separate entrance and waiting area, so you're unlikely to see your friends and neighbors when you come for Botox, injectable fillers and laser treatments.

It was at the spa that I accepted the wisdom of coming to the desert in the peak heat of summer: Though it has 18 treatment rooms and 94 lockers, the spa was practically empty -- unheard of on a Saturday morning at most hotels. Similarly, the hotel restaurants were half-empty, which can bring out the optimist in the crowd-averse. And even though the pools were busy, they still had plenty of vacant lounge chairs and waiters.

Unfortunately, service sometimes sputters, but when waiters, valets or pool attendants arrive drenched in sweat, you kind of want to give them a break: They're hustling. When it's 108 outside, my demands reduce to a steady supply of ice water -- and the pool area has several ice machines.

Despite the heat, golfers hit the links at the adjacent Indian Wells Golf Resort, the city-owned facility that has received a two-year, $80-million renovation, including $35 million in clubhouse redesigns that debuted this month. Through Oct. 5, golfers will be able to play one of two redesigned 18-hole courses for as little as $45 -- rates that encourage weed whackers like me to give the game another try. (From Oct. 5 to Dec. 25, hotel guests pay $70 to $135 to play.)

My expert golfer friends flock to the course's well-regarded Callaway Golf Performance Center, where they can try new equipment, get swings analyzed and clubs custom-fitted to maximize performance.

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