Weekend Escape: Arizona : A Pool! Cool! : High Heat, Low Rates: Swimmers and Nappers Take to a Summertime Desert Resort

TIMES STAFF WRITER. Klein is a former Times' Metro writer

Our house is on the market, which means we have to keep it unnaturally clean. Our children are on the loose for the summer, which means the search for constant merriment is beginning to wear. And my husband and I are leaving our jobs to start something new, which means our moods swing from exhilaration to somewhere near mental collapse.

We needed a tonic fast, preferably something that did not involve driving or any other forced group dynamics, and we also wanted cheap--cheap being a relative term. I was particularly interested in sloth; naps also would be nice. Richard, my husband, stressed that whatever it was, it should not involve pitching a tent.

But then there were the kids to think about. Nap, for example, is now a word I must spell out in conversations with my husband so as to avoid sending 3-year-old, Hannah, over the edge. ("I am NOT tired!")

It came together for us during the opening weekend of the summer cheap season at the lavish, wonderfully artificial Hyatt Regency resort in Scottsdale's Gainey Ranch--that patch of desert with not only a real beach (sort of), but pretend Venetian canals too.

As far as I can tell, the main difference between Hyatt's virtual reality and the authentic one is that the resort version is clean. And hot, really hot. Walking in the Arizona sunshine in June is not unlike walking into a kiln. If you offer no resistance, you will be turned into earthenware fast.

But, hey, Richard and I figured such was a small price to pay for a vacation where happiness seemed in reach of us all, especially since our room for four, with two double beds, went for $125 a night instead of the usual $305 minimum during the high season (Jan. 1 to mid-June). And after flying in from Burbank on Southwest Airlines' two-fer deal--four unrestricted round-trip tickets to Phoenix for $248--my husband and I felt downright proud.

A look at the Hyatt lobby alone is enough to put you in a good mood. The minute you step up a few stairs from the circular driveway through the always-open glass doors, the eye takes in the expanse, resting finally on the huge saguaro cactus at the head of the majestic walkway leading to the spectacular complex of pools, just in front of the lake, with mountains in the back. Arizona's take on Versailles?

We were staying in a standard, no-smoking room. Standard here means very comfortable, though not overly luxurious. There are nice touches: a blow dryer and scale in the bathroom, a table and chairs on the balcony, and for people who can never quite relax, an ironing board and iron in the closet. (There also are seven two-bedroom, lakeside casitas with kitchenettes and outdoor barbecue grills.) As you'd expect, the hotel's decorating scheme is Southwestern, with a very open feel.

Our first order of business after arriving Friday afternoon was to have lunch at the Squash Blossom, which is more or less the equivalent of the hotel's coffee shop. It's fancier than that, of course, but certainly not as upscale as the hotel's more gourmet, and expensive, Golden Swan. There is also a third restaurant, Sandolo, an Italian cafe with wonderful water misters on its patio. It could be 115 degrees out, but with the misters sprinkling the air with tiny water drops, you'd never know it. We had a good meal of spicy Buffalo wings, a chef's salad for my husband, a smoked salmon quesadilla for me and two huge frankfurters with curly fries for the kids.

After lunch, the kids, Hannah and our 7-year-old, Lauren, raced to our room to get into their bathing suits. This, after all, is why they had so wanted to come. The POOL! Only pool is not quite enough to describe the water thing here. It's actually a half-acre of pools, 10 of them in all.

Perfect for little non-swimmers is "the beach" with sand on the shore suited to castle building and sand on the bottom. This segues into a more conventional pool for older kids and is next to the three-story, five-spiral water slide that also serves as a clock tower. The small pool that catches the sliders is the only one with a lifeguard, and one is definitely needed here. You lie on that slide, your arms tight by your side, head back--just like the first-graders in line instruct you to--and you think you're an aquatic luge champion. Only I doubt true Olympians scream as they go down the tube.

While the kids were swimming--and after my in-laws, who live in Scottsdale, arrived for a visit poolside--I followed their suggestion to go back to the room for a nap instead of lying on a chaise lounge nodding off in front of everybody. With the sun-impermeable drapes drawn, the air conditioner cranked up to icy, I got under the covers and fell immediately to sleep. This was vacation bliss. Ah, but a couple hours later I was awakened with the command: Let's eat! For the sake of convenience, we hit the Squash Blossom again.

But, for us, Saturday was the really big day. In the true spirit of a successful family vacation, we each did our own thing. The kids were off to the morning session of Camp Hyatt Kachina, which they loved. (Hyatt claims to have pioneered the concept of special chain-wide kids' programs when it started Camp Hyatt five years ago.) On the agenda this morning were sessions making bolo ties, mini-pie baking, game playing and some sort of scavenger hunt. From my vantage point behind the one-way glass in the exercise room at the Regency Spa, I saw the troop marching happily off, our 3-year-old leading the way. I was near the end of a step aerobics class, which like the other exercise sessions, was free to hotel guests.

Richard, meantime, had taken off on his own hour-long walk through the surrounding neighborhood of Gainey Ranch, an immaculate planned community where everything is just so. He and I regrouped a little while later at the adults-only pool, complete with a steel drum marimba band. While the kids ate lunch at camp, I ordered a fruit salad from one of the forever roving waitresses, while Richard made do with margaritas and some peanuts from the bar.

Then we made a tactical mistake. We both went to pick up the girls from camp, thereby forsaking any chance of getting a choice chaise lounge under an umbrella, or at least in the shade of palms. Once we were settled, however, the scene was idyllic. Children teamed up with whomever looked friendly (everybody did). Mothers and fathers helped build sandcastles. Assorted adults made fools of themselves on the slide.

In retrospect, there were a few details that I would have liked to have known, but was not told, when we made reservations and checked in. The kids were supposed to get a welcome check-in package that includes a frequent-stay passport (four stays and they get free Camp Hyatt merchandise) and a Camp Hyatt cap. They didn't. We also would liked to have known about the half-off deal on a second room for the kids. Nobody mentioned it. Likewise, we weren't told that if children want to venture beyond the kids' menu, they can order half-price portions from the regular one.

Sunday, our last morning at the hotel, my in-laws joined us for Father's Day brunch in the Squash Blossom (there's a fancier, champagne brunch at the Golden Swan), which was abundant and good.

And then there was this: After we requested the bill, our waiter sized up our party of six and said he would not count the kids. "That way it makes it more affordable for you folks," he said. How did he know? Did we look that cheap? Could he tell we were staying in a $125 room? No matter. We accepted, said thanks, and gave him a nice tip.

So everybody ended our visit with a smile.

Budget for Four Airline tickets, Burbank-Phoenix: $248.00 Hotel, two nights: $275.62 Camp Hyatt, two children, half-day: $48.00 Lunch, Squash Blossom: $33.24 Dinner, Squash Blossom: $73.50 Breakfast: $19.54 Father's Day brunch: $70.89 Airport-hotel shuttle: $23.00 Drinks at hotel: $20.00 FINAL TAB: $811.79 Hyatt reservations: tel. (800) 233-1234.

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