I’ve lived in New York City for six years, and I always dread the hot summers.
Growing up, I had a pool at my father’s house, and I remember spending most of my summers swimming. These days, I no longer have access to a pool, but I spend the warmer months looking for a great public place to swim. Yet pools are always too far away or seem to be overcrowded.
This summer, though, I came across a new website called Swimply, a company like Airbnb where people list their backyards and swimming pools for strangers to rent by the hour. I decided to try it out.
When I went on Swimply’s site to book a pool in the New York area, I wasn’t impressed with the options at first.
Swimply was founded in 2018, and it has spread to 25 cities around the US, including Phoenix, Tampa, Houston, and Los Angeles.
To find nearby pools, you enter your location on the site. You can also select dates and times that work for you.
When I searched for pools in New York City, there were only two pools available, and they had limited availability for the rest of the summer. This meant I had to look beyond the city for a pool to rent. I found that the nicest-looking pools were in New Jersey and Long Island, places I could travel to.
Once I found a pool I liked in Long Island, I chatted with the host to confirm a date and time.
Much like on Airbnb, I couldn’t immediately book the pool. Instead, I had to talk with the host and agree to the rules and timing. The hosts I chatted with were worried I might throw a party at their home, and I assured them I would be using their backyards with just a few friends.
I had to confirm the exact number of people who would be coming, which proved to be difficult, especially because I had to book weeks in advance. When I asked my friends who wanted to join, some said maybe, or to ask them closer to the date. I couldn’t offer a concrete number, but ultimately I decided to say five people would be attending.
I booked the pool for a Sunday afternoon for three hours for $270.
The pool cost $64 an hour, and I booked it for three hours. It came with free WiFi and pool floats, but anything else was considered an add-on. For example, every person after five people cost $10 extra dollars (10 people max), access to the barbecue was $50, and usage of the fire pit was $40.
I decided to add the barbecue to my booking, and the total came to $271, which included Swimply’s service fee.
On the morning of my booking, the host sent me a long list of rules, as well as directions for accessing the backyard.
When I invited friends, they all had the same three questions: Will the hosts be home? Wouldn’t that be awkward? And where do we go to the bathroom?
My answer to all those questions was “I don’t know,” but on the morning of my booking, I learned a bit more about the pool in the welcome message.
Swimply sent me a text message notifying me I had a message in the chat feature of the website. In that message, the host told me to park my car in the driveway and to access the backyard through the side gate. She also told me glassware, pets, and smoking were strictly prohibited. She also warned there were security cameras around the house used only for security purposes.
When I solidified the group to four people, we packed into a car and embarked on the long journey to the pool.
From Brooklyn to the pool on Long Island was supposed to take only an hour and 15 minutes. But there was so much traffic that it took us two hours. While sitting in traffic, my friend turned to me and said, “The things New Yorkers do for a pool.”
I couldn’t agree more, and I was getting frustrated. It looked like we were going to arrive an hour late, turning our three-hour pool day into a two-hour event. I messaged the host through the app and told her we would be at least an hour late, and she graciously offered to extend our booking an hour later free of charge. It was the exact relief I needed.
We finally arrived in the suburban neighborhood, parked in the driveway, and went through the side gate to the backyard.
The host told me she wouldn’t be home when we arrived, so she left the gate open for us. Before this, I was nervous about accessing the backyard, especially as strangers. I imagined a worst-case scenario where neighbors would see the four of us entering a fenced-in backyard and call the police. Luckily, accessing the backyard was extremely simple.
When we entered the backyard, we found an expansive oasis.
The backyard had an eating area, a bar, a fire pit, a large playground, and of course the giant swimming pool.
The pool was even more beautiful in person than in the pictures on the listing.
The saltwater pool was 40 by 20 feet (6.10m) and went from 3-feet (0.91m) deep to 8-feet deep. It also had a diving board and a waterfall. It felt like we were at a private resort.
Once we got over the shock that all of this was ours for the next three hours, we got changed in the cramped porta-potty.
Since the owners understandably didn’t want strangers trekking through their house, they got a porta-potty for us to use during our booking. Though it was very clean, it was still difficult to get changed into a bathing suit because of the lack of space.
We then took turns jumping off the diving board.
We found the floaties that were included in the price of the booking and spent the bulk of our time swimming.
After taking some time to swim in the pool, we decided to soak in the sun on the lounge chairs.
Luckily, the weather was amazing, but Swimply does have policies in place in case it rains on the day you booked. I could’ve worked with my host to schedule to a different date and time free of charge if it rained. Swimply’s support team could also facilitate the rescheduling.
We then unpacked the food we’d brought and put the meat in the cooler our host provided.
We’d brought a few snacks like hummus, carrots, and fruit, and laid those out on the bar. We also brought hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, and chips.
It was a great choice to pay the extra $50 for the grill, because what’s a pool day without a summer barbecue?
I grilled the burgers and hot dogs when everyone got hungry.
We spent the rest of our time enjoying the beautiful backyard.
There was a giant playground in the far corner of the yard, making this a perfect booking for a family with children. Unfortunately, we weren’t small enough to fit on any of the equipment.
We spent the last 10 minutes of our booking cleaning up and making sure everything was the same way we found it.
This Swimply host offers an extra 30 minutes at $35 for cleanup so that it doesn’t eat into the time you get to enjoy the backyard. But we didn’t have much to clean up, so we just lost 10 minutes at the end to get everything together.
When we were done, our host arrived, greeted us, and asked how everything went.
Although many of my friends thought it would be awkward swimming in a stranger’s backyard while they were home, our host stayed out of our way and gave us privacy. She left her phone number on a piece of paper on the bar in case we needed her, but otherwise she stayed completely under the radar, only saying goodbye to us as we exited the backyard.
On our long trip back to the city, I felt recharged.
Although Swimply is a relatively new service, I think it has huge potential. It’s perfect for people who don’t have pools in their backyard and who don’t want to deal with the upkeep. It’s even better for city dwellers who crave outdoor space, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sure, I had to drive two hours outside of the city to get to the pool, but the experience was well worth it. For me, it was the perfect summer activity, and I’m certain I’ll be booking another pool by the end of the summer.