When in Hot Springs…
When we decided to stop in Hot Springs for a week, we wanted to make sure we actually got to try the hot springs while there. I wasn't sure what to expect, but had a mental image of wide open outdoor natural pools that were really warm with bathers lounging about. Count me in!
Of Course I Did the Research.
As I started researching where to go for the best hot spring, it became apparent that the bathhouses were the only option for experiencing the hot springs. Now, whereas “hot spring” had brought to mind peaceful outdoorsy scenes, “bathhouse” made me think of the houses of ill repute from the 80's. Nope, in all my travels, I hadn't been to a real bathhouse.
Since one of the bathhouses was actually a National Park (Buckstaff Bathhouse), I figured that was the one for me. As I read on, I started thinking of all the movies I'd seen with these types of bathhouses. There were big pools with naked people going in and out and lots of bad guys. Oh, this was going to be so cool! THEN, I remembered I am almost a couple of decades past my 20's, and while I am comfortable with my body, I'll confess I was a little less excited about the whole naked with lots of strangers around thing. Modesty be damned, I wanted to try the hot springs, so I committed.
The men and women's baths are on different floors so Boyd was excused from going (soaking in hot water is NOT his thing).
History (of course).
The building was built in 1911 and has not been updated. The tile floors are crisp and pretty. The woodwork and marble accents are pretty, but show signs of wear. The spa facilities were clean and functional, but the equipment is very dated. I read somewhere that Al Capone was a regular on bathhouse row, so you know its got to be fun.
They don't take reservations – you just walk in and pick your services. Then they send you up to the baths in an really old elevator (the kind that requires someone to run it manually). You are then taken to a locker room where you strip and an attendant wraps you in a toga – she has a huge sheet that you back into, so very minimal flashing. I didn't wear shower shoes and only saw 1 woman with them. Photography, for obvious reasons was not allowed.
The first stop was the bath in the hot springs water. Everyone had their own bath – imagine a large clawfoot tub with a privacy curtain around it. I had to get on a step stool to get in and I am 98% sure as I hauled myself into the tub I mooned my attendant up close and personal. God love her for not screaming. Or laughing. I'm not sure which would have been worse. That being said, all of the attendants were very professional and polite – I never felt uncomfortable or embarrassed.
The bath lasted about 20 minutes and I was given mineral water from the spring to drink. It was hot – they said it was to help my inside temperature stay in sync with the outside. The water tasted great and I didn't mind it warm. I was given a quick loofah scrubbing and then moved to the hot towels area where they essentially wrap you in these almost too hot towels for about 20 minutes. It relaxed all of my muscles and I could have taken a nap at that point.
Next up was the sitz bath. For those of you who don't know (I didn't), that's where you put your (naked) bum in what is essentially a large sink near the floor. Your knees are near your chest and your feet are on a stool and you just soak in the very warm water. Its supposed to be good for prostate trouble, hemorrhoids and lower back pain. I can't speak to any of that, but it wasn't as uncomfortable as it sounds.
After 20 minutes in the sitz bath, I was put into a metal steamer – I went in this tiny room (think 3′ x 3′), sat on a bench and they lowered 2 metal flaps with half a whole on each side in the center for my head. They left the top half of the room door open, otherwise I think it would have been too claustrophobic to be comfortable. It was interesting, but I don't know that it was more effective than other steam rooms I have experienced. It was definitely retro in appearance.
The next room was a large shower with maybe 10 x 10 rows of metal spigots arranged in a 4-5 foot half circle. It was called a needles shower, but apparently the spigots have mineral deposits in them now that make the experience less “needle-y”. It was not something I would need to do again, but it was neat to see the apparatus.
Part of the package I purchased included a 20 minute massage and paraffin hand wax. Nothing noteworthy about these services and I wouldn't recommend either unless they were included with the bath treatment package you chose.
Overall, I was there for about 2.5 hours. I'd definitely recommend the bathhouse experience and would probably go again if we come back!