I’ve been finding it hard to explain just how bad this winter has been to people who haven't experienced it. It seems like everyone in Toronto is exhausted and grumpy and sick and sad. I usually love winter and snow, but this year has really been something else.
Mermaids don’t do well if they’re cold and dry for too long, so I’ve been desperately seeking out anything that could make me feel less drained and down. Floral lotions and good books have helped a lot, but nothing has cured me quite like water spas.
I realize spas are expensive and indulgent, but desperate times cause for desperate measures. Besides, visiting a spa once in a while is definitely cheaper than a beach vacation or illegally moving to California.
Basically, the deal with water spas is you do a series of soaks, steams and saunas, all in a special circuit plan to get optimal health benefits. I visited three different spas and introduced as many variables as I possibly could.
Rules: No cameras or phones. Bathing suits mandatory.
Other Things to Consider: Outdoor, co-ed.
This spa is one of the sisters to the spa Emmett and I visited in Whistler together. It’s a gorgeous space made even more beautiful by the winter snow, and the concept is lovely. Modeled after Scandinavian baths, this spa is built in a little patch of woods near one of Ontario’s biggest ski resorts.
Just like at the Whistler location, guests are asked to be as silent as possible (for general mental reflection and happiness), and follow the suggested circuit: hot, cold, relax. This three-step process is supposed to help release toxins, increase blood flow, refresh the body, and calm the mind.
Exciting Amenities: Finnish wood-burning sauna (in a little log cabin!), eucalyptus steam room (in a little silo!), massive hot baths, cold plunge with waterfalls, campfire, snack bar, really deluxe change rooms with comfy seats
• The outdoor atmosphere is truly lovely and relaxing. It’s gorgeous to be out in a little patch of forest in a warm pool.
• Co-ed means you can bring your partner if they’re male, female, or gender-neutral, making it a lovely couples getaway for all.
• The sauna and steam room are massive, and you sweat a LOT!
• The solarium rooms are so relaxing that I fell asleep for half an hour in one. That was sort of scary when I woke up, though, to be honest.
• This spa is open late and it’s super-pretty at night.
• When it’s extremely cold outside, cold plunging is nearly impossible! We visited on a day when it was well below freezing, and it was extremely shocking and painful to get out of a hot pool into the cold air, and then jump into a freezing pool.
• The rules weren’t well enforced. There was a man taking photos of his wife, tons of people talking loudly, and a particularly inappropriate couple that were so all over one another beside us that it’s very possible they were actually having sex. (Bonus awkwardness: while this is happening the guy is loudly saying “Baby you’re so hot, why won’t you be my girlfriend? Why do I always pick the bad girls? I want you so bad.”)
• BRING FLIP FLOPS OR SHOES! In the winter, they salt the pool decks, and as a result, walking around is extremely painful (not to mention horribly cold) without shoes.
• Bring your own water bottle. There are filtered water filling stations all around the spa, and it’s important to stay hydrated.
• If you have a bath robe, bring it. Though there’s an awesome towel exchange policy (trade in as many times as you like), it’s a little hard to relax by a campfire in the middle of winter with only a damp towel around you. The spa rents out robes, but they’re $12 each just to rent.
• Go on a weekday, and ideally not when it’s freezing outside. This spa has a massive waiting list on weekends!
Emmett’s Final Review: "I really liked the mistiness and the scent of the fire pit, but the noise was annoying. I feel like people were very disrespectful! The scent was so nice though."
My Final Review: This is a great spot for a fun day trip with friends or as a couple, but it’s not the most relaxing due to the noise. We felt really happy and rejuvenated after spending the day there, but we didn’t really get to zone out like we did at the extremely quiet Whistler location. We had a great day, but it wasn’t the meditative spa experience I expected.
Your Local Public Pool or a Friend’s Condo Pool/Hot Tub
Rules: No diving?
Other Things to Consider: This isn’t really a spa.
OK, so, no, this option isn’t actually a spa, but I’ve found it’s a perfectly respectable way to get your body feeling warm and refreshed during the winter if you’re on a budget.
Emmett and I have been taking advantage of our friend Dana’s condo “spa” every couple weeks. Though this spot is basically just a giant hot tub and a little wooden sauna, it’s a nice, free escape from the wrath of winter. If you don’t know anyone with a fancy condo, public pools often have a steam room and hot tub.
• It’s free (or very cheap)
• There are no special spa treatments, snack bars, or fancy robes.
* Chlorine dries out your hair and skin. I had to smother myself in lotion three times when I got home last time.
• The jets were broken in Dana’s giant hot tub, so it was more like a massive bath with no bubbles.
• If you can find a friend with access to a private pool/hot tub/sauna, take advantage! In my experience, people who live in buildings with these amenities seldom use them, which is a crime!
• Shower after you’re done soaking to get all the chemical-filled water off of your poor, dried-out skin.
• Bring moisturizer and apply it after being in the hot tub.
Emmett’s Final Review: "I like that it’s empty there; that’s the plus."
My Final Review: Condo spas are a nice cheap little getaway if you’re looking for something fun to do, but they’re not really spas at all.
Cost: $54 ($44 on Tuesdays) entrance fee.
Rules: No cameras or phones. Women only. Bathing suits optional.
Body Blitz is an amazing women’s only water spa with a location in each end of Toronto (East and West). I visited the East location, a big industrial-looking building with paradise hidden inside.
This spa features a water circuit very similar to Scandinave, but all in one compact indoor space. I wanted to make my experience there as different from the Scandinave spa as possible, so I went alone, and I went butt-naked. Yup, I was one of those ladies.
Exciting Amenities: Infrared sauna, aromatherapy steam room, warm dead sea salt pool, hot Epsom salt pool, cold plunge, delicious smoothie bar, their own line of bath and body products.
• The warm indoor atmosphere really works best with the cold winter weather. The cold plunge is actually refreshing, and there are no painful moments when moving from pool to pool.
• The salt pools really give the baths a little something extra. They make your skin feel hydrated and soft. Apparently, they also have incredible healing properties and provide the body with extra nutrients.
• Infrared saunas heat your body from the inside, and as a result, you sweat up to three times more than you would in a regular sauna. I was dripping with sweat each time I went in, and by the end of my third round, I felt totally detoxed.
• Being butt naked actually feels so good. At first I was a little shy and brought my robe around with me for coverage, but by the end of my visit I was totally comfortable. So free! So natural! (I’m a total hippie, aren’t I?)
Con: I suppose it’s a little exclusionary to only let women in.
• Get a smoothie or tea! The spa staff comes and delivers it to you in the waters whenever you’d like, and it will make you feel extra-hydrated and healthy. Mine was a mix of vitamin C, spirulina, a bunch of other vitamins, and berries, and it was heavenly. (But don’t take the cup in the sauna. It is biodegradable and it will melt. I learned this the hard way.)
• Visit this spa on weekdays if you can help it, as it gets really busy at both locations on weekends. Tuesdays are discounted, too!
• Bring a water bottle and stay hydrated! Again, there are filtered water fountains around the spa.
• If you’re able to afford it, book a massage or scrub. The pricing is pretty reasonable, and all services come with automatic access to the waters.
• Don’t stay too long unless you feel totally fine. I tried to repeat the circuit three times and ended up with a blinding head rush in the sauna.
Emmett’s Final Review: "Wait, what? I didn’t go there with you."
My Final Review: I love Body Blitz! I would seriously buy a membership to this place if I could afford it. It’s the perfect spa for hiding from the winter, and it really is so nice to chill out, alone or with friends, and totally shut out the real world. Plus, my skin was so unbelievably clear and soft after, I felt truly detoxified and refreshed, and my winter blues were no more.
How do you beat the winter blues? Have you ever tried out a water spa?