This summer I have been going for more than my share of leisurely soaks. After just coming back from bathing in Bath, UK itself I found myself heading to Bota Bota – a bathing water circuit in Montreal’s Old Port on a boat. Yep, a spa on a boat – is there anything more relaxing than that? Well…yea, there is but its not because of a lack of fresh sea air and beautiful atmosphere at Bota Bota. But before I get into the actual review of the place, let me explain a little on my view of water spas.
Water Spas: Pros and Cons
If you read this blog, you know I’m a spa owner. This makes me particularly particular but also a little empathetic to what’s going on behind the scenes. Pure + Simple is not a water spa so we don’t have to deal with the constant clean up and the different safety issues that water spas do. What we do need to do is worry about staffing a lot more and quality of staff. Because water spas essentially provide facilities: pools, steam rooms, saunas and lounge areas, their focus must be in upkeep of the environment. Sure they’ll have a spa sometimes but its not their core competency and often the practitioners at these places are not excellent because treatment services are simply not their bread and butter. This isn’t to say I don’t like water spas. In fact I love water spas – I have (trekked for hours to go to onsens in Japan). I love that I can take an afternoon to myself and just hang around. I also like that it can be a social affair, where you can enjoy a circuit of pools and steam etc. with a pal. And they’re less expensive. If you don’t book a treatment, you usually have enjoy the place for under fifty dollars. But there’s one snag – some of them, like Bota Bota, have a time limit. You see, there are two camps of these types of water spas: ones that limit your time and ones that don’t. The problem is that when you have a time limit of two hours, you can feel anxious about making sure you don’t go overtime for fear of paying the extra charge. Saying this, a time limit keeps a popular spa less full as people are being churned through every two hours.
Bota Bota: The Good
Bota Bota is a beautiful spa on a refurbished boat in the Old Port of Montreal. Being on a boat is wonderful because that meas there is ample outdoor space. This means no stuffiness or poolside smell, unlike indoor bathing places in Toronto, only a beautiful sunset view in the fresh summer air. I also could tell that it was designed by someone who understood the industry from small details found throughout the place. For me, relaxation is often in aesthetics of a place. When its clean and open, I immediately feel more comfortable and uplifted. Bota Bota definitely puts its effort into looks over therapy – something I felt in its use of a gorgeous wood sauna room instead of an infrared one (see image above). Another area I saw this was in its lay out. This was so well executed and it has many little alcoves to rest in: from hanging hammock baskets to sun deck chairs on every level. This is key as many water spas try to add in more facilities and sacrifice relaxation space. In fact, they simply do not have enough space allotted to seating and finding a place to even set your things down can be a hassle when its busy. Another thing I liked was that it allows men and women. In Japan and Morocco the spas separate the sexes and even at home in Toronto, the popular water spas are women only. This means Ben and I can’t go together. When traveling, it means he needs to entertain himself while I’m at the spa, which makes me feel a tad guilty as I have a good soak.
Bota Bota: The Not-So-Good
Unfortunately, the time limit is something that disrupts the zen vibe. While enjoying the lounge chairs on the upper deck, Ben and I got into a great, long conversation – the kind that busy young professional couples often don’t get to get into because we so rarely just sit down with nothing to do but enjoy each other – but I kept pausing it to ask him for a time check. I felt like I was checking for when our parking was going to run out. My anxiety also wasn’t helped out by the fact that the first thing we saw walking in was the front desk and two customers checking out arguing over how long they have been there. Ugh. Lets just say, the front desk at Bota Bota did not handle it well. And, I found the front desk in general rather unfriendly. The girl who checked us in made no eye contact with us and seemed to overall be bored with her job.
Like I said, the core offering of a water spa is the facilities, if they get that right I can forgive a lot. So, lacklustre service is trumped by the vigilantly up-kept spa atmosphere. The time limit is a bit harder to contend with. In Bath there is a time limit but they give you a grace period for getting dried and redressed, something they don’t do at Bota Bota (or at least wasn’t communicated). This meant that when the hair dryer did not dry fast enough I just abandoned ship in a panic and dealt with the wet hair. Maybe, if I go back I just have to accept that its okay to pay extra if I run overtime.
Lastly, we went on a Monday evening, which was perfect. Friends of ours had said it was a spa that was overly crowded but for us, it was very comfortable and quiet. An important part of visiting a water spa is to try and go at non-peak times. Of course, for the spa, the more people the more overhead costs that are being paid for. When if you’re paying for atmosphere, beyond the spa itself, the other patrons can make or break your experience.