You may know by now that I’m a bit of a fiend for spas. I know, it came as a surprise to me because I’m pretty much the ungirliest of the ungirly and I never thought I’d be the sort of person who enjoyed a spa. But I do!
A few weeks ago, I was sent to Bath for a digital marketing course. I’ve never been to Bath before and as this course was a Friday, it seemed the perfect opportunity to stay overnight and spend the weekend enjoying the place. Well, as it turned out, I was a little under the weather on the weekend in question, so I didn’t spend a lot of time running around Bath and I certainly didn’t stay late but I did get up early on Saturday so as to go to the Thermae Spa as soon as it opened. I’m going to spend this entire blog comparing it to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, so if you want to read about that, the post is here.
Let’s start with the price. £34 (£37 at weekends) for two hours, plus fifteen minutes to shower, wash and dry hair and get changed, including towel, robe and slippers. Two hours! The first thing anyone says about the Blue Lagoon is that it’s really expensive. Current winter prices are €40 (£31.50) basic entry + optional €5 (£3.90) for towel and €10 (€7.90) each for robe and slippers, if you choose to add them. And for that price, you can stay in there from the moment it opens at 9 in the morning until 8.30 in the evening if you so desire. Including towel, slippers and robe, that’s £3.77 per hour, compared to Bath which is £18.50 per hour. I definitely stay in longer than two hours.
Bath is a pleasant enough spa but it’s small. It’s nowhere near big enough to cope with the volumes of people who want to visit and thus the queue goes around the barriers inside reception, out of the building and around the corner. Just looking at that queue on Friday evening as I walked from the course to the hotel made me want to abandon all my plans. However, first thing on Saturday morning, before the building was open, the queue only went around the corner from the front door rather than from the desk. There were two people inside, one serving the people who’d prebooked treatments and could therefore jump the queue, and one serving everyone else. What took the time was mostly giving the same speech about the baths and the bracelets and the time, the same speech you’d already heard from standing behind the person in front of you. Then you had one person standing by the turnstile demonstrating the bracelets and handing over bundles of towels and another standing on the stairs to gesture to the changing rooms.
The changing rooms are little tiny cabins with a door at each end, one opening onto the public area, the other onto the lockers, as a sort of secondary turnstile. Push them both closed and then use the level in the middle of the bench to open them both when you’ve finished. Help yourself to a locker and lock it with your bracelet – they work exactly the same way as at the Blue Lagoon – close your locker, touch the bracelet to the nearest contact panel and it will connect the two.
The spa itself is on three floors, for those who haven’t booked treatments and don’t have access to the other floors in between. The Minerva bath is on the ground floor, which I suppose is technically the basement. It’s very much hemmed in by Bath’s famous yellow buildings but there’s plenty of bright natural light coming in around the top of the big frosted windows and there are abundant pale lilac-blue pool noodles so you can drift contentedly around in the warm water – warm water at around 33°. I’d rather it was a little closer to 36° personally. 38° – 40° is quite pleasant for a hot tub, so 33° feels a bit cool for my taste.
The trouble is that every now and then, they switch on a powerful current that carries you around the whole pool in a figure eight – which is fine as long as everyone’s playing. But not everyone does. It’s impossible to relax on your noodles, floating around at a quite surprising speed when approximately a third of the people in the pool are standing absolutely still. They don’t want to be crashed into anymore than you want to crash into them but in that current, until you put your feet on the floor, you have no control whatsoever. You may as well keep it permanently switched off. As long as there are people ignoring it, it’s just an unnecessary source of stress.
On the fifth floor is the famous rooftop pool. Oh, it’s pleasant enough. Not hot enough, in my opinion, although my spa opinions were formed in Iceland, where the water is frequently hot enough to leave you red and panting. Even in January, it was too bright up there to be able to see anything at all without my sunglasses but if you’re the only one in sunglasses in the rooftop pool, you’re going to feel like a poser idiot.
On a floor in between, the third, I think, are the steam baths. These are three or four large round glass “pods”, just visible through the steam leaking out of them, each illuminated with LEDs and looking like three or four UFOs that have landed in the middle of the spa. It’s nowhere near as steam-free as that photo. The things aren’t switched on in that photo. You can hardly see your hand in front of your face in reality.
Each pod is scented with a different flavour steam and in the middle is a large shower suspended from the ceiling, big enough for several people. I didn’t spend long in the steam baths. I don’t enjoy the kind of heat they generate, never have done, so I’m not going to offer an opinion about them. I hear they smell nice, if you like that sort of thing.
I don’t particularly like that the toilets and showers are two floors below the changing rooms, I don’t particularly like going up and down either five flights of stairs or in a lift while soaking wet, I don’t like that the complementary robes and slippers get soggy and clammy and cold and unpleasant after putting them on twice and I don’t like the current in the Minerva bath. I don’t like that you’re given a time limit – two hours plus fifteen minutes for showering and changing. I think the rooftop pool could be warmer and I think the Minerva bath could be warmer. I think the staff could be used more efficiently.
The whole thing is pleasant enough. I just think it’s nowhere near big enough for its popularity, I think it’s hugely overpriced, I think it’s a bit overrated, a bit underheated and although the water is supposed to be special spa water, it looks, smells, tastes and feels exactly like normal swimming pool water. I think it did crackle a little bit when I put my ears underneath it in a similar way to the way the Blue Lagoon water crackles so maybe it’s special but the overall effect is somewhat underwhelming.