(Photo by jiwoo)
Last Friday, Dora, Adam and I ventured into far northeastern Queens to visit “SpaCastle,” a gigantic $25 million, 60,000 square foot facility based on a traditional Korean spa — but taken to a gaudy, utterly fabulous extreme that Americans can appreciate.
It’s Las Vegas meets waterpark meets the spa. It’s hard to sum up our experience, it was so bizarre yet so incredibly hilarious and relaxing. It was the most fun I ever had in New York City, which is saying something. (Admittedly, though, I love water. Being in it, near it, water, water, water. So this is my sort of place.)
So, here we go. In 12 steps, our fantastic voyage….
1. The cab took us from oh-so-urban Astoria to suburban College Point, Queens, and dropped us off in front of a building that looked like a Hampton Inn.
2. We paid, each, the $35 fee, and were given a wristband with a giant number on it. We used this wristband throughout the day to pay for whatever auxiliary service or food we wanted.
3. Women and men were separated on this first floor, and we were swiftly ushered into the locker room. We got a uniform to change into – orange and pink shirts and shorts for women, blue for men. The clothes are very unisex — they fit everyone from a size 0 to a 22. (Meaning, everyone looks like crap, but that’s good, because you immediately stop worrying about your appearance as soon as you don the giant orange pants, shudder in horror, and then realize everyone else looks just as bad. You put away your shoes and go barefoot the rest of the day, too.)
4. To access the locker, we simply waved our wristband in front of it, and it popped open. Waved it again, and it locked. Technology at its finest: making my spa experience even more convenient.
Take a deep breath, here’s where the real fun starts….(aided by the extra oxygen they pump into the entire place.)
5. Off to the side of the lockers rooms there are jacuzzi areas, which include at least 8 hot pools with “aqua jets.” I lost count of the bodies of water, actually. Again, this area was also divided by gender, because it’s completely clothing free. The Korean women, of course, had absolutely no shyness about this, whereas Dora and I giggled incessantly, and I even asked the attendant if we could wear our bathing suits in the pools. A strong headshake of no way was all I got back for an answer. Our solution: Don’t look at anyone, and that way, you won’t know they’re looking at you.
6. In the center of this room are four jacuzzis of increasingly warmer temperatures. They’re pretty basic hot tubs. But surrounding the hot tubs are relaxation tubs with powerful jets and built-in tiled lounge chairs. You press a button and whoooosh goes the various jets. Some are champagne-like, bubbling up gently. Others nearly shot me across the pool (seriously — like a fire hydrant). As you move from each seat, the jets are placed in different areas, so your entire body gets massaged, including the bottom of your feet (ahhhhhhhh). There’s two cooling pools with jets coming from the ceiling, as well. It’s fun to jump back and forth between the cold pools and the hot tubs, or the steam room, or the sauna.
7. In this room, as well, are traditional Korean body scrubs. Women in black underwear will scrub you down from head to toe, buffering your entire body to a smooth finish. We chose not to do this (fee is extra, about $50, I think). Some women scrubbed each other in the shower areas. (Not that we were looking.)
Another deep breath….
(Photo by jiwoo)
8. We headed upstairs and met Adam. On this floor are two things: food and saunas. Until Friday, I hadn’t fancied myself a sauna person, preferring steam to dry heat, but I was converted. There are 7 domed saunas in this area, all designed beautifully with different rock schemes and pleasant scents to match whatever theme the sauna was: mineral salt, jade, iceland, gold, color therapy. We started in a navy blue tiled sauna with wooden seats (145 F) then progressively moved to hotter saunas, all of which had scented mats on the floors (the tile was too hot to walk on). We sprawled on the mats and felt our hearts pounding. After working our way up to the 200 degree room (that was too much for me) we ran over to “Iceland” — a cold sauna of 54 degrees with ice on the walls. We sat there for a long time, much longer than we normally would have, but we had just left Death Valley in August for New York in March. One little girl stood outside the door and said “Look mommy, the north pole!”
9. Thirsty, we grabbed water and Italian gelatos, and signed up for 10 minutes on the massage chairs, which were about 100 times more potent than those found in nail salons. I zoned way out at this point, chomping on my gelato and staring off into nothing, as an incredibly human-like chair massaged me from my neck to my toes. On this floor also are foot and hand massage areas, body massage areas, and a full-service beauty salon.
And…another deep breath…
10. Top floor: outdoor pool time! This was what I had came for. For the rooftop pools, they let you wear bathing suits (whew.) There’s also more food up there, including amazing, fresh-steamed dumplings (wave the watch, sign your name, and presto! dumplings magically appear). The pools have a “lazy river,” (it’s got a current) and more of the cool lounge chair/water “aqua jet” areas that blast the living daylights out of you.
11. We stayed up here a loong time, chatting and sitting in the sunshine. We all got ice cream (again) and sat for at least an hour in the aqua jets, catching up on our latest adventures/misadventures. When you get too pruney, you simply haul yourself out and flop down on a lounge chair. Then, once you’ve dried out a bit, you can go back in.
12. Even on this floor, there were hidden areas — the indoor “walk-up pool bar” was fun, I had some jasmine green tea while talking to an 8-year-old about his chocolate milkshake. And we didn’t even make it to any of the relaxation rooms…Next time.
More fun photos: Sitting and smiling in the aqua jets, in winter.
The New York Times called it A Funhouse Floating in a Korean Spa
Overall: We got there at about 2p, we didn’t leave until 8p, and we easily could have stayed longer. Our stress levels were completely unmeasurable. I felt like a blob of nothing by the time we left, barely able to move, or think. All for a total pricetag of $60. Best bargain ever, anyone?
(Tip: Go. Go as soon as possible. But go on a weekday when school is in session, when the hordes aren’t there).
And, to virtually visit Spa Castle, check out their web site.