Monday, August 24, 2009

The Island vs. The Spa

Toronto Island has long been one of my favourite retreats. It’s basically a large park surrounded by lake Ontario, walkable from end to end in around an hour, and from edge to edge in 15 minutes at the widest part. It’s got beautiful beaches; wide lawns with big willow trees; and a little amusement park where you can ride a miniature steam train or drive a two-person boat that looks like a swan in a little pond. All in all, very charming. Also, it’s usually considerably cooler on the Island than in the city, which is a big draw in the summer.

What could be better than the Island? A massage at a fancy spa, perhaps? I wasn’t expecting this to be the case. I had a gift card to cash in, from my wedding, otherwise I never would have booked a treatment at the Stillwater Spa at the Park Hyatt hotel in Yorkville. The prices are outrageous. And for what? Last time I got a gift certificate to a snooty spa, I hated the whole experience. The girl who did my manicure was obnoxious. The “hot stone massage” was a total bust. Lying on top of hot stones is not much more enjoyable than lying on top of cold stones. Therefore, I had low expectations of my spa experience.

Imagine for a moment that you’re me.

It’s the weekend before last. You’ve been cooped up sick for two weeks. You finally have enough energy to walk more than one block. Where to go to refresh your senses? The Island of course! It’s hot and sticky in the city. The cool Island breezes will be a treat.

You reach the ferry docks. Surprisingly, it’s just as warm here right by the lake as it was at home. No matter – that will all change as soon as you get over to your own personal paradise. You squash onto a crowded ferry boat. A girl’s Barbie backpack is pushing into you from the left, while your upper arm is stuck up against some stranger’s sweaty arm to your right. But you’ll be there in a few minutes, and everything will be OK.

You reach the Island. It’s freaking hot and sticky as ever. There are too many people here. You line up for the bathroom, which takes forever, because half the stalls are out of service. There is no usable toilet paper in those stalls, because it’s all in horrible, wet mounds on the floor. The floor, come to notice it, is one huge puddle. Women in open sandals pick their way through the swamp on tip-toe. There is no soap in the dispensers. Water from the sinks overflows onto the countertops, and drips onto the tops of your feet, soaking into your socks.

The sun is too bright. The sense of fresh, open space has been destroyed by crowds and humidity. You’re still too tired to walk far, so there’s no chance of escaping to the less populated areas of the Island, away from the amusement park. You take a quick tour of the grounds. All the animals in the little zoo are napping or grouchy from the heat. Finally you give up and go back to the mainland.

It’s the next weekend. Time for your spa treatment. You make your way to the check-in desk with anxiety. Being naked in a new, strange place isn’t high on your list of comfortable experiences.

You are provided with a fluffy, white bathrobe, a pair of black flip-flops, and a locker in an immaculate change room. The entire facility, for that matter, is spotless. There are staff in white uniforms whose only job it is to clean and tidy up constantly.

Once you are changed, you take a seat in the “Tea Lounge” where there are complimentary refreshments available. Other clients in fluffy bathrobes and slippers help themselves to lemon water and biscotti.

A massage therapist shows you into a room lined entirely with tiles. You lie face-up on a padded table. The lights are turned down low. The masseuse does origami with towels to protect your modesty. She slathers your neck and shoulders with lotion that has the consistency of buttercream icing. This lotion smells indescribably good, as though someone custom-crafted an aromatherapy formula to please you personally by reading your mind.

The treatment proceeds with much kneading of flesh, the application of vapour rub, and steaming hot towels. At a certain point you are asked to turn facedown. A clarifying mask is applied to your back, and then layers upon layers of hot towels. You find yourself believing that steaming hot towels are the answer to all the world’s problems. There is no one to disagree with this opinion so you adopt it as your new religion.

Just when you thought that life couldn’t get any more decadent, the now-cooling towels are lifted away and replaced by a lovely, hot shower. A seven-headed shower attachment is above you, and rivers of muscle-melting water wash you from neck to toe. It’s like being in bed sleeping, and having a wonderful shower all at the same time!

Just when you feel your toes beginning to prune, the water is turned off. The masseuse does some tricks, like pulling a tablecloth out from under a fully set table without disturbing the wineglasses, to cover you with sheet-sized dry, fluffy towels and remove the sopping wet cloths that were protecting your bathing suit areas.

She tells you to take your time, and leaves the room. When you go to get up, you find your muscles are so loose and floppy that you can barely stand.

So, you see my point. The spa wins hands down.


michelle said...

i am thinking of booking a spa treatment when i am in toronto next month ... thinking it could be a great post-half-marathon treat! but i must admit that i love the island ... but my first and only experience there was a monday at the end of september ... it was all but abandoned, but for the geese and squirrels ... and the amazing views.

DarcsFalcon said...

I. Am. Sooooo. Jealous. Screaming with envy!

Seriously, I'm so glad you had such a nice experience and that you're feeling so much better. :)

darcknyt said...

That does sound pretty amazing. Not sure they make towels big enough to cover my manatee-ness, but still a divine sounding experience.

Wonder if they'd charge reasonable rent to move in?

Karen said...

I don't like massages. They hurt and I don't like strangers touching me in such an intimate way.

But I'd take the spa too. Facials. Manis and Pedis. Wraps.

Ah, yes, I will always choose a spa.

Logan said...

My first thought: Wow, that sounds amazing. I want!
My second thought: I wonder if that's how bovines of the Kobe variety experience their massages. Until ... you know...
My third thought: Hmmm. My second thot's a strange one.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

But was there a happy ending?

wigsf said...

You were allowed on the island? Wow. You must have some mighty connections with Toronto's elite.

unsigned said...

Yes. There has to be a happy ending. Full release massage is the only way.

Sparkling Red said...

Michelle: The Island is best when it's almost empty of people. Once I went with a friend on a rainy day. We strolled along the puddled path with no shoes on; ate cherries on the beach and spat the pits in the sand. It was just us and the geese: very peaceful.

DarcsFalcon: Screaming with envy! I like that. I'm going to steal that line. :-)

darcknyt: Well, big talker, one of those towels could cover me from chin to ankles. That's quite a claim you're making!

Karen: A good massage shouldn't hurt. But my husband feels the same way. He had one bad experience after which he felt very sore, and he'll never try it again. Yes, it is intimate. I don't like going to any old massage therapist. I have one I've known for years and I feel comfortable with her.

Logan: If that's what they do to the Kobe cattle, I'd like to reincarnate as a Japanese cow in my next life. The slaughterhouse would be more than worth it.

Ron: Not like you're thinking. But I sure was happy when it was over.

WIGSF: Nah, I was slumming it in Centreville. They let everyone in there. It's like if there were a McDonald's in the middle of Yorkville.

Unsigned: Hello. I'm FEMALE! You should pay more attention to my blog if you haven't figured that out.

Indigo said...

Sounds like a delectable place to relax & indulge, am truly jelous

LL Cool Joe said...

Gotta say they both sound like torture to me!!!

darcknyt said...

Oh, you li'l devil, Spark! I didn't see how my comment could be construed that way until you demonstrated! BOY, am I blushing now! LOL!

What I meant was, the towels would be insufficient to wrap around my prodigious GIRTH, not my ... well, you know. Hehehe!

Alas, I wasn't careful enough and now must suffer the embarrassment of being a braggart! In truth, the manatee reference wasn't about any specific part of my anatomy, but only my obesity.

I'll be sure to be more careful next time. :)

G said...


or as I like to say..

Fun is. :-O

Jameil said...

wow! sounds great. i was not at all a fan of the only spa treatment i ever had. i don't like being touched by strangers but i really like to give other people massages as gifts b/c i know they enjoy them.

powdergirl said...

I was so hoping that the spa time would trump that crappy Island experience.

And it did! I hear ya about those prices at snooty spa's. At least when you pay through the nose you should get real spa experience.

coincidentaly, I was fortunate enough to spend a day at a very exclusive spa on Maui this past winter. It was heavenly, from the water falls to the mineral baths to that scrub on the massage table And strangely enough, this day didn't cost me much more than a few hours at a local spa, where frequently the staff, facility and service are just not really up to par.

Go figure.
I'm glad you had that time, and I enjoyed your description very much, it was relaxing after that ickey humidity, heat and overabundance of sweaty-arm flesh : )

Sparkling Red said...

Indigo: I would recommend it to anyone. I do believe the Park Hyatt has similar spas in their hotels in various cities, so you might even have one near where you live.

LL Cool Joe: The massage was torture. Sweet, sweet torture.

darcknyt: Ha! Well that makes a lot more sense. It seemed out of character for you to be bragging about your "manhood". For which I thought you were substituting "manatee" because they both start with "man". And because I've never seen you so it didn't occur to me that you might physically have anything in common with a manatee. My mental image of you is slim. Oh my, that was funny. :-) Tee hee!

G: For sures. If I could send all y'all to have a turn on the table just by snapping my fingers, you'd be there right now!

Jameil: I'm not a fan of many spa treatments, like facials and manicures, which involve people picking and scraping at your body with various instruments. And I do prefer to receive massage from a trusted therapist.

Powdergirl: A spa in Maui? That sure sounds good. I'm imagining treatments taking place outside, in the shade of a palm-leaf canopy, by the beach. That's probably wrong, but I like the idea just the same.

powdergirl said...

Haha, nope the spa was indoors with lots of rock and water.

The outdoor treatments did take place under a cool white canopy, under palm trees and by the sea.

Those were also lovely!

I'm apply myself diligently to relaxation when I'm on vacation : )