Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Search for Spa

From time to time, something in your home breaks and you are forced to either repair or replace it. These times have been occuring pretty frequently lately. First my oven went out, not once...but twice, then the fridge died. Both times, I opted to "repair". During the Thanksgiving break, my hot tub bit the dust (in the form of a leak)....but this repair would be so expensive I'm looking at replacing it.

Replacing a hot tub is no easy task. "What's the best hot tub to get?" is a question that doesn't have any easy answers. First of all, there are like 500 manufacturers and each one thinks they're better than the rest. Mention that you've been looking at some other ones and you'll get a lecture. It's sorta like a religion with these people.

I've looked at Hot Springs spas, Caldera, Sundance, Jacuzzi, LA Spas, Phoenix, Arctic, Marquis, Artesian in person and even more on the internet. They all have their own patented this or that, but basically...they're all just big plastic tubs with jets.

Today, I ventured out to test my finalists...and by test, I mean actually get into the tubs in my shorts and try em out. For some reason, I feel compelled to blog about this hopes that someday a search engine might lead some other confused soul to this post and they'll be able to save some time.

I started out at Hot Springs, then made my way to Sundance spas, Jacuzzi (where I tried two models), LA Spas (tried 2 different ones there) then Arctic and finally Phoenix. At each stop, I tested as many models as they had filled up with water (they call this "Wet Testing") and then I sat "dry" in similar models that weren't filled up. I did this just to get a feel for as many tubs as possible. Overall...I wet tested 8 different tubs and sat in another 4 or 5 on top of that (once you know how the jets feel, it's easier to imagine how you'll like a similar model that company makes,even in the dry tubs). After each wet test, I'd go out to my car and speak all of my thoughts into a digital recorder I brought with me. This way, I never got confused or forgot any of the things I liked or disliked about each tub.

You'll notice that I tested several brands and that I also managed to eliminate several models from my search today. I'm over halfway done and while I could probably pick just based on today's wet testing, I'm taking this search pretty seriously and I've still got a few more stops to do next week before I decide.

Wet Testing was by far the best advice anyone could have ever given me. While I may have been happy with many of my hot tub choices before "wet testing" them, now that I've been able to compare the feel (as opposed to the look), I've learned what I like and I can shop specifically for it now. From this point on, I'm judging strictly on how good the tub actually feels to me. Everything else is a secondary factor as far as I'm concerned.

First stop was Hot Springs. I loved the up and down massaging jets in their lounge, but most of the other seats were just too short for me. I also found that the jets were great when you're concentrating all the power to one seat, but as soon as you start sharing with other seats.....they get really weak. Since I go in the tub more with other people than without them, this would end up really bugging me when I didn't get my first pick of seat. Also...I didn't like that you couldn't turn the foot jets on the lounge up to full blast without sacrificing some of the force behind you (not to mention in the seats next to you). Simultaneous back and feet jets are the whole point of lying down in a lounge, I thought. Last, and most importantly....I'm a tall guy and found that my shoulders stuck out of their tub in all but a couple of the seats. I don't mind a cool down seat or two...but in these tubs, there were essentially four cool downs for a guy my size. As well made as they may be and as nice as the sales guy was to me, I'm going to have to leave these fairly comfortable tubs for the shorter folks out there and move on to the next brand.

Hot Springs Vista:

Sundance is still in the running with the Cameo. When I got in, I immediately noticed they had a nicer lounge with much better jets than the Hot Springs spas (which I had just come from). I also thought more of the non-lounge seats were quite comfortable than the one I'd just been in. You can really stick your feet out. Again...this is important to me since I'm 6'4".
There are a couple of deeper seats besides the lounge seat and I really liked their foot jets. Very good little tub, but I saw some today that I liked better. Still...if I decide to bargain shop, this one is staying on my list because it'll be in the lower price range and it's a perfectly good tub for what they're asking.

Sundance Cameo, still in the running

Next up was a Jacuzzi store. I crossed the Jacuzzi 480 off my list today. The lounge was the least comfortable lounge seat of the day, and my feet stuck over the edges of the foot jets (rendering them useless to me). The Jacuzzi 470 is still in the running as a very comfortable non-lounger, but it's also one of the most expensive tubs I looked at today (and I found better non-loungers for the money). I liked it, so I'm not eliminating it....but I'd have to get a huge discount on it to pick it over the next spa I sat in.

Jacuzzi 470, pretty expensive...but it's good.

After grabbing a quick bite, I voyaged to LA Spas which was the surprise of the day. These guys were only an also ran when I first visited the showrooms, but they turned out to be awesome. The lounge seat in the LA Spas Heet was my favorite lounge of the day and the jets were just amazingly versatile and powerful. They also have these optional neck and shoulder jets (which I would definitely want installed) that are each independently controlled and I found that when you combine them with the back and feet jets, it's even better than the lounge chairs (which it also had). Their air bubblers were particularly powerful and I actually liked the way they felt with no jets on at all. The Heet came with two of the neck and shoulder jet bucket seats, but one of those made it uncomfortable for me. I'd have to custom order the tub without that particular feature (or have one seat for short friends that I'd never sit in). I think I'd customize it.

LA Spas "Heet". Really liked this one. Definitely in the running.

I also tested the LA Spas Concord, which had no lounge, but had two of those Neck and Shoulders seats that were plenty deep enough for me. It also had two deep buckets, plus a bench and a regular seat or two. Great Party tub. Of the non-lounge tubs, this was by far the best I found today. Both of these were deep enough for me, they both had the options like lights and waterfalls that I think are cool these have moved way up my list to become top contenders.

LA Spas Concord

Next stop was Arctic, where I tested out the Klondiker. This was the stop where I learned first hand that the number of jets really doesn't mean everything. Even though this tub had the most jets of any of the ones on my search list, it was the least comfortable of all the tubs I tested today. One of the bucket seats actually hurt my lower back to sit in it for some reason and it was too shallow in all but two of the other seats. The air bubbler in this one was indeed nice, as were the foot jets. Problem was, they were only accessible from the most uncomfortable seat in the tub for me. Despite all the jets they packed into this thing, the lounge just wasn't nearly as comfortable as the Sundance, The LA Spas, the Hot Springs or the Phoenix lounge. Only reason it beat out the Jacuzzi was because it was tall enough for me.....but this was an easy one to cross off my list.

The Arctic Klondiker: Eliminated.

Last store was the Phoenix, which I wasn't sure I'd make it to because of the snow that started getting really bad shortly before I hit Arctic. I decided to chance it and drove there to try out the Coronado which was the one they had filled up and ready to go. The salesman had told me it would feel a little smaller tub than the one I am actually interested in, and he was right. Still, the seats were still surprisingly comfortable. Their tub also features neck and shoulder jets and while they aren't as nice as the ones at LA Spas, I liked them. The lounge was really good...but it was too short for me on this model.

The lounge in their Sorrento is the right size (I got in dry), but they didn't have it filled up for wet testing, so they're going to fill it for me and I'm going to try that later in the week.

Phoenix Sorrento: Still need to wet test this:

I also still want to try the D1 Chairman 2, but the D1 dealership didn't have it filled and they're not open that'll have to be during the week sometime too. I have high hopes for this one.

D1 Chairman II: The most expensive spa on my list. Will it live up to the hype?

Once I've tried that and the Phoenix Sorrento, I think I'll be narrowing it down to the top few and picking one.

It should be noted that I ruled out Marquis after a visit to their showroom yesterday, and Dynasty is just a little too far away for both testing and regular service calls. Other than that, I think I've tested just about every major brand of spa that's been recommended to me. I'm close to done with my search.

No matter which spa I's going to be an upgrade from this broken one right here:

Ultimately, that's one big factor I'm keeping in mind. These new tubs have all sorts of fancy new jets and features that I'm being wowed by....but ultimately, I had a fine time with my old tub before it broke. I could repair it....but it's such an expensive job for an older tub that it's probably just better to let it go.

Besides, if your Hot Tub doesn't have a built in iPod dock....what good is it really? :-)

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