Ooedo Onsen Monogitari, Tokyo

Mindblowing is the word I use to describe this place.  This is the Disney of hot springs!  Ooedo Onsen Monogitari is an onsen theme park located in Tokyo Bay.  It is also a fully functioning natural hot springs onsen, with multiple indoor and outdoor baths.

Yurikamome line & Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge (Brianlockwood)

Getting to Ooedo Onsen Monogitari is a great trip in itself.  I took the Yurikamome automated train that goes across Tokyo Bay’s Rainbow Bridge.  The views of Tokyo were stunning, and the Telecom Center station stop is worth a visit on its own.  From Telecom Center, it’s a short walk (3 minutes) to Ooedo Onsen Monogitari.  The entrance reminded me of a typical Japanese Ryokan but on a man-made island, surrounded by automation!  It’s reminiscent of a typical Japanese anachronism of history amidst high technology.  Those who have visited Japan know exactly what I mean by that, and you will too once you’ve been there a few days.

Entrance to Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

There were no lineups when I went!

Inside, again, the design is of a typical ryokan but serving thousands of people per day.  Language was not really an issue – once I paid my entrance fee, I really didn’t have much of a choice but to go in the same direction as everyone else!  Like Disney, you automatically get carried to Main Street.

Inside, there is a reproduction of a historic Japanese market street – on steroids!  There are food and gift vendors everywhere, games, etc.  It’s the usual Disney/Niagara Falls experience, with a strong Japanese flavour.  It’s a great place to bring kids as they can run around as much as they want but the exits are closely monitored so they can’t leave the building.  There are a lot of families here, especially on the market street.  The food is acceptable to good, the atmosphere is of a fair or carnival, and you can’t really help but smile at all the activity.

Then there are the onsen.  The change rooms dwarf anything I had ever seen before or since, and were about 5x bigger than the largest university change room I have ever seen. There were some excellent hair and skin products freely available in the change rooms and the flow of people was very fluid both going in and going out.

From GoTokyo.org

The change rooms are segregated into men and women’s rooms.  Bathing suits are prohibited, and so are tatoos.  From the change rooms, you go to the wash area were there are hundreds of wash stations for you to clean up at before going into the baths.  The overall feel is clean and efficient – very different from the bustle of the market area. There are so many people going through that the process is smooth and painless; there is no waiting for a wash station, they are all clean and bright, and by the time you have finished getting ready for the onsen, you will be in the mood.

Onsen baths at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari, from TokyoOdaiba.net

Beyond the wash stations are the baths themselves, and you enter an onsen.  A real, functioning not-crazy onsen, with a variety of baths both indoors and out.  There are many different tubs inside, some are large, some smaller, with different temperatures and jets.  I particularly enjoyed going from the vigorous high intensity jacuzzi type very hot spring bath to the large relaxing one by the window.  The outdoors areas were very natural and you could easily forget you are in the middle of downtown Tokyo.  I didn’t get a chance to try the little fish pond or get a massage, but I found these onsen to be totally in line with what I expected for onsen.  There was just “more” of everything!  For details on visiting Ooedo Onsen Monogatari, visit their website here

from vagabondish.com

I really enjoyed my day trip to Ooedo Onsen Monogatari – I had no idea what to expect when I started out and certainly didn’t expect the reality.  Everything was a pleasure, from the train ride to the onsen, to the funky and wild mainstreet, to relaxing in the natural setting of the onsen.  It’s a great day trip in Tokyo.

Il y un excellent article en français au sujet d’Ooedo Onsen Monogatari sur le site dozodomo.com – visualisez-le ici.  If you’d like to see more great photos of the interior of Ooedo Onsen Monogatari, follow this link to an excellent review in French on dozodomo.com

Sam’s Family Spa Hot Water Resort – Desert Hot Springs, California

Sam’s Family Spa is a true oasis in the desert.  This is a 50 acre RV campground that is centered around a large lake with lush gardens and lots of shade.  It’s been a family run and family oriented business since 1971.

Campsites at Sam’s (from http://www.wheelingit.us/)

Desert Hot Springs is the lesser known cousin of Palm Springs, California.  Desert Hot Springs still retains its desert feel, even though it is a fairly large city.  The approach to Sam’s is no different; the roads are dun and dusty. Once you arrive at the grounds, the campsites retain that desert feel – ours had a large saguaro as well as some smaller desert plants, and we shared our RV site with a desert hare who seemed to accept our presence as a mild inconvenience.

The central feature of the RV park is the lake, complete with ducks and other wildlife.  It’s a true oasis, a very tranquil centerpiece and a nice change from the surrounding desert.  There are walking paths around the lake and a large well furnished rec hall.  There is a volleyball court and picnic tables.  And of course there are the springs.

The Lake at Sam’s (from Tripadvisor.com)

Outdoor soaking pool at Sam’s (via Yelp)

The spring water is pumped from deep underground Desert Hot Springs aquifer, and comes to the surface at about 105 F.  There are 5 soaking pools and another pool for smaller children, along with a sauna and a regular swimming pool. All the pools are clean and well maintained.  There were lots of times when we were the only ones in the pools so we found it very relaxing.  I really enjoyed listening to the birds singing while I soaked.  I moved from pool to pool, both indoors and out and soaked up the moisture of the oasis after a week in the desert dust.  The lushness at Sam’s is a really nice change from the desert.

Children are everywhere here and it is a great place for them to run around and enjoy the outdoors.  While we were here, we never felt crowded – there was lots of space and many different types of areas to relax in.  There is lots of shade at Sam’s so we didn’t have to worry about the desert sun, but we could step out of the shade to dry off instantly in the desert wind.

Sam’s is one of the best RV parks I’ve ever seen.  It has loads of activities and great hot springs pools in a lush desert setting.  There are very few well developed hot springs in California and I count this as a great place to stay for an extended period, and especially good for families.  Because of the layout of the springs and pools area, it’s one of the few places where a parent can have a relaxing soak while still keeping one eye on the children.  Check out Sam’s Family Spa Hot Water Resort the next time you are in Desert Hot Springs!

Baden-Baden’s Caracalla Therme

Emperor Caracalla

I think this was the first fully developed hot spring baths I ever went to. If you’re going to start going to baths, where better than in a town named Baths-Baths?  Baden-Baden is one of the most famous spa towns in Germany.  There have been baths here since at least Roman times.  The most modern of these is Caracalla Therme, named for the Emperor Caracalla who visited this town almost 2,000 years ago to treat his arthritis.

Twelve springs supply the 4,000 m² of pools and saunas at Caracalla Therme.  There are many different bathing areas, including a large “no-bathing suits” sauna section.  The overall feel is very clean, white and modern with a passing salute to Rome from the columns and statues by the pools.  There are three outdoor pools and some poolside seating but most of the baths and saunas are indoors.  It can get quite busy and the atmosphere is family friendly, accepting children aged over 7 years, so it can be good to go early in the day when there is less traffic.

In the adult only nude section, there can be older German men who unabashedly ogle women.  I was there with my husband so I don’t know how they behave with single women.  I took it in stride as a cultural thing – when you travel you can’t expect everyone to behave the same way they do in your home country.

hot springs aficionado caracalla bubble jetMy best memory of Caracalla Therme was the bubble jet bath.  I love underwater air jets, especially where these were located in the middle of a larger pool – it gave a real sense of airiness to the experience.  I loved the sensation of so many tiny bubbles massaging my body.  It gave me a tingling sensation running up my back and bubbling to the surface like champagne – it was almost a feeling of being immersed in a giant cup of bubbly Reisling, very light and airy.  Being surrounded by white columns and white statues gave a very classic feel to the experience!

hot springs aficionado caracalla whiteWe spent many hours at Caracalla Therme, wandering from one experience to the other, trying different scented saunas, relaxing in the outdoors area, dining, and always returning to the centerpiece pools with their tall glass solarium walls that marry the feeling of being indoors with the feeling of being open to the air. That was my overall memory of Caracalla: a sense of airiness and openness.

In the lobby is a fountain from which you can drink the waters – at the time I went, little telescoping cups were provided as souvenirs, and I still have mine! The waters are from natrium-chloride springs and are quite strongly flavoured with salts and sulfur, so they taste medicinal and you won’t be drinking very much. The temperature at the main spring is 68C (155 F).

Add Caracalla Therme to your travel plans if you are going to the Black Forest – it’s a wonderful place to spend a day relaxing and recovering from your trip!  Watch the promotional video below to see more of the interior of Baden-Baden’s Caracalla Therme.