Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Soulstice Day Spa in Johannesburg with my best friend and partner. He had been given a lovely voucher for three treatments for a couple, and we were looking forward to this experience with much excitement.
When I made the reservation, I was impressed by the friendly attitude on the phone, the process was smooth and I felt very satisfied. The only hiccup was when I was told that although the voucher was valid until 31 December, there had been a price increase and I would be expected to pay the difference for the treatments on the day. The website does say that prices and information are subject to revision without prior notice, but vouchers are paid for before price increases surely? But it wasn’t a fortune so I agreed and noted the charge.
The Spa is located in the Silverstar Casino Resort which is easy enough to get to, but finding the spa itself took quite a few questions and assistance from Casino staff. Luckily we had been asked to arrive 15-30 minutes before our appointed time, so we had extra time to spare to locate the Spa. Once we had arrived, we were greeted cordially and the programme for our treatments was described to us, before we went off to the change-rooms to get into our bathing suits and gowns.
We had some time in the relaxation area to wait before our first treatment. There was filter coffee, water and iced tea available as well as rusks, apples and some slightly overripe tangerines. There was a drinks menu and a food menu that had no prices on it, but at no stage during the day did anyone ask either of us if we wanted to order anything. That wasn’t really a big deal, but it would have been nice to have been asked. The website mentions relaxing with a fruit juice or cappuccino in between treatments after all, which is perhaps a bit misleading. Other places give these to you complimentary as part of the experience. We then had to fill in comprehensive questionnaires as happens in all spas, before we went for our first treatment.
Our first treatment was 45 min of Floatation Therapy. Here we entered a small chamber with a shallow pool heated to body temperature. High salt quantities in the water assist with the floating and relaxation of the muscles, whilst helping to relieve tension. Apparently one session of this therapy equates to 4 hours undisturbed sleep. Well my body did not get that memo. There are jets in the water to keep the water circulating, but if I tried to float my body immediately tried to roll me over which became rather uncomfortable and disconcerting after a couple of times. If I experimented by lying face down, I was rolled onto my back, and then around again, which was quite bizarre. Small “pool noodles” are provided to help you float if necessary, which did help a bit. We had been told that the salt was Magnesium sulphate, but this did not account for the at times peculiar smell in the chamber, both of us commented on it – there was a faint smell of urine which was not at all pleasant. Add to this the constant low rumble of the pump for the jets… On reading the brochure beforehand, we had been led to expect underwater music to help the relaxation, as well as candlelight to soothe, but there was only the light behind the Amethyst geodes, not a candle in sight, and certainly no music. Both of us decided it was not an experience we would hurry to repeat. Neither of us found it to be relaxing, not with the odd smell and the noise.
After a short “cooling down” period, where we sat in the relaxation area, we were taken to the Rasul Chamber for the 45 min Middle Eastern Mud Ritual. This starts with a sugar body scrub to exfoliate, and is then followed by the application of scented mud, which helps draw out impurities. After applying the scrub, we rinsed ourselves with warm water from hand sprayers before applying the mud. Both the sugar scrub and the mud are very pleasantly scented, and the experience in the darkened chamber, covered in scented mud, with heated steam to further draw out impurities was an amazing one to say the least. The chamber gets very hot and steamy and then all of a sudden there is a downpour of “tropical rain” to wash away what is left of the mud after you have sweated the majority of it off during the time inside. If necessary, there is a shower to complete the process, but both of us found the “rain” has done the job of washing the mud off sufficiently. Now this was a very special experience, and we would do that again without a doubt. Although the website brochure offers chocolate balls and sparkling wine to go with this treatment, these were not on offer, but perhaps the voucher we had been given did not include these treats.
Once we left the Rasul Chamber, we were met by our therapists who were going to do our last treatment, which was the 1 hour, full body Hot Stone Massage. Once inside the massage room we were offered an upgrade of our treatment to include the Luxurious Candle Massage, which uses wax from scented candles to further heat and invigorate the body. We decided to go for this to make the most of our last treatment. We were offered a choice of the Spa music, easy listening or nature sounds. We elected to listen to the nature sounds but after the massage had begun, it was apparent that this soundtrack was not working, so we reverted to the Spa music. This was possibly the best choice in hindsight, because inside the room you could still hear the Spa music from the relaxation area. The massage itself was enjoyed by both of us. As we both suffer from tension, there were many knots and sore muscles that needed attention, and as is often the case after a massage, we did experience some pain post treatment.
A small problem I had during the treatment though was when a hot stone was applied to the sole of my left foot. The right one has already been treated and that had been fine, but on the left the stone actually burned my foot and I jerked back which kind of ruined the relaxation I had been experiencing up to then. My foot was still sore by the evening, so I hadn’t been imagining it. That was rather unfortunate. I did also wonder if the therapists really paid much attention to the questionnaires we had filled in. The treatment ended with the therapists bringing us a glass of water and showing us some products that they recommended for the stiff muscles.
Thus ended our treatments and it was off to the showers. I was disappointed to see that in the showers there were bottles of shampoo and conditioner, but both were empty and I really wished I could wash my hair after the heat and oils of the treatments. Nor was there any soap of any description so I could not really rinse my skin. My partner reported that the men’s shower has a bottle of body wash but that this too had been empty. I had not brought toiletries from home as being a Spa I had anticipated that these things would be provided. A nice touch was the hairdryer by the mirror though, as well as deodorant and earbuds in both change rooms.
Then it was off to check out. Here our enjoyment of the day was hit with cold water by the distinctly cool reception we got when we arrived back at the reception area. The floor manager who had been so nice to us to start with seemed like a completely different person. Gone was the smiling face and friendly nature. I could not believe the change in attitude, it was as if we had done something wrong and I glanced up to see my partner also with a puzzled expression on his face as we were met with this attitude. She was looking at her calculator and saying that our voucher was only for so much and even with the discounted rate they had given the voucher provider we would still need to pay in. I knew this from the previous phone conversation when I made the booking, so why the aggressive attitude towards us now? She went on to say that she saw we had upgraded our massage and there was an extra charge for that. Again, we had agreed to that at the beginning of the treatment and I was in no way disputing the extra charge! Next we were told the therapists had left products for us at the reception, the ones they had been recommending for us, but as these are both quite expensive and not in our budget at this time, I did say that we would not be taking the products. As you might imagine by now, this was also met with a dim reception. Sorry, but I cannot be expected to suddenly fork out for over R1300 worth of products when I have other far more important things to pay for right now.
The other two ladies on reception had been sitting in silence all this time and I wondered what they were thinking. I felt like we were being treated very badly and am still wondering why. Then I asked for the candles that were from our Hot Wax massage, as the therapists had said we would take these home with us – at first I got blank looks, then one of the other people on reception got up to hunt for these and I was eventually handed a small package. In the mean time I had paid the extra charges, as well as gratuities for the staff. I had been thinking of purchasing a treatment voucher for family members for Christmas but I decided I would think about that rather, as I did not want to put them through the same experience we had just gone through.
When we left and we said goodbye, there was no brochure offered and only a murmured response to our greeting. Even though I had turned down the products from the day, perhaps I would have bought them later on or even a different product as a treat for a friend or family member. I have worked in the hospitality and service industry myself, and I would never have let any of my guests leave with such a sour taste in their mouth, and I objected to us being treated with such poor grace. After all, you never know these days who knows who, or even who they are. Your reputation can make or break you, and as the mission of the Spa is to deliver “an extraordinary experience in Spa wellness”, I have to say they did live up to their mission. They left us with an extraordinary experience all right, but not one we would care to repeat.