“Is that the naked spa?” That’s the question at least three people asked me when I said I was going to King Spa & Sauna (809 Civic Center Dr. Niles, IL). Each one also made a face that seemed to imply “better you than me” after I affirmed that, yes, I was going to the so-called “naked spa,” and yes, I would, in fact, be getting naked.
Never mind that most activities at the spa actually require you to be clothed. King Spa is modeled after a traditional Korean jjim-jil bang, or public bath, and while it’s true that the steam rooms and hot and cold pools require nudity, they constitute such a fraction of what the spa has to offer it somehow seems unfair that this has become its reputation.
In fact, even those who don’t balk at being naked in a room full of strangers might still be intimidated by the spa’s endless facilities, including a movie theater, a 23-karat gold pyramid room, and a salt cave. Below, I’ve documented my own experience so you’ll know what to expect if you’re planning your first visit.
1. Naked means naked.
Let’s cut to the chase: when you use the wet spas—which are separated by gender—you really must be nude. Technically you get a towel, but it’s quite small, and doesn’t do much to preserve modesty. Although, it is probably big enough to cover your face. Everybody may be looking at you naked, but there’s no rule that says you have to look at them while they’re looking at you naked, right?
All joking aside, I was astonished by how quickly being nude around strangers felt…normal. I expected my foray into public nudity to be anxiety inducing, but the sight of bodies of so many different shapes, sizes, and ages was actually quite anxiety reducing.
However, upon check-in you are given a clean cotton uniform for the dry saunas and other facilities in the coed area.
2. Forget looking cute.
To help ensure the spa stays as sanitary as possible, you’re required to shower between visits to any wet sauna or pools. This means any time you spent fixing your hair or makeup before you arrived was time better spent doing something else (like bedazzling). The good news is everyone around you is in the same boat. But if you really can’t stand looking unpolished, the locker rooms have primping tools such as hair brushes, blow-dryers, and cotton swabs.
3. Be prepared to do nothing.
When I entered the charcoal room for my first dry-sauna session, the two other people inside were fast asleep and snoring. Loudly. I closed my eyes and tried to quiet my mind, but the hum of activity outside the door combined with my sauna-mates’ gentle ZZZs made me feel like Fozzie Bear during his failed hibernation attempt in Muppets Take Manhattan (“how do they do it?”). Eventually, though, I got the hang of it. By the time I made the rounds to the salt room, pyramid room, amethyst room, and yellow mud room, I was the one fighting off sleep.
4. Know your limits.
There’s a 15-minute recommended maximum for each sauna. At first I thought this sounded overly cautious, but by the end of my spa day, I found myself feeling a little light-headed and lethargic. Drink lots of water, listen to your body, and go slow. If you’re feeling tired, relax in the movie theater or meditation area.
5. Come hungry.
You know those spas that are all about detox diets and cucumber water? King Spa’s not like that. They have a large, cafeteria-style Korean restaurant that serves everything from bento boxes with beef bulgogi to baked eggs that are actually cooked inside the fire sauna. The smell of savory, grilled meats basically permeates every pyramid and salt cave, so you might as well just dig in. After all, half the people there have already seen you naked.
6. Clear your calendar.
King Spa gives new meaning to the term “spa day”. It’s open 24 hours and admission gets you all-day access (an extra $5 fee applies if you stay overnight). I unfortunately had only carved out a few hours for my visit. When I overheard some other people talking about staying until 3 a.m., I really wished I could have, too.
Photos courtesy of King Spa & Sauna | Search Groupon for Korean spas, saunas, and bath houses and saunas near you