Reopening, relaxation and Ronnie the robotic pool cleaner – a behind the scenes look at how Aqua Sana works

With spa breaks and spa days back on the agenda, we wanted to give you a sneak peek at what the Aqua Sana team have been up to while they’ve been closed. We chatted to Spa Team Leader Adam Hutchinson to find out what goes into keeping a spa running, the changes we’ve made to keep our guests safe and how we keep the pool so clean.

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Hi Adam, thanks for taking the time to show us behind the scenes at Aqua Sana! Firstly, can you tell us about your role at Center Parcs?

I started working at Center Parcs 20 years ago in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. I basically watched Aqua Sana Sherwood Forest being built and, when it opened in 2003, I started working there. In my role, I’m really making sure everything is running smoothly and safely for our guests. Myself and my team are all lifeguard trained and first aid trained, so we’re available in case anyone needs medical help and we also work alongside our Maintenance Technician to make sure all the equipment is kept maintained and the water quality levels are monitored throughout the day.

So, what does a typical day opening up the spa look like?

We have quite a big cleaning team – as you can imagine, it takes a lot of effort to keep the spa sparkling. While they get to work, we start our safety checks – that includes physically checking each room, paying particular attention to the seating and floor. In the rooms with tiles, we’re checking to make sure nothing has come loose or chipped and in the rooms with wooden benches, we’re checking there’s nothing sharp that could hurt someone. We also go into each plant room and switch the rooms on. Each room and zone has its own specific ‘feel’ so we check the lighting is right and the correct music is playing.

What’s a plant room? It sounds more like something you’d find in a garden centre than a spa!

Very different plants! The plant rooms contain all the equipment and machinery to keep that specific experience running – here at Sherwood Forest, we have a plant room for each heat experience, one for the outdoor hot tubs and one for the spa pool. When we arrive in the morning, we switch on the heat and, for the steam rooms, the steam generators. We also have the individual fragrances for each room which are filtered into the experience and we control the lighting from the plant rooms as well. We have some fragrances which were designed especially for our experiences, like the cherrywood fragrance in the Forest Glade, and then we have some of the more typical spa fragrances like jasmine in the Salt Steam Room and eucalyptus and menthol in the Alpine Steam.

Wow, so it’s really not a case of just switching one machine on! What about the hot tubs and pool?

The hot tubs and spa pool are slightly different – we don’t actually switch them off overnight. We turn them right down, so they’re using as little energy as possible and cover them over to retain the heat, which is actually more energy efficient than letting them go cold and then heating them back up again. We also have water quality monitors which are testing the water all day and will alert us if the levels of chlorine or pH drop too low or go too high. We do our own manual testing every two hours as well, just as an extra safety measure.

We know sustainability and energy efficiency are important to Center Parcs. Are there any other ways you’re saving energy?

The spa here at Sherwood Forest is actually powered by biogas (a renewable gas) and we have energy saving invertors on any machinery that consumes a lot of power. We run our hot tubs like a swimming pool, using UV filtration, which means we don’t have to empty and re-fill them constantly, cutting down on our water consumption. We also reuse the water from the spa pool and hot tubs – when guests get into the water, the level rises and some of the water is forced out and spills over into our balance tanks, where it’s filtered and returned to the pool and hot tubs when the water level is low.

So how do you keep the pool clean without draining it?

At some points it will have to be drained – for example, we completely retiled it while we were closed – and so we’ll give it a good clean then, but every other day, we use Ronnie.

Ronnie?

Ronnie’s our underwater vacuum – he’s an honorary member of the team! He goes up and down the pool cleaning the tiles and has sensors so that he can go up the walls of the pool as well. You do have to keep an eye on him though – he has a tendency to stop for a break when he reaches the Jacuzzi!

What about the other members of the team? Are they all back to work now?

We’ve pretty much got the full team back now, which is great, and we’ll have everyone back in the next few weeks. Our therapists have been back for a while as they’ve been performing treatments, and my team needed to come back to do their refresher lifeguard and first aid training. There’s also some coronavirus specific refresher training for everyone. Because we work in quite a close contact environment, especially the therapists, we’ve put a lot of time into supporting people’s return to work and making sure they feel completely comfortable with all the safety measures we’ve put in place. It’s important that we recognise that everyone will feel slightly different right now – some people are excited to get back to normality and some people are still a bit nervous.

What changes can guests expect to see in the spa?

The most exciting thing is that we can open our saunas and steam rooms again – they’ve only been open for a very short period of time over the last year so it’s amazing to get back to some sort of normality and have all the experiences running again. We were testing them in the run-up to reopening and it was great to walk around and feel the heat coming from the rooms and breathe in all the different fragrances. The biggest change is probably the time limits on the heat experiences – we’re following government guidance, so we’re only able to allow people to stay in the heat experiences for 15 minutes at a time, and then we have to clean the room and leave it for 10 minutes before anyone else can use it. But the good news is, the relaxation areas and spa pools don’t have a time limit. And a lot of the feedback we’ve had is that 15 minutes is quite often enough for most people – we do have some pretty hot experiences!

What about social distancing?

We’ve put a one-way system in place, which actually helps create a natural route for guests, taking you from the slightly cooler experiences that help warm your body up, round to the really hot lava-inspired experiences. Each experience has been measured and had a seating plan created, which you’ll see on the doors to show you where to sit to maintain that distance and, for some experiences, like the waterbeds, we’ve added screens. We’ve also added more ventilation into the rooms to increase the air flow, without taking anything away from the experience. And our team are

dotted around the spa ready to direct you and answer any questions. We’re also keeping the number of people in the spa low to give everyone plenty of space.

And can guests still book treatments?

Absolutely! We’ve been offering treatments at most of our spas since 12th April, including some new treatments we’ve designed ourselves using our own products. We’ve got a great cleansing ritual to start every treatment that makes sure both the therapist and guest feel confident in the safety measures and we’ve added extra time between treatments to allow us to deep clean the rooms.

We’re obviously all looking forward to a time when all these extra measures aren’t needed anymore. Do you think any of the changes are here to stay?

There are some things that have worked really well and actually added to the guest experience, which we’ll definitely look at keeping. It’s also shown us how brilliantly creative our teams can be – for example, we started giving out robes and towels in an Aqua Sana bag with a name tag on, which meant people wouldn’t accidentally pick someone else’s robe up. And with our waterbeds, we’ve created a system where guests can add a blanket to the bed while they use it, then remove it afterwards – when we initially reopened in the summer, we couldn’t have blankets on the beds which obviously made them less inviting! This way, we can still create a cosy experience but it remains safe for everyone. The last year has definitely shown how we can all think outside the box!

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Lizzie Jackson

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Lizzie Jackson

As PR & Media Relations Officer at Center Parcs, I’m always hearing amazing stories from our teams on the villages. I’ll share as many of these as I can with you, as well as giving you a glimpse behind the scenes to see what goes into running a Center Parcs!