Saturday, July 23, 2005

Adventures in Hot Tubbing - The Prequel

My husband and I have decided to take the plunge, both figuratively and literally. We're going to put in a hot tub (well, technically a "spa" in industry lingo) at Duloc Manor.

We've been going back and forth about putting in an outdoor spa or spool (small inground spa/pool combo) or having a whirlpool installed in one of the bathrooms. We were leaning toward an indoor jetted tub because that's what we had in our condo in Chicago. My husband would luxurate for hours, soaking in bath "synergies" from the Vista Spa onboard the Disney Wonder while the jets carassed his aching muscles and joints. Personally, I usually didn't turn the whirlpool on; I used it as more of a big soaker tub. I'd lie with my head against one inflatable pillow, balancing a good book on another, and while away lazy weekend afternoons.

As much as we love Duloc Manor, the absence of a whirlpool leaves a big gap. We couldn't have one installed when it was being built because we bought it as an
"inventory home." That meant that we couldn't change anything, even though ground had not been broken yet. They wouldn't even allow us to upgrade the paint, let alone add a jetted bathtub.

We've attempted several times to get estimates for adding one. Unfortunately, the workmen come out, take measures, discuss the job with us at length...then disappear. I've come to believe that there is an annex of the Bermuda Triangle at the end of our street because once they drive out of our cul de sac, I never hear from them again. The last workers to come out and scope out the job did mention that it would be a royal pain to get the whirlpool in. Our master bath only has a shower; the one with a tub is in the smaller bedroom, i.e. my husband's office. They seemed to think it would be easier to wedge the tub in through the window rather than maneuver it up the stairs. But that was the last I heard...they, like the other intrepid souls before them, disappeared into the Twilight Zone.

Thus, I am now admitting defeat and turning to an outside spa. Some friends of ours are putting on a screen room with a lovely hot tub, and it inspired us to finally move forward ourselves.

Our triplex's little yard will just manage to fit a good-sized tub up to eight feet square. Of course, that will mean laying concrete on most of our little postage-stamp back lawn, but the grass will die for a good cause. I'll still have a few small mulch areas in back to garden, plus my whole plot out front. The front yard is where I focus most of my energies anyway, since it's the most visible place.

I've already visited the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) with a very, very preliminary plan. I wanted to get a sense of whether they would reject it out of hand or whether it was doable. The only part that made them antsy was the possibility of a screened enclosure. Since we're in a triplex, it's a touchy situation because our home is connected to our neighbor's. A screen is not a necessity, although it would be nice to combat the sparrow-sized mosquitos. But I can forgo it if it means a smoother approval process.

Other than that, I got information on how to present my proposal and the basic requirements. I had already sketched out a rough draft, and they assured me that I was on the right track. Armed with this information, I embarked on a journey to select a spa and pull all the pieces together. Once I got the measurements of our preferred model, I'd be ready to submit my final plan.

Although Celebration has a reputation as a strict place where home alterations are rarely allowed, it's no more restrictive than any other planned community. The trick is to draw up detailed plans that stay within the guidelines. There are sample documents for common requests such as hot tubs or fences; all you need to do is follow the example, substituting your own specifics.

While a spool sounded nice, I didn't relish the idea of having my entire backyard dug up. An above ground spa is easier to install and maintain, and "easy" is one of my favorite words in the English language.

I had seen lots of commercials for Thermospa on television. I went to their website to look up a dealer, but they wanted me to submit a lot of personal information first. That seemed hinky, so I did some research and found that their spas don't have a very good reputation. While some people like them, the majority reported a litany of problems, from leaky tubs to electrical issues to non-existent customer service.

A little more research pointed me towards Caldera. It's a high-end brand, and people absolutely rave about it. It has an excellent warranty and offers various models with attractive jet combinations. I visited their website, popped in my zip code, and discovered that the nearest dealer is Rec Warehouse in Orlando.

On Saturday afternoon, my husband and I braved the summer tourist traffic to head out to East Colonial Drive. We have a phobia of taking I-4 (also known as Florida's biggest parking lot) anywhere, so we took 417 to the airport, cut through to the North Exit, and took Semoran Blvd. to Colonial drive. It added a few miles, but 417 almost always moves fast and steady. The stop and go traffic on Semoran was annoying, but nothing compared to I-4 at its worst.

Rec Warehouse was easy to find, and they had a large showroom with various pool and hot tub models, ranging from tiny little two-person spas to vast spans of water that would hold half the population of Celebration. We focused on the four to six person models, figuring that it would be nice to have enough room for company. We often join our neighbors on someone's front porch for impromptu get-togethers. Once the spa is installed, a "group soak" will be a nice alternative.

They carry both Caldera and Leisure Bay, their house brand. First, the salesman showed us the Caldera models. I had done a lot of research on their website, but it was so much better to see them in person and be able to climb in. We gravitated towards the Geneva, a six person model with a therapy lounger and very cool LED "mood lights," as well as an attractively long warranty. Later internet research revealed that it's Caldera's most popular model; I found dozens of testimonials from happy Generva owners. At seven and a half feet square, it would fit into our limited space, although I don't think there would be room for any decking.

Next, we checked out the Leisure Bay models, which were right within the same price range. Our favorite of those was the Flores, but it didn't have a lounger. However, it was deeper and a little larger, and it had a built in stereo system, as well as an even longer warranty. We climbed into that one, but to me the seats weren't quite as comfortable as the Geneva.

I jotted all my notes into brochures provided by the salesman. I also got an extra copy to submit to ARC with my proposal. That way, they could see measurements but also get a visual on what the tub would actually look like.

When my husband and I returned home, we measured our yard once again to make sure that the spa would fit. It would be a cruel trick of fate to have the deliverymen arrive, only to discover that it can't be wedged in around the air conditioner and porch. But no, the measures were I need to find someone who can pour the concrete so I'll be ready when I get ARC approval, not to mention an electrician who can wire in the appropriate voltage. We've going to need some sort of fencing, too, although our hedges already surround most of the area.

Now that we're getting the specifics together, I can almost feel the warm caress of the water and the tickle of bubbles rising up all around me as though I'm immersed in a giant glass of heated champagne. On our bare lawn, I can envision the redwood-clad tub, softly lit with a continously changing spectrum of rainbow color.

This weekend, I'll be finalizing my proposal so I can drop it off at the next ARC meeting. Then comes the biggest challenge: lining up the workmen to take care of creating the patio and handling the wiring. Then, the moment we get a "yes," the plans will be set in motion. I love Duloc Manor, but the lack of a whirlpool has been a constant annoyance. When we get our spa, it will finally live up to its namesake song in "Shrek" completely:

"Duloc (Manor) is the perfect place."

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