So I’m just going to let you know right now I left my phone in the locker and did not take a single picture while inside. If you want pictures, and reviews from more patrons, check out King Spa Fitness on Yelp.
Now, because my visit was uninterrupted by technology, I will be able to tell you about the experience with even more perceived accuracy and credibility. That’s totally how it works, right?
About King Spa Fitness
The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. King, as I’ll refer to it going forward, is a Korean-style spa, sauna and fitness center. Members have access to a gym and several other amenities. I’m not a member, but I can still tell you about what brings people by the multitudes to King– their saunas.
King is located on a busy and industrial-looking area of Palisades Park, NJ, where there is a very high Asian population. The facility is open 24-hours, though recently they changed their admitting rules slightly. No one is permitted to enter between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. However, arrive at 4 a.m. or 7 a.m. and you’re good to go.
The sort of trippy thing about King is that your single Groupon ticket (there is no reason at all to buy admission at full price) is good for 24 hours from check-in. You can literally spend the whole day there. If you do, because there is food, water, baths and even sleeping accommodations on premises, you really could treat this place like a hotel for the weekend.
So drop your car at the grumpy free valet (minus tip) or ride the shuttle from Manhattan and check your pants at the door!
The Locker Room
Locker rooms are segregated by sex– male and female. However, the rest of the facility is co-ed. Unless you’re looking to spend your day soaking in the hot tub, cool pool or steam sauna (you’re really here for the specialty saunas), you won’t be spending a whole lot of time here, even if you are getting a treatment.
Know why they’re segregated by sex? Because the locker rooms and shower area are completely clothing optional!
In fact, it’s actually clothing-discouraged.
And whichever locker room you’re in, you should totally take advantage of it. No one stares at you. At check-in you’ve left an ID or credit card in exchange for a bracelet with your locker number on it with a key attached. Grab a jelly roll of towels and lounge wear, follow the signs and ditch your shoes in the shoe cubbies (or bag and stuff them in your locker). Once in the locker room you may get an eyeful (I didn’t at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday), but push through. No underwear!
Wrap yourself in a towel or don those scrub-like lounge clothes and proceed to the showers.
Here are those hot tubs, rows of squatting Asian-style showers, and a few standing showers. Maybe you’ll be scrubbing down right next to someone, using the provided soaps (communal bar soap–ugh!), shampoo and conditioner (which smell amazing.). Please do wash and scrub up. The saunas don’t smell like B.O. and the vigorous scrubbing and soaping performed by King’s regular patrons probably has a hand in that. I mean, this place is immaculate.
Here is also where you get the body scrubs and wet massages done by bikini-clad middle aged Korean women (at least in the women’s locker room). Read about my body scrub experience here.
This is what you came for. Six floors of glorious, varied saunas. Each sauna accommodates six to 10 people at a time, and patrons enter and exit at will. I went inside all but perhaps one, but I won’t give you the blow by blow of each. Rather, I’ll highlight some of the ones which stood out the most.
I’ll cut to the chase; the crowning glory of King is its Bulhanjeungmak, a oak wood sauna heated to almost 400 degrees Fahrenheit which has been used by Koreans for 500 years to treat various ailments. It’s so hot in this little dome-shaped sweat box that you have to cover yourself with burlap and are instructed to spend five minutes tops inside. Seriously, it gets really hot.
There’s even eggs sold in the restaurant area which are cooked using the heat from this sauna.
The sauna itself, even from the outside, has a different feel than the rest. There’s a rope tied to the door handle and an attendant, who pulls the rope whenever someone is making their way out. My guess is it’s really easy to be overcome by the heat.
Strange enough, when you’re inside you don’t realize how much you’re sweating until you touch your skin. In the few short moments I was inside, seated on a burlap mat with my t-shirt shielding my nose, I had developed a complete slick sweat all over my body. It was damn hot, but not unbearable.
In speaking to some other patrons of the Bulhanjeungmak, they said they came to King exclusively for this sauna. Afterward, we accompanied these veterans sweaters into the ice sauna.
It is as good as it sounds, especially after a dip inside that fiery hell. The ice sauna is a tiny walk-in freezer, with carpeted wood floors and wood stumps for seats. It’s the first photo on the spa’s Groupon page. Don’t touch the walls. After being inside the Bulhanjeungmak, the eight of us were warm enough to cause the ice to melt and drip from the freezer coils in the ceiling and walls.
Another favorite of mine, though I really don’t have much to say about it, was the mineral salt sauna. I’m a fan of halotherapy, so I enjoyed the opportunity to try a heated version of it. However, the salt is not converted into a mist. It’s simply heated inside the dome-shaped sauna and makes for really nice decor.
There’s a little explanation of each sauna outside the door, so you always know what you’re getting into. When it doubt, ask a fellow patron or just follow suit. They were all so friendly on my visit, more so than the staff.
After a long morning of sweating and re-hydrating via the plentiful water coolers located outside each group of saunas, it was time for some food. I ordered bibimbap, a popular Korean dish of various vegetables and in this case meat, served over rice. It came with several small dishes like tiny dried fish, a clear soup and kimchi as well.
My companion ordered a papaya juice, which was blended from fresh papayas right before our eyes.
Also, I grabbed a bowl of sauna hard-boiled eggs (three for $2) because what good is our visit if I passed that up? Their white shells were speckled with what was either ash or sap, and inside the golden brown egg and yellow yolk has almost taken on a cake-like flavor. It was almost like eating a pastry and I can’t even explain it. Really a must-try.
Needless to say, it was a ton of food.
I didn’t take a nap in any of the several rooms of comfy-looking reclining chairs scattered around the facility in dark rooms, but they sure looked inviting. I also didn’t take advantage of the PCs, tabletop games or the juice bar, which gives one free juice with admission Mon.-Thurs. between certain hours. Even though I didn’t maximize my experience by trying literally everything available, it was nice to know everything was there, and clean, if I wanted it.
I glossed over a lot of details of my four-hour trip to King, like my farewell shower, the man who was snoring inside the gold pyramid sauna and the way the infrared foot “bath” made my feet warm and tingly. Part of that is because a play by play of the entire day would take up way too much time and it would kill the will to explore. So if you’re in the northern New Jersey area and in the mood for a little of the cultural diversity the state has to offer, buy yourself a Groupon day pass to King, make a day of it and detox!
I know I felt great after!
Saunas have been used by many cultures for hundreds of years, each with their own spin. What’s your favorite kind? More importantly- where can we try it?