By Heather Baker
When it comes to scheduling a trip to fill our spring break related travels, some of us like to make it a hot one. And for good reason. We’ve just endured the unpredictability that is winter in Arkansas, where the temperatures flux from frosted-car-chills to sweating-through-sweater swelters. But what if I told you that your travels did not have to exceed long distances to cure your body of the winter chill? A perfect spring break destination is right around the corner, well within our borders.
Hot Springs, aptly named for the natural (and artificial) boiling baths that have made it a tourist destination for centuries, is one of the perfect places to plan a spring break getaway. My family and I recently packed up our Jeep and set sight on the city’s beckoning bathhouses. What we experienced became so much more than just a relaxing, warm-water soak.
When we first arrived in Hot Springs, we headed straight to Oaklawn. Since it was opening weekend, it was jam-packed with people, most of whom filled room-wrapping waiting lines, eager to get a bite of the famous corned beef sandwiches. I actually got to go behind-the-scenes and experience the prep work of shaving the corned beef myself, which was quite a treat. (Although, not near as good of a treat as actually eating it.)
After we figured out where the (corned) beef was, my husband, Joel, and I purchased a pair of racing books and strolled over to the stalls to check out the horses and the jockeys, determined to get a leg up on which ones looked the best.
Satisfied, we walked around a little more, saw some friends (because you always see someone you know at Oaklawn), grabbed a beer and saddled up in a box to watch the races.
Our friends were kind enough to share their tips and tricks of the horse-betting trade since I’m a beginner and didn’t quite have that jive down yet. Words and phrases like trifecta, exacta, place, show and superfecta were all lobbed my way. Maybe I understood them. Ever the competitor, I at least acted as if I did.
Either way, my bet hit it big on one of the races, but I actually bet against myself on the other bet, which counteracted my winning bet. But it all ended up in the black. We had a great time.
Before leaving Oaklawn, we would have been remiss to not try our luck at the on-site casino. Feeling myself, I plugged a crisp $20 bill into one of the slot machines. On the first spin, nothing. A second spin, still nothing. But on the third try, I hit and won $110. So, I said, “Bing. Checkout.” We left with a little more in our pocket than we started, which is always the goal.
We then left the racing casino resort and headed to another resort-like destination — our room and board for the trip, The Waters.
The Waters is a boutique-style hotel with beautiful, one-of-a-kind rooms and an even better location, which is right in the middle of Central Avenue. The hotel features a spectacular look that you have to see for yourself with a clean and elegant color scheme of black and white and the sleek theme of marble. The large windows of our room overlooked Central Avenue and bathhouse row. (And the bathrooms are a really good size, which gives The Waters another glowing checkmark in my book. Girls got to glam.)
After cleaning up, we stepped outside and took a stroll down the avenue, a great tourist experience in-and-of-itself. Right next to The Waters is the famous and storied bar the Ohio Club, where Babe Ruth and Al Capone were once frequenters. A couple of blocks farther down is Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe, which occupies one of the first new buildings that has been added to the Hot Springs historic district in a very long time. I treated myself to the banana pie cupcake, and it was absolutely divine.
Next on our list of Central Avenue destinations was one to quench our spirited thirsts — Superior Bathhouse Brewery. My husband and I tried a flight of the brewery’s signature beers which was perfect for our dueling taste buds; Joel likes the darker, heavier beers, and I usually have a preference for the lighter side of the spectrum.
Spirits stirred, we walked back to our hotel to visit its new rooftop bar. From its vantage point, we could literally see from one side of the city to the other. But what made it even better were the drinks. I ordered a jack with Jack — apple juice with Jack Daniel’s apple bourbon. Joel’s old soul ordered accordingly, an old fashioned, but with a twist — they put flame to the orange peel to give it a unique and signature taste.
After taking the city in from such great heights, we stepped back inside The Waters to eat at the on-site restaurant, The Avenue. We ordered the dumplings for our appetizer, and I had scallops for my entree. Joel is a meat-and-potatoes guy, so he surprised no one by ordering steak and potatoes. Great food, cute location, even better atmosphere.
What many people may not think about when pondering a trip to Hot Springs, between immediate thoughts of pony races and spas, is that the city also has nightly shows. After dinner, we journeyed over to the Malco Theater (also on Central Avenue) to watch Maxwell Blade’s Theatre of Magic and Comedy show. It was a really interesting and fun, family-friendly magic show with card tricks, floating tables, cage tricks and more.
The next morning, we were ready to relax and unwind. Fortunately for us, Hot Springs offers a number of different ways for us to do so.
First, we took a cruise in our Jeep through Hot Springs National Park, enjoying all the sights and aromas of nature — which always puts us outdoor lovers in a good mood.
After absorbing all the glories of the environmental landscape, I was ready to experience first-hand the meaning behind the moniker, “Spa City.” It was (finally) time to get pampered.
For this, we trekked back to Central Avenue (it’s a theme — there is so much to do just on that street) to the Arlington Hotel Resort and Spa for our indulgences. We ordered a bath package and a spa package, and both were worth every penny.
First, I sat in a whirlpool bath filled with eucalyptus and was able to just stop for a few brief moments to repose — not usually something I take the time to do, especially without my phone. Then, a bathhouse professional named Glenda came in and gave me a peaceful, refreshing bath. She washed and rubbed my back, legs and feet while the warm waters cascaded over me. It was transformative.
After the bath, I spent about 10 minutes in an adjoining sauna before moving on to what I called the wrap room, where the staff wraps every part of your body in these hot wraps until you look like a mummy. A very blissful mummy.
Last, and most definitely not least, was the massage. My massage therapist was a lady named Tracy, and she did a wonderful job. It was so relaxing and a much-needed experience for me, one that I did not ever want to end.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hot Springs. There are a whole host of activities that could make a trip to “America’s First Resort” a week-long adventure, or longer. There are three spectacular lakes, each fit for boating and fishing; hiking and mountain biking trails abound, one of which even connects to downtown Hot Springs; the food is some of the best in the entire state with historic flavors from virtually every cuisine style.
If you haven’t made your spring break plans yet, make it a trip to Hot Springs. You’ll save on time and travel, and you won’t give up anything by way of enjoyment and pleasure.