Pros: Good size for 2 or 3 people, very relaxing, basic but suits our needs.
Cons: Not happy with support from dealer, don't like spa chemicals included with package.
Those are the words you can hear coming from the mouth of me or my husband at least once a week for the last year since we bought our Bengal spa.
I've always wanted a spa and tried to talk my husband into one for years but he wouldn't bite. So I gave up on that after a few years and started working on him to get a pool installed instead due to the hot summers here but he wouldn't bite on that either. One day I actually got him to look at pools and I was close to getting him to agree when he turned to me and said let's get a spa instead. So I grabbed him by the hand and dragged him off to the Hot Springs spas dealer.
We had always heard good things about Hot Springs spas so we were pretty sure that's where we wanted to purchase. We looked at all of the models at the dealer and decided on the Bengal spa from Tiger River spas which is a division of Hot Springs. We decided on this spa for several reasons:
We were looking for a spa at a fair price with some features but not loaded with options. The spa is used mostly by my husband and I and weve only had others with us in the spa twice because Im really picky about cleanliness. The Bengal has good features but not a lot of bells and whistles like a radio, TV, ozonator, deep cupholders, upgraded lighting, or moto-massage jets. The Bengal met all of our basic needs.
This spa is approximately 7'x 7' in size and is designed for 5 people. There is a door panel on one side that comes off by removing 4 screws and allows access to the heater and heater reset button and plumbing elements. There are basic seats with hydro-massage back jets on three of the sides. Along one whole side is a lounger. In one corner is a deeper seat that has a string of jets that massage the back and neck. The lounger is pretty cool but not as comfortable as I thought it would be as I tend to float right out of it when the jets are on and when theyre off I feel like Im drowning. But Im quite short so thats why. My husband is taller and he has no issue with it at all. Its his favorite spot in the tub. My favorite spot is the corner seat with the 12 back and neck jets. The spa is designed for 5 people, however it is most comfortable with 4 or less people if its mixed company. Once we had me, my husband, and another couple in the tub and there was a little too much accidental foot touching for the guys. Ive been in the tub with 3 of my gal pals and we were fine.
The Bengal comes in the following colors: azurite, which is a deep, ocean blue, sand, which is self-explanatory, and silver pearl which is a metallic grey like a black pearl. We chose azurite because it looked really good filled with water. I thought that the other colors looked a little flat but the azurite color is very inviting. The spas are enclosed in a synthetic wood cabinet called SureWood. It looks like real redwood but is very low maintenance and has not faded from the sun or become discolored in any way. It wont crack or peel and is covered by a 3-year limited warranty. The cabinet still looks great after 3 years of brutal Michigan winters and summers. Ive seen spas with real redwood or cedar cabinets that are unsightly and cannot be cleaned to improve their appearance so its nice to not have to worry about that.
The Bengal comes with the following types of jets: 1 JetStream Jet which is in the foot section of the lounger, 3 Rotary Hydromassage Jets which are in the backrest section the lounger, 5 Directional Hydromassage Jets which are in the other seats, 18 Directional Precision Jets, 12 of which are in the corner seat and the others in the footwell. The SmartJet system lets you divert water to different combinations of jets and fine tune the feel of your hydromassage with the simple turn of a lever.
Control System, Heater, and Jet Pump
The Bengal spa operates on 115v with a GFCI protected power cord so there is no need for hard wiring an electrical hook-up, however you can run them on a 230v dedicated line as well which is what we decided to do. My cousin is an electrician and was able to set up a dedicated line outside the house for the spa. The Control panel is easy to use. With the touch of a button you can raise or lower the water temperature, turn the light on and off or dim it, and turn the jets on and off. Heating and filtration are automatic so you dont have to control or monitor those. There are added security features that allow you to lock in the desired temperature so others cannot change them.
The Bengal comes equipped with a basic blue LED light that can be dimmed. There are optional lighting packages available that allow for multiple colored lights as well as exterior lighting.
The Bengal came with a custom fit, fully-insulated thermal cover has an exclusive that creates a tight seal, trapping heat inside. It folds in half like a taco for easier removal. The cover comes with child-resistant safety locks is made of the highest quality, marine-grade vinyl and is tapered for water runoff. I like the locks for when we go on vacation so unwelcome people cant get into it and use it. There has been recent vandalism to spas in our neighborhood where people have filled them with dishsoap so it's nice to have the locking mechanism.
I mentioned above that the cover folds for easier removal. This by no means implies that the cover is easy to remove or replace. Well, actually removing it isnt that hard, but for one person to put it back on the spa after use would be really, really hard unless they are the Hulk. Therefore we purchased a cover lifter which assists with removal and replacement of the cover. There are a few models of varying cost. We cheaped out and got the basic model for $100. The lifter is made of aluminum poles that are shaped like a square with one side missing. The two vertical poles attach to 10 chains that attach to the sides of the spa with bolts. Then you just fold the cover over the horizontal bar and slide it back. The result is that the cover hangs alongside the spa and rests on the horizontal bar of the lifter. To replace it, just do the opposite.
Cleaning and maintenance
Cleaning is easy. I just drain the spa by removing the cap that closes off the drain tube, clean the shell and hose it out, and refill it. While the spa is draining I remove the filter and spray it with filter cleaner. After a half hour I hose the cleaner off thoroughly and replace it in the spa. The filter is very easy to remove and clean. I just remove the cap that holds it in place, reach down, and pull it out.
The only thing I dont like about cleaning is that the headrests are really hard to re-attach. I take them off and scrub them when I clean the tub and theyre hard to snap back on.
I totally empty, clean, and refill the spa every three months or so. I refill it with cold water from the hose and usually set it to about 102 in the winter. The heater heats the 330 gallons of water fairly quickly. I usually have it filled up by about 7pm and when I wake up the next morning its up to 102 degrees already. The spa seems fairly energy efficient. I have not noticed a huge increase in the electric bill since we installed the spa. It costs less than a dollar a day to run it. I test the tub weekly and add chemicals as needed depending on the results of the test strip. If there are a lot of people in the tub I usually throw a few tablespoons of spa shock in after we get out and let the jets run for a half hour or so before closing the cover.
The dealer was not helpful at all. They were really helpful, friendly and nice when we were buying the spa, but their tune changed after we had already purchased it and had it installed.
The first issue we had was with delivery. The day the spa was delivered, the delivery men cracked a large piece of wood off of the new deck that we had built for the spa. My husband called the dealer to tell them about it and to ask them to fix the damage. When they refused, I called them and told them that I would have the damage fixed but I wanted a set of stairs and some accessories to compensate for the damage. They obliged and sent over a double step that matches the redwood finish as well as a thermometer, floating radio, and a rubber duck. I was happy with that result.
A few days later I had a hard time understanding how to use the spa chemicals so I went to the dealer and they were not very patient with me. A complete BaquaSpa kit was included with our purchase and the salesperson became exasperated when I asked him to write down what I needed to do every week and told me to just go home and read the book.
So I read the book and two days later ended up in the hospital with lung issues from inhaling the chemicals as well as a severe rash. I followed the instructions perfectly but had some sort of bad reaction to the BaquaSpa chemicals. We called the dealer and asked for help but they said they couldnt help and to just follow the instructions. We ended up totally draining the tub and refilling it twice with the same bad result. On the third try I went to a pool & spa store where I switched to a bromine system and have not had any problems with breathing or itching.
My husband and I both got really sick the following March and didnt use the spa for nearly three weeks so the spa developed a weird algae problem. When I called the dealer they asked me to bring in a water sample. When I brought the sample in, the Hot Springs dealer claimed that they didnt know how to fix the issue and refused to help on the basis that I had switched to a sanitation system that they do not support. I took my water sample to the same pool & spa store that helped with the chemical issue and they fixed us right up.
Im really happy with the Bengal spa. My husband and I have very stressful jobs so its great to go outside and look up at the stars while sitting in the relaxing water. We take the portable TV out every New Years eve and ring in the new year in the spa and just thoroughly enjoy it all year round. Once a week one of us looks at the other and says ahhhhh what did we ever do before we got this spa? It was a great purchase.
Updated 27-July-2006: Since I last wrote this review, I have had 3 more communications with Hot Spring. Some time in June I noticed that my jets were not flowing as powerfully as they once had so I looked up the phone number for service on Yahoo and scheduled a service call for 2 weeks later. I thought 2 weeks was a bit long to wait but the tub wasn't broken so I wasn't too upset. But the day they were supposed to come to my house they did not and when I called service to find out why, they didn't have my appointment in their books and couldn't send anyone out until the following week. They had a record of my call and my problem but no record of my appointment. I appealed to them in a nice, professional manner but they still wouldn't come out until the following week so I was pretty angry. When they did finally show up, the serviceman was really nice and helpful and it turns out that there was a hornet nest in the air intake tube which he flushed out using our garden hose. This was not covered by the warranty so I had to pay the $95 service fee. He also advised me to tack a small piece of screen over the intake vent to prevent that from occurring again (why they just don't MAKE it that way, I don't know).
While the serviceman was here he noticed that I was having problems with some of my jets. For about a year now I've noticed that some of the jets that spin and are removable sometimes fall out of their place and I have to stick them back in. The serviceman said that those are covered by my warranty and that I should take them back to the dealer and they will swap them out. So I did that the next day and again got the same unhelpful, unfriendly, rude service that I've become accustomed to. The 2 men behind the desk completely ignored me when I walked in and stood at the counter. They ignored me until I interrrupted their conversation about the baseball game and asked to be helped. Their "service" included a lecture about my whole tub seizing up because the buildup on my jets indicated that I'm over using chemicals (I'm not) and then he took a half hour lecturing me about the jets and typing all kinds of info into their system before telling me that the jets would come in the mail in about a week with instructions on how to re-install them. He simply turned away from me and went into the back office when he was finished so I didn't even know he was finished until about 2 minutes later when I walked back there to see if I could leave. That's just really bad service and I won't go there again based on it. I will call the other dealer about 10 miles away to see if the service improves there. The jets did arrive about a week later and they're working fine.
Updated September 2006 Last week the heat in my tub stopped working so I called service on Monday when they re-opened and someone was here within the hour to fix it. Turns out a circuit board had gone bad and melted (so that's what that smell was) onto the heater. The heater was working fine but they replaced it just to be sure and all is working fine now. No charge as it was completely covered under the warranty.