A Guide to Getting Wet in Toronto Hotels by Ninjalicious
A hotel's quality is rated by stars, with the stars traditionally referring to the number and kinds of services offered to guests. The stars in this issue instead refer to the number and kinds of services offered to non-guests. Five-star hotels treat infiltrators like gods, pampering them and allowing full use of their exquisite facilities. Below the five-star level, the quality and quantity of the available amenities decreases.
The Basics of Hotel Exploration
Exploring hotels requires a mixture of stealth and social engineering. Unless one sticks strictly to the unused areas of a hotel, there will be many times when one must interact with other people, including employees.
Hotel employees are a lot like bears: though they'll certainly attack you if you act scared or run from them, under normal circumstances they would really prefer to avoid a confrontation altogether. They know all too well that any sort of conflict with a hotel guest could result in serious punishment, so they're as scared of you as you are of them.
"Can I help you" is the all-purpose hotel-employee phrase, the bland mantra which hotel employees have been trained to repeat in virtually any situation. Subtle differences in intonation can distort this once-friendly phrase to mean anything from "what the hell are you doing here" to "please die." The wisest angle, in my humble opinion, is to always pretend "can I help you" actually means "can I help you," and respond "no, thank you." Don't let hotel employees get away with weakly implying suspicion force them to directly accuse you, and thereby risk their jobs, if they really want a confrontation.
Sometimes hotel recreation areas are supervised by attendants. Like other employees, and also like bears, pool attendants would prefer just to be left alone. Once inside a recreation area, if any attendants seem to be gazing your way, head straight up to them and ask where you should get changed, where you can find the towels, or some similarly direct question. This conveys confidence, and also obviates the need for the attendant to ask if they can help you or to inquire whether or not you are a guest of the hotel.
As well as dealing with the employees themselves, hotel explorers must know how to handle security cameras. First of all, assume you're being watched at all times unless you know for a fact that you are not. It's ACTION as soon as you stroll into the hotel lobby; you should be on performance at all times. If you stay in character during your entire exploration and even engage in mock conversations with your partners, you'll gradually develop mannerisms and minor details that will make your story much more believable should you ever need to tell it. Acting is a more important skill than lying; if you can act out the little things correctly you won't be placed in a situation where you need to lie. And if you ever are in a situation where you need to lie, remember to only lie about why you did something, not about what you did, for chances are security has all your naughty deeds on film.
While you should always keep the cameras in mind, it's better if you don't look at them directly. Security will be more inclined to trust you if they think you're behaving yourself because that's just the kind of person you are. Also, when you enter a hotel, don't immediately hop on the elevator and head directly to the pool. If anyone happens to be monitoring the lobby and the pool area, they're bound to wonder why you didn't stop at your room first. Always take an indirect route.
TWO STAR **
Two star hotels offer relatively little to the urban explorer, except perhaps convenience and ease-of-access. Essentially, these are the hotels to use as back ups when you can't do any better.
Marriot Eaton Centre - 525 Bay St.
|The Marriot Eaton Centre.|
This is a rather low-class establishment, but worth mentioning since it's an easily-accessible getaway right in the heart of downtown. A few cameras survey the pool level.
The Marriott's recreation area is an indoor enclosure on the eighteenth floor of the hotel. The rec centre is the only feature on this uppermost level, so be prepared to head straight to the pool as soon as you get off the elevator. An attendant is stationed at a desk that offers a view of both the elevators and the pool area. Assuming you're appropriately dressed, gaining entrance to the pool is a simple matter of strolling up to the attendant and asking where you should get changed. The changerooms here are adequate: large white towels, individual showers, dry saunas, and lockers with built-in locks. The pool is small and shallow, but the whirlpool is fairly nice.
Town Inn - 620 Church St.
The Town Inn is an old hotel that's seen better days. Sure it has a big, unsupervised indoor pool, and sure it requires no sign in or room key, but really, you deserve someplace classier than this. A place that provides towels, toiletries, and a respectable whirlpool. After all, if all you want is a free and easy-to-access pool you may as well just go to a public pool. We're looking for luxury.
Westin Prince - 900 York Mills Rd.
|The Westin Prince.|
North York's only luxury hotel is a bit of a disappointment in terms of what's available, but at least it's easy to enter. There are some bulky, intimidation-style cameras scattered around the hotel, but for the most part these are only positioned near the hotel's emergency exits, and their observations are probably recorded rather than monitored by live human beings.
The sign-in desk on the pool level is left unmanned and unmonitored, with a sign asking visitors to please sign in and help themselves to one of the soft baby-blue towels provided. The changerooms are a joke. The outdoor pool is a large triangle with a central island, which is actually quite nice, but c'mon, this is Canada. An indoor pool is simply a requirement. The sauna is dry, too large to be cozy, and has a TV that can't be turned off. The whirlpool had the nerve to be out of order when I visited. In reality, The Prince is not a very princely hotel at all.
THREE STAR ***
Three star hotels attempt to be classy, but some small forgotten detail always gives them away and shows them not to be true luxury hotels. Still, three star hotels offer the explorer at least three forms of year-round recreation, and generally provide towels.
Clarion Essex Park - 300 Jarvis St.
|The Clarion Essex Park.|
The Clarion Essex Park really isn't too bad, considering it's just a Clarion. The health club is actually located in a separate building from the hotel, to which the hotel is connected by a skywalk. There are many subtle cameras in and around the health club, but no staff members. Don't be scared away by the keycard lock on the door to the health club: the green light means the door is unlocked and you can walk right in.
The Essex Park earns its three stars more from the quantity of its amenities than from their quality. The health club offers an exercise room, a billiards room, a squash court, an indoor swimming pool with sundeck, a whirlpool, a sauna and even a steam room. Both the sauna and the steam room are co-ed facilities that offer a fair bit of privacy, a definite rarity in Toronto. Unfortunately, the bourgeois changerooms lack towels, toiletries and other essentials of civilized human life.
Metropolitan Chestnut Park - 108 Chestnut St.
|The Metropolitan Chestnut Park.|
The Metropolitan Hotel is delightful but tricky. Most of the hotel is relatively camera free, but the pool deck itself is supervised by two bulky cameras.
Getting into the Metropolitan's mezzanine-level recreation area is a bit of a trick, as the door is quite insistent in its demands for a cardkey. A mercy knock on the door might attract the pity of someone in the fitness area, but personally I got in through the tried and true method of tailing a couple of pool-bound folks and entering on their coattails. No attendant was present (at 10 p.m.), and there were towels-aplenty on some shelves on the pool deck.
The changerooms feature rather unimpressive dry saunas, but the pool itself is long and nice, and the whirlpool is deep and boiling hot. The pool area here is also quite easy on the eye.
Novotel - 45 The Esplanade
I'm not quite sure if it qualifies as a luxury hotel or not, but the Novotel (located in that odd Esplanade area just east of Union Station) does offer a fairly luxurious health centre, which is quite accessible and unsupervised except for one camera overlooking the pool.
It seems that guests are meant to access the Novotel health centre through the locked door on the sixth floor, which requires a punchcode. The main part of the health centre is located on the sixth floor; from there, one must take a flight of stairs up two floors to access the whirlpool and the pool. And it is here, on the eighth floor, that one finds the unlocked entrance to the health centre. Simply walk across the unattended pool deck, ignoring the security camera, and take the stairs down two flights to the main part of the health centre. The sixth-floor portion of the health centre features decent changerooms stocked with fluffy white towels, dry saunas and a fully equipped exercise room with a view of the Toronto harbour. Once changed, return to the eighth floor and enjoy the extremely hot and foamy whirlpool, and the refreshing waters of the large indoor pool. (Incidentally, Novotel seems to be one of only two hotels in Toronto that allows guests to dive into its pool, the Westin Harbour Castle being the other.)
SkyDome Hotel - 1 Blue Jays Way
|The Skydome Hotel.|
The SkyDome stadium has massive security, so when I checked out the SkyDome hotel I had very little hope of actually getting in. I just figured I'd go there so I could write down exactly why it was impossible to get in. I was completely wrong, as the SkyDome hotel's recreation centre could hardly be less supervised or easier to enter.
The SkyDome Hotel is accessed through Gate 15 of the SkyDome itself. From the lobby, take the elevator down to the health club/play area. Strangely enough, the pool changerooms are accessed through the children's play area. If an attendant is on duty, smile and ask where you should get changed. If not, just help yourself to one of the canary-yellow towels and head into the changerooms. The high-ceilinged pool area is very large and impressive, even if the pool isn't all that deep, and the sauna and whirlpool make for additional nice touches to the SkyDome Hotel experience. Hotel guests are also allowed to make use of the adjacent Curzons fitness centre, but a suspicious desk clerk may turn away explorers.
Toronto Colony - 89 Chestnut St.
The Colony is definitely on the lower end of the luxury hotel spectrum, but it's good enough for our purposes. There are relatively few security cameras throughout the hotel, and none at all around the fourth-floor recreation areas.
The Colony is one of those very special hotels with multiple pools, one indoor and one outdoor. The two pools share a common indoor changeroom that cannot be accessed without passing a sign-in desk. If the sign-in desk is unattended, visitors can help themselves to towels (the fluffiness of which leaves much to be desired) and take free use of the changerooms, fitness centre, whirlpool, indoor pool and outdoor pool.
When the sign-in desk is attended, the infiltrating process requires a little more cunning, as one must deposit one's room key with the attendant to gain access to the changerooms or any of the indoor attractions. It is possible to get to the outdoor pool without passing the sign-in desk, but no changerooms are provided. So, scurry up to the upper levels of the hotel, snatch a couple of big white room towels off a cleaning cart, change in some public washrooms and then stroll out onto the deck of the outdoor pool to go for a dip. Hotel towels and wetness are very powerful credibility props. The person at the sign-in desk obviously isn't going to bother asking guests to sign in if they're already soaking wet and equipped with hotel towels.
FOUR STAR ****
Four star hotels are true luxury hotels. Though generally kept locked up and/or supervised, their recreation centres are always worth the effort. Four-star hotels go out of their way to pamper the urban explorer, providing many forms of year-round recreation, big fluffy towels, and usually even some light snacks.
Crowne Plaza - 225 Front St. W.
The Crowne Plaza is quite well secured, but also quite rewarding. The hotel is monitored by several cameras in the lobby areas and the elevators, and one in the pool area.
The glass doors to the pool require a cardkey. An attendant sits at a desk on the other side of the doors with a clear view of the hallway leading from the elevators to the pool. There are no back entrances, no way to stand and wait for other guests to let you in, no point in mercy knocking and very little chance of bluffing one's way in. The key, then, is to follow someone else in without waiting in the hallway between the elevators and the pool doors. This little trick is accomplished by standing and waiting down an adjacent corridor with no view of either the elevator or the pool. Listen carefully, and when you hear the elevator bell ding, begin casually strolling towards the pool doors, timing your steps so you'll arrive immediately after the people who just got off the elevator.
Once through the doors, the changerooms/saunas are immediately on your left. The pool area of the Crowne Plaza is quite impressive, featuring high ceilings and a view of the city through a large glass wall. The whirlpool is pleasant, and the main pool is very long and quite deep. There is also an exercise room.
Royal York - 100 Front St. W.
Back in Infiltration 1, I wrote that I'd never felt brave enough to try and pass myself off as a guest and use the Royal York's health club. Well, I've gotten nervier, and I'm pleased to report that the health club is indeed accessible, with a little effort. Both the entrance to the club and the club itself are under surveillance, so be on your best behaviour.
Immediately upon entering the Royal York's health club, visitors are greeted by an attendant and invited to sign in. The attendant sits beside a computer, on which she can no doubt confirm that each guest's name truly matches his or her room number, so inventing a name and room number is probably a bad idea. A better angle is to ask if you can just look around and then never bother coming back, on the theory that the attendant won't remember you, or at least won't bother calling security to check up on what is probably just an absent-minded guest. This worked for my associate Sean and I one busy night.
The Royal York health club isn't everything I'd built it up to be in my fantasies, but it is quite ritzy. It features a wading pool, a large swimming pool, a whirlpool, a large exercise room filled with treadmills, segregated saunas and steam rooms, fluffy blue towels, and a wide variety of facial creams and sprays in the changerooms. Not too shabby.
Sheraton Centre - 123 Queen St. W.
Woowee, quite a challenge. It takes a fair amount of planning to get into all the Sheraton's health club facilities without arousing any suspicion. Though unmonitored by cameras, the main pool area is monitored by no less than three attendants who may make occasional trips to the changeroom area, and it takes a modest amount of skill to fool all the attendants as well as all the other bathers.
The Sheraton's pool is located on the third floor of the hotel's main tower. The pool is supposed to be accessed through the changerooms, which are located off the third floor's main hallway. Unfortunately, the door to the changeroom area cannot be opened without a keycard. Then, once inside the changeroom area, the doors to the male and female changerooms cannot be accessed without a further swipe of the keycard. This setup makes it impossible to simply mercy-knock on the door to the changerooms and pretend you left your keycard up in your room.
Since it's basically impossible to enter the pool through the changerooms, you'll need to change somewhere else instead (the men's washrooms at the other end of the hallway have lockers), and then enter through the unlocked exercise room. Ignore any funny looks and walk straight through the exercise room out onto the pool deck. Once in the pool area, sign out towels from the attendants using a realistic room number, then enjoy all the wet, wondrous fun of the enormous indoor/outdoor pool and the large whirlpool. When you're done swimming and ready for the saunas and showers, head back to the changeroom area and knock on the door to the changeroom set aside for people with your variety of genitalia. When someone opens the door and eyes you suspiciously, explain that your partner just took your room key into the other changeroom with him or her. They will smile, and you will sauna.
Sheraton East - 2035 Kennedy Rd.
Admittedly this hotel is located in Scarborough, but it really is worth the trip. The easy-on-the-eye red-brick hotel, long known as the Ramada Renaissance, offers the largest recreation area in town. The recreation area is monitored by a solitary, stationary camera overlooking the pool, but the rest of the hotel is relatively surveillance-free.
At the Sheraton East one has absolutely no choice but to bluff one's way in, as the pool is always supervised by an attendant and there is no way into the changerooms except to get buzzed in by the attendant after signing in. Don't panic about this if you're more accustomed to sneaking than to bluffing. Remember, pool attendants can get in serious trouble if they behave rudely or suspiciously towards a guest, but suffer absolutely no penalty for accidentally admitting a non-guest. Pool attendants have always been trusting and polite with me.
The Sheraton East features respectable changeroom saunas, a very pleasant whirlpool, a wading pool, a large pool with a fountain in the middle, an exercise room, and a small mini-putting green, all under one big tinted-glass sunroof. Not bad for Scarborough.
The Sheraton East also offers visitors a wider variety of fruit than any other hotel in Metropolitan Toronto. We're talking plums, peaches, pears, bananas, and who knows what else. Obviously, hotel managers are slowly clueing in to the fact that fruit = class.
Westin Harbour Castle - 1 Harbour Sq.
The Westin Harbour Castle is just south of Queens Quay station, nestled right up against Lake Ontario. The hotel is relatively unsupervised, though a single camera overlooks the pool area. An attendant is occasionally on duty.
The Westin Harbour Castle requires some sneaking, so before heading for the fifth floor recreation centre acquire a quick disguise by grabbing a towel from a linen closet (located beside the ice machine on each floor and unlocked approximately 50 percent of the time) or off a cleaning cart. Once disguised, head to the fifth floor, but don't bother trying the normal entrance unless you have the good fortune to walk in behind a guest. Instead, make your way out onto the hotel's large sundeck/tennis court/basketball court, and from here travel through the big, unlocked glass door onto the pool deck. You should have no difficulty unless a suspicious attendant happens to be on duty, in which case a little bit of quicktalking ("I'm here with the convention and just wanted to look at the pool") should get you out of there without any problem.
The changerooms aren't immensely classy, but the lockers do have free locks, and both hot saunas and a Suitmate suit dryer are available. The main pool area features a large, sunroof-lit pool that is deep enough to dive in and a lovely whirlpool. A fitness centre is located on the second floor of the recreation centre, which overlooks the pool. The hotel also advertises its steam rooms, but these have been out of order for almost six months now and much to my disappointment I've seen no signs of any repair work being done. It's almost like the hotel management doesn't care about that fifth star.
FIVE STAR *****
These are the best of the best they provide opulence, beauty and comfort, and a wide variety of pleasures. These places get repeat business.
Delta Chelsea - 33 Gerrard St. W.
The Delta Chelsea is a fabulous five-star hotel hidden right in the middle of the city. There is virtually no camera surveillance throughout the hotel, and none at all around any of the recreation areas.
There are actually two separate fitness areas at the Delta Chelsea. The family-oriented Deck 2, located on the second floor of the hotel, has a large heated swimming pool and a whirlpool, but unfortunately it's usually occupied with multitudes of screaming children and screaming parents. There is nothing else to deter one's entry, however. The sign-in desk is usually unattended, and even if a staff member does happen to be around it's a simple matter of making up a name and a realistic room number.
Where the Delta Chelsea really earns its five stars is Deck 27, a large, indoor recreation centre located at the top of the hotel. Deck 27 features a lounge that serves alcohol, so the whole area is restricted to those who look 19 and over. Though there are usually some staff members milling around on this level, the sign-in desk is generally left unattended with a sign instructing visitors to sign in and help themselves to one of the big navy-blue towels.
The entrances to the changerooms from the main hallway are locked and require a room keycard, but unless the attendant is on duty there is nothing stopping one from walking past the sign in desk and entering the changerooms through the unlocked door from the pool deck. And inside the changerooms, it's amentity-mania. The grooming area offers hair dryers, hair gel, and hair spray, as well as several facial condiments. The lockers have free, key-operated locks (the key wristbands make great credibility props). The shower stalls are stocked with liquid soap and baby shampoo. The segregated saunas are small, hot, and cozy. After the sauna, one can cool off with a small white towel stored in the changeroom's mini-fridge.
Deck 27's pool deck area is impressive. Two of the walls are large glass windows that provide an incredible view of the city from 27 storeys up; visitors can also go outside onto the deck for an even better view. The large swimming pool is kept distinctly on the cool side, which makes it very refreshing after a long stay in the sauna or the large whirlpool. Pool tables and treadmills are also available free of charge. And as if all of this wasn't enough, visitors are invited to help themselves to fresh apple and orange segments on their way out. Any hotel that cares enough to not only offer infiltrators a variety of pleasant ways to heat up and cool down, but to then provide them with sliced fruit, has truly earned all five stars.
Hotel Inter-Continental - 220 Bloor St. W.
The Hotel Inter-Continental is very nice and very easy to access. You can safely ignore the dozens of cameras located throughout the hotel, including the two overlooking the recreation area.
The HIC's recreation area is located on the uppermost of the hotel's eight floors. Ignore the proper door to the recreation area, as it requires a cardkey. Instead, journey through the unlocked door out onto the sundeck, and then use the unlocked door between the sundeck and the pool. A camera inside the pool area will supervise your entrance but as long as you don't look particularly suspicious or poor the hotel staff shouldn't care. There is a sign in book, which wisely instructs guests NOT to leave their room number. You can sign the book or ignore it, as there is no attendant on duty. Chances are you'll be the only guest. The recreation area here has been empty every time I've visited, and it's very pleasant to have the whole place to yourself.
The HIC's facilities are impressive; the only feature lacking is a whirlpool. The towels are white, fluffy, and abundant. The pool is shallow, skinny and cold, but it looks very nice. The large exercise room is filled with all sorts of strange machines, as well as a TV, a VCR, and a supply of exercise videos. The changerooms are probably the coziest changerooms in the city, with various beauty supplies, nice individual showers and toilet rooms, and steam saunas. The men's changeroom also features the nicest steam room I've ever visited. The steam here is so thick you can't help but blow patterns into it each time you exhale. If the steam room was any wetter you'd be swimming, and if it was any hotter you'd be screaming in agony. But it isn't, so broil yourself to nirvana.
And hey, grab yourself a big chunk of fruit in the hotel lobby on your way out. You've earned it.
Four Seasons - 21 Avenue Rd.
For pure decadence, no other hotel in the city can touch the Four Seasons. Unfortunately, with opulence comes observation. There is plenty of surveillance here a camera supervising every elevator bank, a camera guarding the entrance to the fitness area, and a pivoting camera sweeping its soulless gaze over the entire pool deck. There's no point in trying to avoid the cameras because it can't be done. In its own way, this overabundance of cameras is a good thing, for the hotel staff operate under the impression that the cameras will keep the unwanted away. In reality, the hotel and all its many treasures are wide open to anyone with enough bravery or acting talent to avoid flinching on camera.
The best tactic to take at the Four Seasons is to stash your backpack somewhere, borrow a hotel towel from a cleaning cart or a supply closet, and then brazenly walk past all the cameras and all the staff straight into the pool changeroom. If you're confident that you know exactly what you're doing, they will be too, and no-one will have a chance to shoot you a second look until you've already changed into your bathing suit and showered. Half-naked wet folk all look equally casual, so there is less chance of appearing out of place. Furthermore, wet people aren't very threatening, so there is a greater chance of simply being dismissed as harmless.
The Four Seasons facilities are absolutely five-star: a large indoor/outdoor pool, a deep whirlpool surrounded by mirrored walls, and segregated steam saunas in the changerooms. The changerooms are luxury itself, providing every variety of head condiment available, as well as fully-stocked individual shower stalls and an automatic shoe polisher. An automatic suit dryer is also provided, and a helpful staff member was even so kind as to offer me a plastic Four Seasons bag in which to carry my wet bathing suit (a wonderful credibility prop to use on my next visit).
Hotels Not Covered
These hotels were playtested but their recreation facilities were found to be either non-existent or unworthy of our readership for one reason or another: Best Western Primrose Hotel, Bond Place Hotel, Cambridge Suites, Days Inn Downtown, Holiday Inn On King, Hotel Plaza II, Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel, King Edward Hotel, Park Plaza Hotel, Radisson Plaza Admiral.
These hotels remained terra incognita at press time: Best Western Roehampton, Camberley Club Hotel, Comfort Hotel Downtown, Hotel Selby, Quality Hotel, Sutton Place Hotel.
This article originally appeared in Infiltration 6, accompanied by further pictures, maps and sidebars, and an
article on a three-day blitz of luxury leeching in Dallas, Texas. Updates on a few of the pools mentioned here appeared in Infiltration 18.