E-foiling and mobile saunas are other new activities on the outdoor adventure scene
Stuck for staycation ideas? How about “Ireland’s first floating hot tub”?
“It’s a bit mental, all right,” laughs Shane McCormack, who has launched The Hot Tub Boat for tours on Lough Ree.
The 33-foot boat carries a specially fitted hot tub, taking up to six people as they relax in 37-degree water and are serenaded by an in-built sound system.
McCormack, who has spent his life working on boats and is a helm with Lough Ree RNLI Lifeboat Station, says the idea was inspired by hot tubs on super yachts, as well as converted tugboats in the US.
75-minute cruises departing from Coosan Point start from €180 (or €30pp, based on six sharing), with 90-minute cruises also available from Hodson Bay and Athlone town at €180 (hottuboat.ie).
"It’s actually a business that can keep going throughout the year,” he says of the obvious question – how the Hot Tub Boat handles the Irish weather.
A covering is mounted over the tub, and sailings are in sheltered areas on Lough Ree, such as the inner lakes.
“The wind is the only thing that I’d be worried about,” he says.
Guests must be 16 or older (under 18s must be accompanied by an adult), and need only bring swimwear and towels, though they can also bring their own drinks.
Hot tub boat tours exist in cities like London and New York, though the idea is novel in Ireland and proving popular with small hen parties, McCormack says, as well as a mix of locals and tourists from Ireland and overseas.
Due to inflation, the running costs of his business have gone up “at least 20pc” since he first set his prices, he adds, but he has decided to not to pass that on for now.
“Because I am a start up, I have to go with it to try and keep it as cost-effective as possible," he says.
While a hot tub boat may be a first, Ireland’s al fresco activities have been getting more colourful as businesses and holidaymakers embrace the outdoors.
The pandemic saw a boom in walking, cycling and outdoor eating, but new developments also include al fresco spa baths at luxury hotels like The Ice House in Co Mayo, Cashel Palace in Co Tipperary, and Wineport Lodge in Co Westmeath.
The Cliff House Hotel in Co Waterford has introduced sea swimming packages, while the Barrow Princess is a new service offering scenic cruises from New Ross and Waterford (barrowprincess.ie; from €20/10pp).
Stand Up Paddle Boarding, kayaking, coasteering and surfing were popular before Covid, but are being joined by a new wave of activities like mobile saunas, beach yoga and e-foiling.
The latter is a new experience offered by the Strangford Lough Activity Centre (below), and described as “like riding a magic carpet or hoverboard”.
"You don’t have to be a pro-surfer to enjoy the activity,” says Rory Martin, whose centre now has four Lift E-Foils.
E-foiling involves electric-powered surfboards on a hydrofoil wing which lifts almost a metre out of the water, with a lithium-Ion rechargeable battery allowing a “flying time” of two hours.
"With some flexibility, most people can get up on the board on their first session,” Martin says.
Speeds can reach up to 48kmh, and prices range from £140/€164pp based on four sharing, to £200/€243pp for a solo session.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, we expect the demand for newfound water sports to continue,” he adds.