East Side’s Secret Getaway

In long winters, a hotel pool is just the thing

April 8, 2020

With spring break approaching, I wanted to write a low budget travel guide, centered on a destination straight out of my life. Any other year, I think most people would find that dull. Why read my thing, when the next article over tells of a week in Italy?  Once again, this spring break took me nowhere exotic, but because of coronavirus, that experience is relatable to a lot more people.

At its core, spring break is an essential respite, a temporary relief from the soul-crushing winters of the Midwest. The people of Wisconsin are capable of putting up with a lot, but after so many cold, gray months, it’s nice just to be reminded of what the sun looks like. By the time March comes around, all I want is to swim in water that doesn’t take a drill to access.

If you live on Madison’s east side, even that low standard doesn’t leave you with many options. Around this time next year, the Madison College pool will be closed forever. The Y is great, but you might end up paying for amenities you don’t really need. If all you want is a room with warm water, a local hotel may actually suit you perfectly.

The Days Inn and Suites off Highway 51 is an unassuming building, but it may be the only hotel on the east side to allow public access to its pool. This practice used to be more commonplace. A pool is an expensive investment, so hotels would let locals pay to use their pool while the guests were away during the day. Over time, most establishments seem to have decided that the pocket change this policy generates pales in comparison to the liabilities, but the Days Inn hasn’t changed.

The old-school aura extends beyond its policies. With its textured concrete floor and wood-clad walls, the pool room looks as if it was ripped straight from the ‘70s. Speaking frankly, I dig it. The colors and materials give off a visual warmth that many hotel pools simply don’t. The room is still a few giant potted plants away from being truly cute, but I find it cozy enough.

There are a couple of modern touches that guests may enjoy. A pair of brightly colored Adirondack chairs sit against one wall, a very 2010’s choice of decor. A similar anachronism can be found at the bottom of the hot tub. What was once probably a simple white bulb illuminating the footwell has been replaced with a color changing LED. The color lighting up the water constantly shifts; the effect is most brilliant when the jacuzzi jets are on, and the light refracts in the foam.

The room is on the small side, even by hotel pool standards. Don’t expect to swim Olympic laps. A sign lists a pool capacity of 22 persons. I’m not sure whether that means the pool itself, or the room. I counted seating for 15. Either way, I think 22 is plenty, though the room is unlikely to ever fill to that number.

I think what surprised me most upon first entering was just how warm the room is. I’m not a person that’s just comfortably warm wherever I go. Especially in pools, I usually have to take some time to adjust to the cold temperature. Here, I had no such problem. I tried the hot tub first, and I actually found the heat a bit uncomfortable. After ten minutes submerged, I could feel myself begin to sweat. Comparatively, the regular pool was refreshing, actually something of a relief.

In the interest of fairness, I should complain about a few things. Starting with the most trivial, the glass could have been cleaner. I found the hotel and pool overall to be quite well kept, but two of the pool room’s walls are windows, and it looked like they hadn’t seen Windex in a long time. For the south window, this wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t really need a better view of Jerry’s Camping World next door. But the evening I visited had a rather beautiful sunset, and I think I could have appreciated it better, were there not so many streaks on the west-facing glass.

On a more practical note, the Days Inn and Suites Madison pool doesn’t offer much for very small children. The shallow end of the main pool is still three feet deep, and kids might get uncomfortably warm if left in the hot tub. If swimming with young kids is a concern, you may wish to stick to the YMCA.

One last gentle criticism: there’s no bathroom dedicated to the pool. The first-floor men’s and women’s bathrooms are right outside the pool room door, and it doesn’t take a room key to go between them, but it’s still an imperfect solution. If you don’t show up dressed in your swimsuit, this is your only option for changing clothes. Some hotels have a bathroom, or at least a changing stall, right in with the pool. It’s a small difference, but it’s so much nicer.

A personal addendum to this point: I accidentally left my wallet in the bathroom when I changed into my swim trunks. Five minutes later, I went back to retrieve it, and all my cash was gone! I can’t hold the hotel responsible for this in any way. I messed up, and that’s the reason my money was lost. Still, if I had been able to change somewhere in the pool room, I would have forgotten my wallet in a place where I would have noticed anyone who could have gone through it. Again, it would be a very minor difference, but just a bit more secure.

I don’t want to end this article on a dour note, as that wouldn’t reflect my experience accurately. Other than my personal mishap, my afternoon swimming was a great time. As I write this, travel restrictions seem to tighten by the minute, but you don’t need to be avoiding a national health crisis to appreciate what this local hotel has to offer. Five dollars to access a warm, cozy, and clean room with a pool and hot tub, year-round? That’s the kind of deal that’s hard to beat. If you’re looking for a midday getaway on Madison’s east side, the Day’s Inn and Suites is worth your time.

For a tour of the Day’s Inn and Suites pool room, check out the latest video on our YouTube channel! I collaborated with former Clarion Broadcasting manager Jessica Pokrandt, who lives in the neighborhood, and first recommended the hotel.

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