So after months of online research, visiting local vendors, wet-testing, etc. I finally pulled the trigger on a 2019 Caldera Geneva spa and couldn't be happier. I have waited several months to post this because I tend to be dismissive of product reviews that people post with limited trial periods. I'm much more trustful of reviews from people who have owned something for enough time to truly test a product and live with it. My spa research and shopping and decision making is really a topic for a separate post and I want to keep this related to the Freshwater Salt System, which is the 2019 replacement of the previous Ace System by Watkins. To be clear, this is my first hot tub, so I have no experience with the Ace system or any other system. I can only comment on my experience with the new Freshwater Salt System. The primary reason for posting this is that in my own research, I could find no reviews of the system, presumably because it is new for this year. My research pointed me in the direction of wanting to go with a saltwater spa and the Ace system has been around for several years, so I figured that the Freshwater Salt System was an incremental improvement of the previous system.
I will begin by saying that my initial opinion of the system was lackluster at best. I attribute this to the fact that my vendor, who shall remain anonymous for now, sent a technician to install my spa who was unfamiliar with the Freshwater Salt System. He claimed he had never set one up before. Fortunately, I had done some reading of the manual and stepped through the process with him. He seemed surprised by some of the steps such as adding the salt and reducing the calcium hardness. I learned later, after about 2 months, that we missed a critical first step in the filling of the new spa that made my initial experience frustrating. We failed to shock the spa with superchlorination at the beginning like we should have. Surprisingly, and I blame Watkins for this, this critical step is mentioned in the more detailed ownership manual, but not mentioned in the QuickStart guide that we were relying on for the initial setup. The result of missing this first step is that the Saltwater chlorination failed to produce chlorine at the proper levels.
Frequent water testing showed that my chlorine levels were not keeping up with demand and from the very outset, I started balancing the water manually. I was testing and balancing the water once or twice a day. To exacerbate the condition, since the spa was new, my teenage boys had friends over frequently for hot tub parties, which I'm sure was adversely affecting the water chemistry. After a few weeks the water developed a slight odor on the skin. The spa water itself didn't really smell badly, but if you put your hand in and then smelled your hand it was musty smelling, almost like a mild dirty feet smell. I found myself adding more and more chlorine to keep up with demand. Also, I seemed to have a difficult time balancing the PH and Alkalinity. It was very difficult trying to precisely match up the colors on the test strips.
Suffice it to say that I was somewhat unimpressed with the Freshwater Salt System and wishing I had just gone with a traditional chlorine system with an ozonator or UV sanitation device. But before throwing in the towel, I re-read the owner's manual and decided to give the Freshwater Salt System one more try. I began by draining the spa and refilling with fresh water. I followed all the steps in the manual, including precise salt measurement, replaced the cartridge and performed the critical superchlorination step. That was now over a month ago, and I have barely had to touch the water. The water has stayed in virtually perfect balance. I use the spa almost every night for about 30 minutes. My wife and kids use the spa a couple times a week. I will admit that the bather load has been reduced since the first month or two of spa ownership, but the spa is still used daily. The Freshwater Salt System has kept the water virtually perfect since I drained the tub and started over. There is no musty odor, and the water is crystal clear. I still test the water daily because I'm a bit fanatical about wanting to soak in clean, clear water. My PH levels have been holding very steadily. I have not been dealing with foam and scale like I was previously when the system wasn't functioning properly. I am a very satisfied and happy spa owner.
In conclusion, I am extremely pleased with the function of the Freshwater Salt System. To reiterate, it is critical that all setup steps are followed carefully, especially the initial superchlorination (shock) step in order for proper chlorine production to be established. I'm extremely pleased with my purchase of the Caldera Utopia Series (Geneva model) spa. I would purchase this model again in a heartbeat and I would recommend it to others. It has been a game-changer in our household. It is so relaxing at night before bed and on weekend mornings. It's like living the resort life at home. Depending on the response to this forum post, I will probably create a post that details my spa shopping experience and how I decided to chose this model. I hope that others who are considering the new Freshwater Salt System will find this post helpful. And I hope that others who are already using this system will share their own experience.