I can think of many reasons to visit a spa, including:
• To overhaul the mind/body/spirit.
• To escape stress of the (fill in the blank: economy, marriage,kids, job, relationship).
• To get in shape for the (fill in the blank: wedding, reunion,Oscars, conference, interview).
• To be pampered.
• To indulge in (fill in the blank: yoga, hiking, healthyeating, exercise, beauty treatments, massage).
• To revive, relax, rejuvenate and recover from (fill in theblank: the divorce, an illness, overworking, childbirth, generalindulging).
Whatever the reason, whatever the expectation, you’ll find a spato meet your needs.
According to the International SPA Association report releasedlast month, about 19,900 spas are located in the United States. In2010, U.S. spas counted 338,600 employees, enjoyed about 150million visits, and took in $12.8 billion in revenue (up 4.3percent from 2009).
Germany, where spas are more medically based than in the UnitedStates, claims more than 350 spa towns and more than 1,000 wellnessand beauty hotels — and Germany represents only a tiny fraction ofthe spas in Europe, Asia, Oceania and most points of the globe.
Spa vacations are big business, and the industry is flourishingall over the world, which is both good and bad news.
The good news is that because of competition, spas just keepgetting better, adding programs, perks and special deals to lureclients.
The bad news is that the proliferation of great spas makeschoosing one among the multitude confusing. each spa is unique, andpicking the perfect spa to match your personality and individualneeds is not as easy as one, two, three. but it is as easy as oneto 10.
TEN MOST IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS
1. Type of spa • in industry terms, spas fallinto different categories that include day spas (for use on aday-only basis) and medical spas (operating under licensed medicalprofessionals and integrating spa services with medicaltreatments).
Those wanting to combine a travel and spa experience shouldconcentrate their attention on destination spas (facilitiesoffering accommodations, meals and activities focused on, anddedicated to, wellness and well-being); resort/hotel spas(facilities located within a resort or hotel that offer treatments,sometimes special food, and sometimes dedicated accommodations aspart of the property’s overall amenities); and mineral springs spas(facilities with on-site access to natural mineral water and/orthermal springs offering treatments based on water).
2. Costs • not too many years ago, spas wereconsidered perks for wealthy women. OK, today some still are. TheGolden Door in Escondido, Calif., charges $7,750 for a seven-nightall-inclusive stay. on the other hand, many wonderful spas aregeared toward a variety of budgets. the highly praised Red MountainResort in St. George, Utah, has an all-inclusive-package rate of$230 per night, and the Oaks at Ojai, in Ojai, Calif., often lowersits nightly base rate of $199 with special promotions anddiscounts. Set a budget before doing a spa search and then researchonly the spas that fit your budget.
Consider all aspects when comparing cost. What’s actuallyincluded in the all-inclusive? What are the hidden costs (taxes,services, transfers, activities, single supplement, etc.)? does aspa have a tipping policy? Calculate all costs before comparingspas, because the extras add up quickly.
3. Location • it sort of goes without saying,but think about location when choosing a spa. How much willtransportation costs add to the bill? is the spa isolated,requiring a full vacation day to reach it, or will travel take onlya fraction of your allotted time? How much fun will those outdooractivities be in a desert spa in the middle of summer or mountainspa in a midwinter snowstorm?
4. Personal goals • Make a list of everythingyou want to gain from the spa experience and then researchcarefully to see that the spa has programs and activities to meetyour expectations. Do you want to lose weight? Pick a spa that hasa strong weight-loss program and staff that will help guide theeffort. Do you love massage? Check out the spa’s massage menu. Doyou want the ultimate pampering getaway? Then don’t choose the spathat touts cabins with bunk beds and specializes in survivaltechniques.
5. Perks • I consider alcohol at a spa as aperk but regard coffee a prerequisite. one person’s perk might beanother person’s essential. take nothing for granted. Ask if inaddition to the fitness routines and treatments, the spa offerseducational programs and evening entertainment activities. is therea shop on-site to supply forgotten items? can you use yourcellphone at the spa? can you get a daily newspaper? does the spahave Wi-Fi? does the resort spa offer free access to thesauna/Jacuzzi on day of your visit?
6. Comforts • Figure out your comfort level andask questions to ensure that the spa will deliver. does the spaconsider itself rustic, luxurious or somewhere in between? are thedestination spa’s rooms well-equipped with self-regulated airconditioning or heat? are rooms made for sharing? are bathroomsprivate? What are the nudity policies? Do you have access tocomputers? What is the staff-to-guest ratio? are accommodationspet-friendly?
7. Companions and fellow guests • A spa offersa great way to travel alone, yet meet similarly minded travelersand feel part of a group. most destination spas make it easy forguests to meet and interact. Resort spas are terrific ways forcouples, with only one member interested in spas, to vacation. Hegets golf; she gets hot stone massages.
8. Programs • Seek destination spas that offera variety of programs and use the programs to help satisfy orexpand your interests. are you allowed to set your own schedule atyour own pace, or do you have to follow a preset regimen? What’sthe average age range of the guests? And are there enoughage-appropriate activities to meet your activity level andinterests?
9. Treatments • I love, crave, adore theAyurvedic four-handed massage, but ice plunge soaks leave meutterly cold. Make sure that the spa you are considering offers thetreatments you fancy. And ask about the treatments, their cost andthe time devoted to them. some spas run like a factory, withtreatments so rigidly timed as to be stressful. can you get atreatment of choice at your time of choice, or do the populartreatments tend to be overbooked? Do you have to book treatments inadvance, or can you sign up when you arrive?
10. Staff • Without question, all techniciansshould be licensed professionals, and it helps if the chef isgifted. All staff, from receptionists to massage therapists, shouldwork to make your experience comfortable. A good spa will havequalified people answering all your questions before you book. Onceon site, staff should provide an orientation and/or an initialconsultation to set up a program and help you to maximize yourstay.
SOME SPECIAL SPAS
Thermes De Spa in Spa, Belgium • once upon atime, someone in the village of Spa, in the southern part of theWalloon region of Belgium, noticed healing properties of thethermal springs flowing in the area. Word spread quickly, and bythe 16th century, Spa had established itself as a major healthresort town where European high society and aristocracy traveledfor “water cures.”
Today’s tourists can experience the healing waters of Spa, atThermes de Spa (thermesdespa.com), a super-sleek contemporaryfacility with indoor and outdoor thermal pools and a variety oftherapeutic and beauty treatments and health services.
Thermes de Spa operates as a day spa, where an adult entrancefee — $26 for three hours and $42 for a full day — lets you use thedressing rooms, indoor and outdoor water facilities, resting areasand café. Treatments are individually priced. Guests staying at theRadisson Blu Palace Hotel enjoy special privileges.
Buckstaff in Hot Springs, Ark. • Europe claimsSpa, but the roots of North America’s spa industry reach toArkansas, where Native Americans and early settlers discoveredhealing aspects of water bubbling forth from 47 mountain springsalong the lower slopes of Hot Springs Mountain.
After the 1803 Louisiana purchase, the area grew into afrontier-rough and rudimentary “health town,” and by 1832, thethermal mineral waters were so prized that our governmentofficially set aside the springs and surrounding land as a”reservation,” our nation’s first federally protected naturalresource.
To dip into history and enjoy an old-fashioned water treatment,head to the Buckstaff (buckstaffbaths.com) on the park’s BathhouseRow, where the big beautiful bathhouses, built in Hot Spring’sheyday to accommodate the elite and well-heeled, still stand.Today, the Traditional Bathing Package, which includes a thermalmineral bath, Swedish massage and Loofa mitt scrub, costs $65.
Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa in Sedona,Ariz. • Mii amo, Enchantment Resort’s spa, sits in apueblo-style adobe building at one edge of the 70-acre resortcomplex and is self-contained, with its own pools, shop, treatmentrooms, fitness center, men’s and women’s lounges, a meditationcenter, a café and a bar (it’s amazing how restorative and relaxingprickly pear margaritas can be).
Intimate and luxurious, the Arizona getaway appeals to the spasavvy, the spiritual (its location in the heart of red rock BoyntonCanyon is believed to be a sacred center radiating healing energy)and Hollywood stars (the resort sometimes inserts gift certificatesin Academy Award presenters’ gift baskets).
Guests can stay in one of the resort’s casita-style buildingsand use Mii amo as a day spa by paying a $25 resort fee. Thosewanting to enjoy Mii amo as a destination spa need only book one ofMii amo’s Journey packages (the three-night package starts at$1,990 per person, double occupancy, in low-season), which includesaccommodations in one of 16 guest rooms adjoining the spa building,meals, two daily treatments and all resort and spa activities.
Adler Thermae Spa Resort in Tuscany, Italy •Adler Thermae Spa Resort (adler-thermae.com/en/hotel-adler-thermae)has the feel of both Germany and Italy. the spa is orderly,spotlessly clean and run with medical precision, as in Germany. TheItalians contribute fabulous climate, incredible food and anatmosphere that is happy, charming and pleasure-focused.
Guests can approach the five-acre, 90-room resort spa as theydesire. some seek a medically designed and supervised regimen thatincludes prescribed diets, activities and educational programs.others simply want a wellness-focused vacation in a beautifulsetting complete with great food, a superb wine list and terrificbeauty and health-enhancing treatments.
The property contains its own thermal spring, herb garden andvineyard, all of which not only add to the beauty of the place butalso supply ingredients for medical and beauty treatments (the winetherapy’s Bacchus Ritual is a spirit raiser if there ever wasone).
Daily rate for a room with half board starts at $307, with abase three-night, all-inclusive package listed at $876. Medicalevaluations and programs are priced according to individualneeds.
Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Baja California,Mexico • when Deborah and Edmond Szekely opened theirhealth camp just south of the U.S. border in Tecate, Mexico, in1940, facilities consisted of little more than a dirt-floor hutunder a beautiful mountain and a small garden growing most of thevegetables for meals.
Today, it covers 3,000 acres and is a top runner in lists of”best destination spas in the world.” With a focus on physicalactivity and the outdoors, Rancho La Puerta appeals to women (85percent of the guests) more on a quest to better themselves than tobe pampered in luxury. Guests can choose to stay three, five orseven nights, with lowest summer rate for an all inclusive week(Saturday to Saturday) listed at $2,835 (double occupancy) withoptional treatments costing extra.
Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Ariz. • Today theCanyon Ranch (canyonranch.com) brand covers not only the originaldestination spa that opened in Tucson in 1979, but also afull-destination spa in Lenox, Mass., a “living community spa” andhotel in Miami and several luxury day spas, in Las Vegas and oncruise ships.
I like the Tucson property, which is difficult to fully describebecause it keeps escaping its destination spa pigeonhole. FoundersMel and Enid Zuckerman call it a health resort and vacationdestination dedicated to healthy living. in reality, the propertycan be almost anything a guest’s healthy, wealthy heartdesires.
Spread over 150 acres in the foothills of the Santa CatalinaMountains, the ranch houses up to 240 guests (couples, women whocome solo or in girlfriend groups, assorted celebrities andfamilies) in single-story adobe-style cottages tucked amid flowerand cactus gardens.
Walking paths lead to main buildings, which include an80,000-square-foot spa and fitness complex; the Life EnhancementCenter (a complete spa within the spa); and a medical facilityoffering a variety of services.
To understand the full draw you will have to ante up a baseminimum of $2,340 per person (based on double occupancy in lowestseason) for a four-night “spa sampler,” plus more for extratreatments.