Passion Points: Spa/Wellness
Many modern-day spa goers face the same dilemma: you have a week off and want to dedicate it to personal well-being, but with all the offerings out there—ranging from Spartan boot camps to retreats with wine lists as long as their facial lists and everything in between—you’re not sure which place to choose. And of course, picking the spa that is suited to your expectations and goals is crucial—after all, you’re dealing with your physical and mental state, as well as valuable vacation time.
Here, Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley, who counts among her favorite destination spas Mii Amo and Miraval, shares the top ten things to consider when deciding on a spa trip that will fit your needs.
1/ Set a goal for your visit. The most important consideration before booking your spa escape is figuring out the goal for your trip: Is it to lose weight? Is it to bond with girlfriends or to escape and de-stress with a spouse or significant other? Is to recharge or find emotional or spiritual renewal? Is it to get over a crisis? To prepare for a marathon or indulge in pure pampering? Is it a detox of sorts? Is it to jump-start a fitness routine? Some of these are geared to short-term results and others are geared to longer-term results. The clearer you are about your intentions before you go, the more likely you will be to achieving your purpose.
2/ Choose the location wisely. For many people, the idea of well-being is connected to the great outdoors and taking advantage of surroundings (the foundation of feeling good for them has to do with a dose of fresh air and sunshine). An important part of properties like Mii Amo, the Lake Austin Spa Resort, Calistoga Ranch and the Sanctuary at Camelback (www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com) is their bucoloic setting while spas like the Mayflower Inn in Connecticut, the Greenbrier (www.greenbrier.com) in West Virginia, the Greenhouse (www.thegreenhousespa.net) in Texas and Cal-a-Vie (www.cal-a-vie.com) in California have interiors that are so cosseting that they add a therapeutic kind of cocoon effect. You should also think about how far you’re willing to travel; an airplane trip may add stress that defeats the whole point of going to a spa.
3/ Define your expectations. Do you want a large resort, many of which tend to be places with lots of offerings so you can determine your own program? Or would you prefer a smaller, more regimented and intense experience? Part of this will depend upon whether you are going alone. I happen to cringe at being forced to do anything, but others swear by boot-camp spas, where they are kept to forced exercise schedules and restricted diets; they also find these tightly programmed kinds of spas easier to go to on their own because the rigorous schedules keep them busy and involves group activities. Personally, I need a freedom of choice to relax. Even if I don’t have a glass of wine at dinner, I do want the option on vacation. Or if I opt to take a lot of classes, instead of sleeping in, I prefer it to be my choice.
4/ Understand that your trip will be very different if you go alone, with one person or with a group. If you go with a bunch of girlfriends for a combination bonding/spa trip, you will want to choose a spa with a lot of options, so it will be more likely that everyone in the group will be happy. However, if you are going alone for a more personal, spiritual renewal kind of trip; however, you want to be sure that you get one-on-one time with healers or therapists.
I went with my mother and sisters one year to a spa, and since the main goal was spending time together, we were much more interested in group offerings—as bridesmaids on a getaway would be. We wanted to do group hikes, stretching classes, even side-by-side manicures and pedicures, but not all spas are set up for that. Some spas cater well to couples, such as Mii Amo and the Greenbrier. On the other hand, some are restricted to women-only, like the Mayflower Inn, or generally have women-only weeks, but occasionally have couples’ weeks and men’s weeks such as the Golden Door (www.goldendoor.com).
If you are going to bond with one person (your mother or sister, friend or spouse) you may want to keep mostly to yourselves, so ask about more personalized offerings: Can you eat in your rooms if you want? Can you get a couples massage or suite of treatment rooms for more privacy? If you are going alone, be sure to bring good books, but also take advantage of some of the interactive, but non-intrusive group experiences such as hikes, art or cooking classes, where you can meet others in a casual environment. Meeting people in some group surroundings, like the talking circle at Mii Amo, often involves very personal discussions that may inhibit or encourage friendships.
Depending upon the purpose of your visit, small, dedicated spas like the Ashram or the Golden Door can appeal to people going alone because many of the guests are also traveling solo. On the other hand, if you want to maintain your anonymity, go to a bigger spa like Miraval or Canyon Ranch (www.canyonranch.com), which will allow you to get lost in the crowd.
5/ Settle on a time frame. Many spas such as the Golden Door, the Ashram and Rancho La Puerta (www.rancholapuerta.com) have set weekly schedules, where you must enroll for a whole week. For a lot of people that length of time won’t work. Others like Mii Amo, Miraval and the Mayflower Inn are reserved way in advance, so it’s unlikely that last-minute bookers will be accommodated.
6/ Do your research. I am a big advocate of acquainting yourself with the spa, its programs and staff before you arrive. Part of the experience should be taking an active role in preparing a schedule so you can maximize your time. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a place and learning that the class or treatment you most want to take is fully booked. The more homework you do, the happier you will be. Many of the best spas like the Ashram, the Mayflower Inn, Mii Amo and the Golden Door require that you have a telephone consult after you have reserved. Many also post schedules and questionnaires on line so you can interact with the staff by email.
Ask the spa director what the most popular treatments are and why. Ask friends who have been what they enjoyed the most. Be sure, too, to explain any special circumstances. For example, be frank if you prefer a female masseuse to a male. Mention if you are pregnant, as some spas may have only one masseuse who does pregnancy massages. Also be sure to check whether or not there are minimum class requirements. You may have your heart set on the nutritional cooking class or pool Pilates, tailor your schedule around it and then learn that it’s cancelled if fewer than four people show up. And get in on activities that fill up. You can ask what the cancellation policy is for treatments and activities (in my experience, you can cancel most on relatively short notice, so it’s better to book a lot and have the options).
Finally, be sure to use the other guests you meet in classes or in the lounge areas as resources. Often you find loyalists who have been to the spa many times and know which are the best facialists, instructors etc. and who are spa connoisseurs who can educate you on newer treatments, even which spas they like for what reason.
7/ Get the room you want. To get the best room, booking early helps. Sometimes if you are going with a group of friends it’s worth looking into a spa villa or suites instead of a group of doubles because the suites may have private communal areas or hot tubs (like the cottages at the Calistoga Ranch). It’s also wise to look at a map online or by fax to see how far your room is from the activities and spa area. It may not matter if you are in a warm place and want the exercise, but if you know that you will have to go back and forth to your room often, you may want to request one closer to the spa facilities.
8/ Prepare. If you have a physical goal, be it weight loss or fitness, it’s a good idea to make some pre-spa efforts toward your goal, especially since you will probably be able to push yourself even further at the spa, where you will be immersed in an optimal environment for success. For instance, if you have already restricted your diet a bit and have dropped some easy weight, then the spa diet can help you lose what’s often harder. The same logic applies to fitness. If you have done some pre-training, you will be able to push your physical limits that much further to take advantage of working with well-trained instructors.
9/ Figure out the dress code. Call ahead and ask what the dress code is, as it varies. At some places, like the Lake Austin Spa, you are going to be eating meals in bathrobes, so it’s not worth packing much more than work-out gear. Other spas, like Sanctuary at Camelback in Phoenix, may have restaurants that appeal to a wider audience and where you will want to bring some dressier options to blend in. In some locations you may also want to venture “off campus.”
In terms of work-out clothing, I would bring tried-and-true gear. Many spas have wonderful boutiques where you may find great yoga pants or sweat shirts but brand-new hiking boots are not a good idea. Don’t forget a bathing suit, even if you are not a swimmer or hot tub person. Many spas have great water treatments like watsu for which you will need a suit. Sunglasses, a good hat and sunscreen, for protection, if you are going to be outdoors a lot. A journal can also be a good thing to pack as places of escape can provide wonderful opportunities to put things in perspective and to write down new goals as well as to find time to drop a note to a friend (long-lost or just dear to you). Bring your own music on an Ipod and a book since you may have waiting times in relaxation rooms or if you go alone, for company at meals.
Since laundry service may take twenty-four hours or more, it’s wise to bring more than one sports bra and lots of socks. You can leave jewelry at home because most has to come off for treatments. It’s even a good idea to lock up your watch in the safe when you arrive so that you really submit to being in the spa moment. You may want to bring comfortable slip-on shoes of your own since some spas recycle pretty unattractive slippers. You also want to pack ear plugs, just in case, because there is nothing worse than going to a spa and not sleeping well.
10/ Be smart about the cost. Know before you go what’s included in your package and what’s not. Some spas are all-inclusive; some include a set number of treatments a day and all classes and at others, you pay as you go for everything. Many spas have seasonal packages that offer great savings. For instance, Mii Amo has a few weeks, where it offers its spa program for close to half of the normal cost, as do others.
For advice or information on spa programs and special offers or to book a spa trip, contact our bookings department by calling 212-988-2611 or by sending an inquiry.
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