10 Tips To Help You Get Maximum Value from a Spa Vacation

Posted: Sunday, January 01, 2006
Whether you are planning to give, or hoping to receive the gift of a spa getaway this holiday season, there are several things to keep in mind. "People choose a spa vacation for different reasons than they choose other types of holidays," says Anne Dimon, travel/spa journalist and founder/editor of Travel to Wellness.com (http://www.traveltowellness.com). "They want to relax, renew, refresh, rejuvenate and return home feeling reenergized."

More than any other type of vacation, a spa holiday means close human contact. It's a personal, literally "hands on" experience. One that first-timers need to feel comfortable with, and one that meets and exceeds the expectations of seasoned spa-goers. Value, therefore, does not necessarily come with the lowest price. The true value of a spa vacation comes not simply with the treatment but with the total spa experience, and that should begin from the moment you first make contact - be it online or by telephone.

Here are 10 tips to help you get maximum value from a spa vacation:

1. Remember that all spas are not created equal. The term "spa" has become almost generic. It's being used for everything from a two-room facility at the back of a salon, to an expansive 27-room destination spa complete with all-day workshops, lectures and guided fitness classes. Be sure to select a spa that suits your personal tastes, budget, interests and the occasion, be it romantic rendezvous, gal pals getaway, or solo sojourn.

If you are a spa diva but your significant-other prefers manicured greens to the perfect pedicure you'll want to select a spa that suits both your interests.

2. Look for a spa that offers lots of extras. For instance, some offer workout facilities, wet and dry saunas, hot and cold plunge pools, aromatherapy rooms (for inhaling such essential oils as eucalyptus for energizing, and clearing the respiratory system), comfortable and quiet lounge or waiting areas, and complimentary classes such as yoga or Pilates.

3. Ask about complimentary amenities in the locker room: robes, slippers, lots of towels, hair dryers, and bath, shower and beauty products. In the waiting or lounge areas, there should be added touches such as a variety of current magazines, herbals teas, bottle water, fresh fruit or other healthy goodies.

4. Arrive early and stay late. Did you know that at most spas you can book just one treatment and stretch the experience out into a full day? Swim, steam in the sauna, work out in the gym, relax and read in the lounge, have your treatment, then do it all over again swim, steam, sauna and lounge to your heart's content.

5. When you book treatments, ask about packages. Often spas offer a better deal if you book two or three treatments together, say, massage, facial and pedicure. Add accommodations and you may even get a better overall deal than booking three treatments individually.

6. When you're still in the research stages ask a spa receptionist how long a one-hour treatment really is. Yes, when it comes to spas, one hour is not universally 60-minutes. At many spas it's just 50 minutes with 10 minutes left for the therapist to clean up and turn-over the room. At other spas, like the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, for instance, a one-hour treatment is truly 60 minutes. At the Windsor Arms in downtown Toronto it's 60 minutes plus.

7. Find out what little extras a treatment includes. Many spas today enhance basic treatments: a head massage included in a body treatment, or a hand or foot massage included in a facial. Don't just ask for a facial- ask what's included in the facial. Some spas will even offer you the extra creams, lotions, potions and scrub brushes that were used during your treatment.

8. Ask if the spa "ambience" is carried over into other parts of the inn, hotel, or resort. If a property truly wants to cater to its spa guests they'll make the effort to reflect the philosophy or mood of the spa so there is no harsh and uncomfortable re-entry into the "real world." For instance, are there spa-quality amenities (higher-end shampoos, conditioners, bath products) in the guest rooms? Do they offer a place where you can order a spa meal and enjoy it in your robe?

9. Make sure you select a spa with experienced therapists. A knowledgeable, nurturing therapist, passionate about his or her "art" can make or break a spa experience. There's nothing worse than have a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am type of therapist who treats you simply as another check mark on a list of things to do. You want therapists and staff who are attentive, considerate, attuned to your needs. You don't want to feel intimidated, rushed or ignored. The best way to ascertain this prior to a visit is with recommendations from those who've been there, or check with a spa association that holds a high standard for membership.

10. Keep in mind that a spa treatment- any spa treatment - is not simply a case of "one size fits all." Every treatment can be, and should be, tailored to your specific needs and preferences. A massage, for instance, should not be by-rote maneuvers, but a treatment that is a mix of modalities if client needs warrant it. True value is never having to hear the words "I'm sorry but that's how we do it here." If you don't like something, speak up and let the therapist know.

In the end, says Dimon, "the ultimate and long lasting value of a spa holiday, is getting back home feeling rested, relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to meet real world daily stresses with a renewed sense of calm and newly-found energy." For more information on spas and wellness vacations go to www.traveltowellness.com.

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