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Spa Travel

Spiritual Spas

I received the 2007 travel agent edition of SpaFinder's Spa Guide magazine a few weeks ago and immediately made a pact (with myself) to plan a spa trip in 2007. This guide has 300 plus pages of day spas, destination spas, spas by region, medical spas, and plenty of reviews and information to help anyone plan a great spa trip.

My favorite feature was the "spa sorter" index. I can now find spas by Single-Friendly, Pet-Friendly, Organic, Romantic, Urban Hotels, and so forth. Perfect. No more hunting for themes. They are neatly laid out in this index.

I also liked that there were several spas in the category of Spirituality, classified by their common "programs and classes featuring a strong emphasis on meditation, yoga, or spiritual awareness." This goes nicely along with recent data that shows spa-going is a growing trend for vacationers.

Here are spiritual spas listed in the 2007 Spa Guide from SpaFinder:

  1. Cal-a-Vie, California
  2. Chiva-Som, Thailand
  3. Chopra Center & Spa at Dream, New York
  4. Chopra Center for Wellbeing, California
  5. COMO Shambhala Estate at Begawan Giri, Indonesia
  6. Golden Door, California
  7. Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat and Spa, Australia
  8. Maroma Resort and Spa, Mexico
  9. Mayflower Inn & Spa, Connecticut
  10. Mii Amo at the Enchantment, Arizona
  11. Miraval, Life in Balance, Arizona
  12. New Age Health Spa, New York
  13. Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, California
  14. Rancho La Puerta, Mexico
  15. SAMAS at the Park Hotel Kenmare, Ireland
  16. Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, Vermont

Great idea for a birthday gift for a good friend, anniversary present, girls getaway, guys getaway, or honeymoon.

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Spa Trends to Watch

A while back, I posted about vinotherapy (new wine spas) and chocolate treatments. Travel + Leisure now has a list of three new spa trends, all geared around getting back to the basics by being healthy through well-being:

  1. Holistic living: Residential villa communities where people can access spa facilities year-round.
  2. Hawaiian wellness summits: Well-being and healthy lifestyle sessions such as organic cooking demos or "intimate seaside sessions" with local wellness experts.
  3. Bamboo treatments: Crushed fiber from bamboo shoots is being used at eco-friendly spas for treatments.

Take your pick. The evolving spa industry has its choices from detox programs, to quick day spa treatments, aromatherapy, nutrition-based spas, hot stone massages (my personal favorite), indulgent treatments such as wine or chocolate soaks, and new eco-holistic wellness treatments. Spas really are branching out to all kinds of travelers. There's likely a spa service that even the most old-fashioned "I'm not letting anyone touch me who I don't know" grandparent of yours would appreciate.

I say take your pick and stay with a safe treatment within your comfort zone, or branch out and try something new. I'm adding to the above list mobile spas, a growing trend for those who can't seem to make it to the spa, but still crave the pampering.

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Best North American Spas 2006

Travel + Leisure released results from its annual readers poll for their World's Best Awards 2006. Since I'm enamored with spas, massages, and the relaxation they offer, I tuned in to the best spas list. There are several awards, all rated by T + L readers, including best destination spas, best Europe spas, and so forth. While those are great for honeymoons and special travel occasions, here are the U.S. and Canada spas that might be a shorter plane ride or drive away and, therefore, a little easier on the budget:

1 Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, Florida 93.36
2 Mandarin Oriental, Miami 90.46
3 Park Hyatt, Toronto 89.80
4 Four Seasons Resort, Jackson Hole, Wyoming 89.58
5 Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, Colorado 89.58
6 Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Little Torch Key, Florida 88.99
7 Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina 88.94
8 Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico 88.79
9 Ritz-Carlton, Naples, Florida 88.72
10 St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach, Dana Point, California 88.71
11 Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina 88.69
12 Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, North Carolina 88.53
13 Enchantment Resort, Mii Amo, Sedona, Arizona 88.36
14 Four Seasons Hotel, Las Vegas 88.26
15 Auberge du Soleil, Spa du Soleil, Rutherford, California 88.10
16 The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia 88.04
17 St. Regis Resort, Aspen, Colorado 87.76
18 American Club, Kohler, Wisconsin 87.50
18 Four Seasons Hotel, Philadelphia 87.50
18 Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, Houston, Texas 87.50
18 Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai, California 87.50
22 The Peninsula, Chicago 87.28
23 Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, Florida 87.25
24 Four Seasons Resort Aviara, North San Diego 87.16
25 Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, Vancouver Island 87.04

Spas are an ideal activity for girls getaways, even an option for a guys getaways, or a way to sneak away from a family reunions for solo time.

Source: Travel + Leisure

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Best Spas

Spas offer a respite from daily stress, a transformative means to health, and boost the spirit. Massages melt muscles with seductive aromatherapy, perfect pressure points, and release knots, putting your body and mind at ease. Nothing beats a good masseur or masseuse. For a girls getaway, guys getaway (er, mancation?), or any other trip, here's a list of some of the best spas in the world.

But are any of these really the best? Such a subjective word: best. What makes a spa ideal for you? I've heard amazing things about Mii Amo in Sedona, Ariz., but from my personal experience (so far!), the best spa I've gone to was in Calistoga, Calif. Here's why it was amazing:

When I walked in, the clock was at least 10 minutes slow and the front desk clerk smiled, "Welcome. No worries about the time, we're on spa time." My shoulders dropped with relief. No stress here. After calmly slipping into a robe in the dressing room, I drank cucumber-flavored water before the masseuse brought me to my sea salt soaking tub. After the soak, I had the massage of a lifetime. The masseuse was a magician with strong, experienced hands who worked every knot out of my back and shoulders, then had me doing a breathing exercise while she released tension from my neck and left my body and mind dizzy with delight. Being on vacation in Napa Valley also helped with the carefree mood. Still, I highly recommend Indian Springs Spa. As part of your appointment, you even get free use of their outdoor swimming pool. Another cool perk.

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Chocolate Spas, Heaven on Earth

Don't get me started on the appeal of this massage treatment. It's as if my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fantasy of living amid treats and sweets grew up with me.

If you're in love with chocolate (enough to smother yourself in it), head to The Spa at The Hershey Hotel in Hershey, Pennsylvania for chocolate treatments sure to melt the soul. Perfect for a birthday party celebration or girls getaway (think bachelorette party). Men with chocolate fever can also enjoy spa treatments there as well.

Health benefits of chocolate are good news. Here is more information from Fine Dark Chocolate on wellness attributes such as possibly staving off heart disease, high blood pressure, and helping with anti-aging. Hmm... perhaps there's more to cocoa beans than meets the mouth?

Wine spas. Chocolate spas. What's next? Snickers spas with peanut wraps and nougat facials? Why doesn't the spa industry just splash us with Chardonnay and dip us in dark, dreamy, drippy chocolate syrup until we're so sick of our guilty pleasures that we seek wholesome, back-to-the-basics activities like dinner with the four food groups or jogging.

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Wine and Spa Lovers Unite

A European trend is quickly spreading. Two heavenly pleasures - spas and wine - are now joined in a marriage of grape bliss. Vinotherpy is the new term for bathing in wine-infused baths, cocoon wraps of grapeseed oils, grape extract facials, massages with oils and grapes. Perfect for a group girls getaway.

Les Sources in Bordeaux, France, was the pioneer in vinotherapy. Kenwood Inn in California was the first United States spa to dedicate all spa services to the grape and its derivatives. Why drink the elixir of centuries when you can swim in it?  I say dive in. The water (bubbly, blush, red, or white) should be divine.

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Spa Etiquette for Groups

When getting together on a spa trip with your friends for a bachelorette (or bachelor) party, birthday, or general getaway with friends, you'll want to make sure the group is aware of some basic spa etiquette.

Nothing is more certain when a group of good friends gets together (at least with my friends) than lively conversation and side-splitting laughter. But spas offer a place of tranquility, and sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that other guests are also paying for that peaceful away-from-reality setting.

Here are a few etiquette tips (so your group is welcome at the spa next year):

Group Appointments
Schedule spa stays (at resorts or destination resorts) and/or appointments for service several months in advance to ensure your group has enough room, can secure rooms next to each other, and can schedule appointments together (steam room, wellness classes, etc.). Scheduling massages and other treatments simultaneously or around the same time allows you to go into the pools, steam rooms and ante rooms ahead of time together.

By scheduling appointments in sync or timed closely together, you can plan other activities before and after the spa service time. That way the whole group can continue to enjoy the trip together. You can set each day's agenda for the group loosely based around spa appointments.

Quiet Times
When entering treatment areas and rooms, you'll get the most out of the experience (and so will others) if you stay quiet. Breathe deeply, absorb the relaxing air to its fullest, bring a good book for down times, and save the chit-chat with friends for meals (a time when others at the spa are likely to be more social), drinks out at a local restaurant or bars, on hikes or while doing activities outside of the spa, or create a happy hour haven for the gang in your room.

If you're organizing a group for a spa vacation, don't assume everyone has the same tipping policy in mind. While individuals can pay for individual massage or other appointments (and tip accordingly), you may want to remind the group before the trip to tip therapists (or if you as a planner are collecting money, be sure to collect enough to cover a 15% tip). While individuals can vary their tipping amount depending on service quality, when in a group, it seems especially polite to tip at least 15%.

Be sure to check with the spa for their general policy and ambience on nudity to prepare the group. Most likely there will be varying levels of comfort and familiarity about spa services within your group. Some destination spas or resorts offer services where you and others may be partially or fully nude, such as steam rooms, mud bath areas, etc. Phone the spa before scheduling appointments for the group so you can communicate clearly and set expectations, and the whole group can relax in their own comfort zone by choosing whichever spa services they prefer.

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Helpful Hints for Group Spa Travel

Whether your group travel plans take you on a getaway weekend with friends to a luxurious destination spa, spa appointments while golfing with the guys, or a visit to a day spa for a bachelorette party, spa etiquette is paramount.

While there are no set "rules" for spa-going (other than to lie back and relax while getting the pampering you deserve!) here are some etiquette hints from that apply to groups:

Mixing activities and spa-going
On the day of treatment, try to stay out of the sun and avoid alcoholic beverages. Also, don't schedule a physically demanding endeavor after a spa appointment. When in doubt, contact the spa to ask whether it is advisable to engage in a particular activity prior to your appointment.

Some animals are welcome at certain resorts (likely not at day spas) but should not be brought to the spa. Be considerate of others by keeping your pet quiet and following the spa rules.

Cell phonesLeave phones and pagers at home or in your room; or turn them off before entering the spa.

PerfumeBecause the emphasis should be on relaxation and others may be allergic, it's best not to wear perfume to exercise classes offered at the resort or destination spa.

SmokingFor the most part, smoking is not allowed at any kind of spa. If it is, there are usually designated areas where you can smoke.

TherapistsIf you prefer either a male or female therapist, but the spa fails to ask, don't hesitate to let your choice be known. Also, if you have enjoyed the services of a particular therapist on a prior visit, feel free to request that person.

Punctuality at day spasArrive on time or early. If you are late, your treatment time will need to be shortened since the treatment room (and therapist) is generally booked after your session. After a treatment, it's customary to vacate the room within five or ten minutes. However, you are free to spend additional time unwinding in the day spa's relaxation or waiting rooms.

Socializing at destination spasMeals can often be arranged at shared tables, activities and evening programs foster interaction, and in general a sense of community is encouraged in a destination spa. Feel free to engage fellow spa goers in conversation, though try to stay away from stressful topics: Guests generally use spa visits as an opportunity to get away from the pressures of everyday life. If, on the other hand, you choose to maintain privacy, that can also be arranged. Though it is easy to form cliques in such surroundings, be considerate of engaging others as getting to know many of your fellow spa-goers is part of emotional wellness. Celebrity guests should be treated just like other guests and not disturbed by requests for autographs or other mementos.

Advance booking at resorts or destination spasAs resort and hotel spas often fill up quickly, book as far in advance as possible. Some resort/hotel spas can accommodate the group if you reserve treatments at check-in; others suggest booking prior to your arrival. Want to avoid the crowds? Try reserving a treatment during off-peak hours or during the week. If you do, you may also receive a discount. Favorite spa treatment times are usually in the late afternoon and mornings are the favorite times for more strenuous activities that many resort and destination spas offer.

CancellationUnexpected things do happen, and sometimes it's impossible to keep an appointment. If you must cancel, give the spa as much advance notice as possible. Be sure to ask if your money will be refunded; cancellation policies vary widely.

Group discounts
Many spas may offer group discounts, especially for special occasions (bridal showers or birthdays). Simply call and ask.

For more spa etiquette tips, visit

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Girls Getaway Spa Specials

Spas are my life. OK, not exactly. But if I could afford a massage daily, I'd schedule them. My favorite massage thus far was at Indian Springs Spa. The raw talent of the masseuse, the relaxed, unpretentious setting, outdoor pool, and fact that I was on a Napa Valley (read: wine country) vacation all helped bliss me out like never before. Closer to home (in Seattle), the Zen-like spa at Salish Lodge & Spa offers tranquility amid a mountain setting. And overseas, I sampled a famous eastern European-style spa in the Czech Republic (a little more clinical than I'd expected).

Nothing's better than experiencing a spa get-away with friends. Pedicures, facials, decadent settings, cucumber eyes, laughing and relaxing all at once. Ah, that's the life! The spa industry is finally catching on and offering deals and packages just for small to medium groups. recently partnered with a handful of luxury spas to offer deep discounts just for girls getaway weekends. Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa & Resort in Calistoga, California also offers packages for girlfriends groups

Ready to plan a girls getaway at the spa of your choice?

Know of others spas that specifically cater to groups or offer special deals? Let me (and others) know by posting a comment below.

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