Spa Havens on Land and Sea
Feel the tension float away on these vacations
By Jennifer Davoren
Jeff Herron/Couples Resorts
Naupaka, it's said, was beloved by her people, and her astounding beauty won the hearts of nearly all who met her -- including a commoner the princess loved in return. When a royal decree prevented the two from marrying, they separated and fled the kingdom, heartbroken. Naupaka retreated to the hills to mourn her lost love, while her suitor escaped to the beach and spent the rest of his life pining for his princess.
And that, according to Hawaiian legend, is why the naupaka seems only to grow in halves. The two types of "fan flower," also known as mountain naupakas and beach naupakas, are meant to be paired.
"When you take those two separate blossoms, these half blossoms, and put them together, they become whole. We thought that was very fitting in respect to what we do here," says Bridget Phillips, director of the Kohala Spa at Hilton Waikoloa Village.
Phillips' 25,000-square-foot health and wellness center takes inspiration from native Hawaiian products, especially with its signature treatment, the naupaka white flower ritual. Beforehand, a guest is running on empty -- "especially in this busy world that we all live in, where everybody is going a mile a minute and never stops," Phillips laughs. But after a full-body massage complete with healing herbs and essential oils, relaxed and rejuvenated guests don't feel so split down the middle, torn between work and other worries.
Hilton Waikoloa Village, spread across 62 acres on the Big Island's sunny Kohala Coast, knows how to reassemble a disjointed guest. Below, we offer 11 other suggestions for the ideal spa vacation. All prices quoted are from Houston-based travel discounter Vacations To Go.
Sprawling hotel properties are top destinations among spa seekers.
About 3,000 miles east of the Hilton Waikoloa Village, at the tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, Marquis Los Cabos offers a 15,000-square-foot facility with a number of holistic specialties. Guests on the go will appreciate the resort's new menu of 25-minute treatments crafted for efficient stress relief. If you have more time to spare, try a spa remedy with native inspirations, including those styled after Aztec and Mayan healing philosophies. The Tepezcohuite Relief wrap utilizes a pre-Columbian "miracle plant" to repair sun-damaged skin. Afterward, unwind in the open-air spa lounge overlooking the restive Sea of Cortez.
Prices for a five-day, four-night stay at Marquis Los Cabos in mid-October start around $840 per person, based on double occupancy. Spa and salon offerings at this resort run from $15 for a quick nail polish change to $360 for an in-suite package for couples -- standard prices for health and wellness extras, regardless of your vacation venue.
Treatments built for two can add a romantic spin to your spa getaway. Couples Resorts runs four properties in Jamaica, including the newly renovated Couples Tower Isle outside Ocho Rios. At Oasis Spa, side-by-side Swedish massages take place in white, airy rooms surrounding a refreshing plunge pool. Added perks range from six on-site restaurants, including a vegetarian venue, to unlimited golf for guests who find relaxation on Caribbean putting greens. A small private island hides an au naturel area for the ultimate in carefree sunbathing.
Couples Resorts are all-inclusive, wrapping accommodations, dining, alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, evening entertainment and an assortment of beach and water activities into a single price that's paid up front. A four-night package in mid-October at Couples Tower Isle would run just under $700 per person for a garden-view room.
Spa resort vacations can even cater to your furry friends. At the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch -- a six-star property in Beaver Creek, CO, just a few miles west of Vail -- the Fido's Spa and Fitness program keeps tails wagging with morning and evening hikes and canine massages. Dog-friendly features soon will include cocktail parties hosted by Bachelor, a Saint Bernard puppy adopted as the hotel's mascot, and his buddy, Miner, a young golden retriever. Humans are just as spoiled here, where spa temptations range from oxygen therapy (perfect for those unaccustomed to high altitudes) to vitamin C facials (an apres-ski rescue for sun- and windburned cheeks).
The cost of a four-night stay in mid-October starts a little over $500
To book a stay at any of these properties, from Hawaii's shores to Colorado's mountains, call (800) 998-6925 or visit the resort specialists online.
Spas at Sea
Cruise ships are a natural host for health and wellness centers. These vessels, already able to soothe their guests with the sight and sound of lapping waves, further their "floating resort" reputation with colossal spas.
Despite an Italian background, Costa Cruises turns to Asia for its spa inspirations. Six ships -- including the 3,000-passenger Costa Favolosa, making its debut early this summer -- include a Samsara Spa, where state-of-the-art therapy spaces are adorned with watchful Buddhas and other ancient elements. After a dip in a thalassotherapy pool or a toxin-scrubbing seaweed wrap, guests are soothed with a Japanese tea ceremony.
As "samsara" is a Sanskrit concept encompassing the pursuit of harmony as well as beauty, Costa's spas connect to extensive workout, salon and health-conscious dining venues, too. Samsara Restaurant embraces low-calorie, low-sodium cuisine for passengers with dietary restrictions, or those looking to drop a few pounds and cholesterol points during their cruise. The Costa Favolosa will sail seven-night Mediterranean itineraries from Venice through mid-November, with discounted prices from Vacations To Go starting under $700 per person.
Another option for tightly wound seafarers is the spa suite. These specialty cabins, like those aboard the Solstice-class ships of Celebrity Cruises, put passengers within steps of a massage table. Celebrity's AquaClass cabins are even stocked with silky, high-end linens and bath products, a salad-stuffed room service menu and priority access to the 20,000-square-foot AquaSpa. In addition, guests have complimentary access to the coed Persian Garden, with sauna and steam rooms, a tropical rain-mimicking shower, ocean views and warm, tiled loungers.
There are four Solstice ships currently afloat. The newest is the Silhouette, which debuted in July and will embark on Caribbean-bound trips from Bayonne, NJ, this winter; most starting rates for the 12-day voyages range from about $1,000 to $1,800 per person through Vacations To Go. The Celebrity Equinox sails Greek Isles and Mediterranean itineraries through late November, with per-person prices spread from $600 for seven nights to $1,400 for 11 nights.
The Royal Caribbean Cruise Line health and wellness program is more of a ship-wide affair. Vitality at Sea amenities and activities range from gyms and sports courts to expert-led nutrition lectures. Aboard Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger vessels, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, whole "neighborhoods" are turned over to fitness facilities, including adults-only pool areas and other quiet sanctuaries.
But their spas are the real standouts. Thermal rooms equipped with heated lounge chairs keep guests at ease between appointments, which go above and beyond the usual muscle manipulations. Acupuncture, Botox and teen-themed treatments -- most performed in the Generation YSPA, the first dedicated youth spa at sea -- cater to a variety of tastes.
Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas sail round trip from Fort Lauderdale, FL, to explore ports in Mexico, Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean on seven-night vacations; reduced prices start around $800 per person this fall.
Nearly every ship in the MSC Cruises fleet boasts an Aurea Spa, including the year-old Magnifica, where a 13,000-square-foot facility books skin and salon services. MSC's offerings extend to special wellness-themed cruises, too, which pack nutrition seminars, motivational speakers and other programs between port calls. Participating passengers might pick up a few new massage techniques with classes on the Balinese, shiatsu and Thai methods. One-on-one consultations with experts also help guests craft meal and exercise plans perfect for their lifestyle and health goals.
MSC's next wellness cruise departs Venice on Dec. 7. The 3,013-passenger Magnifica will visit ports in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Croatia. Prices start at $999 per person for this 11-night vacation.
Also scheduled for later this year: the debut of the line's Aurea Spa suites on ships Fantasia and Splendida. The fare for these accommodations includes a facial, massage, tanning session and a private consultation at the spa.
Call (800) 338-4962 or visit Vacations To Go to book Costa, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and MSC cruises at steeply discounted rates.
Your pursuit of pampering might lead you to some long-established spa havens abroad. Soothing hot springs dot Europe and Central America, and these natural healing centers are often paired with modern enticements, from high-end hotels to health clinics.
There are few spa spots as celebrated as Bath, a vacation mecca in southwest England. It's a place of literary legend -- Jane Austen's heroines would "take the waters" here between romantic entanglements, and Charles Dickens satirized its high society in "The Pickwick Papers."
The benefits of Bath's hot springs were embraced by the Romans in the first century and, in its 18th-century heyday, a visit to the city was prescribed for anyone suffering from gout, anxiety or, according to Austen's novels, a lack of marriage prospects. Thermae Bath Spa allows guests to soak as their Roman and Georgian forebears did, though Vichy rain showers and Kraxen stove herb therapies add a contemporary twist to "me" time.
For a true Italian spa escape, look to the rolling hills above Tuscany. Montecatini Terme became a royal hideaway in the 1700s when its thermal springs, much like Bath's bubbling waters, were determined to have healing powers. The region's mineral-rich earth lures modern spa seekers -- immersing yourself in a Montecatini mud bath is said to cure anything from rheumatism to respiratory problems. Most local hotels offer a spa element, including the four-star Grand Hotel Francia and Quirinale, favored by independent travelers as well as tour groups. Special wellness-themed suites even offer bathtubs and showers built for aromatherapy. After a day of luxuriating, try a ride on the city funicular, a 19th-century cable car, to Montecatini Alto. This stately hilltop fort was built to protect the spring's medieval visitors.
Costa Rica mixes indulgent spa experiences with wilder, untamed escapes. About 90 miles northwest of the country's capital, San Jose, Arenal Volcano National Park highlights its namesake peak -- one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, surrounded by a near-constant cloud of sparks and ash -- and other geothermal wonders. A handful of hot springs ring the preserve, and many are maintained and serviced by independent hotels. Both guests and day visitors can enjoy a volcano-warmed soak while enjoying swim-up bar benefits and panoramic views of slow-flowing lava. It's an ideal end to a day spent hiking the local rain forest, where tropical birds and howler monkeys chirp and call from the trees.
Iceland, meanwhile, complements its thermal lures with Northern Europe's characteristic chill. The Blue Lagoon offers the quintessential hot springs experience, immersing visitors in 1.5 million gallons of steaming, cerulean water enriched by sulphur, silica and other restorative ingredients. The lagoon's skin benefits are well known, and an on-site clinic sells anti-aging and blemish-fighting products. A neighboring spa also offers in-water treatments, pairing the spring's muscle-loosening warmth -- between 98 and 102 degrees, depending on your location in the pool -- with massages and salt polishes. The combination is said to boost circulation and add an energetic glow to any complexion.
Travel discounter Vacations To Go books international escorted tours with stops in these spa spots. These trips not only explore historic and natural sites of interest, like Bath's Royal Crescent and the national park surrounding Arenal, but offer free time for independent sightseeing and spa appointments. For more information, call (800) 998-6925 or visit the tour department of Vacations To Go.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in July/August 2011.