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The Ultimate Spa Experience

spa.jpgIt’s like that great Hershey’s commercial: “Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t.” (Hint: Almond Joy’s got nuts—Mounds don’t.) Spas are exactly like that. Sometimes I feel like a scrub; sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I want to sweat out those toxins shrink-wrapped in plastic, then scrubbed and brushed all over and slathered in milk and honey until my skin glows like a baby’s. Other times, the only wrap I want is a satin robe. On my satin robe days, I’ll take my milk and honey with some exotic herbal tea in a real china cup, thank you, while the hands of angels caress my forehead. On other occasions, I’d be happy with tap water in a paper cup … just please, dedicate the whole hour to my aching feet.

The place to start for a fulfilling spa experience is to realize who you are and what you want. Make a list of what spa therapies appeal to you, and what kind of environment makes you feel most comfortable. Then visit the spas, in person or on their Web sites, and match them up. Only after you find the spa that appeals—not before—should you look at prices. Why? Because if the treatment’s not what you want and the environment doesn’t suit you, it’s not going to be good no matter how little or how much you spend.

The following pages reveal the spa fears and fantasies of several real people with diverse tastes (some names changed for privacy), and offer some ways their spa needs might be met. It’s clear that some points, even minor ones, can be absolute deal breakers.

I, for example, often request deep-tissue massage, where I can feel the knots in my back and shoulder literally melt away. If the touch is too light, it’s a waste of my time and money. My friend, Rachel, wants to feel nothing more intense than butterfly wings brushing her skin. There are days when I’d rather skip the bodywork and spend the entire day floating between a eucalyptus-infused steam room, cool showers and the heavenly silence of a meditation room chaise.

For her massage, Doris wants soft, flickering candles. For Adam, even candlelight is a distraction. So for him, an eye pillow is essential. And please, he says, no conversation. Adam’s idea of the perfect massage is to drift in a silent dream state in which his only sensation is touch. Voices in the hall or outside will interrupt that dream state, and too-loud music will destroy it completely.

To Katie, the fragrance of lavender is heavenly, but lemon reminds her of furniture oil and cleaning day. Margie, on the other hand, loves lemon, but lavender literally makes her sick. Some people prefer spicy, smoky or woody fragrance; others are allergic to fragrance altogether.

Marcia would love to try a spa, but she’s very modest and the thought of communal locker rooms have kept her away. Holistic animal activist Annie stays away because she has the impression that spas are for the idle rich.

Mindy, an energetic executive in a successful business, has no interest in lounging and pampering. She’d rather put her money into rejuvenating and revitalizing therapies that will keep her competitive in the marketplace.

A good choice for Mindy might be a day spa that offers salon and beauty services. Spada Salon and Day Spa (Fort Myers) would tempt her with its $1,000 Ultimate Makeover package. She’ll start with a Thalgo Slim & Sculpt cellulite treatment and a teeth whitening, then have those frown lines smoothed with Botox. She’ll finish with a hair color, cut and style.

I’ll do my own stretching, if you don’t mind.
Rosie, who loves both massage and yoga, does not enjoy Thai massage, which is a yoga-based stretching therapy. “In my yoga practice,” she says, “I know when I’ve reached my edge of comfort. I can choose when and how far I want to push myself past that edge. I don’t want someone else choosing that for me.”

Rosie might prefer the sublime relaxation of Watsu, a Japanese water-shiatsu, performed in a warm pool, while the therapist swirls her weightless form in a gentle “dance” of stretching movements. Watsu is on the menu at The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Naples, and the Stillwater Spa, Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero.

Jack might secretly love a spa pedicure, but he’d rather chew nails than bare his toes in a girly place like a spa. He would love an audiocoustic music therapy (VMT) session on a BETAR bed, in a chamber more like the Starship Enterprise than a luxury spa. As he lies suspended in space beneath a geodesic dome, his Bio Energetic Transduction Aided Resonance experience will stimulate and refresh his body’s natural energy centers. Jack gets a personal disc jockey, and he can pick his music from hundreds of genres from heavy metal to Native American flute, jazz, country and more. There’s nothing girly about Led Zeppelin pulsating through every fiber of one’s being. The BETAR bed at Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa in south Lee County is one of only 16 in the world.

Jack also would find nothing girly about Ashiatsu, a serious Oriental bar therapy. This time, the therapists are suspended from the ceiling, using their feet to perform deep tissue back massage. Absolute Health Therapeutic Massage, Naples is among those facilities offering Ashiatsu.

Doctor’s Orders
As cosmetic face and body rejuvenation evolves, patients are participating more in their own rejuvenation process, with nutrition, supplements and skin care. Leading the way are several Gulfshore-region plastic surgeons who have enhanced their services to include medically directed skin and body-care spas.

Med spas are open to the public as well as to the doctor’s patients. An enticing example is Spa Blue, directed by Dr. Andrew Jaffe, a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs micrographic surgeon. In a pristine environment, you can have a massage, get a Botox treatment, be wrapped in a moisturizing herbal cocoon, get a healthy sunless tan and even have a tattoo removed.

Because they’re doctor directed, med spas provide laser therapies, chemical skin peels, cellulite reduction therapies and skin care products at prescription levels. While the décor may be soothing and spa-like, with a broad menu of bodywork, facials and beauty services, med spas have less expansive facilities than a destination or resort spa.

Palatial? Cozy? Earthy?
Here’s the point: there is neither a “typical” spa, nor a “typical” spa experience. Here on the Gulfshore, the spa capital of Florida, we may choose from world-class resort and destination spas, cozy day spas, simple salon spas, and sophisticated med spas. Our friend Annie (remember? She’s earthy, holistic and assumes spas are for the idle rich) might just find her place at Bonita Springs’ new Salon Shangri-la. The shabby chic salon is organic, chemical free and donates to altruistic causes. Annie can dip her toes into the spa experience, so to speak, with a 25-minute foot reflexology therapy for just $35. Once she’s hooked (and she will be!), she’ll swoon over a custom organic fruits and vegetables facial at the Spa at Naples Bay Resort. A cleansing, exfoliating, hydrating and moisturizing regimen will be selected just for her from a fresh-enough-to-eat combination of pumpkin and orange, sour cherry, blueberry soy and other bounties of nature.

Detox? Pamper? Beautify? All of the Above?
Besides massages and facials, manicures and pedicures, we have a vast choice of mind-body therapies. Exfoliating body scrubs eliminate dead cells and refresh the skin, and herb-infused wraps help you sweat out free radicals and toxic chemicals. We can have our lips plumped or our skin bronzed; our sleep patterns reset and our jet lag cured.

We can opt for relaxed vacation spa environments with sea-inspired rituals (try Aquagene Spa at Pink Shell Resort on Fort Myers Beach, or fresh citrus treatments at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club).

Most spas will happily customize our massage. For example, a therapist at The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Naples recently combined the best of lomilomi with a hot stone massage at a client’s request.

Brides-to-be can be de-stressed, pampered, smoothed and polished for their big day; vacationers can get rehydrated after a week at the beach; romantics can book a couple’s massage; and athletes can get de-kinked following a workout. Seriously frazzled? You may need a four-hand (two therapist) massage. Try one at The Spa at the Hilton Marco Island.

Remember, it’s all about you.


Stuff (Yours and Theirs)
Resort and hotel spas provide full shower facilities stocked with everything you could possibly need, from bath and shower amenities to personal hygiene items, hairdryers, towels, robes and spa shoes. Savvy spa-goers arrive simply dressed (no jewelry!) and bring only a swimsuit. Some spas have drying baskets so you don’t have to take your swimsuit home wet. While some day spas have shower facilities, many don’t. Day spas also provide fewer personal amenities. It’s wise to ask before you go.

Massages, scrubs, wraps and soaks are generally done without clothing. But even the shyest guests will find that spa professionals are experts at modesty draping. If you’re certain this is not for you, choose a treatment like Reiki, reflexology or Thai massage, which require loose clothing. Many spas have both male and female therapists, and will honor your preference.

Most spas have one or two private changing rooms off the main changing area. While the benefits of steam and sauna are best achieved unclothed, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a swimsuit or towel wrap. In co-ed facilities, of course, swimsuits are required.

Speak Up
Is your therapy room too cold? Too warm? Is the music too loud or the incense too strong? You won’t hurt the therapist’s feelings by expressing your preferences. The last thing your therapist wants to hear afterward is, “the massage was great, but I couldn’t relax because I was so cold.”

The point is there’s no “right” or “wrong” amount of massage pressure. Like food seasonings, it’s a matter of taste. Speak up before or at any time during the massage, and the therapist will appreciate it.

Get Your Money’s Worth
Spas require that you arrive about 20 minutes before your treatment. Latecomers will miss out, because you won’t begin in a relaxed state, and regardless of how late your treatment begins, it will still end at the appointed time.

You’re paying good money to enjoy the spa experience, so why not arrive 45 minutes to an hour early to take advantage of the complimentary use of the sauna, steam room, sun deck, plunge pools or other amenities? Afterward, you may relax with a cup of herbal tea as you await your therapist. Many spas offer healthy refreshments such as yogurt and fruit. Stretch your day out with a spa lunch between treatments.

Timing Matters
It’s possible to slip in and out in 45 minutes (what a pity), four to five hours, or check in for a weekend. When booking your spa date, consider your agenda for the rest of the day. An energizing massage can get you going in the morning; a sleep-inducing massage works best for an at-home evening; and body-slimming lymphatic massages are perfect for those bikini afternoons.

Think Global, Spa Local
We don’t have to fly to the far reaches of the earth to indulge in the exotic Lulur purifying ritual once reserved for the princess brides of Java. We can experience it instead at Spa Terre (LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, Naples), where it is the signature treatment.

We can receive a profoundly relaxing Abhyanga oil massage and other Ayurvedic healing rituals of India at several spas here, including the Stillwater Spa at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero. And there’s nothing more graceful than Hawaii’s hula-inspired lomilomi massage. Try it at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

Zen, Gulfshore Style
We need not journey to Japan or Southeast Asia to splurge on Zen-inspired rituals. At the Japanese-inspired Golden Door Spa at Naples Grande Beach Resort, we can book 24 hours of Zen and romance for $3,999 (see details in box); or opt for the full-day Vietnamese-influenced Sacred Journey at the Naples Wellness Day Spa for a modest $450.

This summer, regional spas are offering a variety of discounts and promotions. Naples Wellness Day Spa Manager Chau Le sums it up for all the spas when she says, “In these hard times, we’re offering many specials so that people don’t have to miss out on their much-deserved ‘me time.’ We provide a place where they can center themselves and find inner peace, relaxation and rejuvenation.”

Let the journey begin.


  • One blissful night in the private Golden Door Villa, strewn with flower petals and lit with candles.
  • Welcome amenities of luxurious robes and slippers, fruit and champagne.
  • 80-minute aromatherapy couple’s massage and 25-minute scalp massages.
  • Private candle-lit chef’s tasting dinner under the stars.
  • Gift pack of essential massage oils, a book of love poems and a box of Norman Love chocolates.
  • Breakfast in bed, private sunrise yoga session and
    morning bath ritual for two.
  • Choice of manicures or pedicures.


Absolute Health Therapeutic Massage (239) 261-8033 www.absolutehealthmassage.com

Aquagene Spa at Pink Shell Resort
(239) 463-8648 www.aquagenespa.com

Golden Door Spa at Naples Grande
(239) 594-6321 www.goldendoor.com/naples

Naples Wellness Day Spa
(239) 593-8884 www.napleswellnessdayspa.com

Salon Shangri-la
(239) 949-9030 www.salonshangri-la.com

Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa
(239) 466-4000 www.sanibel-resort.com

Spa at The Naples Beach Hotel
(239) 659-4304 www.naplesbeachhotel.com

Spa Terre, LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort
(239) 598-5117 www.laplayaresort.com

Spada Salon and Day Spa (239) 482-1858

Stillwater Spa, Hyatt Regency Coconut Point
(239) 444-1234 www.coconutpoint.hyatt.com

The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples (239) 598-3300 www.ritzcarlton.com

The Spa at Hilton Marco Island
(239) 642-2144 www.thespahiltonmarcoisland.com

The Spa at Naples Bay Resort (239) 530-1199 www.naplesbayresort.com

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