In the Land of Aahhs

In the Land of Aahhs

We’re thinking most people are pretty much over 2009. Due to the economy and incentive backlash, planners and employees are feeling maxxed. How to deal? Massage, hydrotherapy, yoga and meditation have for millennia retuned our biorhythms and freed up the synapses. They streamline focus, and force us to acknowledge the value of health and well-being.

“Spa meetings are something you never used to see,” says Karen Zilinek, director of Peak Performance Meetings & Incentive Travel. “Now it’s quite common and offered as a choice for attendees among options such as golf and tour. But 9 out of 10 times they choose spa because it’s considered special and not something they usually book for themselves.”

Sedona’s famous energy vortexes among the Red Rock Mountains provide a magnetic setting for the 220-room Enchantment Resort & Spa. Rooms feature beehive fireplaces and private viewing decks with staggering views of the canyon, while $4 million was spent redoing meeting areas last fall.

The striking Mii Amo Spa mixes a little Navajo, a little Taliesin and a lot of Southwest verve in a 24,000-sf temple of spatial spirituality. The spa is built into the walls of the canyon surrounded by hiking trails that lead to Native American ruins and caves, where the Yavapai-Apache believe the First Woman mated with the sun to start the human race. No wonder Fortune 500 companies come here to brainstorm product launches.

The Crystal Grotto is at the heart of Mii Amo. The womb-like enclosure connects earth and sky through a domed ceiling bearing a hole at the top directed at the sun on the summer solstice. Attendees meditate and affirm their goals in the energy-transforming space, before venturing through a mesmerizing menu of Reiki, Cranial Sacral, crystal baths, Watsu, Ayurvedic, facials and meditative sessions.

“Mii Amo has achieved such accolades as ‘World’s Best Destination Spa’ and this creates interest no matter what the guests’ typical interest in spa may be,” says Tina Newman, director of business development.

Headlining the Las Vegas Strip, the 134,000-sf Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Palazzo opened last year as the largest wellness venue in Vegas with 94 treatment rooms. The centerpiece “Aquavana” is a European-inspired suite of thermal spa cabins, experiential showers, cold rooms and aqua thermal baths. The haven revolves around a series of relaxation lairs, including the Wave Room, a multi-sensory experience simulating the feel of breaking waves under a domed canopy. The Salt Grotto features sea air washing over heated benches, and fountains bubbling over natural salt rocks. And the Igloo blows cool air and three different Arctic mist experiences.

“Aquavana is best navigated with the assistance of a spa concierge,” says spa director Blake Feeney. “If it includes teambuilding, a group might select a rockwall climb too.”

The flip side of the Vegas Strip spa is the Nevada desert spa. JW Marriott’s Spa at Camelback Inn is a true destination wellness retreat with 32 treatment rooms and Scottsdale’s only spa restaurant, Sprouts. The Colorado river trout BLT panini sounds good.

The list of treatments here are surprisingly fairly familiar, although there are a few standouts like the Thai Table Massage. The emphasis is more about the setting and serious therapy. Outside by the Olympic size pool, groups can buy out private cabanas for the day.

In Colorado Springs on 3,000 acres abutting the Rockies, The Broadmoor is the standard bearer for elegant mountain meetings due to a generation of 5-diamond ratings. The gigantic 43,000-sf Spa at Broadmoor features Tranquility Tub and Serenity Shower treatments, as well as four Broadmoor Falls showers and inhalation rooms where essential oils are diffused into the air. The most commonly requested service is the Broadmoor Bliss Massage, combining Lomi-Lomi sweeping massage movements, sports-related stretching, Trager (gentle rocking) methods, and Thai foot massage. The most exotic is the Magic of the Silk Route, utilizing spices from Thailand, India and China, topped by a skin-firming silk wrap.

“One meeting planner who hosted an event here said she was utterly dumbfounded at the sense of relaxation and goodwill between all her clients, who were all CEOs,” says spokesperson Allison Scott. “She had never before seen them get along as well as they did in the spa that day. I told her we hear that a lot. We have a theory that you can’t be mean to anyone wearing a bathrobe.”

Opening in June south of Santa Monica, the new Terranea is one of the country’s most eco-forward opulent spreads, right over the roiling Pacific. Most of the 102 acres are hikeable wilderness trails surrounding 462 rooms, suites, oceanfront bungalows, casitas and villas, along with 135,000 sf of meeting space. Over 85% of the accommodations have ocean views, as does the 25,000-sf Spa & Yoga Studio.

“The most outstanding aspect to the spa is its location, literally sitting on the edge of the ocean,” says spa director Melinda Milner. “Steam and sauna are indoors, but the hot tub and cold plunge are outside with direct views to Catalina.” Milner says the spa customizes treatment plans to enhance attendee energy according to time of day. In the morning, when the body’s internal rhythm dictates a rise in temperature, hormonal levels and blood pressure, the spa offers invigorating barefoot walking, sunrise yoga, cleansing rituals and energetic massage. As the body begins its cooling process in the afternoon, the spa offers quieting treatments that encourage relaxation like meditation, aromatherapy, soothing wraps and tranquil baths. Suggest a 120-minute Flickering Embers program at sunset, involving a fire, incense, the sound of ocean waves and a Volcanic Ash Body Wrap.

Once the Sunshine State’s playground for the rich and aimless, The Don CeSar Beach Resort still cuts a swaggering figure on the shores of St. Petersburg, like it has since the days when F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lou Gehrig and Al Capone walked these hallowed halls. The legendary 340-room bright pink resort with 70 Beach House Suites still welcomes celebs. Elton John and Justin Timberlake were both recent guests, lured in part by the new 11,000-sf Spa Oceana.

Inspiration for treatments comes from the ocean using refined sand for scrubs and rare ocean algae for lotions and elixirs. Many of its 16 treatment rooms offer a private window over the water, while a rooftop garden overlooking the Gulf of Mexico provides a stunning backdrop for events. When the hotel runs site visits, planners are escorted to the rooftop to elicit that “aha” moment, followed by a refreshing cocktail around the central fire pit.

“Our approach is easy; we customize and strategize to our clients’ individual needs,” says Michele Miller, director of sales. “Maybe it’s a spa day with mini massages and facials, and a happy hour on the rooftop. Or an educational spa session on stress management.” Fontainebleau Miami Beach debuted this past winter after a $1 billion renovation and expansion. Kim Matheson, president of Natural Resources Spa Consulting, designed the new 40,000-sf Lapis Spa.

“We’re using many different forms of water, so the entire journey is fluid, curative, global and very forward thinking,” she says. “It’s a curated experience. We’ll walk you through every step of the process.” Prepare to get soaked. Lapis is a maze of rain tunnels, mineral jet baths, energy deluge showers and eucalyptus steam baths. There’s different temperature mists, and a 75-ft co-ed pool inspired by Blue Lagoon in Iceland, infused with a nutrient-rich red seaweed extract. Heated hammam benches too, like those in Turkey and North Africa.

“We went out and sourced the globe for the very best treatments while utilizing local ingredients,” says Matheson.

Hutchinson Island sits in the middle of the Savannah River, straddling the border between Georgia and South Carolina. The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa anchors the secluded spot, and this month it unveils as part of a $10 million renovation a revamped Greenbrier Spa Jewel of the Isle. If you’re curious about the name, the facility is a sister operation to the famous spa in West Virginia.

The new look is decidedly modern, themeless and very clean with bamboo treatments, lots of glass and oodles of natural light. The 22 rooms are highlighted by four hydro tubs, but the marquee treatment is the Swiss Shower Scotch Spray. The guest stands under a Swiss shower while the therapist plays aims high pressure water through a hose at the person’s body to induce lymphatic drainage. “You don’t really see those anymore because there’s not the revenue per square foot,” which other spas seek, says spa director Cindi Moreno. “So we’re lucky to have it.”

On the shores of Waikiki, the legendary 529-room Royal Hawaiian reopened in January after a $110 million redo stretching from porte-cochere to public areas, endeavoring to bring the ‘Pink Palace’ to its former Hawaiiana lustre. The 1927 hotel still turns heads for its “chic elegance and stand-out Moorish-Deco design, but the goods just got better,” says Michael Howe, assistant director of convention services.

The Abhasa Waikiki Spa maintains its place as the only spa on Oahu to offer treatments in cabanas surrounded by tropical gardens. The recent upgrades brought more private cabanas, 14 new treatment rooms, and a dedicated yoga, tai-chi and Pilates area.

“Abhasa is the Sanskrit word for illusion and you can truly let the real world go in this setting, and feel the Hawaiian air about your body,” says spa manager Akiko Slayton.

Spread over 40 acres of oceanfront on Kaanapali Beach, the 806-room Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa houses a spa befitting the setting. Spa Moana, tabbed as Hawaii’s first and Maui’s only oceanfront, full-service wellness facility, focuses on Hawaii’s healing Lomi-Lomi touch. The sound of crashing waves comes with the territory whether in the post-treatment relaxation room or private oceanside cabanas.

“We are able to customize our entire spa menu to meet the group needs and budget,” says spa director Michael Lanzo. “So you can have a spa sampler followed by social event where the attendee experiences three different treatments of 30 minutes each rotating massage, facial and pedicure following by a cocktail reception on our private lanai overlooking the ocean.”

Only 10 minutes from Playa del Carmen’s colorful dining, entertainment and shopping scene, Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya is an austere collection of 128 modern, geometric villas with terraces, gardens and plunge pools opening from the quiet green backwaters to the stark white sand and cascading surf. Adding to the serenity, the region is blessed with some of the best beaches in Mexico.

Mocun Spa takes the best from known healing traditions and bundles them into myriad Rasul, Hamam, Watsu and traditional Mayan treatments. The 25,000-sf heat and water oasis offers lots of contemplative spaces, including a dome-shaped Temazcal sweat lodge where guests are lead by a Shaman through a traditional purification ceremony in the heated darkness of the structure.

“While most meeting attendees go for Swedish and deep tissue massages, our traditional Mayan therapies are gaining traction,” says spa director Clive McNish. “There’s the Mayan Tzolkin Ritual, a treatment focused on stretching, therapeutic massage drawing influence from the Mayan lunar calendar; and the Mayan Na Lu’um Massage, a treatment focused on the ancient Mayan art of abdominal massage.”

Now, who doesn’t like a good tummy rub?

“Meetings are the better half of our resort business,” adds group sales manager Beth Varona. “The Mayan signature treatments are very popular with groups where guests visit our Mandala Garden to choose the healing herbs that will be incorporated into their therapeutic treatment….

“We can even create customized spa treatments with the company’s name in it,” continues Varona. “Actually, the spa component has become more popular than golf, and we have just as many male spa guests as females.”

Scheduled to open this fall, The Solis Palmyra Resort & Spa at Rose Hall is a rambling colonial plantation-style spread within an elite oceanfront enclave of 299 guestrooms, plus a collection of 1- to 4-bedroom suites, penthouses and private villas, each providing 645 to 2,600 sf of living space with a large private terrace. Meanwhile, the 30,000-sf spa is the first ESPA branded spa in the region.

“All treatments are perfect for groups. Each group will have a spa group consultant to customize and tailor treatments for each attendee’s preferences,” says Juan Ortega, director of sales/marketing. He suggests an Earth & Sea Chakra Balancing Journey combining a Sea Massage (using shells) and Earth Massage (using stones).

Ortega also recommends an intriguing schedule of attention-grabbing activities: African dancing class, laughter yoga class, oceanside group massages and mani/pedis, and ESPA holistic lifestyle sessions.

One Swedish massage is just not going to cut it for a superstar vp of sales who knows her way around a spa. For her, we look to Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort in Puerto Rico. The 7,000-sf Balinese-inspired Mandara Spa is a favorite of IBM and Lincoln Financial, especially with so many complementary amenities such as an onsite DMC and two designer golf courses. The breezy Indo-chic decor in the 11 treatment rooms is complemented nicely by the outdoor relaxation terrace with views of the tropical Atlantic surf.

For the experienced spa goer, and we have a few around our offices, she’s looking for a 3-hr Latin Lulur Lover. You start with a traditional Javanese lulur body scrub, followed by a Mandara 4-hands massage, and conclude with a hand/foot cleansing ritual. Let’s make a day out of it. A 5-hr Salsa for the Soul includes a frangipani body nourishing wrap, an Elemis aroma stone massage and pro-collagen facial, a blow dry and a spa mani-pedi. That girl’s sleeping well tonight.