Knowing how to plan your visit makes an already blissful experience even better
1. Schedule Strategically
Spas do most of their business on evenings and weekends. Want the run of the hydrotherapy facilities or a coveted appointment with the best therapist? Book in the morning or early afternoon, and ideally midweek, says Melissa McMahon, director of The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Los Angeles, who says it’s also one of the rare times luxury spas like hers offer promotions.
2. First a Massage, Then a Facial
If you get a facial before your massage, an hour with your face in the cradle will mar your just-perfected skin. The ideal spa itinerary gets those quotidian maintenance services out of the way first and ends with finishing touches like manicures and pedicures, with the bulk of the time devoted to body and skin-care treatments. “Typically, waxing services are done first, to get the unpleasantness out of the way. Or body scrubs and wraps. These are followed by massage, then skin care, and hair and nails are last,” McMahon says. A good spa will help schedule your treatments in the right order for the best experience.
3. Study the Menu
Most spas offer the standard array of options, such as the Swedish massage (America’s favorite). But many have unique offerings that are more than worth your while. Besides, you’re on vacation, so why not change it up? If you want results like the kind you get from a great physical therapy or chiropractic appointment, try Thai massage. Or, rather than commit to a whole new treatment, go for a custom-made option that combines massage techniques specially suited to your body’s creaks and complaints, suggests Kristin Carpenter, spa director at Eau Spa by Cornelia at The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach, which offers the fusion-style Self-Centered Massage.
4. Eat Intelligently
Spa-going is not the kind of thing you want to do on a full stomach — but when you have a busy day planned, you still need energy. Start with a light, nutrient-rich breakfast: an egg, a whole-grain piece of toast with almond butter, or some yogurt and fruit. But don’t skip breakfast — or lunch either: You might be having the most relaxing day of the year, but your body’s being worked on. Break every two-and-a-half hours for a spa snack, and luxe rituals that go into spa overtime should include a nibble of almonds and sips of water or tea.
5. Skip Seasonal Treatments
Not all change is worth your time, however; many spas like to offer variety to their menus with seasonal offerings, such as lavender in a summer body scrub or pumpkin in a fall facial. This is a good thing for spa-goers who’ve tried it all and eagerly anticipate the next new thing as if it’s Fashion Week. But despite the fanfare these fleeting seasonal menu items get, they’re typically not as compelling as the regular spa services — and if the products used for your spring ginger-lime body scrub come from a jar, couldn’t you really book it any time of year? Skip them unless the spa has actually sourced the ingredients fresh from the farmers market or an organic garden — or you’re just bored with spa perennials.
6. Ask the Experts
If you usually play Russian roulette with a spa menu, let a skilled facialist determine what your skin needs and cater specifically to it once you arrive. Maybe you’ve been going after your fine lines and wrinkles with microdermabrasion treatments when a deeply hydrating treatment with skin-plumping massage or microcurrents would do the trick. And you might miss out on skin-firming acupressure and de-puffing massage that makes your jawline taut and your eyes look like you’ve slept well for a week. “Guests can forget that a skin-care service is a total relaxing and soothing experience,” says Annie Fung, spa manager at ESPA at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.
7. Avoid the Sun
Newly exfoliated skin is especially vulnerable to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. You don’t want to undo the point of your anti-aging facial by inviting the dark brown blotches, fine lines and laxity the sun’s rays can cause. Nor do you want to sunburn newly exposed skin cells. “We gently remind spa-goers who must take in the beach or pool immediately to slather on the sunscreen, and take a hat and umbrella,” says Carpenter, of The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach.
8. Don’t Shave!
Newly shaved legs end up getting stung by the salt or alpha hydroxy acids in the sugar used in body scrubs, so to be safe, give the razor a rest that morning. Spa director Carpenter swears that therapists take a vow of indifference to legs that aren’t perfectly smooth. For men booking facials, shave the night before. Shaving removes dead skin cells, so you really don’t need two exfoliations in a day.
9. Forgo Modesty
Spa therapists have seen it all. Even so, some spa-goers tend to prefer to wear underwear bottoms during a massage — or at least the first few. As people get more comfortable with the ritual, they may feel more at ease with nudity. A pretreatment consultation with the therapist can establish a sense of trust. “After a clear explanation of the treatment, and time to ask questions, guests feel more confident and relaxed about placing their bodies in the hands of the therapist,” says Fung, of ESPA at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.
10. Early Turndown Service
Your massage therapist will remind you to drink a lot of water. (It’s the standard spa-treatment farewell.) But how to preserve your spa-day bliss? Have an early dinner, skip the wine, and head to bed early. Because too much wine and not enough sleep are what inspire a spa visit in the first place.