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Spas have become destinations of their own -- not just side trips -- and Frommer's editor Anuja Madar joins host Kelly Regan to explain how a spa trip is possible for travelers on every budget. Madar reveals her spa finds and some great deals around the globe, talks about treatment options for men and women, and offers advice on getting your first massage.

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Top Tips from This Podcast

See transcript below for links to more information.

  • Reasons: Think about why you need a spa trip to decide on where to go. Relaxation? Injury?
  • Visit: Try to visit a destination before making an extended stay, feel for the right vibe.
  • Indigenous Spa Treatments: Taking ingredients from the area, and practices from local history, and incorporating them into spa treatment.
  • Places to Try: The Lake House Spa (Texas), Ritz-Carlton Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt), Mohonk Mountain Resort (New York), Tabacon Grand Thermal Spa Resort (Costa Rica), Camel Back Inn (Arizona), Strawberry Hill (Jamaica).
  • Saving Money: Think about day-spas rather than resorts.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Female Announcer: Welcome to the Frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit us at www.Frommers.com.
Kelly Regan: Hi, and welcome to the Frommers.com podcast, the latest in our continuing conversations about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, editorial director of the Frommer's Travel Guides. I'll be your host. My guest today is Anuja Madar, an associate editor here at Frommer's and the spa columnist for Frommers.com, and as beats go, that sure doesn't suck.
Anuja Madar: No, it's definitely a fun one to have.
Kelly: Anita has written several articles for the web site about spas and spa treatments, and she is here to talk more with us today about choosing a spa, about some new and slightly different spa treatments, and then some deals that are going on right now. So Anuja, welcome, thanks for being here.
Anuja: Thanks for having me.
Kelly: Yeah. Before we begin I wanted to point out that there are many different types of spa categories, as you talk about in these articles. Primarily, I guess the chief types are destination spas, spas affiliated with resorts, and what are now called day spas, which you kind of go to just for the day for treatment and don't stay.
Anuja: Yes. Well, day spas actually make up the bulk of the spas in the U.S., and resort spas are actually very, very popular as well. Destination spas are typically where people would go for about a week or so, they get the treatments, they get nutrition counseling...
Kelly: Right.
Anuja: ... exercise program.
Kelly: It's much more of a full-service approach to the spa experience.
Anuja: Yeah, it's kind of like a life-changing experience. But you'll find now that a lot of resort spas are actually incorporating some of that stuff into their programs and vice versa.
Kelly: Right, right, so a lot of the stuff we're going to be talking about today does apply to spas, all different types of spas, but primarily I think we will be talking about some resort spas.
Anuja: Yes, yes.
Kelly: So I guess, where does one begin? If you have never been to a spa before, how do you choose what kind of spa to go to?
Anuja: Well there is actually a great resource online. It's called the International Spa Association, and a lot of the major spas in the U.S. and I believe around the world are actually connected to this organization online, and they offer information about spa etiquette, Spa 101 kind of stuff, finding a spa, and any kind of basic spa questions that you might have, you can find information there. That web site is www.experienceispa.com.
Kelly: Oh, OK.
Anuja: This organization actually does a study every year, and the 2006 study actually had some really interesting statistics. They found that 32 million Americans visited a spa in 2006...
Kelly: That's a lot.
Anuja: ...which is huge. They also found that there are almost 14,000 spa facilities in the U.S.
Kelly: In the U.S. alone, yeah, yeah.
Anuja: I mean, as I was saying before, day spas make up the majority of that, and you can find the majority of the spas in the Southwest, in the Northeast. I mean, I'm from Arizona so I know that there are tons of spas down there.
Kelly: Yeah.
Anuja: Also, a lot of people are doing spa travel as well, and the U.S. and Mexico are two of the major destinations for that as well.
Kelly: For spa travel, yeah.
Anuja: But when you're looking to find a spa, there are a few things to ask yourself. The main thing, I think, to ask yourself is, "What am I looking to get out of this experience?"
Kelly: Right.
Anuja: "Am I looking to relax? Do I have a sports injury I kind of need help with? Do I have some other sort of medical thing that I'm looking to get attention for?"
Kelly: Right, or are you looking for more of a, as you said, total life-changing kind of overhaul.
Anuja: Do you just... exactly, exactly. So that's really going to determine the kind of spa that you're going to go to, and what sort of programs you are looking for. You also want to look at the budget that you have. We'll be talking about that a little bit later, I know.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah.
Anuja: And also, what kind of facilities are you looking for? If you're looking for those water facilities, like the Jacuzzi, the steam bath, you're going to find those more at resort and destination spas. Day spas are more of an in-and-out kind of...
Kelly: Facial, pedicure, that kind of stuff.
Anuja: Yeah, something where you go for an hour or so, have your treatment and leave. It's not a place where you kind of hang out all day.
Kelly: Linger. Yeah. Obviously, I think, as you were saying, there are so many more day spas now than there used to be, and anyone can pretty much hang out a shingle and say that they are spa. So is there some kind of accreditation for spas? Is there a certification? Are there things that people should ask to make sure the facilities are kind of up to snuff and sanitary?
Anuja: Well, there is no accreditation per se for spas, but as I was mentioning before, iSpa, that kind of organization or any other sort of professional organizations, if a spa belongs to something like that, that's a good sign.
Kelly: Yeah.
Anuja: Also, therapists in the U.S., they all need to be certified to be able to practice, so that's also something that you can call and ask about. If they are not certified, the place would be shut down.
Kelly: [laughs] That's good.
Anuja: But then you also want to consider when you're traveling, those kinds of rules don't necessarily apply to international places.
Kelly: Right, right.
Anuja: You also might want to ask, what kind of the products are they using. People can research sort of better, higher-end lines, or more respectable lines, and see if places are using those. You can also call and ask questions, talk to the person, see the kind of vibe that you get. I also encourage people to just to go and visit a place. There's no rule that says you can't go and check out a place.
Kelly: Before, yeah.
Anuja: So if you go and you don't get a good feeling, and the place looks kind of dingy, it's probably not a place you want to go. But if you go and people are nice, and you feel like it's a clean space, and they are willing to answer questions, that's probably a good sign that it's a good place to go.
Kelly: OK. That's good advice. So for first-time spa-goers, you know some people might be intimidated or a little squeaked at the possibility of getting naked in front of somebody.
Anuja: Really, I don't now why. [laughter]
Kelly: Or just having someone strange putting their hands on your body. Is it OK if somebody goes to get a massage or something and they're just not comfortable totally disrobing? Is it OK if they wanted to stay partially clothed?
Anuja: I was also totally freaked out, the very first time I went to a spa. The person was just going to touch my feet, and I was like -- oh my god. So it's a normal fear that everyone has. Everyone has got their insecurities. You don't want somebody looking at whatever you've got -- be it scars or cellulite. But people there are not there to do that. They are professionals, they are trained in proper draping techniques, so at no point will your body be exposed.

You can ask if it's OK for you to keep some things on. A lot of times you will keep your undergarments on while you're on the massage table or something. But sometimes you won't really get the full effect of the treatment. They really encourage people to relax. If you feel uncomfortable, you can always speak up, and they are probably more than willing to go above and beyond to try and make you feel comfortable.
Kelly: OK. That's good advice. We are having this conversation in the summertime. It's a time when people are more exposed, more skin is exposed to the sun. You're kind of sweaty, and perhaps sunburned. There are some kind of seasonally particular things to contend with. In your most recent spa article that you wrote for the website, you said that in hot and sunny weather, you should avoid skin treatments like chemical peels, because it increases the skin's susceptibility to damage. So what kind of treatments do you recommend for people going to a spa in the summertime?
Anuja: After the long winter your skin is probably dull, it's a little bit dry. So something that's going to gently exfoliate would be a good treatment. It would kind of get your skin glowing; help you get an even tan if that's what you're looking for, but you should always wear SPF. Also any treatments that use ingredients like aloe and lavender, which are really soothing for the skin. Pedicures are really big; back treatments are also really, really big. Also hair treatments. A lot of people don't pay attention to their hair. It's exposed to the sun, you are in the chlorine.
Kelly: Sure, and the salt water.
Anuja: Yeah. A lot of spas will offer a hair mask as an add-on treatment. That's definitely a good thing to do.
Kelly: That's a great idea.
Anuja: There were a couple treatments that I mentioned in that article which I thought were really good. There's a peppermint anasazi back cream facial which is offered at this place called the Shana Spa and Wellness Center at the Bishop's Mount Lodge Ranch Resort, in New Mexico. There's this really great spa in Jordan that offers a sun soother treatment. That's at the Anantar Spa, the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar, that uses aloe vera to soothe the skin that has been exposed to the sun a little bit too long.

In Arizona, there's a lot of sun and there's a lot of golf. So the Willow Stream Fairmont Scottsdale Princess offers something called a golf facial which I've actually had. It uses an additive called biomaple which is really good for hydrating the skin. So that's also a really good treatment.
Kelly: OK, great. You mentioned in that article as well, that spas aren't just for women any more, and in fact 30 percent of spa-goers in the US are men, which I found really a high number, actually.
Anuja: Yes.
Kelly: Do you see that spas are starting to design treatments specifically for men?
Anuja: Yes.
Kelly: What kinds of treatments specifically appeal to them?
Anuja: Actually, that statistic actually jumps up a little bit when you look at spa travel. It jumps up to 36 percent, which is also very interesting. A lot of men travel, and maybe they are a little more willing to try something when they can't be caught by one of their friends. Men typically tend to stick to massages because they're looking for something that's going to help them relieve some stress or soothe sore some muscles.

A lot of spas are incorporating specific treatments for men. The Boulders Golden Door Spa in Arizona, offers a few. They got a golfer's massage, a gentleman's facial, and a sports manicure and pedicure. And then there's this place called the Nickel Spa, that's got locations in New York City and San Francisco, and I think they're looking at opening places in Paris and London. Basically it's a men's only spa.
Kelly: Oh, that's great!
Anuja: So, you know, the decor is a little bit more manly. You're not going to find flowers; and they offer everything from facials and body treatments to a shave or a haircut.
Kelly: Oh, Wow! OK, so that sounds like it's definitely something that's on the rise. Also, you're working on an article for Frommers.com that's going to come out soon about what you're calling indigenous spa treatments. Can you explain what you mean by that and give a few examples?
Anuja: Sure, indigenous spa treatments, basically... I'm looking for places that are taking ingredients from the surrounding areas, and also just practices that have been part of their history, and incorporating those into spa treatments. There's a ton to choose from.
Kelly: Sure.
Anuja: There's this great place in Texas called The Lake House Spa, at the Lake Austin Spa Resort. They offer something called the Texas pecan scrub. You and I were talking about this. Texas is actually the number two producer of pecans in the U.S., so they're incorporating that; and I know they have pecan trees on the grounds.

There's a great place, the spa at the Ritz-Carlton Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, which is on the Red Sea. They take salt from the Red Sea and use that in their treatments.
Kelly: That's fantastic.
Anuja: There's also a place in upstate New York called the Mohonk Mountain Resort. Basically, when they were building the spa, they excavated about 17,000 tons of quartzite from the cliffs. They used 600 tons of that back into the spa, both in the building of the spa facade and also in the treatment. So, they have this thing called the shawangunk grit mineral body treatment, which uses minerals from that to exfoliate. It's a gentle exfoliation, I hear.
Kelly: Yeah, I was going to say, it's not like scrubbing with a big piece of quartz. That would be slightly abrasive.
Anuja: No, no, no, definitely not. And then, actually, I'm supposed to be heading to a place in Costa Rica, hopefully later on this year, called the Tabacon Grand Thermal Spa Resort...
Kelly: Oh, sure, I know that place.
Anuja: ...which is located at the base of a volcano and in the Rain Forest. They're incorporating something called the Temazcal, which is a traditional Mexican sweat bath.
Kelly: A sweat lodge.
Anuja: Yeah. They also use indigenous ingredients like coffee, sugar, coconut and volcanic mud in their treatments, as well.
Kelly: Oh, great, great. I think that sometimes people perceive spas as something that only the rich and famous can afford; and certainly, at some of the more high end places, that would be the case; but do you have any advice about how travelers can hunt down spa deals? Or do you want to mention a couple of specific deals you're aware of?
Anuja: Sure. Sure. Well, spas can be expensive. It just depends on what you're looking for; but it's also something that's accessible for everybody. Going to get a simple pedicure and manicure at the place down the street is going to give you a good, relaxing experience. It's not going to break the bank; but if you're looking for something else -- day spas, like I said, are a good way to go. You're not paying for all those water facilities. You're really just paying for the treatment.
Kelly: Right.
Anuja: And while resorts could be a little bit more pricey, they do offer a lot of great discounts, which I'll be telling you about. I also like sites like Expedia. They do vacation packages, and you can search by theme and you can look for spa vacation packages, which is a great thing; so you can kind of book everything at one time.

But there are, actually, quite a few specials that are going on that I'd love to share with you. At the spa at the Camel Back Inn in Arizona, they've got buy-one-get-one-half-off spa treatments through September 30.
Kelly: Oh, that's great!
Anuja: They're also offering this mother/daughter package, which sounds like a great way to go bond with your mom. Among other things, you get two one-hour spa treatments per person, plus a $50 food and beverage credit for their spa caf called Sprouts, which is excellent. Very, very good. I suggest the vegetarian chili and they've got this great platter of methe, which is really, really good.
Kelly: Oh, good.
Anuja: And then in Jamaica, there's a place called Strawberry Hill. They've got a couple packages going on right now. They offer something called a detox package that gives you a variety of spa treatments. You get all your meals, your house wines and beverages included. You also get a tour of a local coffee plantation. They also offer something called a five night retreat, which also offers a bunch of spa treatments, whole days at the spa, you can take some classes... In addition to that coffee plantation tour, they'll give you a guided walk on the trail. Also, both those packages include round-trip airport transfers.
Kelly: Oh, that's great.
Anuja: For that one, you can check out www.strawberryhillresort.com. I should actually back track and let you know that the Camel Back Inn would be at wwwcamelbackinn.com. That Camel Back Inn package -- mother/daughter one -- starts at about $369 per night; and the Jamaica Hill packages range anywhere from about $1,300 to about $2,500.
Kelly: Oh, OK.
Anuja: So it's going to be a little bit higher priced.

In Florida, The Ritz-Carlton at Amelia Island, they've got something called the ultimate spa escape package that's offered year round, but they've got lower prices going on from now through February.
Kelly: Oh, that's great.
Anuja: The rates start about $1,500. That includes, like a slew of spa treatments, including something they call an Amelia Island Honey Butter Wrap.
Kelly: Oh, sounds tasty!
Anuja: The Heaven and Heck Massage, a manicure and pedicure, among other things. Then over in Mexico they've got something, The Maroma Resort and Spa.
Kelly: That's on the Riviera Maya.
Anuja: Yes, I hear you've been there.
Kelly: Yeah, it's beautiful down there. Yeah, so beautiful.
Anuja: They've got a couple packages. Those range from about $4,000 to almost $10,000. But, you know, those are like five nights. One of the packages you get a $1,200 spa credit, which is great, access to all the facilities, you get lunches. So for both of those you could check out www.maromahotel.com to check out information about that.

And then the Fairmont's got a couple of deals going on right now.
Kelly: The Fairmont's a hotel chain that has properties all over the world.
Anuja: Willow Stream Spas. All over the world, actually. The one in Scottsdale has something called a Margherita pedicure which they started offering for the summer. That's through to September 15. For 99 bucks you get this pedicure, chips and salsa, which, I've got to say, Arizona has got the best chips and salsa.
Kelly: [laughter] Ah hah, you're not biased at all.
Anuja: Exactly, and you get margheritas as well. Which is great. There also offering a complimentary spa lunch for anyone who combines a 60 minute spa treatment and salon service. And then they also have a signature manicure and pedicure combo which they're offering at a discounted rate of 175 bucks.
Kelly: Oh, that's great.
Anuja: And then another Fairmont property, the Sonoma Mission Inn has something called the Royal Treatment package.
Kelly: And that's in Sonoma.
Anuja: Yes.
Kelly: California.
Anuja: $369 for half a day. You get two 50 minute treatments. And you get either a manicure, shampoo or blow dry, access to all the facilities. So for information on both of those you can go to www.Fairmont.com.
Kelly: Oh great! One other thing about Fairmont is they're offering this new service called, at the spa in Newport Beach, right, it's called the Generosity Massage.
Anuja: Yeah, that's really a cool concept. A lot of people are trying to do things to help the environment. So this is a way you can get relaxation and give back a little bit. It includes a massage and 10 percent of the proceeds from that treatment go to a local adopt-a-beach program, which is looking to protect and restore the California coast.
Kelly: Oh, that's great. That's great! And, my last question for you is, what's your favorite spa treatment that you've gotten so far?
Anuja: Oh, that's a tough one! Contrary to popular belief, I am not jetting off to spas every week [laughter] people think, like, I sit at a desk, you know, I look outside and I think, god, I wish I could get a spa treatment. But I've had some really great ones. I was in Belize last year. I went to the Montechico resort, and I had this great sea salt and sea clay body mask massage.
Kelly: Oh, that's great.
Anuja: Basically, they don't really have the same draping techniques that they have in the U.S.

[laughter]
Anuja: So, I basically had to use a tea towel.

[laughter]
Anuja: It was kind of embarrassing. But you know what? I was one of the best treatments I had. They use sea salts to exfoliate, and they use this mud mask, and then they wrap you up kind of like a burrito. For about 20 minutes and then you get washed off and your skin is really, really, really soft.

Also, recently, when I was back home in Arizona I went to the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge and I had something they called the Desert Foothills firming body wrap, which is kind of help tighten the skin. And, I really did notice the difference when I left. My pants were a little bit looser.
Kelly: Really!
Anuja: Yeah, I didn't look like a gazelle or anything but, I mean, I could still notice the difference.
Kelly: That's great!
Anuja: And then they also included in that this hair massage with neem oil which was great conditioner, it left my hair really shoft and shiny.
Kelly: Really shoft.
Anuja: Shoft, yeah.

[laughter]
Anuja: It was soft and shiny. It was great.
Kelly: That's great. That's great. All right, well I think that's all the time we have for today. You know I've been talking with Anusha Medar, who's an associate editor here at Frommer's, and is also the spa columnist for frommers.com so you can look on the website and check out her articles about spa advice and deals.

Anusha, I really enjoyed our chat. Thanks for being here. We packed a lot into our conversation.
Anuja: Thank you! Anytime you want me back, I'm happy to come.
Kelly: You bet. If I can pry you away from the spa maybe I'll have you come back.
Anuja: Maybe I should do a live broadcast from the spa.
Kelly: I think you should do whatever, a remote.
Anuja: I think that's a good idea, you should send me somewhere!
Kelly: OK. We'll get right on it. [laughter] All right, so join us next week for another conversation about all thing's travel. I'm Kelly Regan and we will talk again soon.

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