Choosing the Right Spa

No question about it, spas are not what they used to be. Gone are the days of the tiny hotel spa with just a massage table or two and a limited treatment menu. Following what seems to be the general public's increasing appreciation of wellness and natural healing—not to mention the trend in ultra-luxe traveling and doing everything in excess—spas have evolved into a booming business. Infinity pool at Strawberry Hill, a  spa  resort in Jamaica

Today's spas are destinations in themselves, with thousands of square feet of indoor and outdoor space dedicated to body and mind enhancement. Spa cuisine, life and fitness coaching, organic spas, even medical spas—the options are vast and incredible if you're interested in a wellness getaway. Spa trips can now be combined with everything from an adventure vacation to post-surgery recuperation.

So, where should you begin when choosing the spa experience that's right for you? For starters, knowing how much time you plan to spend at a spa and what you plan to take away from your visit is important. Read on for a breakdown of the different types of spas, what you'd find at each and what kind of traveler would enjoy it most. Then get out there and enjoy! You deserve it.

Destination Spas

If the sole purpose of your trip is a healthful retreat, it's best to head to a destination spa. There, you'll be with like-minded guests who are all there to benefit physically and mentally from their travels. A destination spa's key focus is to provide specific health and wellness treatments and facilities.

Guests stay at a destination spa for at least several days, sometimes purchasing week-long packages. The visit begins with a full health assessment, including medical history check, physical fitness evaluation and detailed questionnaire by health professionals.

Spa cuisine—light, healthful fare made with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and usually incorporating local ingredients—is always offered at a destination spa, and is often prepared and served in gourmet style. Guests can get nutritional counseling and even take cooking classes—all designed to help with weight loss and to provide benefits that last long after the guest returns home.

Some destination spas have their own natural springs which provide mineral, thermal or sea water for hydrotherapy treatments. Fitness is another essential at a destination spa. Gentle exercise like yoga, Pilates and swimming are offered, as well as one-on-one fitness instruction and coaching by experts who can also design a take-home exercise regimen for guests.

Resort Spas

Resort spas are found at hotels that have other amenities and facilities. The spa may be managed by an outside source or by the resort itself, and these typically includes a gym and salon as well. Spa visits are complemented by other activities the resort has onsite or arranges nearby, such as golf, beach or tennis. Spa cuisine may or may not be available.

Groups of women traveling together are an increasingly popular market for resort spas. This includes bridal parties going for pre-wedding treatments or a bachelorette-party vacation, or simply a girlfriends' getaway. Many hotels sell packages that include group treatments, group relaxation time and special meals and drinks.

Resort spas have also been reporting that more and more teenagers are indulging in spa treatments while traveling with their parents, who are willing to pay the price to keep them pampered. Some parents are also using resort spas to host their teens' birthday and prom parties.

Medical Spas

A fast-growing part of the spa business, medical spas (or "medi-spas") usually have a medical director supervising services that could extend to cosmetic surgery, dermatology and other "age-slowing" treatments. More typical treatments are available at these spas too. The growing trend is for doctors to open medi-spas on the same site as their medical facility or adjacent to it.

Medical spas are generally staffed by a full team of physicians, nurses and assorted medical specialists such as nutritionists, exercise physiologists, massage therapists and licensed acupuncturists. Dermatology, podiatry, sleep assessment and physical therapy are common services. A medi-spa experience always begins with a health and fitness evaluation.

Your Own Spa Style

As with any vacation, budget plays a role when choosing a spa, but there are plenty of options to meet any traveler's price range. Once you decide what you're looking for and how much you are willing to spend, the hard part is over—and relaxation awaits.


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