I've been covering all-things spa since the mid-1990s after a memorable first-time experience at a destination spa. People go to spas for many reasons. And while the experience can be all touch-feely, it can also be life changing, not to mention costly. Getting the most out of your experience is what really counts. Here are some tips for the spa newbie or the spa savvy.
1. Before going to a spa, take the time to do some research; just because your BFF endorses one or two and she swears by them, doesn't necessarily mean that they're a good fit for you and your needs.
2. Not all spas are created equally. Know the differences and every bit of minutia about what they have to offer. This includes spa etiquette, treatment description, price, tipping, deposit, cancellation policy, etc.
3. When you contact the spa, whether by phone, email or online form, prepare a list of questions you might have and fire away. If you're not getting a clear-cut answer, ask again until you're satisfied with the answer.
4. Ask for a tour of the facilities once you arrive, just to make sure it's up to your level of expectation; you have every right to check out; be suspicious if a spa gives you a bunch of flimsy excuses as to why they can't accommodate your reasonable request.
5. While most spas are happy to give you a tour, depending on the day of the week (spas are generally at their busiest Thursday through Sunday), the spa may be a bit crowded, or you may not get a chance to see actual treatment rooms due to current guests getting treatments, or guests who are in a relaxation/meditation area; spas want to preserve guest privacy and having a parade of would-be guests can be disruptive and distracting for their relaxing guests.
6. If you're planning on going to a resort or hotel that has a full-service spa facility, make sure when you call to make your room reservation to be transferred to the spa so you make you treatment reservation at that time. Be sure to ask about any special room plus spa packages, or specially discounted a la carte spa treatments.
7. Nothing is more disappointing than arriving at a hotel or resort and after getting settled into your room, you decide to visit the spa to make an appointment and you're informed that nothing is available. Wait listing might be an alternative, but not that appealing.
8. Never be timid or shy about admitting that you've never been to a spa or have limited experience going to one if the spa asks you about your spa habits. Where treatment options are concerned, make sure to have the spa thoroughly describe what is involved in the that process from the person giving you the treatment and what's expected of you while on the treatment table.
9. Once on the treatment table and if at any time you feel self-conscious or experience discomfort or pain, immediately speak up and let your technician know. Your technician should stop and take the time to explain to you what they're doing, or they should adjust their pressure, etc. Your comfort is the most important thing, so don't suffer in silence and be a martyr. A highly skilled technician should always ask if you've ever had the treatment elsewhere; one the treatment begins, they'll generally ask you several times how you're doing, or if they're pressure is too light, too heavy, etc., or if there's anything they can do for you.
10. Don't be late to your appointment. Most spas will suggest you arrive at least thirty minutes beforehand. This allows for your being shown to the locker area and amenity area (showers, steam, sauna, whirlpool, etc.). If your treatment doesn't start when it's supposed to, don't be shy about asking for an explanation. If it's because the spa accommodated another late arrival before your treatment time, you should not be penalized and have your time shortened because of other late arrivals. Don't hesitate to ask for some type of adjustment for the spa inconveniencing you; this can include a discount, or an add-on to your treatment (extra massage time, eye or lip treatment if getting a facial, paraffin or mask for nail work, etc.).
11. If you're plus-sized, and your robe doesn't fit, don't hesitate asking for a larger sized robe; if the spa doesn't have one that fits you, you have every right to express your disappointment; you might even want to ask management for a slight discount for the embarrassment you've experienced in not having their robing fit you properly.
12. Avoid spas that expect you to pay upfront beyond perhaps a deposit. Avoid spas that expect you to pay an additional non-refundable fee for their own insurance coverage in the event of a guest emergency and having to reschedule without penalty; some spas offer this gimmick to even include their own spa equipment failures. Guests shouldn't have to insure themselves for the failure of advertised spa equipment.
13. If you ever decide to book a salt glow treatment or any body treatment (including expanded pedicures) that involves exfoliation, do not under any circumstance whatsoever shave anywhere on your body less than 24 (or more) hours before your treatment. Not all spas remember to mention this to guests who book these types of treatments, or they make the presumption that the guest has had the treatment before and knows this caveat.
14. If you're on medication and you're not certain about contraindications from some of the spa treatments, products used, or some of the spa amenities (sauna, whirlpool, steam room, etc.) and how it might pose a health risk, check with your medical professional beforehand. Most spas will ask their guest's to fill out a brief questionnaire that asks about medical issues, medications being taken and even allergies; part of the questionnaire usually includes a waiver and your approval of the treatment. Signs are usually posted throughout the spa facility about health warnings. Same thing applies if you're allergic to certain things; a well-run spa will also ask you about this.
15. If you've scheduled for a massage, besides knowing what is involved with the type you selected, make it known at the time of the reservation that you want either a male or female therapist. Most spas will ask the guest beforehand if they have a gender preference, while others don't and it's a surprise.
16. Once you're on the treatment table, you should be fully draped throughout the entire treatment process without any of your private parts exposed.
17. Some no-nos in spa-dom -- no loud talking or laughing, no cell phones or other electronic devices, and no children under 16 or 18 (this has to do with insurance).
18. Lastly, because spa experiences are sensory-driven, no two therapists will have the same touch when they give you the same type of massage, even at the same spa, for example. For facials, results will be different depending on the products used, since each spa tends to use their own preferred brand and private label brand (same for all treatments).
Your spa experience is an investment in self. You should always leave feeling better than when you arrived at the spa. And while problems are the exception, should any arise, approach it with honesty and sincerity. Most spas want satisfied guests and your feedback will be invaluable. Remember, they want you to spread the word, and especially to return.
Lastly, knowing why you want to go to a spa is just as important as finding a spa that will meet your needs and expectations. And while the spa experience is relaxing, pampering and restorative, it can also be life changing.
By Terry Herman
Terry Herman is a recognized expert in issues related to spa, beauty, wellness and lifestyle. Her work has appeared in both consumer and trade publications, including her digital magazine, "Terry's Spa, Beauty and Wellness Go-To." In addition to writing and reviewing, she is also a management consultant and motivational speaker. She also serves on EXPERIENCE | PREMCHIT Journeys in Retreat to Wellness Advisory Board, which is comprised of 10 international experts in various fields of wellness and spa. To find out more about Terry and to read her blog, visit her at Red Room.