I love to board a cruise ship and offer my stressfully tight body to a massage therapist, so my muscles and mind are ready for relaxing days at sea.
For this privilege, I’ve paid $80-$200, and it was money well spent.
Still, all ship spas are not created equally.
While all cruise lines advertise that their spas are soothing and pampering — a come-on that pays off, as treatments and skin products are big moneymakers — you may want to consider a few basic tips.
• Check out the atmosphere. Only a few companies, led by the Steiner folks, manage shipboard spas by contract with cruise lines, so treatment choices and expertise are similar on most ships. The quality of the total experience, however, varies from ship to ship. Some treatment rooms are poorly located (during one of my massages, noise from the deck above sounded like a basketball game), and some waiting rooms are designed less like a stress-free calming area and more like a busy dentist’s office.
Take a quick tour on your first day aboard. Ask to see the relaxation rooms for lounging before and/or after treatments. Pay attention to how you are treated at the front desk.
I’ve been particularly impressed by the design and atmosphere on Celebrity’s Solstice class AquaSpas; Samsara Spas on the newer Costa ships; Crystal Cruise’s Symphony and Serenity; and Oceania’s new Riviera and Marina where the spas are operated by CanyonRanch.
• Find out what’s included. Some spas are like visits to a doctor’s office, where you sign in, wait for your appointment, are ushered to a room, treated, and then sent back out to sign the bill. Others are more like destination spas on land, a more rewarding experience, with pools, relaxation rooms, steam rooms, and saunas.
The newer and bigger ships from Costa and Celebrity have cabins dedicated to spa-goers, with special amenities and complimentary access to spa facilities, including a restaurant with a healthy menu.
Even if you are not staying in a special spa cabin, you may take advantage of spa facilities, usually for a fee. Treatments, such as a massage, may include some time to use the facilities before or after. If not, consider paying a daily or half-day fee to make a morning or afternoon of your visit.
• Prices change during a cruise. Nearly every cruise ship offers spa discounts during the voyage. The two best times for discounts are on the first afternoon, right after boarding, and on days when the ship is in port, as most passengers are off the vessel so the demand for services is reduced. Watch the daily ship bulletin for spa specials. If you want to use the spa on a sea day, get your reservation in early — even before your trip.
• Be clean. Etiquette demands that your body be thoroughly cleaned before you use any communal spa facilities. Showering also is recommended before your massage (so whatever is on your body is not rubbed into it).
Most spas will provide a locker, robe and flip-flops for a pre-treatment shower. Some passengers prefer to shower in their cabin, don a robe and walk to the spa, though others feel self-conscious about walking around the ship in a robe. By the way, if you are uncomfortable with lying naked, with only part of sheet between you and a massage therapist, ask the spa reception desk about treatments during which you may keep your underclothes on.