In my quest for the ultimate pampering experience, I pore over menus of services from half a dozen premier Las Vegas spas on my hotel room...
LAS VEGAS — In my quest for the ultimate pampering experience, I pore over menus of services from half a dozen premier Las Vegas spas on my hotel room bed. I ask businesswomen at the furniture trade show I am here to attend for tips. I’m only here for three days, and I haven’t booked any appointments yet.
I’m having a bad case of analysis paralysis. I can’t decide on the best route to bliss. Should I try Ayurvedic rituals to balance my chakras? Or ancient Turkish purification ceremonies?
Or would it be better to skip the spiritual stuff and go for pure physical indulgence? Maybe a Fijian sugar and pineapple body polish, or a “fire-and-ice” massage with hot basalt rocks and cold marble stones is the ticket.
My senses are overloaded just from reading the treatment descriptions. I decide to prowl vintage clothing and furniture stores in the Arts District to clear my mind and seek advice from local women. Maria Willmon, owner of Modify, a retro furniture boutique, is sympathetic.
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The spa operators “run out of stuff to do,” Willmon says, packing up a mod ceramic ashtray I’ve bought as a gift. “It’s like, ‘Now we’re going to put a monkey on your head, and then we’re going to drag you behind a car. And you’re going to love it.’ “
Willmon’s advice is succinct: You can’t beat a good Swedish massage. I’m not about to give up on the esoteric treatments without experiencing them first. But my back and shoulders are knotted up from flying, so maybe a simple massage is a good way to start. I call one of the spas on my short list. They have an opening today, in the late afternoon.
My spa education is about to begin.
You can’t beat a good Swedish massage
The grounds of the JW Marriott hotel in the manicured suburb of Summerlin look like a new interpretation of the original Las Vegas oasis aesthetic. Irrigated green lawns lined with banks of pansies flourish in defiance of the natural geography and climate. Rocks, aloe and rosemary hedges are replacing grass in traffic islands and residential front yards across large parts of Las Vegas, but not here.
The hotel spa is called Aquae Sulis (“waters of Sulis”), the name the Romans gave the spa at Bath in Great Britain, in honor of the local goddess of thermal springs. Water definitely plays a starring role in the facilities here. A curving two-story-high glass wall looks out onto dramatic waterfalls and a heated crescent-shaped pool. The pool has protruding “pods,” or shallow ledges you lay down in while hydro jets massage your entire body.
Inside the glass wall are dozens of high-tech treadmills and stationary bicycles with personal TVs, in case the view of the waterfalls and tropical landscaping is not diverting enough.
An interior, tiled “ritual room” has cool, warm and hot pools and waterfall showers. There is also a sauna and steam room and thickly cushioned armchairs and chaises. I show up an hour and a half before my scheduled 50-minute Swedish massage so I can take full advantage of the facilities — except the exercise machines. I’m here to relax.
Lying on my back in the steam room is dreamy, but the 16-foot-high waterfall shower takes getting used to. The attendant had warned me to hang onto the hand rails, but I still get knocked around. Ow! This is more invigoration than I need.
I feel like a limp noodle by the time I crawl onto the table for my massage. I’m afraid I’m going to fall asleep. But Brian, the therapist, has strong hands that go straight to the knots in my upper back and knead them into submission.
This is not perfect relaxation, but it is a pure physical release from tension. I feel like I’m floating on my way back to the dressing area. The 50-minute massage cost $100 (check the prices before you go, because any of treatments in the story could have changed prior to publication), more than I pay in Kansas City, but a good value if you make use of the other facilities.
There are no bad treatments
I am primed for the Sea-Esta treatment at Canyon Ranch Spa Club in the Venetian. My belly is full after a Cuban breakfast of pineapple juice, ham croquettes and fried plantains, and I’m eagerly anticipating my first truly esoteric spa experience.
Canyon Ranch is a Mecca for specialty treatment enthusiasts. In my first run through their brochure I found more than a dozen interesting sounding possibilities: “Lulur Ritual” and “Rasul Ceremony” — it’s fun just saying the names.
I settled on Sea-Esta partly because it takes place in the intriguing “Cavitosonic chamber.” This chamber is described as a black-lit room where “ultrasonic waves shoot through a water tank, producing a cool, dense, ionized, bacteria-free vapor through a process known as cool nebulization.” Wow.
The room supposedly re-creates the invigorating effect of sea air, while the treatment is kind of a smorgasbord of mud packs, cooling gels and a scalp massage with peppermint moisturizer. I’m psyched. I figure it’s important to be in a positive rather than cynical frame of mind in order to get the full benefit of any unusual treatments.
As it turns out, the treatment doesn’t quite live up to my expectations for the price tag ($245 for 80 minutes). I kept waiting for the feeling of standing at the ocean’s edge, but it didn’t happen. I guess that sensation is not easily re-created. But my scalp feels tingly — maybe that is supposed to simulate exhilaration.
Ultimately, the experience is pleasurable. Dani, the therapist, is knowledgeable and has a soothing voice. When I can’t get into a meditative mood and decided I’d rather chat, she chats. She tells me where to drive to see old neighborhoods where the stars and the pit bosses lived in the ’50s and ’60s and where to get good food.
The satisfaction I leave with is not the kind I was after, but it’s still good: It’s comforting to make a personal connection with a stranger when you’re far from home.
Stunning scenery is the ultimate add-on
By Day 3 of my quest, I’m starting to feel a little pressure. I’m having a lovely time, but I don’t feel like I’ve succeeded in recharging my spirit or renewing my energy. I worry I’m not cut out for inner harmony. Maybe I need to loosen up and focus on physical well-being.
As soon as Lake Las Vegas comes into view around the bend in the road, the pressure starts to recede. What a beautiful place. The calm water is dark around the edges but white with the reflected desert sky in the middle. The lake is rimmed by rugged brown hills. The Ritz-Carlton hotel and spa add a jolt of color to the scene. The compound looks like a Tuscan-inspired fantasy with that oddly two-dimensional feeling many playgrounds for the rich have, probably the result of overly artful landscaping.
The hotel spa is called Vita di Lago. The indoor area is small but very pretty, with warm and cold pools, sauna and steam room. But the real bonus is a Moorish-looking garden full of flowering shrubs with chaises to lounge in. I start to think maybe the $185 Mesquite Tree Renewal treatment is just the ticket after all. In fact, any treatment in this setting would probably be just the ticket.
I booked the treatment because it is supposed to counteract the drying effects of the desert climate. I feel like my face is cracking from the inside out. With every smile I feel new craters are being ripped open around my eyes. Just walking in the outside air feels like a microderm abrasion on my face. How do people live here?
In fact, when I am done getting scrubbed down with mesquite tree powder, and packed in clay and plastic, and massaged with ylang ylang oil, my skin feels like a baby’s bottom. After I’m dressed I wander around the garden some more and think how much I enjoyed the treatment. But I think what I’m really enjoying is the setting. I think I would be just as happy if I’d gotten a facial.
Sometimes bliss comes in down time
I’m out of money for spa treatments, but I still really want to see Spa Mandalay. I’ve heard it’s quite lovely. I phone ahead and find out I can purchase a day pass for $30 to use the facilities.
This inexpensive lark turns out to be the most relaxing experience of my whole trip. For four hours I float in mosaic tiled whirlpools that create an effervescent effect on the surface of the water. If you hold your face close the bubbles pop against your skin; it’s like floating in a glass of champagne. The whirlpools are designed as two long troughs, with benches on both sides and water cascading down a high wall in the center. The middle of the pools is wide enough to swim in if you’re careful.
I float in the whirlpool, lie in the eucalyptus steam room, rinse off with a cool shower, then sink into a deep chaise to peruse magazines, eat a tiny apple and sip a cup of tea. Then I do it all over again.
After three or four hours of this, the last lingering thoughts of where I should eat dinner and whether I should fill up the rental car with gas tonight or on my way to the airport in the morning have vanished. My skin is hydrated, my muscles are relaxed and I can’t think of a thing beyond what flavor of tea to drink next.
If bliss is more than this, I don’t need it.