Seagoing health spas: There's the rub -- and the pampering and the view


The cruise industry is shaping up. Spas are going to sea in a big way. Spa/gym/salons are the wave of the future in pampered cruising.

And the future is now -- beginning with the on-board cruise talks introducing shipboard personnel to passengers, with the health, beauty and fitness staff informing passengers about their shipboard services.

The reason: Today's emphasis on health and fitness-conscious lifestyles creates a greater demand for on-board activities that promote well-being. Many cruise lines are responding to that demand by offering full-service spa-at-sea cruise programs, expanded facilities and food choices that rival land-based spa resorts and health clubs.

Among them are the two largest seagoing health spas in the world -- identical 12,000-square-foot British-run Nautica Spas aboard Carnival's two new mega-ships, the Fantasy and the Ecstasy, sailing from Miami to the Bahamas and Caribbean.

The concept has proved so popular that the spa program has been expanded to the line's seven other vessels. All offer workout facilities, including a gym, body and facial treatments, and exercise classes. Most of the ships also feature saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools, and each vessel has three swimming pools. Menus aboard each ship have special designations marking spa fare, which is lighter in calories, sodium, cholesterol and fat. Salads are prepared with diet dressings and desserts with Sweet'n Low or NutraSweet.

Intangibles include free consultations and classes designed so that participants can take home a spa, fitness and beauty program.

All in all, it is a heady cruise mix. We recently sampled the seagoing spa concept aboard Carnival Cruise Line's newest $275 million mega-liner Fantasy during a three-day Miami-Bahamas sailing.

It included Carnival's brand of non-stop "fun ship" activity, from games to Las Vegas-style entertainment to gambling in one of the largest casinos afloat. There is also a day in Nassau to see the sights, shop duty-free, gamble at resorts such as Carnival's Crystal Palace with the largest spa/casino in the Caribbean, or just hit the beach.

Of the 2,600 passengers on board, an average of 600 use the spa, spending an average of $55 per person, or $33,000. The day at sea is the most popular spa day. Spa hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The gym opens an hour earlier. It is glass-enclosed and looks out on the sea. Activities include a 1-mile deck walk at 7 a.m., a 7:30 a.m. stretch-and-relaxation class and various levels of aerobics classes throughout the day. Also, a full range of spa and salon activities, including seaweed wraps, aromatic massages, facials and electronic stimulation.

"Americans have become tremendously fitness-conscious," said Sarah Jacob, operations supervisor for Steiner, a company with offices in Miami and London that operates spa, fitness and beauty programs on nearly 40 ships sailing worldwide, including Carnival, Chandris and Costa. "They are so into fitness, they want to continue their schedule away from home when they go away on a cruise. Others want to take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere and free time of cruising to pamper themselves with massages and beauty treatments. We offer something for everybody."

"We" includes a Fantasy seagoing staff of 20 spa specialists who work for Steiner, a firm that began with the original Steiner working as a hairdresser to Queen Victoria and grew into one of London's largest spa/salons operating with a royal warrant and a fancy address in Knightsbridge. Steiner salons began going to sea in 1945.

Ms. Jacob said personnel must have at least two years' experience in a spa before they are permitted to work aboard a cruise ship. They have an additional four to six weeks working in a Steiner indoctrination program in London, living together in hostels near the Knightsbridge branch to get used to living in close quarters together on ship.

"We try to be friendly -- but not too friendly -- and we try to assure the best possible service, take-home programs and beauty products that can be reordered by mail" said Ms. Jacob. "Time was when the spa business at sea used to be all perms and facials. Nowadays, health and fitness are a way of life. We feel we offer everything at sea that a land spa does -- and more, because we offer the latest in European expertise. We thought Yanks were laid-back, but Americans are a stressed-out lot. We aim to de-stress. And we are as popular with men as we are with women."

We'll vouch for that.

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