What is your most memorable spa experience? Spa treatments are not a luxury for me. They help relieve pain I live with as a result of fibromyalgia. They help relax me. They provide a chance for me to reset and regroup. And, in many ways, going to the spa helps keep me sane. I visit spas frequently and have had some amazing experiences all over the world—read about a few of those here—but these seven are the best spa treatments of my life (listed in alphabetical order).
Aji Spa at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa
Aji Spa is at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa on the Gila River Indian Community near Chandler, Arizona. Many of the treatments are based on indigenous ingredients and the sacred Native American doctrines.
I have had numerous treatments at Aji over the years. My first visit, back in 2006, was “Healing with Belen Stoneman”. This unforgettable journey started with a quiet conversation with Belen, who happens to be, at the same, the most gentle woman and the strongest woman I have ever met. Belen asked me to tell her something about myself.
After our brief conversation in which she focused her attention completely on me and looked into my eyes so deeply that I was sure she could see my soul, I climbed on the table under a warm blanket. She used a combination of traditional massage, polarity and ancient Pima healing doctrines. Belen said my body and spirit guided her healing hands through techniques handed down by Medicine Healers of the Pima Tribe for centuries.
I felt relaxed and thought back to our brief conversation as I floated in that magical space between sleep and wake. My body relaxed and my mind became clear and light. Read more about my treatment with Belen here.
As much as I loved my treatment with Belen, however, my favorite treatment at Aji Spa is my favorite because of a very special therapist, Sheena. I go regularly for Aji's therapeutic massage followed by a 50-minute hand and foot reflexology session. During that two hours, she works magic on my body. In fact, I have fantasies of winning the lottery and hiring Sheena to be my personal massage therapist.
I love when she adds in some stretches to help with my fibromyalgia pain, but the reflexology is the perfect treatment. It uses a series of strokes and pressure on my hands and feet to help increase circulation and reduce stress. I almost always snooze a bit during the reflexology part of the treatment. Aji Spa is closed through early August 2015 for remodeling, so I'm excited to go back mid-August to check out all the changes.
Mii amo, a destination spa at Enchantment Resort
Mii amo, set against the backdrop of Boynton Canyon's red rocks in Sedona, Arizona is one of the most beautiful spas in the world. The setting is breathtaking. Someday, I hope to do one of Mii amo's multi-day journeys. It's definitely on my bucket list. My only visit to the spa was back in 2008 and I still remember every tiny detail.
The treatments focus on the Native American culture and I had a chance to experience the Inner Quest, which was developed by tribal elders for the resort. My therapist was trained specifically for this treatment and blessed by the elders. She told me it was a combination of ritual and light massage.
I climbed on the massage table and my therapist wrapped me in a ceremonial blanket that helps simulate the warmth of a traditional sweat lodge. I snuggled inside, took a deep breath and closed my eyes. My journey began.
My therapist lit sweet grass for a smudging (cleansing of the room). I soaked up the luscious aroma and felt myself begin to float away. The treatment included a ritual honoring the four stages of life in the Native American Circle of Life or Medicine Wheel. Slowly, against a backdrop of haunting flute music, the therapist massaged my legs, arms, shoulders and head. I felt myself resting in that place where I wasn't quite asleep but not really awake.
When the treatment was over, my therapist raised the blinds and the vista was breathtaking. Only then did I realize my room was encased in glass on three sides. It was late in the evening and the sun was setting in the deep red hills of the canyon, casting shadows experienced by centuries of visitors before me. I definitely felt as if I'd made a deep inner quest.
Mii amo, a destination spa
525 Boynton Canyon Road
Sedona, AZ 86336
Moana Lani Spa at Moana Surfrider
Moana Lani Spa is located inside the luxurious Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort and Spa on Waikiki Beach. This was a magical experience and I told my therapist that day that it was perhaps the best spa experience I had ever had.
Moana Surfrider itself is a gorgeous resort. It rests on a natural healing spring. Perhaps that was part of the magic of that day. The ocean, the breezes, the history, the sweet smell of plumeria wafting through the open windows all helped set the stage. The relaxation room is on the resort's second floor, with windows open to the beach.
I stretched out on a chaise, waiting for my treatment, and looked out across the Pacific Ocean. There was a slight breeze that kissed my skin and I breathed in the aroma of flowers and salt air. I think I laughed out loud. “Is this real?” I thought to myself. I am fortunate to experience the many things I do in my travels and I relish those wow moments like this. I've been known to actually pinch myself to make certain I'm not dreaming. But if waiting for my treatment was a wow moment, it was just a warm-up for what was to come.
I was scheduled for the Na Mele, an 80-minute Moana signature treatment that includes some of the traditional Hawaiian massage techniques and a selection of hypnotic Hawaiian music (which they give you on a CD to take home with you). My therapist was a large Hawaiian man who had trained for years in the traditional Lomi Lomi techniques. He used a series of rolling movements with his forearms, pressure on specific tender points on my body and long, gentle strokes down my back and legs.
Not only did the Na Mele relax me, it brought a sense of deep peace. My mind let go of the stress and I felt as if he somehow reached into my soul, soothing and nourishing it. I felt pure relaxation during this treatment.
Ritz-Carlton Spa, Dove Mountain
The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Dove Mountain is another Arizona spa that sets the stage for excellence with its breathtaking scenery. I love the private pool at the spa, which you can use all day when you book a treatment. During my visit there in June 2015, my husband and I scoped out one of the covered day beds and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon moving between pool and daybed, with beautiful views of the craggy hillsides surrounding the resort.
I booked the Desert Gemstone Ritual. When it was time for the treatment, my therapist took me to a large couple's treatment room for my 90-minute pampering session. The treatment began when my therapist handed me a bowl of stones and asked me to select one to be my guide. There are two choices for this treatment: an amethyst that focuses on calmness and clarity or citrine, which signifies prosperity and joy. I chose citrine.
My therapist explained the treatment and made me feel comfortable in the beautiful treatment room. He started with a calming foot soak while I sipped a cup of herbal tea. After that, I moved to the massage table and my therapist used a loofah glove to give me a full body dry scrub. I love dry scrubs. They invigorate me, stimulate my skin and make me more open to the calming movements of the massage.
After the scrub, my therapist left the room for about 15 minutes for me to soak in the deep jetted tub in the room. Before he left, he pointed out that I could use the time any way I wanted—soaking in the tub, sitting by the fireplace or relaxing out on the private patio. As is no surprise to anyone who knows me, I spent most of my time in the massive tub. I turned on the air jets for a while, but soon turned them off and soaked in silence so I could listen to the Native American flute music piped into the room.
After my soak, my therapist returned and I made my way to la-la land during a full-body massage. The combination of hot tea, the gemstone, dry scrub, bath and massage took me on a journey that left me relaxed and at ease. As for the citrine that promotes clarity of thought, creativity and joy—I wrote my entire business plan that night and the next day with a renewed sense of creativity and ideas flooding me. I think I may need to redo the visit every year to review my business plan. Makes perfect business sense, right?
The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Dove Mountain
15000 N. Secret Springs Drive
Marana, AZ 85658
Ten Thousand Waves
Ten Thousand Waves is a Japanese-inspired spa in the most unexpected of places—Santa Fe, New Mexico. I went to Ten Thousand Waves about eight years ago, but it was such an amazing experience that I remember every moment of it.
Ten Thousand Waves is set on the edge of the national forest about 10 minutes from Santa Fe. You will find yourself surrounded by piñons and junipers, but the outdoor hot tubs transport you to Asia.
I visited the spa with four other women and we started with a soak in a private outdoor bath. The water is warm (about 104°F) and the round teak tub is shallow enough that you can sit comfortably on the bottom. We spent about an hour there, laughing, telling stories and awaiting our treatments with the gentle mountain breezes cooling us in the hot water.
The treatment I had is no longer offered at Ten Thousand Waves, but by combining several existing treatments, you can get close to what I experienced. I started with a therapeutic massage. After the massage, my therapist sprinkled a natural powder on my skin. It was an amazing feeling to have that cool powder sifted down on skin that was warm from the massage. After that, my therapist cocooned me in an herbal wrap. While I was all wrapped up, she slowly drizzled warm camellia oil on my forehead and massaged it into my scalp.
Following the scalp massage, she unwrapped me and led me to the shower, where I removed the powder. Once dry and back on the massage table, she finished by rubbing a moisturizing cream into my arms, legs and back.
This spa experience was completely different from any of the others I've experienced over the years. I would love to return someday and stay in one of the Zen rooms on the property.
Ten Thousand Waves
3451 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
VHSpa at Hotel Valley Ho
VH Spa at Hotel Valley Ho, located in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona, is small compared to some Arizona spas, but I've always enjoyed the treatments. The best, however, was the “Helsinki” treatment I had this past spring. My therapist, Jennifer, seemed to be completely in tune with my body and was able to work on problem areas without any guidance from me.
The 90-minute Helsinki is part of VHSpa's “Jet Set Crowd” menu that connects spa goers to treatments inspired from international locales. She begins by applying “cloud milk” to my body, followed by a wild-harvested Arctic berry wrap. The wrap left my dry desert skin feeling hydrated, but it was the massage that elevated this treatment.
Jennifer used heated birch wood rollers and focused on my neck and shoulders. She used different pressures and I felt the stress in my body melt away. I didn't want the treatment to end. I was so completely relaxed. I'm intrigued by the other “jet set” offerings:
- Honolulu, a Lomi Lomi treatment that uses tropical aromas
- Istanbul, a Hammam experience with aromas from the East, including coffee, quince, fig and lemon
- Capri, Blood Orange Cool uses cool marble and blood oranges
- Casablanca, a Moroccanoil Hydrating Treatment with argan oil, exfoliation and Moroccanoil hair treatment
While VH Spa is small, there are saunas you can enjoy before or after your treatment and you are welcome to spend the rest of your day at the pool. I would recommend a stay in the hotel, located in Old Town Scottsdale. The mid-century modern hotel has a fun vibe and the food at Zuzu is delicious. Read more about my overall experience at Hotel Valley Ho here.
Well & Being Spa at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
Well & Being Spa at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is located in North Scottsdale and is another spa I've visited many times over the years. You can read more about my experience at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess here. I love the setting at Well & Being Spa—the rooftop pool is an ideal place to relax, food at the spa café is delicious, the setting is uniquely Arizona with the sandstone, rock and palm trees. They also have these amazing therapeutic waterfalls that happen to be among my favorite spa features.
I usually start my experience at Well & Being with a visit to the eucalyptus steam room. After clearing my mind and my sinuses, I move on to the outside falls. This is a co-ed area, so a swimsuit is required. There are three waterfalls that pour down into the small pool. The intensity of each gets harder, so you can start with a gentle rush of water over your head, neck and shoulders and get increasingly more intense—and more therapeutic—as you move through the three waterfalls. Then you're ready to relax with your therapist.
I've never had a bad spa treatment here, but my all-time best experience was the Havasupai Falls Rejuvenation. This two-hour treatment was…well…decadent. There's something extra special about being the center of attention for two hours and getting a scalp treatment to top it off.
My therapist did a dry scrub, then I soaked in a warm bath, followed by a massage with jojoba body butter. After that, she wrapped me in a warm cocoon and massaged my hair with warm oil. What a special treat. And when I combine that with a stay at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a dinner at La Hacienda or Bourbon Steak and breakfast on my private patio the next morning, it is just about the perfect escape.
Make certain when you spend a day at the spa at Well & Being that you allot time to relax at the rooftop pool after your treatment. It's such a relaxing space and you can't ask for a better spot in February.
Well & Being Spa
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
7575 E. Princess Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85255
Where to next? I'm looking forward to searching spas near and far to find the next six best spa experiences of my life.