The Best Spa For You

Spa vs. Spa

By Mike Fillon
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin

Sept. 25, 2001 -- Health spas are no longer just places where overweight people go for a week to drop 10 pounds and thousands of dollars. Nor are they all New Age hideaways featuring tarot card readings, reflexology, energy-balancing treatments, and aromatherapy.

Today, many spas focus on the big picture, with an emphasis on helping people learn health and fitness skills they can take with them when they return to the real world.

"While the emphasis on health and appearance is still foremost, we're really starting to see a growing emphasis on fitness as part of a holistic experience" says Lee Baldwin, spokesperson for ISPA, the International Spa Association.

High-end spas, where guests can have their shoulders rubbed alongside movie stars, can cost $5,000 a week or more. At the other extreme, a trip to a more Spartan spa can cost as little as a few hundred dollars. Along this continuum, the goals are the same: to restore people to their previous fitness level, or help them develop new and better fitness habits.

But whether it's an old-fashioned "fat farm" or a newfangled fitness factory, how do you find the right spa for your needs? WebMD has compiled some spa-selection tips from experts in the industry.

First, they say, if you have any health problems or are new to exercise, you should talk to your doctor before booking a spa visit. You should know your exercise tolerance and find out if you have any conditions that could be made worse by certain activities.

Then, it's time to think about the type of experience you want to have. Some questions to answer:

  • What geographic area do you want to visit?
  • How much time do you want to spend at the spa?
  • How much money do you want to spend?
  • What would you like to focus on -- having an adventure? Do you want to be pampered? Do you want to focus on fitness? Do you want a spa that balances mind and body wellness? Are there specific treatments you would like, or disciplines you want to use, such as tai chi or yoga?

When you have an idea of what you want, it's time to do some research. Go online, and ask your friends about the trips they have had. Get your hands on some travel books. Research the spas that offer what you want, then spend at least 30 minutes on the phone with each one you're considering.

During that conversation, be sure to find out:

  • Will they help you set goals and develop a safe and effective program during your stay?
  • Do they follow accepted standards of employee certification and safety practices, such as those promoted by the International Spa Association?
  • Do they have a package coordinator? (And if you are talking with this person, how many questions is he or she asking you about your needs?)
  • If you are bringing your children along, are there programs available for them?
  • Are special prices available for package plans? Are there seasonal discounts?
  • Do they have a health questionnaire where guests can inform staff about their allergies or special needs?

For more information on spas, visit the International Spa Association web site at

Additional reporting by David Flegel.

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