Spas and Wellness Facilities - Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Spas and Wellness Facilities

The ‘feel-good factor’ is alive and well aboard the latest cruise ships, which offer a growing array of beauty salons and body-pampering treatments.

Land-based health spas have long provided a range of body treatments and services for those who wanted to escape the bustle of everyday life. Responding to the rise in popularity of ‘wellness’ breaks, today’s cruise ships now have elaborate spas to rival those on land, where, for an extra fee, whole days of almost-continuous treatments are on offer. Once the domain of women, spas now cater almost as equally for men.


Pampering in Disney Dream’s Senses spa.


A ship’s spa will help you to relax and feel pampered. Many people unaccustomed to spas may find some of the terminology daunting: aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, ionithermie, rasul, thalassotherapy. Spa staff will help you choose the massage or other treatment that best suits you and your needs. It’s a good idea to visit the spa on embarkation day, when staff will be on hand to show you around, and answer your questions. Some cruise lines let you pre-book spa treatments online before your cruise. But take note of prices, which can quickly add up.

It’s best to avoid booking massage treatments at a time when the ship is about to leave port (usually in the late afternoon/early evening), because there may be interruptive announcements, and noise and vibration from the propulsion machinery, particularly if the spa is located in the aft section of the ship.

The best spas

My choice of excellent spas would be those aboard AIDAbella, AIDAluna, AIDAmar, AIDAsol, AIDAstella, Crystal Serenity, Europa, Europa 2, Mein Schiff 1, Mein Schiff 2, Mein Schiff 3, MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Preziosa, MSC Splendida, Pacific Pearl, Queen Mary 2, Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Sojourn, and Silver Spirit.


Large resort ships will have a large gymnasium with ocean views, saunas, steam rooms, rasul chamber, several body treatment rooms, thalassotherapy (saltwater) pool, relaxation area, changing/locker rooms, and a beauty salon. Some ships even have acupuncture treatment clinics, and some have a built-in juice bar. Some onboard spas offer a ‘couples’ experience, and some have ‘spa suites’ for rent by the day or half-day.

Thermal suites

Thermal suites are private areas that provide a combination of various warm scented rain showers, saunas, steam rooms, and thalassotherapy pools, with relaxation zones offering the promise of ultimate relaxation. Although most ships don’t charge for use of the sauna or steam room, some make a per-day charge, typically about $30-35. Some ships even add a gratuity to a spa day pass, although it’s supposed to be included, and some ships limited the number of people that can get a day pass (for example, aboard Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria the limit is 40 persons per day).

Spa suites

Many ships now have ‘spa suites,’ which include spa access and special amenities, and even a treatment or two, whereas regular cabin occupants pay extra to use the sauna/steam room and relaxation rooms; examples include Celebrity Reflection, Costa Deliziosa, Costa Fascinosa, Costa Favolosa, Costa Luminosa, Costa Pacifica, Costa Serena, Europa, Europa 2, MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Preziosa, and MSC Splendida. Some even have a special spa-food-menu-only restaurant; examples include Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Reflection, Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Solstice, Costa Deliziosa, Costa Fascinosa, Costa Favolosa, and Costa Serena.


A hot stone massage aboard an AIDA cruise offers complete body relaxation.


Personal spa suites

Each consists of a large room with floor-to-ceiling windows (one-way glass, of course), a heated floor, lots of space (about the size of three or four standard cabins), and plenty of towels. It has a two-person sauna, steam room, shower enclosure, two heated tiled relaxation loungers, two hydraulic massage tables, and, usually in one of its storage cupboards, a choice of massage oils. You can book therapists for treatments such as massage, manicure, pedicure, or facial - all in complete privacy.

A personal spa suite has herbal tea-making facilities and is bookable for a couple of hours, a half-day, or a full day - all at extra cost. AIDA Cruises and TUI Cruises already have such facilities, and other companies are expected to follow soon.

Spa design

Many ship spas have Asian-themed decor, with warm woods and gently flowing water to provide a soothing atmosphere. Unfortunately the spa reception areas are often a little too bright and in need of dimmers or mood lighting.


A gym with a view on a Celebrity cruise.

Celebrity/Quentin Bacon

Pampering treatments

Stress-reducing and relaxation treatments are offered, combined with the use of seawater, which contains minerals, micronutrients, and vitamins. Massages might include Swedish remedial massage, shiatsu, and aromatherapy oils. You can even get a massage on your private balcony aboard some ships.

Having body-pampering treatments aboard a cruise ship can be wonderful, as the ship can provide a serene environment in itself; when enhanced by a massage or facial, the benefits can be even more therapeutic. Ship interior designers do, however, need to pay more attention not only to lighting dimmers but also to soundproofing (so that facilities can be used at all hours). Examples of poor soundproofing include the treatment rooms aboard Golden Princess and Grand Princess, where they are located directly underneath a sports court. So, before you actually book your relaxing massage, find out whether the treatment rooms are quiet enough.

Unfortunately, treatments are usually available only until about 8pm, whereas some passengers would welcome being able to have a massage late at night before retiring to bed - the problem is that most shipboard spas are run by concessions, with wellbeing treated as a daytime-only event.

Also, be aware that the latest rip-off in the revenue game is to charge more for treatments on days at sea, and lower on port days. Check the daily program for ‘port day specials’ and packages that make prices more palatable.

Some of the smaller, more upscale ships now offer ‘Spa Days’ with a whole day of body-pampering treatments (often termed ‘wellness packages’.) Expect to pay up to $500 a day in addition to the basic cruise fare.


Some RCI ships have a full-size boxing ring.

Royal Caribbean International

Fitness centers

A typical large resort ship spa will include a gymnasium, probably with ocean-view windows. Virtual-reality exercise machines are found in the techno-gyms aboard most large resort ships, with state-of-the-art muscle-pumping and body-strengthening equipment, universal stations, treadmills, bicycles, rowing machines, and free weights.

Most fitness centers are open only until early evening (one exception: NCL ships, whose gyms are open 24 hours a day). And if you’ve forgotten your workout clothes, you can probably purchase new items on board.

Typical exercise classes include aerobics (for beginners, intermediate, and advanced,) high-intensity/low-impact aerobics, step aerobics, interval training, stretch and relax, super body sculpting, fab abdominals, sit and be fit, and walk-a-mile.

Group exercycling, kick-boxing, Pilates and yoga classes, body composition analysis, and sessions with a personal trainer will cost extra.


Getting a massage aboard ship can be a real stress-busting experience, although if it’s not right it can prove frustrating, and expensive.

Here are some favorite massage moments (always taken in the late afternoon or early evening, preferably just before sundown):

Aboard Celebrity Constellation, Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Summit (on the balcony of a Sky Suite).

Aboard Royal Clipper (in a private massage hut on an outside deck).

Aboard SuperStar Virgo (on the floor of a junior suite bedroom).

Inside a beach cabana ashore on Castaway Cay or Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, or as part of the beach, caviar, and champagne experience of ships such as SeaDream I and II in the British Virgin Islands.

Make appointments for a massage as soon after embarkation as possible, so you can obtain the time and day of your choice. Large resort ships have more staff and offer more flexibility in appointment times, although cruises tend to be shorter than those aboard smaller, more upscale ships. The cost averages $2 a minute. In some ships, a massage service may be available in your cabin (or on your private balcony), if it’s large enough to accommodate a portable massage table.

Although it’s easy to telephone and make an appointment for a massage or facial or two (some cruise lines let you do this online), do watch the cost. When you charge treatments to your onboard account, remember that gratuities are often added automatically (typically 10-15 percent). Elixirs of youth, lotions and potions, creams, and scrubs - all are sold by therapists, typically at the end of your treatment, for you to use when you get home. But be warned, these are expensive items; beware of falling for subtle and flattering sales talk.

A whole range of treatments and styles has evolved from the standard Swedish Remedial Massage. The most popular are:

Swedish massage. Developed by Swedish physiologist Per Hendrik Ling in the 1830s, this is the most common form of massage today. There are four basic movements in this general massage: effleurage (the stroking movements that benefit the circulation of lymphatic fluids and drainage), petrissage (the picking, kneading, rolling, and wringing movements), friction (the application of circular pressure), and tapotement (percussive tapping, flicking, and hacking movements that stimulate circulation). Long strokes are employed over your well-oiled body to reduce stress and to provide a feeling of relaxation for sore joints and muscles.

Ayurvedic head massage. Using warmed herbal oils, the therapist will apply the oil to the scalp, neck, and shoulders to stimulate circulation and nourish the hair (you’ll need to wash your hair afterward, as it will be extremely oily). Shirodhara is the form of Ayurvedic medicine that involves gently pouring warm oil (made from tulsi, or holy basil) over the forehead. Ayurveda is a compound word meaning life and knowledge.

Chinese Tui Na. This is a therapeutic massage based on a diagnostic evaluation, manipulation of the joints and muscle fibers, and identification and prevention of wrong body postures, habits, and degenerative conditions.

Couples massage. Sometimes known as a ‘duet massage,’ this is typically a 90-minute session for a couple that includes a hands-on lesson from a massage specialist on the art of massaging each other.

Hot stones massage. The therapist typically places 24 to 36 smooth basalt volcanic stones of varying sizes in a special oven. These are heated, and then applied to various key energy points of your oiled body, using the stones to gently massage specific areas and muscles. The heated volcanic stones are then left in place while the therapist works on other parts of the body. The heat from the stones promotes a sense of deep relaxation. Cold stones may be used on the face, due to their firming action.

Lomi-Lomi massage. This is a more rhythmic massage inspired by Hawaiian healing traditions that restore the free flow of ‘mana’ or life force; it is typically given using warm aromatherapy oils, and may be a two-hand or four-hand massage.

Lymphatic massage. This detox massage - developed in France in the 1930s by Emil and Estrid Vodder - is designed to improve circulation by releasing body toxins and nodes that build up in key lymphatic points. It is usually recommended for those who have poor circulation and can help deliver cellular waste.

Shiatsu massage. Originating in Japan, this means ‘finger pressure,’ applied to the pressure points of the body as a preventative measure. It typically promotes a peaceful awareness of both body and mind, and is administered in a calm environment, without oil.

Sports massage. Typically provided by a male therapist, sports massage is a deep-tissue massage designed to unlock the kinks and knots.

Thai massage. Uses pressure points and stretching techniques employed by the therapist, using both hands and feet, to stretch and relax muscles, improve circulation, and reduce stress. It is usually carried out on a mat or thin mattress, which is laid out on the floor.

Underwater massage. You soak in a large tub of warm water, possibly with rose petals floating around you, while the therapist massages joints and muscles.

Ultimate massage. Two therapists provide a synchronized full body massage, using Swedish massage movements to provide the ultimate in stress-busting relief. However, it can be less than good, if the two therapists are even slightly out of sync.

Well-being massage. This puts more emphasis on effleurage movements, the use of complementary, warmed aromatic (aromatherapy) oils, and four-hand massage (two therapists working rhythmically in unison).

Recent variations of massage include a warm candle massage and a bamboo tamping treatment. Aboard some ships (MSC Cruises, for example), combinations of Balinese massage and reflexology are popular, an Asian massage that is part Thai massage and part deep-tissue massage.

Tips on spa etiquette

1. Arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment.

2. Take a shower before entering a sauna or steam room.

3. It’s better not to talk during a massage - simply close your eyes, relax, and enjoy.

4. You can cancel an appointment up to 24 hours before your treatment time without charge. If you cancel within the 24 hours before your appointment time, you will be charged for the treatment you booked.

Other treatments

Although massage is the most popular shipboard spa treatment, some ships offer other body-pampering treatments such as facials, manicures, pedicures, teeth whitening, and acupuncture. Most are based on holistic Asian therapies. Some examples: mandi lulur, a scrub made from herbs, essential oils, and rice to soften the skin; boreh, a warm Balinese herb, rice, spice, galangal water, and oil body wrap for detoxification;

The spa will provide towels, robes, and slippers, but it’s best to store valuables safely in your cabin prior to your appointment. Some spas offer disposable underwear for body treatments such as a Body Salt Glow or Seaweed Wrap.

Acupuncture. Used to prevent and remedy many maladies, this works by inserting super-fine needles into special points on the skin.

Halotherapy. One of the latest body detox treatments, this uses a Himalayan crystal salt bed for deep relaxation and body detoxing. It involves lying on a bed of 290lbs (130kg) of Himalayan salt crystals heated from 90 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (32-40 degrees Celsius), and breathing in the salt-infused air. The salt contains 84 essential minerals as fine particles.

Moxibustion. This is a treatment that involves the insertion of hair-thin needles, dipped into mugwort (Artemisa capillaris), into one of the body’s 1,100-plus acupuncture points.


Bamboo massage for two in Carnival Magic’s Cloud 9 spa.

/Carnival Cruises/Andy Newman

Body scrub

The aim of this treatment is to cleanse and soften the skin, and to draw out impurities from within, using aromatic oils, creams, lotions, and perhaps sea salt, together with exfoliation (removal of dead skin cells) using skin-brushing techniques.

Body wrap

Often called a body mask, this treatment typically includes the use of algae and seaweeds applied to the whole body. The body is then covered in aluminum foil and blankets. There are many variations on this theme, using mud from the Dead Sea or the Mediterranean, or sea salt and ginger, or cooling cucumber and aloe, or combinations of herbs and oils that leave you with a warm glow. The aim is to detoxify, firm, and tone the skin, and reduce cellulite.

Dry flotation

This gives you the sensation of floating without getting wet; you lie on a plush rubberized warm blanket between your body and the water. A therapist then gently massages your head and neck.


Aromatherapy facial. This treatment typically uses aromatic oils such as lavender, sandalwood, and geranium, plus a rejuvenating mask and accompanying creams and essences to ‘lift’ the skin and facial muscles.

Rejuvenation facial. This is typically a classic French facial, which utilizes the latest skin care products that may include essential plant and vitamin-rich oils. This facial aims to reduce lines and wrinkles.

Other popular treatments include eye lifting, volcanic mud mask, and manicure with back and neck massage.

Rasul chamber

This is a steam chamber (Hammam) that is typically fully tiled, with a domed roof and Moorish decor. You paste yourself or your partner with three types of mud and sit down while gentle steam surrounds you. The various types of mud become heated and then you’re in a mud bath, after which you rub yourself (or perhaps each other) with large crystals of rock salt.


The body’s energy meridians exist as reflex points on the soles of the feet. The therapist uses thumb pressure to stimulate these points to improve circulation and restore energy flow throughout the body.

Teeth whitening

This treatment is done using one of several methods, including bleaching strips, pen, gel, and laser bleaching. Carbomine peroxide, when mixed with water, forms hydrogen peroxide - the substance most used in teeth whitening procedures. Power bleaching uses light energy to accelerate the process. Expect to pay about $200.


The use of seawater to promote wellbeing and healing dates back to ancient Greece. Today, shipboard spas have whole bath rituals involving water and flower petals, herbs, or mineral salts.

Sample prices

Prices of body-pampering treatments have escalated recently and are now equal to the prices you would find at land-based spas in the US. You can expect to pay up to:

$200 for a 75-minute Hot stones massage

$125 for a 50-minute Wellbeing massage

$200 for a 75-minute Seaweed wrap

$125 for a 50-minute Reflexology session

Spa cuisine

Originally designed as low-fat, low-calorie meals for weight loss using grains, greens, and sprouts, spa cuisine now includes whole grains, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins - ingredients low in saturated fats and cholesterol, low-fat dairy products, and reduced salt. They provide the basis for balanced nutrition and portion sizes, while maintaining some flavor, texture, and taste; foods are grilled rather than baked or fried.

Sports facilities

Sports facilities might include basketball, paddle tennis (a sort of downsized tennis court), and electronic golf simulators. Some boutique/small ‘luxury’ ships offer kayaking, water-skiing, jet skiing, and wake boarding for no extra charge. In reality, however, the water sports equipment is typically only used on one or two days (or part days) during a seven-day cruise.

Who runs the spas?

Aboard most ships, the spa and fitness areas are operated by a specialist concession, although each cruise line may have a separate name for the spa, such as AquaSpa (Celebrity Cruises), The Greenhouse Spa (Holland America Line), Lotus Spas (Princess Cruises), etc.

Aboard the large resort ships, spa staff tends to be young, enthusiastic ‘therapists’ who will try hard to sell you own-brand beauty products, for a commission.

Steiner Leisure is by far the largest concession, operating spas aboard more than 100 ships. This company, founded in London in 1901 by Henry Steiner, began its ambitious growth in 1926 when Herman Steiner got involved in the family beauty salon on his father’s death. He opened salons throughout England, became official cosmetician to the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and won his first cruise ship contract in 1956.

The company closed its land-based salons in the 1990s, as its cruise ship business burgeoned. It bought Elemis, a lifestyle range of plant-based beauty products, and acquired Mandara Spas, which it has developed in the US alongside its Elemis Spas. In 2010 it bought The Onboard Spa Company. It runs 14 training schools. Steiner’s corporate headquarters are now in the Bahamas.

Other spa concessions include Blue Ocean (MSC Cruises), Canyon Ranch At Sea (Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises), Carita, Espace Elegance, Flair (Louis, Voyages to Antiquity Thomson), and Ocean Spa (Hapag-Lloyd, Voyages of Discovery).