Ritz-Carlton San Juan and sightseeing by private car

Ritz-Carlton San Juan and sightseeing by private car.

Mile High Massage at the Ritz-Carlton, Denver

Sunset at the Ritz-Carlton Denver
Sunset at the Ritz-Carlton Denver

There is definitely excitement in the air in Denver. Some might even say the town is buzzing! I found myself checking in at the Ritz-Carlton, Denver on a mission. I wanted to kick off our new “empty nest” status with a last minute fun trip. When I read about one of my favorite rock bands since high school days, The Cure, playing a rare stateside concert, I booked my flight and tickets literally the day before the concert! How is that for being available on the fly? Of course, one does not need to do a ton of hotel research when staying at a Ritz-Carlton property. They make it easy for both business and pleasure travelers and always seem to anticipate my needs. On this trip I wanted to rock out yet relax, and get some spa services, too! RiotFest and the Ritz-Carlton, I would have never imagined this combination in 1988, the year I graduated from high school. Life is good.

I was happy to spend my morning at the spa and head out for the music in the afternoon. The RiotFest was a weekend-long alternative rock concert hosted at Sports Authority Field, AKA Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos. Since I am so far out from my high school graduation, balancing pampering at the spa, with fine food and a fun evening of loud music provided just the right amount of yin and yang. One of the cool things about Ritz-Carlton spas is that most generally offer services tailored to the location, to give you a local taste of the culture. A perfect example is the Voodoo Love treatment offered at the Ritz-Carton in New Orleans. Denver is also known for more than 200 micro breweries, not just legalized marijuana 🙂 The spa had a couple of seasonal treatments with beer. Treatments like Hops and Honey Pedicure and Mile High Malt Scrub are seasonal. Be sure to ask about specialty treatments when booking.

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Day one, I had an emergency nail issue! Two broken nails, one was broken deep in the nail bed and painful, and I had some large chips on other nails as well. I always blame it on laundry, but it was probably golf. I generally do not consider getting my manicure while at destination spas, as I consider a regular manicure part of my general maintenance. But, I had issues! I wear gel polish, which can be a little tricky to maintain on the road. For those unfamiliar with gel polish, it essentially is baked onto your own nail, using a special light, and it can last chip free for 10-14 days. It was not a problem for Kristin, she was lovely! She fixed me right up with a soak off and polish change. I must say I was very impressed with her skills. She gently repaired my nails and was even able to match my pedicure polish, even though the polish was a different brand than what I was wearing. Of course I wanted it to match my toes. It was sandal season. I am a little more particular than the average nail client, I can spot poorly filed nails or chunky cuticles like a hawk. Kristin was extremely professional, polite, and gave an incredible gel manicure. If I lived in Denver, she would be my girl!

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Day two, Amanda, my esthetician and I bonded instantly. I could talk skin care and treatment regimens for hours. So could Amanda, she is extremely knowledgeable. But, we just had 90 minutes to swap secrets. She picked some delicious smelling products based on my preferences and skin care needs. I was looking for a relaxing facial with extra attention paid to my dry skin. And as always, I was looking for a way to look youthful and fresh. I was there to see a band I loved since high school after all! Amanda had a delicate touch, yet delivered a thorough exfoliation. I left feeling extremely relaxed, yet ready to get my riot on. My excitement could not be contained on this day. She could relate. She also introduced me to a few new products that I had not tried. She wrote down all my steps and products on a sheet so that I could remember them later. If I am lucky, I get spa brain and feel so relaxed post-service, at times I can’t recall all the many steps or products I want to remember, particularly on facials. She made it easy for me. I left with a print out and several samples of some of her other favorites. How kind! I definitely had spa brain. My skin felt moist and soft to the touch. It was an excellent facial by any standard.

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Day three, did I really see the The Cure last night? Was I dreaming or was it just like heaven? Evenings at Riotfest were so fun. We sampled great food from the slew of food trucks at the venue. I met a lot a friendly people. It seemed like many folks were new to town and excited about the new green economy. I learned a lot on this trip. Weezer and Wu Tang Clan, all in the same weekend…yeah, I’m gonna need a massage. Noemy helped revive me. I booked a herbal peaks poultice massage based on a recommendation the ladies made in the spa on the previous day. It incorporates a poultice that is hand-made with organic herbs. The idea behind this treatment is to steam the firm, round, herb bag and use it as a roller over the muscles to help ease tension. It feels amazing and smells even better. Noemy used the ball part of the poultice to roll deep into sore muscles, mainly on my back and hamstring muscles (crappy airline seats!). On other parts of the body, the poultice is used for heat and pressure. By pressing the ball on my upper chest muscles it provides heat and releases the scents of lemongrass, lavender, and a handful of other herbs, making this treatment smell incredible and gives an added benefit of aromatherapy. Of course this is the Ritz-Carlton, so the poultice they used was super fancy. Noemy gave me mine to take home. If I lived locally, I would have definitely reused this poultice at home many more times by dampening it and popping it into the microwave for a minute. Since I was flying home, I decided to leave my herb-filled bag at the hotel. I have to admit I was a little freaked out about going through airport security with a questionable herb bag from DENVER! I did not want to have a long conversation with the TSA agent.

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Day Four, my final day in Denver. It is sad, but I have booked a 75 minute tranquility wrap with Noemy to take the edge off. It has been a fun trip with lots of relaxation, music, cold beverages, and incredible food. I am feeling a bit dehydrated, I’m sure it’s the altitude 😉 Noemy is an excellent massage therapist. She does her best to make sure I leave the spa on a high note with a great massage followed by a wrap. As I marinate on the heated, cushioned, massage table all wrapped up like a gourmet burrito I can’t help but grin. I saw Manchester Orchestra last night. I love them! I bet some high school kids love them too 🙂 I am a 45 year old lady, an emptynester, with no business flying across the country with my husband acting like two kids dating 🙂  I think we have time to stop in the club lounge for one last glass of bubbly before our flight.

What to know before you go:

Excellent gym in the spa with a rock climbing wall
The spa is going through a two month refresh now, check to make sure they are fully open. I cannot wait to return to see the upgrades!
John Elway, the retired really cute quarterback for the Denver Broncos, owns and operates, Elway’s in the Ritz. It is an upscale steakhouse with some great Broncos memorabilia tastefully sprinkled throughout the restaurant. You might just run into him or one of his teammates in the lounge. It is very popular on game day.
Consider booking club level. The fantastic displays of food seemed to change all day long and provided a stress free way to just grab a bite or beverage and get out and enjoy the city.
Write down your appointment when you book services. Set a timer in your phone, or get a print out. Much like spas in Las Vegas, the girls in the spa said some some folks had trouble making it to appointments in the early morning or did not make it to the treatments due to their inability to “remember” booking the appointments at all!

Midweek spa specials have a flare for fun like Martini and Massage Monday, Wine Wenesday…I love this place!

 

No special consideration was given to me other than being a paying guest at the Ritz-Carlton. This is my life.

 

 

How to pack a spa bag

So you’ve booked your room, and your spa treatments. But, are you really ready for an entire day at the spa? I’m guessing you are, but what about you’re partner? Typically, my husband and I will ask me to carry his swim trunks down to the spa. On the upside, he remembered to pack his trunks this time, but on the down side, who do you think carries his wet trunks back to the room?  He also likes to stop and have a drink on the way back to the room. Ok, in reality it is more likely several beers while waiting for me to finish all of my treatments 🙂  Hanging ones trunks on the bar is not very appetizing. In order to get a little more organized about our spa activities, lets take a realistic view about what you will need to bring for yourself and possibly others.

Why does my cat always want to help me pack?
Why does my cat always want to help me pack?

Let’s start with the bag. The satellite bag. That’s right, once your kids have graduated from the diaper bag, you still have to schlep the kids stuff or in my case, the hubby’s stuff. If traveling solo, you will still want to have some of these items with you. I have a couple of ways I pack for a day at the spa. I like to carry a large tote/oversized handbag for car trips. When I fly, I like to use very compact, thin bags that I can pack within my luggage. Taking a dry cleaning bag from the room to the spa pool, gym, or beach is not exactly chic, but in a pinch, it will work just fine.

I like to always keep a thin, lightweight bag in my luggage to use at the spa, pool, day trips, or for additional luggage.
I like to always keep a thin, lightweight bag in my luggage to use at the spa, pool, gym, day trips, or to use as additional luggage.
This is the bag I prefer to carry when taking car trips and I don't have to worry about size or weight of my luggage.
This is a bag I prefer to carry when taking car trips and I don’t have to worry about size or weight of my luggage.

I am hoping that you are staying at a fancy resort that has pool/beach towels, a vat of sunscreen, and a cute towel boy at the pool. But if you are not, the bag needs to be at least large enough to hold a towel.

Don’t forget your sunglasses! I can’t tell you how many times I was just going to get a massage, then end up sitting out by the pool or on a patio for hours. Not having your sunglasses is a total bummer.

Pool cover up, change of shoes and or clothing, bathing suit, hat, sunglasses, and maybe a towel.
Pool cover up, change of shoes and or clothing, bathing suit, hat, sunglasses, and maybe a towel.

Wallet, room key, and cash. Cash is king when it comes to tipping.

I prefer to use a business card carrier for my room key, credit card, and business cards. It is also easy to put into an evening bag for a night out on the town.
I prefer to use a business card carrier for my room key, credit card, and business cards. It is also easy to put into an evening bag for a fun night out.

Sunscreen is a must if you will be enjoying the outdoors for an extended period of time. Many high-end resorts will have some sun block in the locker room  or at the pool. Or, they will sell you some very expensive sunblock. Tuck your favorite brand in your bag and don’t sweat what kind of coverage you will be getting.

If you are booking a facial, you may also want to pack a hat. Sun exposure after a facial is not a good idea.

I am always impressed when the spa offers really nice hair care products and real brushes. Those little “man combs” that are usually provided are pretty worthless. Keep a large tooth comb or vented brush in your bag and you will be able to fix your hair much easier. Ponytail holders, clips, or a headband can be handy. Worse case scenario, you packed a hat, right?

I don't always carry this much product, but it is nice to have what you need if you are not going directly to your room or home, after your treatments.
I don’t always carry this much product, but it is nice to have what you need if you are not going directly to your room or home, after your treatments.

Bring your bathing suit. Pack your own and enjoy the coed whirlpool or pool without having to buy one or worse, use a “loaner suit.” Sorry, it’s a nice idea for a service, but I’m a germaphobe about certain things.

The dry cleaning bag from your room or a plastic bag. I use these to put my wet suit(s) in, to keep it from dripping or getting everything else wet.

Ok, those are my bare basics for a trip to the hotel spa. Here are some other items I like to have with me.

A book, magazine, or tablet/smart phone.

Extra stuff I like to have if I am spending an entire day at the spa.
Extra stuff I like to have if I am spending an entire day at the spa.

Your iPod (yes, I have a spa playlist).

A compact for light make-up coverage, if we are not going back to our room or home.

Lipstick. I don’t leave the house without applying lipstick. Why would I leave the spa without some on? After a great facial, this may be all the product you need.

A notebook and pen to write ideas or make lists. I find a lot of inspiration in the quiet of a spa and I need some way to remember these ideas. Typing on your smart phone may not be the best way to capture these thoughts, as cell phone usage is generally frowned on in a spa.

I like to keep a small pad of paper and pen to jot down all those incredible revolations that occured to me in the meditation room.
I like to keep a small pad of paper and pen in my robe to jot down all those incredible revelations that occurred to me in the meditation room.

If I am staying at a budget spa/day spa for an extended day, I may bring my own cover up and spa shoes. Don’t get me started on “spas” that don’t provide robes!

If I am working out in the fitness area, I will usually wear my workout clothes and sneakers to the treatment. If you don’t want to be an outfit repeater after your workout, you will want to bring a change of clothes. Expert note, wearing Spanx (which are awesome) right after a treatment is a struggle, don’t do it! It will kill a good spa buzz.

I realise this stuff is common sense, but I cannot tell you the number of people I see who carry in their huge luggage/briefcase/enormous make-up bag into the spa. It kills the vibe when it looks like your luggage exploded all over the shared locker room. Most hotels/spas will gladly store your bags for you if you have already checked out, or are just a day guest. Do us all a favor and have your satellite bag. I always keep one in my small carry on. It can also serve as additional luggage if you end up having a little retail therapy while traveling.

Did I miss anything? What’s in your bag?

How to book a great spa treatment

Solid research pays off!
Solid research pays off

Why is it that I always get the best therapist when I go to the spa? Several of my friends call or text me when they get a treatment and either rave about it or lament the service. I would much prefer to hear your rave, rather than the rant, so here is my two cents.

Do some research in the area. Look for big brands like hotel spas, bed and breakfast spas, day spas, medical spas, Ayurvedic spas, healing arts centers, and unique retreats. Know all of your options. Ask trusted friends for input and read online reviews.

Narrow down your choices based on personal preference. Brands of spas or products, types of treatments, overall vibe, on-site or off-site treatments if you are traveling will help you make your choice.

Consider your cost-to-benefit ratio. If you will feel guilty about the amount of a service, you won’t be happy. If you only like luxury or “green” services, again, take this into consideration. Consider overall value. Can you stay the entire day by a pool? Can you workout or have lunch on-site pre or post treatment? Will your insurance cover a medical massage? The benefit of spending a day at a resort pool can offset the idea of higher priced treatments, particularly while on vacation.

Canyon Ranch Spa pool at the Homestead in Warm Springs, VA
Canyon Ranch Spa pool at the Homestead in Warm Springs, VA

When booking, I prefer to call and speak to a person. I skip online booking, even at my local salon. Ask if they have any specials or packages.

Ask for the best available. Definitely consider getting a male therapist! I know many people have a preference for the female therapists, but you are missing out on some very talented male therapists. If you prefer deep tissue massage, definitely let the staff know when booking your appointment.

Ask if a “master therapist” or a “master esthetician” is available. Many large resort spas will have this option. A small upchange may occur ($10-15 dollars seems to be a standard charge), but it is always worth it in my book. If money is a big concern, check to see if a gratuity is built into the service. Sticker shock at check out will kill a good spa buzz.

Consider the time of day for your treatment. What will you need to do after your treatment? I prefer to do any exercise like working out or golf, prior to services. Avoid smudges to manicures and pedicures by booking those appointments last, during a full day of treatments.

If you have to be dressed up after your treatment, consider adding a blow out and or make-up application to follow your treatment. Large spas usually have a full range of beauty services, but even your local day spa will offer a make-up touch up for no additional charge for facial appointments. Ask!

Professional make up application is always a good idea :)
Professional make up application is always a good idea 🙂

Speak up when you meet with your therapist. Know ahead of time that you will be having a conversation with them and make it count. Therapists and estheticians always ask you if you have any problem areas, medical issues, or allergies, even if you filled out a form. This is the time when you mention that you prefer deep tissue or a lighter pressure. If you don’t like oil, ask for lotion. If you don’t like chatting during a treatment, let them know. If you want to learn more about skin care and the products used, let them know. It can be aqkward to answer questions or bring up requests once you have your face pressed into a cradle and you’re undressed.

Seriously, its best to speak up about preferences.
Seriously, its best to speak up about preferences.

If this is your local spa and you visit it regularly, be a generous tipper. These are the people who can really help you out in a pinch. You will get more samples, better services, and even extended time or add-on therapies as a bonus.

A thoughtful gift from the staff at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans.
A thoughtful gift from the staff at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans.

Remember, these professionals chose their career because they are sensitive and truly want to help people. They are not mind readers. If you recieve a great service, ask for their card. “Spa brain” will no doubt make you forget their name. Referring friends is always appreciated.

Did I leave anything out???

 

The Spa at Pinehurst Resort is ready for the U.S. Open

 

Pinehurst Resort
Pinehurst Resort

The grandstands are up and Pinehurst is preparing itself for a busy golf season.  The 2014 U.S. Open is being held in Pinehurst June 12th though the 15th. The Women’s U.S. Open will be played the following week. I had the good fortune to receive an invitation to a Pinehurst golf trip sponsored by the Women’s Golf Association of Blacksburg Country Club. It was my first overnight ladies golf trip. I am disclosing details of my golf game on my spa blog because, if you hit the ball as many times as I do, you would need a massage too! Besides, destination golf resorts and destination spa resorts go together like peanut butter and jelly. Rarely are pairings this good.

The Spa at Pinehurst
The Spa at Pinehurst

Day three of a four-day golf trip, I was able to find a few hours free from my group, and head over the Spa at Pinehurst. I was staying off property, but due to the scale of the spa, I had no trouble booking a massage. The spa has thirty treatment rooms! And, it offers a very large spa menu giving many options to explore. I had limited time after my round and before a group dinner, so I booked a quick massage on the fly, and spent some time in the indoor spa and lap pool area before and after my treatment.

Welcome to the Spa at Pinehurst
Welcome to the Spa at Pinehurst

Once I self parked at the spa, I was in, in a flash. I was super hot and pretty worn out from my most recent round of golf. It was not shocking to the staff to see me arrive right in off of the course, dressed in my golf attire. It was shocking to me, however, to be greeted by a spa staff member with the most amazing smile and a frozen smoothie just a few steps within the spa! I was welcomed with a frozen, strawberry goodness, handed to me before I even checked in. This is intuitive service!

The enterance sets the tone of a natural Southern spa
The enterance sets the tone of a natural Southern spa

My tight schedule only allowed enough time for a fifty minute massage with a little wiggle room on either side of the treatment to explore the spa. First thing, I had to grab a quick shower. I then wrapped myself up in the plush spa robe and took a look around before my treatment. They have a very serious fitness center with lots of cardio and weight training equipment. They also offer personal training and Pilates classes. Guests can even add Kinesio taping to treatments. It is a sports medicine taping method to help reduce pain and inflamation to sore muscles, while supporting a full range of motion during activities, like golf. Next, I found the salon. Normally, I do not book pedicures at destination spas, as I consider them part of my routine maintenance. I prefer to book treatments I can’t otherwise get at home. I must say that the pedicure and manicure area was extremely nice. They had multiple pedicure chairs and multipule manicure stations in the same area. It is obvious that they are set up for some large wedding parties and group outings. They also offered a full menu of hair care, at what I consider reasonable rates.

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Guests are asked to meet up with their therapist in the lap pool area. This area also has a coed hot tub. The woman’s locker room offered its own hot tub,  sauna, and steam rooms. Unique to this property, the spa offers services for children and teens. This spa has a separate treatment area where families can enjoy treatments in the same room with their children, and it has its own family lounge.

Lap pool and relaxation area
Lap pool and relaxation area

My therapist for today is Joyce. I booked a 50 minute massage. My therapist helped me adjust my treatment to my needs. Joyce recommended an aromatherapy massage with a scent to match my desired outcome.  I was hoping this massage would help relax my sore muscles. I had been chasing a little white ball for days, and it had been exhausting. I was included in a tournament, so I was a little stressed out about following all the rules of play (my first match play tournament), new players, unfamiliar courses each day, and of course, I was mildly dehydrated. My dehydration was partly due to the heat, but mostly due to the very social evenings with friends (glug, glug). I needed to rally. I had one more fancy dinner scheduled at Southern Prime in a few hours. I also needed to be ready to play again the next day at a challenging course, Mid South. We chose the grapefruit essential oil. It did help perk me up while she worked on all my tired muscles. Joyce has a great touch. Deep tissue massage by request, yes, Ma’mm!

Once we finished up, I had just enough time to hang out in the most amazing whirlpool. What made this one so perfect at this resort was the amount of pressure the jets gave off. The coed tub also featured five mini waterfalls that are positioned just above your shoulders to deliver a powerful stream of water. The whirlpool was exactly what I needed after multiple days of golf. I was definitely getting a second wind. The spa offers all the hair care, body lotions, and shaving stuff that I needed to get ready for my dinner. I was all spuced up, refreshed, and ready to meet up with my friends for a great meal.

A very powerful, jetted hot tub.
A very powerful, jetted hot tub.

Like many visitors to the Pinehurst area, golf is the main reason to visit. I would imagine many golf widows are more than happy to stay at this reasort just for the spa. Knowing that you can book spa treatments without staying on property is key! Everything in the Aberdeen, Great Pines, and Pinehurst area is all very accessible and nothing seemed to be more than a quick ten minute drive. The Pinehurst resort is completely booked for PGA staff, players, media, and corporate guests during the 2014 U.S. Open. The Women’s Open, however, it is not! Packages are available to stay on site. Some packages include breakfast, passes to the tournament, and spa services, all the more reasons to love women’s golf.

When I return to Pinehurst, I will plan to stay on property with my husband, as so much has changed since our first visits, nearly 20 years ago. I also want to play #2, the course for this year’s Open. The treatment I wish I had had time for on my visit was The Heart and Sole treatment. It is a three-hour body treatment with a peppermint pine pedicure. Based on my golf experience, those are two areas that could have used some more tender loving care on this visit. Joyce also shared with me a sample of the Thero-marine mud ritual. She was explaining to me the self heating properties of this wild-harvested algae infused mud. She applied some mud on my arm to give me an idea of what the treatment is like. I will also be putting that treatment on my bucket list. The Pinehurst Massage includes a unique dry brush technique using pine straw. I first booked that treatment, but due to the quick hit I needed to get through my final round, we adjusted my treatment to include aromatherapy and deep tissue massage. Pinehurst may have redesigned the rough on the iconic #2 golf course to meet the needs of a challenging U.S. Open, but I assure you there is nothing rough about this spa!

 

Where was your best Golf/Spa trip?

 

No special treatment was given to me other than being a paying guest at this spa. A very special thank you to my friend and BCC member, Leigh, the professional golf staff, WGA committee, and members of the Blacksburg Country Club. The bar has been set!!! This is my life!

 

 

Enjoy the Silence, Abhyanga Massage at Blue Heaven Spa

Enjoy the Silence, Abhyanga Massage at Blue Heaven Spa.