Cover Story: No Spa, No Dice

The morning meetings have been grueling, but your afternoon is wide open. The resort-casino where your group has convened is bustling and noisy. Your attendees need a break from the circus-like sounds emanating from slot machines. You're ready to hit the spa.

Up for some light lymphatic stimulation? Need some impurities removed from your skin's cellular tissue? How about an aromatherapy facial with soothing blue chamomile, nourishing wild honey, and clarifying French lavender? Or, maybe you'd prefer a soothing Swedish massage—good for increasing circulation, reducing stress, and improving muscle relaxation. Whatever makes your inner attendee go "ooh" and/or "aah," you can find it at most upscale hotel properties around the country. Especially at gaming destinations.

On a Roll

"Spas are hot right now—really hot," says Steve Lowe, director of sales for Harrah's Lake Tahoe and Harveys Lake Tahoe. "It's a total experience. These days they're like soap in the room—everybody expects them to be there. A lot of groups won't even look at you if you don't have a spa. And nearly every group has some sort of health club or spa request."

Lowe says a spa is especially important in gaming environments. "Obviously, people are attracted to the gaming atmosphere," he says. "But it's also necessary to offer experiences that have nothing to do with gaming. And a spa is a compelling option."

The spa at Harrah's Lake Tahoe is called Reflections. It features Roman baths, Turkish steams, Finnish saunas, Swedish massage, and a menu of more than three dozen treatments. Reflections offers services such as a multivitamin power facial, microdermabrasions, and moisturizing collagen treatments.

And—not so surprising anymore—there are two skin-care sessions devoted to men: an express and a luxury facial. The 50-minute men's luxury facial begins with a deep cleaning, followed by exfoliation. Guys get a face, neck, and shoulder massage, and then a revitalizing masque and hydration.

"This is purely anecdotal, but we really don't see a gender bias in the spa anymore," says Lowe. "It used to be more women than men. Now it's about fifty-fifty. Even the [Baby] Boomer males are coming in. Boomers who use the spa still skew toward female, but the numbers are evening out. And Gen Xers are very actively coming to the spa."

Others also see a trend in younger people who are eager to make use of spas. "More so than ever, we have to ask people how old they are," says Pooneh Melton, director of the 26,000-square-foot MGM Grand Spa in Las Vegas. "Of course, teenagers can come in and get nail care, or get their hair done. But with treatments where it's clothing optional, you can't be under 18."

The expansive MGM Grand Spa houses 17 treatment rooms, including two couples' suites, five skincare rooms, and a fitness center.

Table Games

Melton says a two-hour treatment called The Dreaming Ritual is one of their most popular offerings. The signature tribal-inspired ritual begins with a foot soak and proceeds into an exfoliation, body mask, and scalp treatment with indigenous healing elements from Australia. This relaxing experience is completed with an Australian Aboriginal massage. The Dreaming Ritual can be done with two therapists working on one customer, or can be performed on couples.

Beyond body treatments, spas also offer lifestyle and health solutions, like the MGM Grand Spa's SpaGen, which employs state-of-the-art technology to formulate personalized nutritional solutions. It begins with an in-depth health and lifestyle questionnaire and a swab on the inside of the cheek to collect DNA. A two-week DNA examination promises to reveal genetic deficiencies that affect the way your body absorbs and metabolizes nutrients. A personalized package of nutritional supplements can be arranged monthly for an additional fee.

Melton says groups can take advantage of special customized spa deals. "We can create special menus," she says. "Let's say the industry might be tech-related. We can do something that focuses on tense shoulders for people working on their computers. It can be cute and fun."

Spa directors do realize meeting attendees might not have all the time in the world for two-hour rituals. To that end, many offer special, shorter treatments.

"We know some people are here on business," says Claire Kona, spa director at the MGM Grand Detroit. "And they might prefer to get a massage before or after their meetings. But some people also want to get a massage in the middle of a convention. So we can make some of our services 'express' services."

Express services are time-shortened versions of treatments. "These are gaining in popularity very quickly," says Kona. "And they're beneficial not just to people who don't have a lot of time; they're great for those who are new to spas and might want to just dip their toe in the water."

MGM Grand Detroit's two-level, 20,000-square-foot Immerse spa is described as a modern-day urban loft. It contains six indoor treatment bungalows (including two couples' suites). There is a tranquil rock garden, wet room with Vichy shower, a salon, fitness center, relaxation lounges, and the vanity areas for men and women include a whirlpool and steam room. Yoga and meditation classes are also offered.

One of the signature rituals offered at Immerse is the Hypnotic Massage. Marine oils and sea salts are used to gently polish the skin. Then, steamed and fragrant linen bundles (Thai boluses) are used to deliver warmth. By the end of the 80-minute treatment, muscles are loosened and energy pathways are opened.

"We certainly can meet the needs of busy people—but hopefully people have time for personalized services like this," says Kona. "Most people would like to be able to come in and spend some time."

And then there are folks who want spa services brought to them. In-room treatments are a trend at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. "Usually it's couples that request in-room," says Ian Rhodes, a manager at 32,000-square-foot Mandara Spa inside Planet Hollywood. "In fact, we had Eva Longoria and Tony Parker get an in-room couples' massage recently."

Rhodes says for treatments in the guest rooms, they have to keep things fairly simple. "It's mostly massages—deep-tissue and Swedish," he says. "We can't lug a lot of products and tools up there." And for security, the spa always sends two masseuses, one of each gender.


Here are some other possibilities allowing for quality spa time at gaming resorts around the country and in the Caribbean:

MGM Grand at Foxwoods
Fashion maven Gretta Monahan unveiled the new G Spa, the first of its kind outside of Boston, when the $700 million MGM Grand at Foxwoods opened its doors in June.

The 23,000-square-foot spa has 12 treatment rooms, and a full menu of hair, nail, massage, facial, and body treatments. Services can range from "quickie" mini-services to lavish VIP "splurge" services.

"We specialize in the VIP service," says Alfredo Madero, G Spa director. "We know how to take care of our guests."

Paying homage to its Mashantucket, CT, history, G Spa offers a series of Native American-inspired services, incorporating such elements as clay, maize, and herbs. Choose among the Spa Red Clay mani/pedi, Spa Maize body scrub, or a G Sweet Spa & Tempting Yogurt manicure.

The Venetian and Palazzo
The Venetian added a 3,000-room sister tower on the Las Vegas Strip last year. Both all-suite resorts send their guests to the on-site Canyon Ranch SpaClub, a 69,000-square-foot health and wellness center. Along with massage, skin care, and body treatment rooms, there's an expansive weight room, therapeutic pools, and the centerpiece of the facility—a three-story rock-climbing wall.

The spa's Double Abhyanga body treatment is performed by two therapists who specialize in this Indian touch therapy that uses transdermal aromatherapy. Fragrant essential oils are applied with light pressure to energy points on the skin. When stimulated, these "doorways" should send messages to internal organs and vital functions of the body.

Or, opt for a Body Thermal treatment, where you take in the benefits of a steam and a pulsating shower, followed by a full-body exfoliation and an application of your choice of natural products. Then get ready for a steam bath, Vichy shower, and a moisturizer application. Your choices include antioxidants, papaya enzyme, and espresso mud.

Atlantis Resort, Bahamas
One of only three Mandara Spas in the Caribbean can be found at the Atlantis. Of special note for meetings attendees who are combining a family vacation with the meeting is the Mandara's Generation YSpa program for teenagers, which allows families to enjoy the spa experience together.

Las Vegas Hilton
One of the venerable full-service spas in Las Vegas, the Hilton's Royal Treatment offering is one of the best activity options for a tired attendee. It begins with a cleansing with a sugar-and-olive-based scrub followed by a customized soy infused (loaded with vitamins A, E, and B complex) body facial that not only draws out impurities, but smoothes, refines, and soothes the weariest of skin. The treatment ends with an over-the-top healing and moisturizing whipped body butter containing Brazil and macadamia nut oils blended with soy and algae oil.

Mohegan Sun
This Connecticut resort-casino's 22,300-square-foot Elemis spa includes 15 spa/therapy rooms, two "exotic" spa suites, one spa/therapy room for couples, relaxation lounges, a gym, and full-service hair and nail salons.

Elemis offers a wide range of treatments, including an Anti-Cellulite Therapy called Ionithermie, which aims to detoxify the body, reduce the appearance of cellulite, and offers substantial inch loss in a single session. Products rich in sea life (algae, ivy, and kelp) are propelled into the fatty areas of the body—thighs, buttocks, abdomen, and/or upper arms. The ingredients help drain fluid from the trapped fat cells.

If you're traveling with a significant other, how can you pass up the Couples Massage Lesson and Exotic Jasmine Flower Bath for Two? For the Mohegan Indians, the "Strawberry Moon" appeared in the sky in early spring and helped melt away winter. The spa's Ceremony of Strawberry Moon starts with a splash and a dip into a petal strewn Jacuzzi bath, followed by a massage lesson. You get a bottle of exotic oil to practice your new skill.

The group-friendly Spa Toccare proclaims: "Take care of business. And we'll take care of you." To that end, options at the Atlantic City spa include group appointments, VIP private areas, group time blocks, teambuilding exercises, spa gift cards, after-hours spa events, and customized spa gifts.

Borgata has a spa menu that's full of flair and fun names, with massages subtitled "Elevate Your Well-Being." Body wraps ("All Wrapped Up") include mud treatments with chi soy, volcanic, and green tea muds. Scrubs ("Buff Your Body") are called Lemon Zest, Mimosa, and Go Coconuts. Other options, also owning lively names, are couples treatments ("So Happy Together"), tanning services ("Sun-Kissed"), and waxing ("Hair Be Gone").

Harrah's Lake Tahoe
Your attendees may think they know how to take a bath, but they'll get a real education on how to get the most out of the experience when the spa attendants at the Reflections Spa guide them through a series of bathing rituals while explaining their spiritual and physical benefits. From spa attire and juices to scents and sounds, the rituals (Roman Baths, Turkish Steam, Finnish Sauna) are complimentary with full treatments, or are available a la carte.

Trump Las Vegas
Newly opened in Sin City—but non-gaming—the Donald's latest deal is home to an 11,000-square-foot spa. The Spa at Trump houses nine treatment rooms, a full hair service salon, and a health club.

The Royal Lulur Ritual might grab your attention. It was created in Indonesia for the bride of royal families, and repeated for 40 consecutive days before a wedding. It starts with a jasmine and frangipani scented oil concentration on your skin. Then comes a Javanese Lulur scrub, using rice, spices, and yogurt to exfoliate the body. It ends with a hydrotherapy service and a moisturizing treatment. One down, 39 to go.

Harrah's Resort Atlantic City
The property's Red Door Spa has 23 treatment rooms, including two couples' rooms, and one couples' suite with lounge area, fireplace, Jacuzzi tub, and shower. State-of-the-art pedicure thrones have individual flat-screen TV monitors. There are separate male and female relaxation lounges, as well as a co-ed area. And near the new glass-domed pool are cabana areas for outside massage.

The Desert Hot Stone massage is a Native American treatment that combines traditional and modern practices. Smooth, heated stones glide over your skin to relieve tension and induce day dreaming. The Red Door Signature massage combines reflexology and acupressure to restore calm, increase circulation, and create a sense of well-being.

The Hotel at Mandalay Bay
Very different from other Las Vegas spas, the Bathhouse spa has European stylings, with slate walls, marble floors, and water features throughout. The 14,000-square-foot facility has 12 treatment rooms, sauna and steam rooms, a full salon, and a gym.

Sign up for a manicure/pedicure, and try not to eat the ingredients. There's a Creme Brulee mani/pedi, as well as Cool Citrus, Blue Corn and Avocado, Minty Mojito, and Milk and Honey options.

Still hungry or thirsty? Go for the Hot Spiced Rum stone massage. It combines the traditional stone massage with essential oils of cinnamon, clove, and arnica.

Originally published Aug. 1, 2008

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