Debbie Snow  /  Caribbean Travel & Life Magazine
Peter Island Resort Spa
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updated 8/30/2005 1:06:57 PM ET 2005-08-30T17:06:57

GOLDEN DOOR SPA, PUERTO RICO

“How are you today?” asks Miriam softly as she places her hand on my shoulder. I sense she’s not just making small talk, that she genuinely wants to know. But as she escorts me from the warmly lit waiting area to a treatment room, I’m reluctant to let it all spill out. Does she really want to know that my 7-week kitchen remodel stretched into a 4-month, washing-dishes-in-the-bathtub-nightmare because we got hit by three hurricanes? That the roof needs to be replaced but there’s still no insurance adjuster in sight? That things at the office are crazier than usual? That it gets more than hectic raising two boys when your husband is on the road 150 days a year?

“Um, I’m a little stressed,” I reply, as calmly and simply as possible, though I can feel the words vibrating as they come out.

“Tell me about it,” Miriam says.

I had arrived at El Conquistador Resort’s Golden Door Spa in Puerto Rico looking for complete R&R: no schedules, no activities, no sightseeing — just pure pampering. Even a stress-monster like myself realizes when enough is enough. The vacation started off well, as Carlos, who was to be my personal butler for the stay, greeted me with a cool fruit punch and led the way to my casita nestled among lush gardens bursting with heleconia, red ginger, orchids, birds of paradise, frangipani and thick palms. From the balcony I watched sailboats tacking across the blue Caribbean toward Culebra and Vieques.

As evening approached, I was treated to the symphony of coqui frogs, a chirpy, happy refrain that accompanied a breathtaking sunset. Before I’d even had a single spa treatment, the resort had already begun working its tropical magic on me.

From the moment I passed through the 24-carat-gold filigreed spa doors for the first time, I was enveloped by a peppermint fragrance and the sound of flowing water. This Golden Door Spa is sibling to the famous original Golden Door in Escondido, California, which was inspired by ancient Japanese honjin inns that offered rejuvenation and relaxation for travelers. Here, warm woods, cool marble and blooming orchids create a peaceful sanctuary for modern vacationers.

The staff greeted me kindly, and I was directed to the tranquility level where I was offered slippers, a robe and a key for the locker room. I soon learned that arriving early for treatments allowed time for a leisurely soak in the o-furo — an elegant Japanese-style bath with shoulder-massaging waterfalls — followed by a steaming cup of herbal tea and snack of fresh fruit.

My first treatments exfoliated, massaged, polished, stretched, soaked, detoxified and moisturized my overworked body. It was clear that the therapists were intent on helping me find the balance and serenity lost in the chaos of everyday life. My masseuse, Justiana, quickly zeroed in on trouble spots, offering advice about my sensitive lower back. Karen, a personal trainer, laid out a realistic workout plan for me to carry home, and then took me on a power walk through such stunning scenery I scarcely noticed the burn in my gluteus maximus. A Pilates instructor showed me new stretching techniques that build strength and relieve stress.

Padding back and forth between my casita and the spa in loose, comfy clothing, I found myself lingering over the magnificent view of the sea, stopping to look at vibrant purple orchids, watching guests board a beach-bound ferry at the bottom of the cliffs. I forgot about dressing in real clothes and putting on makeup. The relaxation had begun to take hold, the tension sloughing off like the dead skin after my Pineapple Body Polish — but I wanted more. That’s why I now find myself in the capable hands of Miriam, preparing to experience the spa’s ultimate balancing treatment. 

After Miriam lets me vent about the stresses back home, she preps me for an Ayurvedic cure called the The Spirit of Life. Ayurveda, she explains, is a 5,000-year-old East Indian health tradition that addresses physical, mental and spiritual equilibrium. First, the therapist must determine the individual’s body type and personality traits — vata, pitta or kapha. Miriam quickly recognizes mine. “Pitta,” she says, “fire.” To cool my fire and bring me back into balance, she mixes herbs based on kapha, the water/earth constitution. For the bindi, or rejuvenation, part of the treatment, Miriam applies a full herbal body mask — again hand-crafted to counter my high-octane disposition as well as to build immunities. Once I’m encrusted in the aromatic blend from head to toe, Miriam follows with a brush massage and a soothing oil rub. I feel my body slip into a luxurious haze as she wraps me in a cocoon of steaming, tea-soaked linens for a final detoxifying. Everything is still and peaceful. Before my mind goes blank, I realize that this treatment is more about nurturing than pampering. And maybe that’s what I needed.

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I’m roused slightly when Miriam begins the Shirodhara phase of the treatment, designed to quiet and calm the mind. A soothing stream of oil applied to the third eye in the center of my forehead dissolves my sense of reason. I’m intoxicated by the unending flow of warm, hypnotizing oil, my thoughts alternating between pleasant memories and nothingness. In the darkness, the oil flows and flows. My mind is entirely at rest. I feel suspended in time, not sure how much or how little has passed. Miriam continues with a thorough massage of my face, neck and shoulders, enabling my body to join my mind at peace. I’m not aware that the treatment has come to an end until she speaks.

“Lie there as long as you like,” she says gently. It seems an eternity before I can form any

words.

“Miriam... ” I eventually whisper. “Are you a religious person?”

— Santa Choplin Bogdon

The Golden Door Spa at the Wyndham El Conquistador Resort (877-999-3223; www.wyndham. com) offers 25 treatment rooms, a movement studio and a state-of-the-art fitness center. Treatments include Pineapple Body Polish ($115) and the Ayurvedic Spirit of Life ($155). Room rates range from $279 to $1,599 in low season ($469 to $2,179 high).

THE SPA AT SANDY LANE

I’ve been on the massage table for less than a minute and already my neck muscles are thanking me. Twenty-four hours ago, my stress level peaked when the flight from San Juan was canceled and several subsequent departures were delayed, all cutting into my precious time at the Spa at Sandy Lane on Barbados’ Platinum Coast.

To make up for lost time once I arrived, I skimmed through the list of mind, body and facial treatments — Essence of Earth ($150), Lomilomi ($220), Balinese Body ($170) — until I found Optimal Release ($220), described as, “A free-flowing joint release and massage that results in gently bewildering the mind, removing alert anticipation and replacing it with floating calm.” Ah, yes, bewildering calm — make mine a double.

I was led to one of the 47,000-square-foot Romanesque spa’s 11 private treatment suites — one that overlooked a tropical garden and hydrotherapy pool. The facility also offers the Chakra Therapy Room (complete with marble plinth warmed to body temperature), the Crystal Laconium Steam Room, the Ice Cave for cooling off after heat treatments, a fitness center and the low-cal Spa Café adjacent to a vast free-form pool.  

My masseur, Edward, began with a welcoming foot ritual as I sipped herbal tea. He then asked me to pick a fragrance for the several oils to be used during the massage: energizing oil for muscle pain and tension, warming oil for mental focus and skin conditions, cooling oil to balance out the warming and enhance mental focus.

The two-hour full-body rub — which also included tension-releasing techniques for my arm and leg joints, a facial and a hot-stone kneading — left me floating. As I rolled off the table, I felt almost relaxed enough to get back on a plane.

— Emily Kruckemyer

Room rates range from $800 to $8,000 in low season ($1,000 to $15,000 high) For more information, call 866-444-4080 or visit www.sandylane.com.

PETER ISLAND RESORT SPA

I like to draw things out. I’m the kind who swirls and sniffs every sip of wine, not just the first. When it comes to a spa session, I savor it — no in-and-out rub and run for me. So I find Peter Island’s new $6 million seaside sanctuary the ideal place for stretching a couple of treatments into an 8-hour extravaganza of indulgence.

My first stop is a regenerating soak with Mother Nature, floating as if in the womb in the warm ocean just below the spa. Then, I let the jets of the outdoor Jacuzzi pulse into my joints and loosen my muscles. Just as I’m about to melt, I move to the infinity pool surrounded by river stones and water cascading over tiles. Here I complete my baptism, my ritual cleansing in preparation for the reincarnation made possible by the best spas. But first, a chaise below the wooden pergola beckons me for a 30-minute siesta. Then, of course, I’m ready for a leisurely spa lunch of grilled salmon over field greens and orzo drizzled with olive oil.

Finally, I move into the spa — but I don’t rush to the treatment room. I first nestle into a cushioned chair in the meditation area lit by aromatic candles. I sip fruit-infused water and listen to the faint babbling of a water feature.

Now totally primed into a blissful groove, I follow Liz, my therapist, to one of the treatment rooms deep inside the 10,000-square-foot spa. Like a great chef, she recommends a customized menu using freshly blended ingredients. The first course is a rigorous exfoliation (Fresh Coconut Rub, $155). After a rinse, it’s back to the table for a Frangipani & Coconut Wrap ($165). Liz gently uses a cactus loofah to coat me in a tropical concoction, then wraps me in a blanket to bake while she massages my head, neck, shoulders and face. After another rinse, it’s time for a full-body massage as the finale.

Almost the finale. To stretch the experience just a little further, I slip a robe over my now-silky skin and head to a wooden bench overlooking the sea, and savor every last moment.

— Debbie Snow

Room rates are $550 to $830 in low season ($1,015 to $1,380 high) Full American Plan: all meals. For reservations and information, call 800-346-4451 or visit www.peterisland.com.

THE PALMS

With no end in sight to the boom in Caribbean spas, resorts continue to create masterworks dedicated purely to indulgence and renewal. The latest, and one of the greatest, to immerse into the pampering pool is The Palms in Turks and Caicos.

To create a spa concept befitting the new five-star, 72-room luxury resort on famed Grace Bay, The Palms turned to Angel Stewart, who has previously worked her magic on Ventanas al Paraiso and the Golden Door. The result is a 15,000-square-foot white coral-stone vision that envelops a palm-lined patio soothed by a long reflecting pool.

A full acre is given over to the spa, with a Yoga-Pilates-Tai Chi studio, an outdoor meditation area and a garden featuring tented massage/treatment cabanas. Each of the eight main treatment rooms has a water garden, and two spa suites present guests with the total spa experience.

Accommodations range from $600 per day for a luxe room up to $7,000 per day for an oceanfront penthouse that includes a butler and chauffeur. 866-877-7256; www.thepalmstc.com

Caribbean Travel & Life is the magazine for anyone in search of the perfect tropical getaway. Each issue presents expert insider’s advice on where to find the Caribbean’s best beaches and attractions, its finest resorts and spas, liveliest beach bars and activities, and its friendliest people.

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