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Most luxurious spas in the U.S.

Whatever your needs, these spas will make you look like a million bucks--and cost almost as much. /
/ Source: Forbes

If you can define Ayurvedic, know what's involved in a triple-oxygen treatment or have ever tried potassium broth, the spa industry thanks you. You're part of the reason it made $11.2 billion in 2003.

Luxury spa-going is nothing new, having been invented by the Romans several thousand years ago. But the Romans didn't have microablation, 18-headed Serenity Showers or VIP spa suites. They just had sulphur.

The improvements are catching on. "Spa treatments used to be an indulgent buy two years ago. Now it's a lifestyle buy, taking up more and more of Americans' discretionary income," says Jim Coyle, president and founder of Coyle Hospitality, a New York-based consulting firms that works with hotels, restaurants and spas. According to the Lexington, Ky.-based International SPA Association, 136 million spa visits were made to an estimated 12,100 American spas in 2003 (the last year for which data was available; international data is not available).

And industry experts agree that spas are being increasingly savvy about marketing to new segments of the population. Teens and ‘tweens, for example, are starting to see specially tailored treatments for their ago group pop up in some of the nicest spas around.

The Broadmoor Spa at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado is one such spa. It introduced a Chocolate Mani/Pedi with a Kiss for children ten and under this past May, and New York-based Bliss spas, located in Starwood Hotels & Resorts' (nyse: HOT - news - people ) W Hotels in New York, San Francisco and London, are offering a Double Choc Pedicure, where guests get a hot chocolate soak, a sugar scrub for the feet and a cup of hot chocolate. At first glance, these pint-sized treatments may not break the bank (priced at $65 and $70, respectively), but when chocolate-pedicured tots hit their teens and adulthood and start booking monthly facials and VIP spa suites at these very same spas, the spa industry makes its money back before you can say "brand loyalty."

Another underutilized segment of the potential spa-going community is men. "If the spa industry taps successfully into the male market, all bets are off" in terms of saturation, Coyle says. "Men are less worried about making an indulgent purchase than women are. In major metropolitan markets where there's not a gender stigma associated with spa-going, if the male spa market grows 10% to 15% in size per year, spas will have as much business as they can handle."

In some cases, they already do. "It's amazing how many men come through," says Denise Vitiello, the spa director at the newly-opened Mandarin Oriental, New York, whose spa, located on the 35th floor, features therapeutic views over the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline. "We cater to a high-end clientele: Presidents and CEOs stay here, people who have the time and money to take care of their health. Besides, men love pedicures whether they admit it or not!" Vitiello continues. With the entrance of the word "metrosexual" into the common vernacular, "They don't feel weird coming in. Men are bringing clients here, doing business in spas instead of going out on the golf course. It reverts back to the old days when men did business in steam rooms." One package popular with Vitiello's clientele is the Gentlemen's Retreat, which includes an 80-minute massage (either a deep-tissue or sports massage), an 80-minute facial and a 60-minute pedicure. The price? A very mature $655.

What about the times that busy executive wants to reconnect with a different kind of partner? Today's spas have an answer for that, too. The Mandarin Oriental's VIP Spa Suite, which goes for $1,050 per three-hour block and has its own private steam room, Jacuzzi and fireplace, is the most visible symptom of another trend: spa suites, which are opening up all over the country. Can't picture a spa suite? Upgrade a normal treatment room in your mind: It's bigger and has more amenities, including a double-size tub, lounge area and multiple massage tables.

If you think that sounds good, check out our list of the Most Luxurious Spas in the U.S. for even more decadence (and check back next week for our list of the Most Luxurious Spas in the World). We looked at day, destination and hotel spas all over the country and compared facilities and prices for standard (i.e.,about 50 minutes long) facial, massage and body cleansing treatments. We also included the price for an unusual treatment--something a bit outrageous you might not find elsewhere--to give you an example of just how luxurious luxury spas can get. Finally, we indicated the spa's gratuity policy. A tip may be included in the price, calculated for you at the end, or left to your discretion. And, typically, if you're buying a package of treatments, it's included. So hydrate and exfoliate to your heart's content. It will make you look less pale when you get your spa bill.