A Spa Day at Walt Disney World?!
BY KRIS BORCHARDT – FEBRUARY 2012
In October 2011, MouseSavers.com founder Mary Waring and I made a trip to Orlando to visit a few of MouseSavers’ Preferred Hotels, and to review a few possible new ones. Those days were packed with early morning meetings, late dinners, a lot of driving, and a lot of being in “work mode.” Including relaxation on business trips – and sometimes even on a vacation – can be tricky, and involves its own planning, so prior to our trip Mary strategically scheduled in two “pampering” activities a couple of days apart.
After reviewing many of the hotel spas in and around Walt Disney World, we selected the Mandara Spa located in The Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, and the Spa at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort. There are many spas to choose from among all of the resorts and hotels in and around Disney, and we struggled for a while on selection. The selections we made were really based on location and our schedule, our desire to have different types of experiences at each spa.
I had the unique Fire and Ice pedicure at the Mandara Spa; and the Mystical Forest Body Masque & Wrap, a massage, and the Maple Sugar Body Polish services at Saratoga Springs. The Mandara and the Spa at Saratoga Springs offer two markedly different spa experiences, in fact, much more different than I had imagined they would be.
The entrance to the Mandara Spa is through the opulent and over-scaled lobby of the Dolphin Hotel. I found the lobby to be slightly intimidating and exclusive in feel, and at the risk of sounding tacky and gauche, knowing I was there to visit the spa made me feel rich and special. I continued to have that feeling upon entering the spa.
The exotic Balinese-inspired and exquisitely detailed Mandara transported me to a foreign land after checking in at the spa’s front desk. An attendant showed Mary and me to the waiting room, which was designed to feel like an Indonesian temple or palace room, with lush foliage, palms, Buddha statuary, and a fountain interspersed with chaise lounges with carved dark wood frames and fitted cushions in muted tones. The room’s architecture complements the interior furnishings, with contrasting lightly colored walls and dark mahogany colored wood. A wall of glass windows and doors separates the interior lounge from an outdoor sitting area, which mirrors and continues the Balinese theme. Sitting inside, sipping cool tea – I believe it was a white tea laced with ginger – with only the sound of fountains gurgling in a cavernous tranquil room, I forgot I was in Walt Disney World. I could have been in Indonesia.
We were there for 10:00 am appointments, and the spa was nearly empty. That may have added to the meditative temple-like quality of the waiting area, and the spa’s overall feeling of exclusivity.
Attendants came almost simultaneously for Mary and me, and Mary was whisked away for her appointment while I opted for the Fire and Ice hour-long pedicure.
The pedicure area is a small rectangular room with a walkway, and a stepped platform with built-in soaking tubs. The configuration reminded me of a shoeshine stand you might see at the airport, although architecturally it was quite beautiful. I found climbing up to the seating area for the pedicure to be a little awkward, and while being nice to look at, the built-in chairs used for the pedicure are not particularly comfortable. They are boxy and stiff backed, and the throw pillows available to use as bolsters are also stuffed with a less than forgiving foam.
However, once seated relatively comfortably, I was able to relax, and the attendant was friendly and seemed to enjoy her job. While she did let me know that all of the products she was using were available for purchase, she did not do a hard sell of any sort. (I did comment on the OPI abrasive pedicure tool she used for removing my calluses, and I did end up leaving with one. It works much better than my pumice stone, and I absolutely love it.)
Pedicures I’ve gotten in the past have been fairly quick, with a soak, brief callus removal and toenail trim and polish. 20-25 minutes and you are good to go. This pedicure included a foot soak, callus removal, a foot and calf massage with a minty cooling gel, then a deeper massage with heated stones. This all felt wonderful absolutely wonderful and the massage lasted about 30-35 minutes. Then my calves and feet were patted dry, and another aromatic soothing lotion was applied, followed by a toenail trim, color and clear coat. The whole process took slightly over an hour – it felt luxuriously longer – and I left feeling terrific with my pretty feet, and ready for the rest of the day. The online brochure describes this pedicure as “super rejuvenating,” and I found it lived up to that.
Note: the Mandara services many men as well as women, and on the day we were there, the front desk staffer was male, which for some reason surprised me. While I found the overall esthetic of Mandara to be stunningly beautiful, exotic and rich, I found the staff (with the exception of my pedicurist) to be a bit remote and not terribly friendly.
The entrance to the Spa at Saratoga Springs is off the concrete patio in the pool area of the resort, in a building that also houses the Artist’s Palette counter service restaurant upstairs. There is a parking lot just behind this building, so we parked there and walked the short distance to the building. Partially due to its location, and possibly our early afternoon timing, there were a lot of vacationers happily enjoying the pool, or scurrying to and from the restaurant, as well as in and out of the spa. It felt like a busy hub, but not overly crowded.
Unlike the Mandara Spa, where I felt like I’d entered a quiet and exotic retreat, the atmosphere at Saratoga Springs harkened to my stereotype of a Swedish spa: clean, bright, not the least bit intimidating, and highly functional and efficient, all the way down to the downstairs locker room with showers, small changing rooms with curtain doors, a wing of sink and toilet facilities, and a cleanly tiled adjacent area with a whirlpool tub, steam room and dry sauna. It offered all of the necessities, including a makeup counter with hairdryers, and the overall feeling was that it was just a notch or two above my local YMCA, which was recently renovated and is quite nice. (I must confess here I have never been to a Swedish spa, and have no idea whether my stereotype is accurate.)
Although the spa is known for healing water therapies, I opted for the non-aqua-oriented approach. That was not really for any reason other than that I found myself curious about the Mystical Forest Body Masque & Wrap, with its essential oils and natural clay, and the Maple Sugar Body Polish just sounded scrumptious – sweet and invigorating.
The staff at the front desk seemed puzzled that I had scheduled two body therapies and a massage. I guess most people schedule one body treatment at a time and perhaps reap a greater benefit from the specific treatment. But they were able to accommodate me by ordering the treatments in a way that made sense to them (I think they were wary of exfoliating off the newly absorbed minerals). Ultimately we agreed that I would start with the wonderful warming wrap – which seemed like a terrific way to unwind enough to fully enjoy the 50 minute massage – then I would leave with the sugary glow.
We checked in and were led down to the locker room for changing. You can select your own lock code, so valuables felt secure, and there are robes and sandals in several sizes to accommodate all body types. Upstairs I was directed into the waiting room, a pleasant enough room, with about 12-15 seats, which on that day was filled with a bridal party and other women in various stages of their treatments reading magazines, chatting and drying their nails. Ice water with lemon and whole fruit were available for refreshment. I waited about ten minutes and was then called and whisked away down two or three small hallways and was introduced to the therapist. While I did not feel particularly rushed, there was certainly an air of efficiency to the process, and I noticed other attendants and spa guests being led in and out of rooms. It definitely felt busy.
My therapist was very pleasant, and asked minimal questions regarding allergies to body products, sensitivities, etc. I am allergic to almond oil, and to my surprise, the therapist was not sure what oils were mixed with the maple sugar scrub. The staff were not sure either, because apparently the scrub is a prepared mixture that is brought in, so she hand-mixed maple sugar with mineral oil for my treatment and set it aside.
A dry brush exfoliation started the process, before the application of the clay. This felt pretty much like it sounds: a boar-hair body brush was whisked up my calves and in various directions on my arms, torso and back to stimulate circulation and remove dead skin cells. I found it only slightly painful on sensitive skin areas, but overall, very pleasant. Then an aromatic light clay was applied; this felt cool and also pleasant – not heavy or tightening as I had expected. This was followed by a wrap of very warm wet towels, and another “sealing wrap” over the towels. I didn’t see what this was – it sounded like a plastic tarp of sorts.
I would not recommend this for folks who are claustrophobic, as the towels do feel heavy, and I certainly did not feel like I could have gotten up suddenly if the fire alarm had rung! I was able to fully relax though, and the attendant turned the lights down and left for about 15 minutes. I felt comfortably ensconced in a warm cocoon and nearly fell asleep. When she returned, she gently woke me, unwrapped me, and carefully toweled off much of the mud. I slowly got up from the table and into the shower, where I rinsed off the remainder of the clay. Thankfully, the tiled massage room had its own shower with curtain, just steps away from the table. Very efficient. After drying off I got back on the table. That process was 50 minutes, but it felt like about an hour and 15 minutes.
The massage was very pleasant, although unremarkable – I felt like the wrap had relaxed me to the point where when asked “what’s bothering you” I honestly felt like “nothing!” was my answer. So it was a standard full body massage with emphasis on my neck and shoulders which are always areas of bother for me. It did seem beneficial though, and it most certainly reduced some of the knots under the surface tension that had been erased by the body masque.
I briefly showered once more, to remove some of the lotion used by the massage therapist, and then plunked myself on the table one last time for the maple sugar scrub. Wow. By this time I was feeling really relaxed, and the scrub felt absolutely wonderful – not rough or harsh – rather more cleansing and invigorating. Finally I rinsed off in the shower, toweled dry and re-robed myself, feeling just a bit wobbly. The therapist brought me a glass of ice water which I promptly drank. I then drank 2, 3 or possibly 4 more glasses of water once I got back down to the locker room.
Believe it or not, after all of these treatments, Mary was not yet finished with hers, so I had a little time on my hands. I rinsed again, then sat in the dry sauna for a bit, luxuriating in the dry heat, and followed that with a soak in the whirlpool. That was followed by a final shower complete with shampoo and conditioning rinse. Come to think of it, between all of the showers, rinses, soaks and water drinking, it’s quite possible I experienced the waters of Saratoga Springs after all!
All this said, I would opt again for the dual body treatments framing a massage. It felt decadently luxurious, and I truly felt warm and shiny, like a well-pampered and rejuvenated person – relaxed, energized and ready for dinner.