12 Hotel Wellness Services That Go Beyond the Spa

Hotels are blending health and hospitality taps with unusual ingredients, tools, hip hobbies, new-age techniques, and ancient cultures.

With wellness tourism projected to become a $678.5 billion business in 2017, most hotels attempt to secure their piece of that pie by updating gyms, hiring pros and Olympians, partnering with trusted name brands like New Balance or Flywheel and instituting new spa and fitness programs to relax, revitalize and recondition guests’ minds, bodies and souls. But some properties are going above and beyond just jumping on trends. Their imaginative blend of health and hospitality taps into unusual ingredients, hip hobbies, New Age techniques and ancient cultures.

1. Surf with the Chef at Park Hyatt

The next wave in healthy holidays can be found at the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, California. Its newly launched wellness academy gives adventure seekers the opportunity to try two of Southern California’s favorite things — hanging 10 and eating healthy — through its two-day Surfing with the Chef excursion. Day one starts with whipping up a nutritious breakfast with Executive Chef Pierre Albaladejo. Then the culinary cognoscente will take you to a nearby beach for wave-riding lessons. Finish the day with another chef-prepared feast that fits all the foodie buzzwords (seasonal, local, sustainable). The second day includes a visit to surfing legend Greg Noll’s workshop just up the Pacific Coast Highway to see boards being made and to customize your own.

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Heaven in a Hammock at Ritz-Carlton

Most vacationers hope to eventually wind up in a hammock before they have to return to real life. The spa at Florida’s Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, takes the hammock into the spa with its signature Heaven in a Hammock treatment. The traditional elevated bed and face cradle is replaced with a netted hammock, which utilizes zero gravity principles, elongates the spine, increases flexibility and creates a sense of weightlessness. The therapist almost silently flits around massaging from above and below with both hands and feet. And the continuous rocking motion lulls clients into a blissed-out state — some even fall asleep.

3. Sound Therapy at The Saxon

Can you hear healing? Hotels that dabble in sound therapy sure hope their patrons are all ears when it comes to this groovy amenity. The Saxon in Johannesburg, South Africa, ups the ante with a signature journey that sends you into a state of deep relaxation using vibrations from gongs, cymbals, Tibetan singing bowls and bells before aligning and re-energizing your chakra center with clear and rose quartz, amethyst and aventurine crystals. Also available are massage add-ons that use gemstones instead of heated river rocks to trigger pressure points. A similar rubdown is offered at the Marilyn Monroe Spa at the Hyatt Regency Maui.

4. Forest Bathing at L'Auberge

Forest bathing (“shinrin-yoku” in Japanese) is not scrubbing up under a sequoia sans clothes — although it is a cleansing of sorts. Originating in Japan in the ’80s, it’s more about soaking up the woodland essence and reconnecting with nature in an effort to decrease stress, improve vitality and enhance creativity. Arizona’s L’Auberge de Sedona holds weekly complimentary sessions (and longer private ones) with a meditation master who will invite you to toss care away with a pinecone, wade in Oak Creek, contemplate the life of a plant and focus on surrounding breeze and bird sounds. At Canada’s Balnea, tree-hugging time is amplified when you lounge inside a Naturephone. Three of the cushioned acoustic cones can be found along 14 miles of networked trails and are a great place to cool down after hitting thermal pools or taking cold plunges.

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5. Polynesian Fitness at The Westin Ka’anapali

Get pumped Polynesian-style at The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, thanks to the Maui property’s partnership with Kiakahi. The outdoor fitness and functional movement class is rooted in traditional cultural concepts like being one with nature, respecting the sea and appreciating the saying “our future is in the past.” Exercises are inspired by Pacific Island dances, Hawaiian martial arts (lua) and competitive Makahiki (basically an ancient Hawaiian Olympics) games. Expect to throw spears, crawl in sand, arm wrestle, do routines with wood poles, blow conchs and test endurance on battle ropes while learning Hawaiian words and values.

6. IV Fluids at FOUND:RE

Jet-lagged? Hungover? Recovering from illness? Dehydrated from touring the city in the summer sun? An in-room or in-spa mobile IV delivering hydration and concentrated doses of vitamins and nutrients might be just what you need. Use your suite’s TUCH tablet at the quirky boutique FOUND:RE Phoenix to order a super boost of B vitamins for a better night's sleep or a biotin shooter to stimulate hair, skin and nail growth from partner IV Revival. These intramuscular injections are administered by certified medical professionals. A similar service can be set up by the like-minded companies like Reviv at a number of affiliates, including the MGM Grand in Las Vegas or the SLS Beverly Hills’ Ciel Spa.

7. Sweat Lodges at Hacienda Encantada

Claustrophobia, be damned! Many resorts, especially in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico and Central America, including Cabo San Lucas’ Hacienda Encantada and Playa del Carmen’s Sandos Caracol, have built temazcals — recreations of the indigenous sweat lodges of yore — to harness the elements of earth, fire, water and wind in the pursuit of health and happiness. Red-hot volcanic rocks are splashed with medicinal herb-infused water to release a purifying steam and purge toxins from the body via massive perspiration. Temazcal techniques have been used to treat everything from arthritis and circulatory problems to prostrate issues and bronchitis. Most sessions are followed by a cold-water plunge and are often accompanied by rituals performed by a shaman.

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Island Bathing at Carlisle Bay

Island bathing is Carlisle Bay’s Caribbean take on the aforementioned forest bathing. During the two-hour session, guests are whisked away at sunrise or sunset via boat to an uninhabited isle not far from the Antigua resort, the first hotel to offer this service. Once serenity seekers wash ashore, an expert will lead them through guided meditation and breath work while being surrounded by the soothing sounds of rollicking waves, wind and swaying palms. Apparently, this holistic approach has science on its side. Pounding surf releases negative ions into the air that can enhance mood, stimulate senses, improve oxygen absorption and be as effective as prescription antidepressants, Columbia University researcher Michael Terman told WebMD.

9. Halotherapy at the Four Seasons

Halotherapy — using salt for therapeutic reasons — is nothing new. There are mentions of it way back in the 12th century, and it’s still a popular form of alternative medicine in Eastern European countries like Belarus and Slovakia, where salt mines are commonplace. But the brand-new Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina kicks it up a notch. Within the expansive spa is a chamber made from floor-to-ceiling Himalayan salt blocks from Pakistan. Some believe that basking in the amber glow and breathing in aerosolized salt fights inflammation, stress and respiratory ailments. Therapists perform various rituals, which use even more of the miracle mineral, while you chill in an antigravity chair with an eye mask and noise-cancelling headphones and can include massages or reflexology with heated heart-shaped salt stones, sea salt foot scrubs and guided breathing exercises.

10. Equine Therapy at Body Holiday

By pairing human and horse, these life-coaching ventures give new meaning to beast mode. St. Lucia’s BodyHoliday offers Equine Expression, in which you use the animal’s body as a canvas to paint prayers and stories, just as Native Americans once did. The goal of the 20-years-in-the-making Equispective program at Virginia’s Salamander Resort & Spa is self-discovery, which is attained by studying the horse’s ability to relate to participants and others in its herd through hands-on groundwork, task communication and round pen exercises.

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Toe Readings at the Four Seasons

Dip a toe into the ancient art of dactyl divination at Mexico’s Four Seasons Punta Mita. Working from the principles that the body records the story of our lives in our tootsies and that awareness is the first step toward making positive changes, Angela Weyland, a certified master toe reader, examines digits for an hour not to predict the future, but to discover how the past might be affecting your present and what patterns are limiting your enrichment. The results are also used to determine what color and design will improve your mood in the accompanying pedicure.

12. Mermaid Fitness at The Hotel del Coronado

Folks can finally get fit while fulfilling their every Ariel fantasy from childhood. On Friday and Saturday mornings, the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego invites wannabe mermaids to slide into a sparkling tail, dive under the sea (actually, it’s held in the safety of a pool, so don’t fret) and swish your way to strong and slim. The 45-minute water aerobics class (accompanied by upbeat tunes) fuses swimming, core work, cardio and strength training and includes towel service and self-parking. Mermen — and locals with ID — are also welcome to join.

What Do YOU Think?

Are these wellness offerings absolutely wonderful or way too wacky? We’d love to hear about your experience if you have tried one of these treatments or classes or, if after reading, you’re now curious to check any of them out on your next vacation. Do you consider a resort’s exercise, wellness and mindfulness options before you decide where to go or stay? Share your thoughts, comments and stories below.

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