Nurture & Nature

Trends: In 2002, vacations may be more about relaxing and recharging than about action and adventure.

January 27, 2002|By Judi Dash | By Judi Dash,Special to the Sun

Call it coincidence, or call it karma.

Just when Americans need a kinder, gentler vacation that soothes psyches frayed by the traumatic events of 2001, resorts, adventure tour operators and even those bastions of sybaritic excess -- cruise ships -- are introducing programs devoted to nurturing emotions as well as bodies.

In 2002, healing activities and treatments once found mainly at New Age centers will become standard offerings at more mainstream places, both pricey and budget-oriented.

These serenity-promoting services couldn't come at a better time, as travelers once drawn to cutting-edge adventures in exotic places seek asylum in safer-feeling environments on North American turf.

"People want their vacation to be therapeutic as well as entertaining," says Melissa Scott, editor of Healing Retreats and Spas, a bimonthly magazine that tracks self-nurturing trends.

"They're looking for experiences that comfort and recharge their battered nerves, so they can come back relaxed and restored," Scott says. "Since Sept. 11, especially, there's a more urgent need to be nurtured and healed -- a sense of no longer being able to put off taking care of ourselves."

While Americans are generally traveling less since Sept. 11, bookings at many resorts with spas or wellness programs are on the rise.

"Our business is up 25 percent over last year," says Susie Ellis, co-owner of New York-based SpaFinder, one of the nation's largest reservation services for vacations to spas and resorts with health programs.

"Clients are postponing trips to Europe and other distant places, and seeking closer escapes, ideally no more than a few hours' drive or flying time from home," Ellis says.

And don't assume the hankering for healing is just a girl thing. Men now make up more than 25 percent of America's spa-goers, a business that the International Spa Association reports takes in more than $5 billion a year -- $2 billion more than ski resorts.

Relaxation at resorts

Resorts are at the forefront of the mind / body tuneup trend. Many have constructed sprawling spas with beautiful areas to rest and relax before and after the treatment -- solariums, pool patios or meditation rooms to sip tea and soak up inspirational vibes. The cozy nooks allow guests to draw out the restorative experience for more than the hour or so of the actual therapy.

It's the best of both worlds for those who want more nurturing than the quick hit of the typical day spa, but don't want to commit a week or more to cocooning at a full-fledged destination spa.

Many of the new resort spas are breaking out treatments and balms that guests might have balked at as too weird a few years ago.

For example, the Boulders, a swank, traditional golf resort north of Phoenix, Ariz., has tapped into patrons' craving for tee times and sympathy.

The resort recently opened a branch of California's Golden Door Spa. Here, in the 33,000-square-foot Pueblo-inspired facility, the country-club set can take yoga-for-golfers classes to find their inner birdie, meditate while silently navigating a giant outdoor labyrinth or surrender to watsu, a massage performed in a warm pool that enthusiasts liken to returning to the womb.

Couples, meanwhile, can have their massages side by side in suites with private whirlpool-equipped outdoor patios for post-treatment relaxing. Ante up $500 a night per person for a package that includes a round of golf and a massage, and you're there.

Or, for $585, you could spend an entire week at the Tennessee Fitness Spa, about two hours south of Nashville. You'll get three health-conscious meals a day, guided hiking, lectures on stress reduction, and, for an $85 splurge, an hourlong chamomile tea wrap to calm you from the outside in.

Nemacolin, a resort 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh with golf, horseback riding and skiing, recently redesigned its enormous Woodlands Spa along the principles of feng shui, a Chinese concept of balance and harmony of objects and spaces. In addition to offering treatments that combine Native American, Asian and Indian healing techniques, the resort has constructed a 50-foot climbing wall and a high ropes course to increase guests' self-awareness through physical challenge.

One of the most ambitious resort undertakings is the new Mii Amo Spa at Enchantment Resort, set amid the red-rock canyons of Sedona, Ariz. Guests staying at one of Enchantment's 222 rooms or the spa's own 16 guest quarters can meditate in the kiva-like Crystal Grotto, guided by a Native American spiritual counselor.

Massages are performed with warm river stones -- said to harness the energy of earth, water and fire. During the 60-minute Mii Amo spirit therapy, the therapist places healing crystals at strategic energy points on the body, burns fragrant herbs and chants a blessing to promote balance and harmony.

Appetizing escapes

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