Your burning spa questions answered.
• I have never been to a spa and I have no idea what to expect. What do I do? First of all, take a deep breath and remember that you are the customer, and any good spa wants you to be happy. Many spas that have Web sites include handy little tip sheets, so check those out. Call ahead and ask questions. Don't be shy to say you're a newbie. Just about everybody who loves their work also loves to talk about it; salon and spa operators are no exception.
• Do I keep my underwear on? If you're getting a massage, you'll want to remove your bra, because it will get in the way, and massage oils may mess up your bra. Many facials include a shoulder and chest massage, so slip off your bra for that, too. This is why spas give you a robe. As for underpants, that's up to you. Therapists can work around underwear. But if you can go without, you'll give the therapist easier access to tight hip flexors, a real problem for people who sit most of the day.
• What if the massage therapist is pressing so hard it hurts? Is it supposed to? If you're not into pain — or if you want a deeper massage than you're getting — speak up. Therapists, like spouses, cannot read your mind.
• I want a massage, but really, nobody needs to see me naked. We'll let Sheila Bracewell, Innisbrook's spa and fitness director, take this one: "I have seen thousands of bodies, and not one of them is perfect. We're not looking at your body for imperfections. We're thinking about how we can help you.''
• Okay, but what if I get a male therapist? It's perfectly fine to specify gender when you make your appointment. In fact, Bracewell said, spas expect it. What does she ask for when she makes an appointment at a place she's never been? "I say, 'I want your best therapist. I don't care if it's a man or a woman.' "
• I want to go to a spa before my wedding. What should I have done? That depends on when the wedding is. Generally, don't get a deep-cleansing facial right before a big event, in case your face is a little splotchy afterward. This is also a bad time to try an entirely new hair color or style. Tell the spa when your big day is, what your goals are (relaxation? glamor?) and ask for suggestions.
• Spas are so fancy. What if I feel out of place? If the spa manager and therapists don't make you feel comfortable and welcome, go somewhere else. But please, do behave. Turn off your cell phone, and if you must make a call, go outside. If you're having a spa day with friends, respect other patrons' need for peace. Always make appointments and if you can't get there on time, call.
• The last time I got a pedicure, the woman kept talking to me. How do I handle that? Therapists do need to ask you a few questions to get you the right kind of treatment. Beyond that, if you are silent, most will pick up your cue. If not, smile sweetly, thank them for sharing, and say you're just going to relax now and enjoy the silence.
• What about gratuities? Just like in a restaurant, add a gratuity to reward good service. Many spas include the gratuity on your bill, so read it closely. Feel free to add more of a tip if you like. If no gratuity is included, figure on 15 to 20 percent if you've enjoyed your service. If you are using a gift card, ask at the front desk if a gratuity was included in the card.
• I want to buy a friend a spa gift certificate. How do I choose a service or package? Don't even try. Most spas will just let you get a gift card for a dollar amount, so the recipient can make her own choices.
• What's the better deal, packages or a la carte services? It depends. Some spas offer a financial incentive to have more services. Some packages are no cheaper than individual pricing. Ask if you can create your own package. These days, some spas and salons may be more willing to work with you.
Charlotte Sutton, Personal Best editor