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Don CeSar adds essential luxury

ST. PETE BEACH — The Pink Palace now has a proper place to pamper patrons.

The $11-million Spa Oceana at the Don CeSar Beach Resort opens March 26 with more than 40 types of treatments to buff skin, relax muscles and rejuvenate the mind and body.

The historic Loews Hotels resort has run a basic spa with four treatment rooms built 14 years ago, before baby boomers discovered seaweed wraps and aromatherapy. In recent years, staffers had to turn away upward of two dozen reservations each weekend for lack of space.

The 11,000-square-foot spa, which is open to the public, has 16 treatment rooms, including two with twin tables for couples and a suite for bridal parties and groups. Downstairs are women's and men's whirlpools and steam rooms, a manicure bar and four ''pedicure thrones."

Deciding to drop millions into a fancy spa was a no-brainer, said John Marks, the Don CeSar's general manager. Without one, his hotel couldn't compete for big corporate meetings or get the attention of companies that sell employee incentive trips.

"It was an issue, an obstruction we had to overcome," Marks said.

At least three other Pinellas resorts reached the same conclusion. The Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor and the Belleview Biltmore Resort in Bellair have plans, or are developing them, for expanded spas.

"We have lost business to resorts with spas," said Chuck Pomerantz, general manager of Innisbrook, which will build a 12,000-square-foot spa as part of a $25-million upgrade under new ownership. As many as one-third of a meeting group, mostly women, "have something to do when you have a spa component," he says.

Spas are profit centers, says Bruce Batlin, a senior vice president of PKF Hospitality Research, who recently wrote a hotel spa study. Good ones help fill beds during slow days of the week.

"Depending on how substantial a spa is, it can create destination business," he said.

Spa Oceana obviously plays off the Don CeSar's location on the Gulf of Mexico. Treatments like the SeaSlim Detox uses "an algae-based masque" with seaweed and vegetal coral. Therapists will use sand from St. Pete Beach for exfoliation, says spa executive director Gigi Wiegman.

The "secret rooftop garden" offers customers a sweeping gulf view and special menu with choices like the high-protein cherry-tofu smoothie.

Treatments range in price from a traditional manicure ($45) to "The Honeymooners," a remineralizing and hydrating bath for two, full-body scrubbing, therapeutic message and customized skin treatment ($860). Neither includes the 20 percent service charge or tip.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Don CeSar adds essential luxury 03/14/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 2:57pm]
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