LAKE BUENA VISTA
The indefatigable storytellers at Walt Disney World can't resist shoehorning a narrative into almost every resort experience — even the heartwarming tale of me having my feet scraped.
At Senses: A Disney Spa, the newly overhauled pamper palace at the Grand Floridian, I didn't just have a 50-minute, $80 pedicure. I was taken on a multi-staged "journey" subtly based on the otherworldliness of Alice in Wonderland.
Too much magic?
Plus my toes do look pretty.
Disney craves control, especially through its own creative hand, and yet it's also a phenomenally savvy company. So what the 10,000-square-foot Senses — a lush, if pricey, oasis with 15 treatment rooms, the most on WDW property — ultimately provides is a me-time respite from the Mouse House, decompression after chasing the li'l terrors 'round Space Mountain.
Yes, there are the obligatory Hidden Mickeys swirled into the green-and-tan-toned walls — and it sure sounded like the sweeping theme from Mulan soothing from the speakers — but it's subtle, unspoken. Housed in a white Victorian bungalow, the Senses spa just reopened after almost an entire interior overhaul; it's currently the largest, and most imaginative, spa on the property, although the other biggie, at the Saratoga Springs Resort, is being renovated for a summer debut.
As for the Wonderlandian touches, it's not as if the White Rabbit beckons at the end of a darkened hall (although Senses is dark in places — love that). Consider the spa's new design subliminal theme-parkery. There is much tea to be had, and an "elixir" station starts your journey. My "theme" was strawberry (whatever that meant), and the smoothie-like concoction was so good I asked for seconds. "Of course, Mr. Daly," said my host Daniel, who magically appeared during my strange trip not unlike that all-grins Cheshire Cat.
After my elixir, I was led along a dim corridor to an even darker chillout room, home to delightfully tiny "healthy cupcakes," chocolate-banana delectables to help me grow strong and, presumably, help me squeeze down the rejuvenation rabbit hole.
Next stop: men's locker room and "wet room," which houses some of the spa's gaudiest new touches — fantastic Italian-tiled loungers (heated, no less) next to a waterfall, plus free lockers containing the most awesome robe I've ever wrapped around myself ($129 retail if you really dig it).
Poof! Daniel, a longtime cast member who once worked on the Jungle Cruise, appeared again and accompanied me to the mani-pedi room. A chandeliered peace-out space, this is where Belenda gamely went after my dude feet. And if you're wondering: After luxuriating in geranium-scented bath salts, I did indeed opt for the clear coat.
Many of the rubs, creams and oils are organic at Senses, and the SpaRitual nail polish line is free of animal ingredients. The mani-pedi room has several stations, but even with a bridal party in there — anyone can book time at Senses, guests and regular folks alike — it should still feel fairly intimate.
A far more obvious nod to Alice in Wonderland at Senses is the Mad Hatter pedicure chair for kids. The spa menu for tykes: the Magical Manicure ($30) and the Princess Pedicure ($45). "Families spa-ing together is a big trend," says spa director Ginger Mclean. "We just had a mom come in with five kids."
Am I a horrible dad for not wanting my kids anywhere near me when I'm here? Disney or not, Senses is an adult playground with grownup treatments and really grownup pricing. The menu is divided into three chapters — "Relax, "Renew" and "Imagine" — a melange of aromatherapy, wraps, massages and more. There's a "sweet red rose anti-aging body treatment" and a "cell-u-less herbal wrap" (both 50 minutes for $145). The massage rooms can be programmed by the guests, from music to a totally trippy paisley light show. The Grand Floridian Signature Treatment (80 minutes for $200) features something called a "warm full body cocoon."
Bring the kids? Um, no.
This is my ride.
At the end of the journey — a posh, totally fun, if slightly goofy one — Daniel handed me a tiny square of strawberry-basil anti-oxidant served on a plate, a curiouser and curiouser touch to be sure. "Just like Alice, right?" I asked, popping the weird sweet jelly in my mouth. Daniel was mum. But boy did that cat grin.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.