SPA BLOG: Christmas: “Peace be Still”

November 30th, 2010

The holiday season is in full swing; we decorate, bake (or order from our local bakery) and buy gifts for friends, family and co-workers.  A few goodies thrown in there for you along the way~ why else collect, cut, print, crumble into your wallet and use those pesky coupons by their expiration date?  What is “gift” that we are really looking to give… and receive?

We have everything, right?

Well maybe not.

We don’t have enough time.

Years ago I was vacationing on the island of Exuma, in the Grand Bahamas and went to a small-small church, hundreds of years old, which sat on-top of a hill. The church yard is surrounded by old grave markers, leaning from years of storms and decay. Inside the church the women wear white dresses and big hats, and at the altar there is a grand glass mosaic with the words, “Peace be still.”

That is the gift we need.

How do we give the gift of time, peace and stillness? Now, since this is a SPA BLOG, you can see what is coming next… of course my recommendation is give a gift of a spa appointment. But can a spa appointment really deliver the unobtainable value of time?

In the words of newsman Francis Pharcellus Church (1897), “Oh, yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

In the words of Spa Consultant and avid spa-goer Susan Gwaltney (2010), “Oh yes Virginia, a spa can give you time and peace.”

A visit to a spa, any ‘ol spa, is really a moment of pressing the HOLD button on life. When and where else do we give ourselves permission to receive, heal and be still?

This holiday season, buy your spa gift certificates and hand them out like candy canes! And in the spirit of Christmas… be sure to add your name to your list!

Susan Gwaltney

Essential Spa Consulting- SPA BLOG


SPA BLOG: Four Seasons- Philadelphia

November 11th, 2010

images (41)

Last Saturday a group of us ladies went to the Four Seasons Spa in Philadelphia to celebrate yet another friend’s 50 birthday. The great thing about turning 50 (as there really are only a few) is that you have the ability, smarts, sophistication and physical desperation to go to a 5 star spa to celebrate a birthday, which translates as: relax. A spa is safe; there is no over drinking, (unless it is herbal tea or citrus water) no late nights, and no waking up feeling and looking like a 100 years old cadaver. And believe me, there is no facial, body wrap or massage on earth that can reverse a late night with champagne and dancing with a bum shoulder and creaky knees. I know this from experience. Ageless attitude can only get you so far.

The Four Seasons globally is known for grand service, spot on amenities, stunning food, impressive views, flower arrangements, and their spa experience. So imagine my concern when the spa facility was reflected more of a 3 star hotel or local day spa.

Let me first preface my critique~ we had a lovely day, great treatments, great therapist, delicious lunch, attentive service, and was giving an attractive tray of chocolate dipped strawberries with Happy Birthday written in chocolate on the side of the plate.  We were made to feel special.


That was dampened when we checked in found out that there is no “relax” area, and no steam room- which I swear was confirmed when I booked the treatments.  They have a pool that is smartly used for pre and post treatments. However on this day there were a million children in the pool, and even the receptionist who walked us to the locker mentioned her surprise of the amount of loud splashy children. So that space was not going to be a sanctuary, especially when you have to walk through puddles of water with your street shoes on, past the pool and into the locker. The very cramped lockers. It is strange to change clothes 2 inches from the sink area, where other guests are washing up and walking through. I didn’t know what way to bend for my slippers in fear of “flashing” an innocent guest. We were uncomfortably shoulder to shoulder. There is a dry sauna in the locker room that was not turned on, so it was a cold dry sauna.

The facility is just old and not reflective of the Four Seasons brand or any of their other spas.  Again, the therapists are stunning and do a great job. That afternoon, as the four of us ladies checked out, we were talking together at the retail-reception area, and were“shhhh’d” by the receptionist as there is a treatment room right next to the front desk. OK- I just paid $700, drove 3 hours to gett here, and ate lunch in your restaurant- … the old space is a huge problem.  There just needs to be a decision made regarding guest flow, and how to work around an old facility… does it match your guest expectations?

The spa like all of us needs:  rejuvenation, refreshing and a lot of attention!

Susan Gwaltney

Essential Spa Consulting- Spa Blog

SPA BLOG: Half Moon Resort, Jamaica: Art, Elders and Beer

November 5th, 2010

In my last spa blog I talked about the spirit of the Fern Tree Spa at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica. One of the unique gems at the spa is a woman by the name of Stella Grey, who is known as the “Spa Elder.” And she is exactly that, … not that she is “elderly” (she just e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago regarding her 60th birthday celebration) but she has the wisdom of the ages. She comes from a long lineage of colonial Jamaican families, with over 400 years on the island. She is a tall blond haired, blued eyed woman with a heavy sophisticated Jamaican accent, which takes a bit of getting used to as at first. As the voice doesn’t match the face-but after spending time with her, there is no better voice, and no better face- it’s perfect.

In a nut-shell, the Spa Elder is a person and a program. It is a holistic evaluation and prescription of the spa guest’s mind, body and spirit. When you meet with Stella, she not only looks at you and listens, but looks through you and hears what you are saying, as well as hears what you are notsaying! She then designs a program for the guest during their visit to support the needs of the guest. Most sessions are with her as she has a gift of healing and understanding. Her programming may include:  a meditation class, body wrap, massage, Yoga class and if you are lucky like I was… a trip to the jungle.

And that is where Stella took me- it was offered to me as a bit of a “pottery shopping” spree (as they were looking to sell local products and art in the spa retail shop) and tour of colonial farm estates. I had visited Half Moon about 6 times as a Spa Consultant, but never really left the property. Maybe once, when we went to “Scotties” for a Red Stripe beer and pulled chicken, and that was it.

Stella has an artist friend, David Pinto. Born in Jamaica, high school in England, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design- specialty … clay. His studio is tucked away in an old estate with 5 kilns, including an anagama wood kiln of ancient Japanese origin to fire the sculptures and a gas reduction or soda kiln.

His sculptures are lovely, raw and earthy. David is lovely, raw and earthy, and person that you just want to spend all day with and shadow him working, drinking coffee and walking through the studio. There are a few Jamaican apprentices, a pond, old accounting building vacated now for a century, art gallery up stairs in an old rock building, and a skinny black cat whose tail knocked over at least 3 pieces of work in the afternoon that we visited.

It was a joy to see Stella interact with David and be a part of their world and history. We spoke only a few minutes about work and chose a some pieces for the retail space.  The rest of the afternoon we talked about art, the process of working the kilns, the drainage issues with the pond, family, a broken step, and his workshops. I held the black cat.

On the way back to the Half Moon we drove through the jungle on one lane dirt roads, past working farm estates, lush and green,  and ending up driving alongside the ocean. Back at the resort, we sat at the outdoor bar, where guests were recapping their day with voice and energy. Stella and I had a couple of Red Stripe beers and sat quietly watching the sunset.

Oh the Spa Elder is wise!!

Susan Gwaltney- Essential Spa Constuling

Spa Blog

SPA BLOG: The Fern Tree Spa @ Half Moon, Jamaica

November 2nd, 2010

Half Moon Resort is the quintessential colonial Jamaican resort. Located just 10 minutes west (on the new highway) from the Montego Bay Airport, and snuggles against a cove shaped in a half moon. Guests enter the resort through a kiosk and gate and are instantly brought back to a time of elegance, service and a noticeable slower pace.

The things that stood out to me when I checked in, other than the thick humid air and constant breeze, is that the reception and restaurants are all open. Entering past pillars and on floors covered in dark hard wood, through open courtyards, leading to a blue calm bay. On the one wall are rows of black and white photos of the founding families on their holidays at Half Moon, also included are celebrities and a few royalts.  To ease the time at check-in, rum punch is served on a silver tray. I take two, as I know that check in can take more than a few sips of punch.

The Fern Tree Spa at Half Moon Resort  is luscious and housed in a large complex that includes, treatment rooms, pool, yoga-villa, small grassy labyrinth, relax room, hair and nail salon, retail space, café, massive laundry and several offices. On a wooden walk that leads over the water sits 2 spa villas, where guests can hear the lapping of water hitting the support pillars and feel the sea breeze as they enjoy a massage or body treatment. Back at the main spa, in the private courtyards of the couple suites sits a marble tub for two, imported from Mexico and vegetation that you can get lost in. There are walk ways and nooks that guests can escape to or more open public areas with a pool and waterfall. In one courtyard near the entrance of the ladies’ locker room, is an old brick arch-way, 100’s of years old, made from bricks that were used to weigh down empty cargo ships sailing to Jamaica. Once the ships were filled with their Caribbean cargo, the bricks were left behind and re-used.

The “thing” about the spa is yes, it is lovely, yes it smells great, yes the products are local, and the programming interesting, etc, etc,  … but it is the Jamaican staff that makes the spa experience deeper and more interesting. There is a spirit and joy, a sense of island healing, and the gift of touch that the Jamaican people bring to their work. They give the guests more than a massage or a scrub, but a connection to a culture steeped in intuitive healing- all of which opens the opportunity for you to connect with yourself.

…. More next time about Stella, who is the Spa Elder, dolphins, Red Stripe beer, the breakfast buffet and a trip to the jungle to visit a local artist who makes pottery!

Susan Gwaltney-

Essential Spa Consulting- SPA BLOG