Tourism & hospitality

Place of worship

Despite their indulgent settings, cruise ships are doing more than ever to appeal to a health-conscious demographic. World Cruise Industry Review reviews how the latest onboard spas are promoting wellness, immersing guests in an environment that refreshes mind and body alike.

Spa facilities have long been a mainstay of cruise ships. For as long as there have been busy itineraries, there have been exhausted passengers, and spas have supplied a lucrative means to ease their stresses and strains. Not only do they present a reliable source of onboard revenue, they also entice potential cruisers whose primary goal is to unwind. 

That said, the last few years have seen unprecedented developments in the area. No longer are spas just another amenity; these days, they are bigger and more prominent than ever, and increasingly central to any ship’s passenger proposition. Most importantly, the newest offerings have changed their emphasis. As well as the obvious goal of relaxation, a focus on health and wellness is steadily coming to the fore.

Examples are not difficult to find. When Royal Princess takes to the seas in June 2013, its Lotus Spa will be expanded and relocated, with more treatment rooms than any of its fleetmates. MSC Cruises’ Fantasia class will soon boast a new solarium, which offers a spa service, healthy bar menus, complimentary fruit skewers and an impressive range of treatments. Such facilities are generally trumpeted months in advance, attesting that spas have become a major marketing hook.

Story of the spa

Following this trend back to its genesis, we might cite the launch of Costa Concordia in 2006. At 20,500ft², its spa was the largest ever to be built aboard a cruise ship. Even more innovatively, it was the first ‘destination spa’ at sea.

Up until then, the role of a spa had been straightforward. A specially designated area for guests to recoup, it was just another activity option, on a par with the cinema and squash courts. The Samsara Spa broke the mould. Offering guests a comprehensive package, it was in essence a residential retreat. Guests could stay in a Samsara Spa cabin, eat at the Ristorante Samsara and enjoy free access to the thermal suites. On top of that, they would receive two tickets to the solarium, two free treatments and two fitness classes of their choice.

Destination spas have always been popular onshore. Designed to promote healthful habits, their focus on wellbeing is pervasive. Why spend an hour in the tepidarium, after all, if you’re just going to ruin your inner poise with cocktails? In such spas, you’re more likely to be offered platters of fruit and green tea, interspersing hot-stone massages with Zumba classes and complementing the body wrap with smoothies. Costa Cruises adopted the same approach, installing the Samsara Spa on all its newer vessels.

It wasn’t long before other operators followed suit. Celebrity, for example, built an AquaSpa complex on each of its Solstice-class ships. With AquaClass cabins and two speciality restaurants, it offers guests total spa immersion. Then there are offerings by Carnival and HollandAmerica, which, while not destination spas as such, provide something of a halfway house.

Food for thought

The trend for spas is more radical than it might at first appear. It isn’t just about tying into the vogue for supersizing, or creating better-looking facilities; rather, it opens up cruising to a different sort of holidaymaker, subtly redefining the very purpose of a cruise.

After all, cruising has never been the activity of choice for ascetics. Two weeks on a ship are two weeks of eating, drinking and vegging out: a paean to decadent pursuits.This cannot help but have ramifications for the waistline. According to research conducted by in 2012, the average cruiser gains around a stone in weight over a fortnight, and a portly 6% will gain as much as 18lb.

‘Eat, drink and be merry’ is still an appealing motto, and it’s hard to envisage that cruisers en masse will abandon their love of dessert. But there are signs the tide is turning, and that cruises are starting to take their cue from health-oriented shoreside trends.

Silversea, for example, has pioneered a Wellness Programme. Available on all its ships, it integrates exercise and spa therapies with nutrition seminars and ‘CruiseLite’ dining options. Guests can take part in aerobics, yoga, Pilates and circuit training, indulge in low-carb lunches and reward their efforts with personalised treatments in the spa.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line’s two newest ships are set to benefit from a big-name fitness partnership. Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway will include high-energy indoor cycling studios, courtesy of New York City’s Flywheel Sports. The onboard Mandara Spa, measuring 23,000ft², will also feature a thermal suite and a therapeutic salt room proven to assuage various maladies.

Of course, ‘health-conscious’ is closely allied to ‘image-conscious’. Amid the rhetoric of wellbeing, many cruise-ship spas offer beauty treatments in abundance. A number provide Botox or teeth whitening; Royal Caribbean’s Vitality @ Sea offers treatments for teens with acne; and the new MSC Preziosa will bring facials based on precious minerals. The luxurious Seabourn Odyssey goes one better, with a facial based on 24-carat gold.

Royal centrepiece

As for Royal Princess, its Lotus Spa will form the centrepiece of the ship. Billed as offering ‘the ultimate way to escape completely’, the spa will be unlike its forebears in that it is located by the atrium. Classically, cruise-ship spas are built on a ship’s top corner, which brings all the benefits of strong natural light, but can mean they need to skimp on space. This facility will be larger and easier to access, highlighting how critical spas have become for a sizeable proportion of guests.

“Passengers can get up in the morning, have a nice breakfast and then go right into the spa – it’s very conveniently located,” explains John Chenerky, director of spa operations on Royal Princess. “It will feature more treatment rooms than we’ve ever had, including the debut of new luxurious couples’ villas. And we’re taking our thermal suite experience to an entirely new level. We call it The Enclave at Lotus Spa – it’s triple the size of the thermal suites on our other ships.”

This thermal zone is packed with variety. It features heated stone beds, soothing water beds and a Turkish hammam, alongside sensory showers and the services of a body scrub mixologist. The hydrotherapy pool boasts cascading rain shower and massage jets, expressly designed to soothe sore joints. Meanwhile, the laconium and caldarium do wonders to purify the skin.

“The Enclave allows you to create your own relaxing circuit by experiencing each of the amenities as you choose,” says Chernesky.

Healthy goal

With such a panoply of choices, the picture is clear: guest demands are changing and cruise ships are adapting with the times. As onboard demographics grow more varied, many lines are catering to a younger, more health-fixated crowd.

Though these guests do want to relax, they don’t want necessarily to overindulge. Rather, they want to revitalise their bodies and minds; to end the cruise feeling healthier than they did when they embarked. As the latest innovations amply demonstrate, it’s becoming ever easier to realise this goal.


This article appears in the Spring 2013 issue of World Cruise Industry Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: