What Is A Destination Spa?

Golden Door
••• Golden Door is the original American destination spa -- and one of the most expensive. Golden Door

"Destination spa" is still a phrase that means something to people in the spa industry. It is a property like Canyon Ranch, Golden Door or Rancho La Puerta, where the mission and sole purpose is to help individuals develop a healthy lifestyle through:

  • healthy spa cuisine that emphasizes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and nutritional education
  • a full program of fitness and stress reduction classes
  • therapeutic spa treatments including massage
  • educational lectures that teach you how to bring your healthy habits back home

Destination spas traditionally required that you stay at least three nights to get the full benefit, and some even required a longer stay.  Prices at destination spas generally include all meals, classes and some spa treatments.

But the internet has made the phrase "destination spa" almost irrelevant.  Not enough people were aware of the phrase or what it meant, so they would enter the search "spa resort."  

The industry was using "resort spa" to describe resorts that offer spa treatments as an amenity alongside leisure activities like golf, tennis swimming pools.  They sometimes offered some spa cuisine menu options and limited health and wellness classes, but this isn't the place where you went to get healthy.  

Then the lines began to  blur.  First resorts and inns started calling themselves “destination spas” even though they didn't match all the traditional criteria, like extensive fitness programming and education.

Other resort spas are took on the characteristics of destination spas, with lots of exercise classes at no extra charge and even wellness lectures.  The final irony: with so many consumers searching for "spa resorts," the traditional "destination spas" decided it was better to be a "spa resort" and be found in a web search.

  Your best bet is to decide what you're looking for and see who offers it.

Be that as it may, "destination spa" still means something to people in the industry, and the most knowledgeable spa consumers.  Here's what they know will be different:

The Food At Destination Spas:  Destination spas serve healthy food exclusively, but there are different philosophies. Some destination spas are geared towards weight loss, with restricted calories and strict portion control. Others have an all-you-can-eat philosophy. Many don't serve alcohol, while others serve wine with dinner. While destination spas emphasize healthy, whole foods, it might not necessarily be organic.

The People At Destination Spas:  Destination spas have a spirit of camaraderie. You’re with like-minded people who share your interest in health. Many have a small number of guests at any one time and you can get to know people even if you go by yourself. Small groups go on hikes, take exercise classes, and share tables together. There is usually a high staff-to-guest ratio, and staff is enthusiastic.

Destination Spa Personalities:  Destination spas have different personalities and vary widely in size, price, setting and programming.

They can accommodate anywhere from 8 to 250 guests, with an average around 60. They come in a wide variety of prices, from most budget spas that are a few hundred dollars a night to $8,000 a week. Some are restricted calorie and others are all-you-can-eat. Here’s more information on how to choose a destination spa.