What Is a Wellness Spa?

Woman in bathrobe walking in wellness spa

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Wellness is the hot new word in the spa business. It's the most powerful argument anyone can make against seeing spas as a mere luxury, a pampering experience that can be cut from the household budget.

Wellness means you live in a state of optimal health, well-being, and vitality, and you invest money, time, and energy in the things that help you achieve it. That includes a good diet, exercise, and treatments like massage and bodywork that keeps you functioning at your best. Wellness makes our lives richer and more enjoyable.

The spa pool at the The Allison Inn & Spa in Oregon
The Allison Inn & Spa

Making Spas Part of Your Wellness Plan

A quality spa or individual practitioner can be part of our wellness plan. We might get a massage once or twice a month to keep our muscles pliable, see a personal trainer at the gym, take walks, or find a yoga class.

Many day spas have "wellness" in their name or call themselves a wellness center. But if you are looking to stay at a spa for a few days or more to help put you on the path to wellness, look for a spa that can provide a total immersion experience in a healthy lifestyle.

There are lots of different names for spas with a wellness focus. Destination spas mean an exclusive commitment to wellness, but the name never caught on with the public. Health spa is better known, but it's not used in the spa business because it's so dated.

Canyon Ranch Tucson
Canyon Ranch Tucson

What to Look for

Here's what you're looking for if you want to have an all-inclusive wellness experience to help you develop a healthy lifestyle:

  • 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 develop and maintain healthy habits back home

Some of the more famous wellness spas include names like Golden Door, Canyon Ranch, and Miraval, which are all very different in style and feel. These wellness spas usually require that you stay at least two or three nights to get the full benefit. Some require a longer stay. Prices at destination spas usually include all meals, classes, and some spa treatments.

Young women in white robes relaxing at beauty spa centre
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How Wellness Spas Differ From Resort Spas

Traditionally, resort spas offer spa treatments alongside golf, tennis, swimming, and other leisure activities that take advantage of their location (skiing, hiking, beach-time). Everything tends to be a la carte, rather than the all-inclusive approach taken at wellness spas.

Most resort spas offer some healthy menu options alongside fine dining. They will usually have a well-equipped gym and depending anywhere from a few to a full schedule of wellness classes. They might charge for the wellness classes or they might be free. They might have an access fee for the gym and spa if you don't have a treatment scheduled.

Recently, though, the lines have been blurring. Some wellness spas are calling themselves spa resorts to show up better in web searches. Some resorts and inns calling themselves destination spas even though they don't match all the traditional criteria, like extensive fitness programming and education. And resort spas are taking on the characteristics of wellness spas, even to the point of adding integrative physicians to the staff. Your best bet is to decide what you're looking for and see who offers it.

Middle Eastern, Mixed Ethnic Women Reviewing Computer Tablet at Spa
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The Food

Wellness spas serve healthy food exclusively, but there are different philosophies. Some wellness 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.

Senior Yoga Class Outdoors
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The People

Wellness 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 the staff is enthusiastic.

Lake Austin Spa Resort
Lake Austin Spa Resort


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 of 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.

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