Skip the Massage; Get the Facial

The joys of a real spa.

Yesterday, for Valentines day, my husband treated me to an overnight trip to the Scottsdale Fairmont Princess. The Princess is a five-star resort in North Scottsdale with amenities that remind me why I work so damn hard sometimes.

It was great to get away from town — even for such a short time — to go to a place where “service” and “quality” are more than just words thrown around by people who’ve never experienced them. The Princess’s staff members go out of their way to provide excellent service and make you feel special from the moment you walk in the door. The bellman who escorted me to our room not only pulled my small wheelie bag for me, but pointed out the various restaurants, shops, and other points of interest along the way. In the room, he showed me how to work the thermostat, hung up my jacket before I could stop him, and even fetched ice for the ice bucket. That night, when we went down for dinner at our second choice restaurant, the hostess there tried again to get a table for us at our first choice. (No luck.) We wound up eating in the Princess’s low-end restaurant, which still offered better service, a more interesting menu, and better prepared food than any restaurant in Wickenburg. (I will admit that Rancho de los Caballeros has a better wine list.) Even room service this morning was a special treat: fresh fruit and plain yogurt for me and blueberry pancakes with fresh blueberries, strawberries, and whipped cream for Mike, all served up with today’s New York Times.

Ah, civilization. I guess I miss it more than I thought.

But the highlight of the trip for me came after Mike left to go to work. I made an appointment at the Willow Stream Spa, which is part of the Princess complex, for an aromatherapy facial.

While I’ll admit that I’ve experienced a true spa only five times in my life, this was, by far, the nicest. It featured wide open spaces, pleasant aromas, the sound of falling water almost everywhere, and friendly service. After checking in, I was escorted to the women’s side of the facility by a woman who played tour guide. She pointed out features that included a waterfall (where spa guests could enjoy the spray or high pressure of the falling water), hot and cold plunge pools, steam room, aromatherapy inhalation room, and Swiss shower with 12 shower heads. (We skipped the private rooftop pool — the resort seems to have a swimming pool everywhere you turn — because it was a cool, rainy morning.) Even the waiting areas were warm and comfortable, the kind of place you could easily spend the day with a good book.

I was assigned a locker, terry robe, and slippers and told where to meet my “service provider.” I wasted no time getting undressed and slipping on the robe. By the time I found a seat in the corner of the waiting area, I was already relaxed.

When I tell my friends that I prefer a good facial over a massage, they think I’m crazy. I think it’s because they’ve never had a good facial.

Here’s the brochure description of what I experienced this morning:

Arizona Aromatherapy Facial. 60 minutes. Restoration. Ease tension through the healing gifts and remedies of the desert. Choose from desert lavender for balance or chamomile for restoring your skin from the desert sun. Th healing is all encompassing with an invigorating lavender foot experience, a scalp and hand massage, as well as couperose skin ampoule.

(And yes, I’m very glad I don’t have to write this kind of silliness. I simply could not spread it thick enough, if you know what I mean.)

The point is, a good facial tends to more than just your face.

My service provider, Heather, led me to a private, softly lighted room with the gentle sounds of New Age music. While she stepped out into the hall, I slipped out of my robe and into a “cocoon” of sheet-lined towels on a special padded table molded to keep my body in a reclined sitting position. Then Heather returned to get to work.

She began with my hands. She put some creme on my nails and cuticles, then used fragrant massage oils to massage my hands. Then each hand went into a baggie with a warm sand-filled mitt over it. I can’t describe how good it felt. It was like wearing heated mittens on a cold day.

She then moved on to my arms, which got an excellent massage with more aromatic moisturizers.

Then she started on my “face,” which began at my upper chest and went all the way to my hairline. Lots of steam and different cremes and exfoliating gels and moisturizers. She told me what each one was as she applied it, but I don’t remember any of it. They all smelled really good. There was a hot towel on my face and shoulders whenever something needed to be wiped off.

Then the neck, shoulder, and scalp massage. I cannot imagine a back massage feeling as good as this.

Then more cream on my face and a warm towel while she went to work on my feet and lower legs, with moisturizer and a good rub. They got plastic baggies and warm booties, too.

All this took about an hour. I was completely relaxed, feeling almost on the verge of sleep. I don’t think I said more than a dozen words during this time — and anyone who knows me personally can attest to the fact that I rarely keep my mouth shut.

Heather finished my face with some moisturizing oils and unwrapped my feet and hands. Then she left me alone again to rerobe. She met me outside the room with a cup of cold water, then escorted me back to the waiting area, where she recommended ten to fifteen minutes in the inhalation room. I made a beeline for it.

Now I need to make a distinction between aromatherapy at a quality spa and the kinds of “aromatherapy” products you can buy in candle shops and cosmetics shops and home shopping parties. The crap you buy for home use at these places is crap. It’s over-scented, made with chemicals that could probably make you sick if you use them often enough, and gives aromatherapy a bad name. While I don’t buy into the idea of certain smells giving certain benefits, I do know that a room full of fresh air that is lightly infused with the scent of eucalyptus or mint or rosemary or some combination of these things clears my sinuses and makes me want to breathe deeply all day. It also makes me want to throw out all those crappy, smelly candles I’ve managed to collect — mostly as gifts — over the past ten years. I don’t want a cheap alternative. I want the real thing.

Anyway, I had a great time at the spa, although I didn’t stay very long. I didn’t have a swimsuit with me, which is required for several areas. But I made a conscious decision to do this more often, despite the rather high cost. Whether I return to the Princess’s spa or start checking out the ones in other luxury resorts in Phoenix and Scottsdale remains to be decided. (Frankly, I can’t imagine any other facility being nicer than this one, so why try the others?) All I know is that I deserve to be pampered once in a while and I’m going to make sure I get the pampering I deserve.

As for facial vs. massage, why not give it a try? Report your findings in the comments here.

3 thoughts on “Skip the Massage; Get the Facial

  1. I’ve had both massages and facials… and I like both of them. As with so many other things, the success (particularly of getting one to relax into the experience) can depend on the “service provider,” both in general and on that particular day. We used to have a regular masseuse (she’d come over to the bitranch, set up in our bedroom, so one of us could get a massage while the other worked or cooked a tasty lunch or whatever). Some days it’d be great… other times, if she was distracted or tired, it was only okay.

    I’ve had fewer facials than I have massages, and the facials have all been in a “special” environment. They’ve also cost about twice what the masseuse does (or did; it’s been a few years). I absolutely agree that it’s a wonderful, pampering experience!

    But hey: I’ll take both. :-)

    For your _next_ getwaway or celebration, I recommend a trip to Santa Fe and a day-long stop at Ten Thousand Waves. They have hot tubs, massages, facials, and a wonderful outdoors/indoors zen ambiance. You’d love it.

What do you think?