Spa at Sea

Ever dreamed of working on board a cruise ship? Editor Lynnaire Johnston visits the Lotus Spa on the Sapphire Princess to find out what it would be like. It’s hard not to be impressed by the beauty clinic and spa Nicole Barry runs on board the enormous cruise ship, Sapphire Princess, which docked in Auckland for a day recently. Elegant, opulent and absolutely fabulous, the Sapphire Princess is 18 floors of luxury most of us can only dream about. Nicole calls it home. The ship is one of 16 in the Princess Cruises Fleet (owned by the Carnival Corporation). The spa, like those on all its ships, is operated by UK-based Steiner Spas, which employs staff from all over the world. The company has 135 ship-based spas and several land-based ones. The Lotus Spa on board the Sapphire Princess has a team of 21 beauty therapists, nail technicians, masseuses, hair stylists and personal trainers, all of whom are the best in their field. Therapists employed by Steiner undergo four to six weeks intensive training at its school in London before being offered a cruise ship contract. These are generally six months long, at the end of which a therapist can elect to take on another contract – perhaps after a short holiday – or not. Steiner offers therapists an opportunity to specialise. Nicole began her cruise career doing facials. After being promoted to senior therapist, she went on to become assistant spa manager and, five years ago, manager. From here, if she stays with the company, her principal option is to become a trainer (either in London or travelling from vessel to vessel). If she decides to leave, she will be sufficiently experienced to set up her own business. However, even after 10 years travelling the world, Nicole is showing no signs of wanting to give up shipboard life. It’s easy to understand why. Every few weeks she meets a whole new group of clients. She travels the world in comfort (in the last six months she’s been to Alaska, the Caribbean, Asia and the South Pacific). Her cabin, while small, has a double bed, a dressing area, a small visitors’ area and – luxury of luxuries – is serviced every day. Neither does she cook for herself as there’s a crew dining room, or she can eat at one of the guest restaurants when it’s not busy. Many of the guest facilities are available to her, too, so she can attend any of the nightly concerts or other entertainment offered on board. All this doesn’t mean that Nicole has it easy. Far from it. She works pretty much every day, although when the ship is in port only a skeleton crew is required so there are full days off to see the local sights. On sea days the spa is open from 8am to 8pm, and nine-hour days are routine for staff. Spa a colossal size If you’ve been on a cruise yourself, you’ll know that it can take some time to find your way around a ship. On the Sapphire Princess, it will take you some time to find your way around just the spa and gymnasium. The area it takes up is colossal. Arranged loosely in a circle around the outside of the ship there are large windows ensuring the views beyond can be easily seen. In the middle is a lap pool. On the right, past reception, is the hair salon and manicure/pedicure area. The gym and seminar room run across the bow, while down the port side is the tranquillity corridor with 14 treatment rooms. Ranged in between is the thermal grotto with saunas, steam rooms, a couple’s mud room and changing rooms. Such a bald description completely fails to do the Lotus Spa justice. The lighting and ambience are subdued, as you’d expect, the décor is oriental with an abundance of live orchid flowers, and the walls of the thermal grotto are decorated with an enormous tiled picture. The marble beds here are gently warm, and with the subdued lighting, are designed to help guests to relax. This is a quiet area, a child-free zone with its mosaic sauna which holds four people and tropical rainforest shower which “just envelopes you”. A vapour room which exudes eucalyptus oil seats two while the mild steam room, with its citrus scent, is cooler. Passengers using both these rooms are encouraged to make the most of the oils by working on their abdominal breathing while seated inside. The spa’s signature treatment is the Welcome Touch, in which therapists use hot mitts to clean and massage guests’ feet when they first arrive. Nicole says, “This is a lovely gesture which helps people relax before their massage or facial.” Nicole tells me the spa is busiest just before cocktail parties (“it’s like the Oscars”) and formal dinners, when hair and nail services are the most commonly requested treatments. The product range sold at the Lotus Spa is Elemis, a British range on the market since 1990. Specialising in spa and anti-ageing skincare products, Elemis products are sold through luxury spas worldwide and are used in the first class lounge of British Airways. Guests are encouraged to arrive 15 minutes prior to their appointment time (there are no traffic jams on a cruise ship!) so they can relax and focus on their treatment. The waiting area is equipped with comfortably deep chairs, fresh fruit and herbal teas. Ailments treated with acupuncture The newest treatment to be offered is acupuncture. The ship’s licensed acupuncturist sees up to 16 people on a sea day, and the response has been so overwhelming that acupuncture is now being introduced across the fleet. Passengers use it to treat sea sickness, depression, acid reflux and pain, among many other maladies. The gym is also part of Nicole’s domain and two personal trainers are available to assist passengers work off the sumptuous food which is part and parcel of shipboard life. They take yoga, pilates and spin classes, while also holding seminars on diet, posture, detox and other health and well-being subjects. The gym opens at 7am and Nicole says it is often packed even at that time of day. She believes the individual TV screens on each treadmill and step machine help motivate people to come. Tucked into a corner of the seminar room I spy an alpha relaxation capsule which balances the chakras through vibration. Nicole tells me that 45 minutes in the capsule is the equivalent of three hours sleep. The spa’s service menu is extensive, with seven facial “rituals” and six massage treatments including aroma stone therapy, deep tissue muscle, Swedish and Japanese Shiatsu massages, plus reflexology. Detoxifying and moisturising body therapies include the Ionithermie cellulite reduction programme, the Cellutox aroma spa ocean wrap, an exotic lime and ginger salt glow, and an Absolute Spa Ritual which combines a pro-collagen marine facial with a deep tissue muscle massage. Honeymooners and couples Many cruise passengers are honeymooners so particular attention is paid to them. Nicole shows me the couple’s mud room, a private sanctuary where couples can lock the door, paint each other with organic trench mud, then steam and shower it off. Those couples who are not quite so muddily inclined can enjoy a joint massage in the couple’s room where there are two beds and a large spa bath for use before or after their massage. Next door is a room with a warmed flotation bed and a massage table for seaweed wraps. Nicole explains that this treatment calls for two complete wraps, with a head massage being administered during the first, and a foot massage to help rid the body of toxins during the second. This treatment is the most popular of the massages available partly, Nicole says, because of the therapists’ enthusiasm for them. This passion rubs off on clients who are often keen to try something they wouldn’t necessarily do at home. Another small room is available for lifestyle consultations with personal trainers during which passengers learn about nutrition, detox and other ways to improve their health and wellbeing. Here they can even undergo metabolism tests. I ask Nicole whether such treatments as IPL are available, but apart from microdermabrasion these are not offered because they need to be undertaken on a continuing basis and cruises tend to be short. However, teeth whitening is on the menu with smile specialist Dana Scepovic. She has suitably white teeth herself and doesn’t mind me peering at her dental credentials. Nicole says that fully 40 percent of her clients are men, a much higher ratio than in local spas and clinics. Possibly – and I’m guessing here – that’s because of the international nature of the clientele. Certainly, Kiwi accents among those embarking were few and far between. Cruising as a career As a career choice, cruise work isn’t something many people may necessarily consider. But Nicole highly recommends that therapists try it. Steiner recruits from around the globe, including New Zealand. Her team comprise staff from seven countries but despite the cultural differences, the usual staffing problems are rare. Perhaps that’s due to the team-building activities that take place, or the buddy system, or the fact that everyone has been new at some point and felt homesick, so others empathise. For Nicole, the magic of working on ships lies in the fact that every day is different. She has shopped in Asia, climbed the Great Wall, drunk in the world’s tallest bar (Shanghai), and been out onto the Great Barrier Reef, all within the last six months. “I really love the industry,” she enthuses. “I’m very passionate about it.” One of her main challenges is saying good-bye to team members after she’s spent time working with and grooming them. However, this is balanced out by the new friends she makes every embarkation day. As I prepare – reluctantly – to leave the ship, passengers are starting to come on board. Several have already found their way to the spa and are being shown around by Nicole’s friendly and attentive staff. Embarkation day is open house at the Lotus Spa with therapists meeting guests to explain the services and treatments available. It’s terribly tempting to stow away in a treatment room but perhaps I’ll win Lotto this week instead.

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