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Hawaii Vacations: 7 Great 4-Star Hotels

Here's several 4-Star Hawaiian hotels that offer first-class accommodations and beach front views.

Sheraton Moana Surfrider - This historic hotel has been lovingly restored and maintains it's circa 1901 charm. Located on Waikiki beach, it offers high tea and sunset buffets.

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What Do You Know About Spas

Today Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com & Bookpleasures.com interviews Susie Ellis, President of Spa Finder Inc. Norm: Could you tell us a little about yourself and your expertise in spas, and why you became interested in them? Susie: I was athletic in my youth and naturally gravitated toward being as healthy as possible. After college in the mid 70's, I began working at the Golden Door Spa which, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the top spa in the country. After spending many years on staff, I became enthralled with how people's lives were transformed after just a one-week stay at this famous place.

I decided to make spa my life's work, and the combination of movement, good nutrition, spa therapies and a mind/body/spirit approach to wellness became a passion. And lucky for me, the spa industry, which was just emerging at the time, was poised for explosive growth. Norm: Why have spas continued to grow and have become popular over the past several years? Susie: I see three general trends that have come together to precipitate the popularity of spas. 1. The aging baby boomer. This demographic wants to maintain youth and vigor.

Spas are a perfect place to achieve these goals. 2. Stress. The non-stop bombardment of information and connectivity is creating a need for people to have places to decompress, de-stress, slow down and pay attention to their body, mind and spirit. 3. A troubled health care system means people of all ages must become more responsible for their wellness and health.

Norm: How do you go about identifying top-notch romantic spas in terms of quality of treatment, fitness, relaxation, location, atmosphere, and staff? Susie: Truly the best way to identify romantic spas is to consult the romantic/honeymoon spa category on www.spafinder.com. There are almost 50 romantic spas listed. Spa Finder's mission is to connect people with their ideal spa experience, and we also present spas in 20 other categories such as: weight loss spas, spas for horseback riding, hiking spas, spas for yoga, etc.

Norm: As a follow up which ones would make the top ten on your list? Susie: Here are a few of my favorite romantic spas in the U.S.: Mirbeau, New York Chateau Elan, Georgia Miramante Resort & Spa, California Silverado, California Emerson, New York The Spa at Sundance, Utah Hampton Retreats, New York Mana Lani , Hawaii Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Arizona Westglow, North Carolina Outside of the U.

S.: Brenner's Park, Baden Baden, Germany CuisinArt Resort & Spa, Anguilla El Santuario, Mexico Samas, Park Kenmare Hotel, Ireland Echo Valley Ranch Resort, Canada Norm: What are the benefits of spa treatments for honeymooners and romantic getaways for couples in search of de-stress? Susie: There are many ways to de-stress and spas specialize in this. Exercise is an excellent de-stresser. Bathing in hot water is a de-stresser. Massages are for many the ultimate de-stresser. At spas people typically leave their outside world behind, they slow down and their bodies become more relaxed.

A spa has nurturing staff and there is lovely food that doesn't intoxicate but rather revitalizes. I think that what spas do is help us get back to who we really are and connecting at that level is always romantic. Norm: What spa treatments are especially recommended for those new to the spa experience? Susie: I think a good place to start for a newcomer is with a Swedish Massage and a facial.

These are still the most favorite spa treatments because people love them. Although there are many wonderful treatments on most spa's menus, such as hot stone massage, Ayruvedic treatments or even body scrubs and wraps, I would not recommend them for the first time spa-goer. For a first time romantic experience, I would suggest choosing a "couple's massage" where both of you are in the same room for your treatment.

Sometimes this can include a bathing ritual for the two of you together before or after.very romantic! And finally, if a spa has a "signature treatment" that might also be a good place for a first time spa-goer to begin. Often this is an experience with more than one element - like a scrub and a massage, or a foot ritual and massage, etc. And I do suggest that a person let the receptionist know that this is their first time spa experience so that the attendant and therapist can be a bit more thorough about explaining procedures and protocol.

Norm: What is meant by "destination spas," and how do you differentiate them from other spas as well as between themselves? Susie: That's a great question and I'm glad you asked. In the world of spas we segment them into various categories. The most general categories are resort/hotel spas, day spas and destination spas. The resort/hotel spa is part of a hotel or resort where there are also activities such as golf, tennis, fine dining, etc. The spa is one of the amenities. A day spa is a place where people go for a spa experience but do not stay overnight - this can be for one spa treatment or for several or even for an entire day.

Then there is the destination spa. Think of them as places to stay overnight with programs that makes it a full immersion spa experience. In other words, everyone is there for the spa experience. Canyon Ranch Health Resorts and the Golden Door are good examples of a destination spa. La Costa or The Doral are examples of resort/hotel spas and Bliss or Elizabeth Arden's Red Door are examples of day spas. Norm: Can you tell us something about the new developments and trends in the spa industry, particularly as it affects those couples seeking romantic getaways together with spa treatments? Susie: We are seeing a variety of trends in the spa industry.

I will share with you the 10 trends that we predicted in January of this year: Medical spas (medicine and spas coming together) People mixing business and spas The arrival of the "destination day spa" More affordable spas and more inclusive International treatments and unique and inviting spas internationally Spa cuisine going mainstream Travelers deciding on where to go and stay depending on the spa Pets are welcomed at some spa More men are going More families, including teens and preteens Of these I think one of the interesting trends for couples is that more men are going to spas. This means that it is becoming easier and easier for a woman to get her guy to go with her to a romantic spa get away. Increasingly, they already want to go! Norm: I have come across the term "quality assured" spa, what does this imply, and why should we believe the spa when it has this designation? Susie: To be honest, I am not aware of any such designation on a large scale. There are over 10,000 spas in the U.S.

and no one has been to all of them or able to rate them in terms of quality. There is no easy way to conclude the level of a spa's service. In fact, sometimes quality comes down more to an individual therapist than it does a facility. That being said, there are some ways for the consumer to have more information that could help them make an informed decision. There is an association called the International Spa Association (ISPA) that has a "voluntary standards and practices designation" that spas may choose to apply for if they wish.

This could be of some help. But even here, many spas don't know about this so I wouldn't necessarily rule out selecting a spa if they don't have this designation. It is also helpful to look at what awards a spa has won.

For example the Spa Finder Readers' Choice Awards lists the top 10 spas in almost 20 categories. Since this award is voted on by readers, it is a good indication of quality. Of course, word-of-mouth is always a good way to learn about a spa. Norm: Could you give our readers some suggestions as to tipping? Susie: Tipping policies differ among spas but in general it is customary to leave a gratuity of between 15% and 20% for the therapist or technician providing your service. In some cases, the gratuity is already added on to the final bill and in some very rare cases, tipping is discouraged. Most spas have their tipping policy printed on their brochure I often ask, "What is your tipping policy?" when I arrive at the spa and check in.

That usually clears things up right away! Norm: I have read that the destination spa concept is evolving as some brands expand their product through other outlets. Could you give us some examples and explain why this is taking place? Susie: we are seeing brand extension from destination spas such as Canyon Ranch and The Golden Door. Canyon Ranch Health Resort began as a destination spa in Tucson, Arizona in the late 70's. They then opened in Lenox, MA and then opened their first Spa Club in Las Vegas.

They are now the spa on the QM2 and are part of a retirement condominium spa facility being built in Miami. They have also added a Canyon Ranch product line and I hear there are more things in the pipeline. The Golden Door branched out from its origins as the U.S.'s top destination spa.

there are now Golden Door spas at resorts in Arizona, Colorado and Puerto Rico. There is a Golden Door product line. But I am also seeing another type of brand expansion; that is product companies opening "retail spas". Jurlique comes to mind, Givenchy, and to a certain extent Elizabeth Arden's Red Door could be considered a spa extending from a product.

And there are day spas which have become as well known for their products as their spas, such as Bliss and Nichel. Norm: What should we expect in the future from spas? Susie: I think that medicine and spas coming together is a very exciting happening. We are seeing prevention/wellness as well as aesthetic/cosmetic medical spas now. Doctors and spa therapists working together is resulting in some very nurturing, comfortable medical settings with the best results possible. In addition the entire arena of complementary and alternative (CAM) medicine is finding a home in the medical spa environment.

Consumers are increasingly interested in being proactive when it comes to their health and well being. (They increasingly need to take responsibility for their own health.) I think that spas will eventually become a very important part of the solution to health problems in the world. Thanks Susie for replying to my questions.


By: Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com & Bookpleasures.com

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