Sunshine State of Mind
Known for its championship links, temperate climate, and kid-friendly activities, northeast Florida plays host to throngs of tourists year-round. With the recent debut of The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Amelia Island, savvy spa-goers now join the flocks of snowbirds, golf aficionados, and families who travel to the Atlantic shore for a healthy dose of sunshine and Southern hospitality. Measuring only 13 miles long, Amelia Island is a tiny barrier island just off the coast of Florida and the nearby Georgia border. The relaxed ambience of the quiet beach town fosters an overwhelming sense of serenity in its visitors—a feeling that is mirrored at the Ritz's luxurious seaside spa.
Prior to the December 2006 opening of The Ritz-Carlton Spa, services were offered to guests in a 3,000-square-foot Boutique Spa on property that housed seven treatment rooms. After an investment of $17 million and two years of planning and construction, the new 26-treatment-room haven offers a more sophisticated menu than its predecessor, as well as an indoor pool; an adult-only, outdoor Serenity Pool with a cascade whirlpool; a refined cuisine menu; and three relaxation lounges—one for men, one for women, and one that is co-ed.
The co-ed relaxation lounge is the perfect place for couples to await their treatments.
Paying homage to its coastal location, the spa's decor is ruled by a soft palette of blues, greens, creams, and khakis, reminiscent of the colors found on the beach. According to spa director Tina Crawford, the design of the spa is intended to evoke the feeling of timelessness, serenity, and well-being associated with long summer vacations. "The spa is a place where guests slow down Southern-style and connect with what's important to them," she says. Everything from the oversized, comfortable furniture to the coffee-table books in the relaxation lounges have been selected with this point in mind.
Clockwise from above: Guests can experience the calming benefits of zero-gravity weightlessness through the spa's signature Heaven in a Hammock massage; the cascade whirlpool offers guests a therapeutic neck and shoulder massage; for spa-goers who prefer to relax outdoors between treatments, the adult-only Serenity Pool is a great place to have lunch and lounge the day away; baths are incorporated into several packages to introduce guests to the curative benefits of a soak.
Although guests won't feel the sand beneath their toes during treatments, the spa's marine-minded menu does hearken to the relaxing and healing benefits of the sea. Ocean-inspired services, which incorporate marine-based products such as Babor and Thalgo, include Seashell Serendipity ($460, 2 1/2 hours), which integrates seashells into a facial and massage; the Sea Mineral Cocoon ($145, 60 minutes), which features a sea-salt exfoliation and application of warm sea mud; and the Atlantic Marine Algae Body Wrap ($230, 90 minutes), which uses seaweed therapy to alleviate fluid retention.
Perfect for groups, the two spa suites can be booked together.
The sparkling ocean isn't the spa's only muse—carefree island living offers a bounty of inspiration as well. Developed at the spa and recognized nationally is the innovative Heaven in a Hammock ($175, 60 minutes) massage. "The idea of a treatment in a hammock started as a promotional idea, because the hammock is the perfect Southern coastal symbol of the relaxed, timeless feeling we wanted the spa to evoke," says Crawford. "It combines the benefits of zero-gravity weightlessness, light massage, stretching, and rocking in a treatment that elongates the spine and creates a sense of floating that is deeply relaxing and increases flexibility." Exclusive to The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, the treatment is among the most popular services at the resort.
The seaside resort's setting allows guests to escape from it all.
While this one-of-a-kind massage sells itself, Crawford admits that other services are a bit harder to position to spa-goers. "Baths tend to be among the tougher sells because the benefits aren't well understood," she says. "We include them in packages so people will have an opportunity to experience them. It's much easier to sell a bath to someone who has had one before and knows the value." One package that includes a bath is the Island Oasis ($355, 2 hours), which is designed to induce a deep sense of relaxation in guests to restore energy.
The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Amelia Island
Although some treatment benefits are inevitably less well-known than others, dealing with novice spa-goers isn't a regular challenge for Crawford. She describes the spa's typical clientele as fairly proficient in the art of spa-ing. "Our guests are increasingly spa-savvy, results-oriented travelers who drive themselves hard and want to relax and recharge," she says. It is because of this demographic that she feels customer feedback is critical to spa operations. "It's how we judge what we're doing and identify opportunities for training," says Crawford.
As far as customer response goes, the spa has elicited a great reaction from its spa suites. "They function as a spa-within-a-spa," explains Crawford. "Perfect for bridal parties, families, or girlfriend getaways, the suites provide guests with privacy." Equipped with multiple treatment areas and private lounges, the two suites can even be booked together to create one large suite. "They allow members of a party to receive treatments simultaneously and consecutively in rooms that surround small relaxation lounges where guests can enjoy food and beverages while spending the day together," says Crawford.
The cuisine offered at the spa is a true gastronomic delight and is catered by the spa's chef Jay Spry, who works his magic in a small kitchen near the Serenity Pool. "He has developed a very simple, light, and healthy menu using fresh ingredients, and guest response has been overwhelmingly positive," says Crawford. A few of Spry's most notable dishes include the Fish Taco with Grouper, as well as the Crispy Ahi Tuna Roll with Wasabi Yogurt and Cucumber Salad, featuring fresh, high-grade ahi that is flown in from Hawaii. The menu offers nutritional information for each organic dish to assure spa-goers that they are eating healthily.
Guests who want to round out their well-being experience can visit the recently developed high-tech fitness center, which flanks the spa building. In addition to supervised classes in the movement studio, guests can sign-up for private or group tai chi lessons at sunrise on the beach with a 30-year martial arts expert. The marriage of golf and spa at many resorts cannot be ignored, and The Ritz-Carlton truly embraces it. As part of the Golf and Spa Getaway package, starting at $559 per night, guests can hit the fairway and follow up with a soothing After Sports Massage or a Therapeutic Sports Massage. Crawford describes these treatments as the perfect après-links experience and possibly why the spa is becoming the new 19th hole.
Because of the popularity of the burgeoning spa, which can accommodate up to 150 guests and 300 treatments per day, it is essential that capable personnel be in place. Crawford credits her excellent staff of 85 for the fact that everything runs smoothly day to day. "The staff is truly the key differentiator for our spa," she says. "They are genuinely warm, caring, and hospitable. It simply is part of the culture here to be nurturing, and the proof of this is in accolades from our guests."
Crawford explains that according to regular surveys conducted by the Gallup organization, the spa's current guest satisfaction scores are 100 percent. "That says a lot about the quality of our staff." This could be a reason why, as Crawford has noticed, guests are now treating the spa as the main attraction of their trip. "It is quite normal for spa guests to spend the whole day here," she says. "They get more than one treatment, enjoy spa cuisine at the serene spa pool, and take advantage of the steam room, sauna, and whirlpool throughout the day." With stellar service and myriad activities and menu options at their fingertips, it is no wonder that guests never want to leave.