Anatomy of a Perfect Spa Treatment

I recently had the pleasure of visiting The Grand Del Mar Resort & Spa in San Diego.  I visited the spa when it opened several years before, and found the experience to be a bit disconnected—The spa was obviously still going through some growing pains. My friend Jim Croghan took over as spa director last fall—he  is an industry veteran with a eye  for detail and a true passion for the spa industry. He was excited for me to see the changes he had made since my last visit.  Under Jim’s leadership, the spa recently received the Forbes 5-star rating. And, believe me, it has earned it!

The 11-treatment room spa is gorgeous and is, of course, fully equipped with all the amenities—including hot tub, steam and sauna. Each treatment was custom-designed exclusively for the GDM by renowned spa consultant Anne Bramham. The theme of the spa is “embracing the creative and rejuvenating spirit of the Renaissance.” My treatment was called Decompression – a “Triad Treatment" consisting of a Scrub, Hydrating Body Wrap and Massage.

My experience at The Grand Del Mar Spa was picture perfect. Here’s my breakdown about what set this treatment apart from the myriad of mediocre spa experiences I have had in my 15 years in the industry:

Commitment to Excellence

I spoke with both Jim and Anne about my amazing experience. What I came away with,  is that it takes a commitment to excellence from the top down to reach this level. To quote Jim: “Now that we have our 5-star rating, we are striving to be even better. I constantly ask myself: 'how can we differentiate our spa from the other 5-star spas out there?'” Jim has support from his GM to “be the best” and the resources to get there. Anne told me that the GDM’s PR Dirctor, Marguarite Clark of MCPR, also “gets the benefits of the spa experience" and promotes the spa both internally and externally.

Mad Skills

My therapist Jennifer was highly skilled. In addition to consistent training from Anne Bramhan, Jennifer has many years of experience in top day spas. When I asked her if all the GDM therapists perform the same treatment protocols, she told me that there are some variations. Although there are common threads in every treatment, each therapist has the freedom to customize their approach based on what the client needs.  I think this an important point—the therapist customized based on what the client needs, not based on what the therapists themselves want to showcase.


I’ve had treatments that were technically perfect, but the therapist was somehow  “checked out.” It seemed that Jennifer’s sole  intention was to provide a nurturing experience for me. She truly had the intention "to heal.” The definition of “treatment” is “care provided to improve a situation.” But I think sometimes that intention is lost in the assembly-line approach of spas. A treatment from a burnt-out or disgruntled therapist is not a pleasant experience…period.


Sometime when Iget  two hour treatments, I find myself dissecting the experience and becoming distracted and bored.  But this experience “had me at hello.”  From start to finish, the treatment had a flow that was transporting. The scrub, massage and even the application of the goat butter was rhythmic. During the soft pack float after Jennifer applied the wrap, she never left the roon. Instead she continued to build on my experience—my massaging my head and scalp and performing “foot holds.” As she held my feet, I felt pulses of energy move from my body.

Toolbox of healing therapies

Many spa therapists are so focused on tight muscles that they forget the “subtle bodies.” My therapist had a toolbox of healing therapies, such as manual lymph drainage and energy work.  In the words of Anne Bramham, “we embrace traditional spa practices, i.e. hydrotherapy and the reflex therapies, which are the core of the physician-based European spa model."

I wish more spa treatments could be like my GDM experience. I’d like to second Anne Bramham’s question to our readers from her last blog. Are we as an industry disowning our own tool box of healing therapies?


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