Spellbound

In the early 1800s, the mysterious Marie Laveau garnered acclaim in the city of New Orleans for her magical voodoo practices, curing the ails of wealthy patrons, casting spells, and instilling fear in the hearts of superstitious locals. Since her death, she's been raised to icon status, gracing countless pages of fiction and non-fiction books as the Voodoo Queen, serving as the subject of several songs, and going down in history as one of the city's most memorable citizens. She's also the inspiration for the Marie Laveau Voodoo Love Massage ($150, 70 minutes) at The Ritz-Carlton Spa, New Orleans. The treatment, which includes a soak in a fragrant bath and a Swedish massage set to local voodoo chanting and flickering red candles, incorporates an oil said to emulate one of Laveau's famed love potions. It is also one of the newly renovated spa's signature sessions and a sample of the myriad services that are inspired by the bounty of this magical, mysterious city. "This treatment gets a lot of attention due to the unique aspects of the service," says spa manager Daisye Dykes. "Voodoo is part of the history of New Orleans, and this service offers a bit of history and an interesting story to our guests, who are here to experience the city."

The iconic appeal of the Big Easy is reflected in the creative locally inspired spa menu at the Ritz-Carlton Spa, New Orleans.
The iconic appeal of the Big Easy is reflected in the creative locally inspired spa menu at the Ritz-Carlton Spa, New Orleans.

Several other treatments on the menu also take inspiration from the Big Easy and its environs. Café du Monde, a longtime New Orleans outdoor dining institution known for its beignets and café au lait, has tourists and locals alike lining up around the block from morning to night to partake in the scrumptious sweets. As such, The Ritz-Carlton Spa offers a number of signature sessions inspired by the coffee using BodyCoffee products that are infused with coffee, milk, salts, and essential oils. Highlights include the Café Au Lait Massage ($125, 50 minutes; $180, 75 minutes), the Café Au Lait Body Polish ($145, 50 minutes), and the Café Au Lait Detoxifying Treatment ($165, 50 minutes). The fragrant magnolia trees that line the antebellum streets of the Garden District also make their way onto the menu via the Essence of Magnolia Massage ($150, 70 minutes) and the Magnolia Sugar Scrub ($125, 50 minutes). Several other exfoliating and hydrating services are ideal for guests who have stayed up late and are looking to detox or travelers hoping to ease the skin-sapping ails of flight. "Many of our guests are here to enjoy the city, and they look to us for detoxification and to relax before or after a night out on the town," says Dykes.

From Top to Bottom: A candlelit hydrotherapy soak is part of the Marie Laveau Voodoo Love Massage; the women's relaxation room is an ideal site for groups to convene in the spa; the hotel's verdant courtyard is perfect for pre- and post-treatment relaxation.
From Top to Bottom: A candlelit hydrotherapy soak is part of the Marie Laveau Voodoo Love Massage; the women's relaxation room is an ideal site for groups to convene in the spa; the hotel's verdant courtyard is perfect for pre- and post-treatment relaxation.

But this influx of travelers looking to enjoy this longtime party city that is home to Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest is relatively new, as the entire region has been in recovery mode for the past few years following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The spa closed its doors for 15 months following the storm to repair the damage, but the hotel decided to find the silver lining in the situation and made property-wide improvements, including updates to the 25,000-square-foot, 22-treatment-room spa. "We took this time to not only rebuild but to also make some renovations and add space to our spa," says Dykes. The spa menu was also updated and features both treatment favorites from before the hurricane, such as the ever-popular Relaxing Swedish Massage ($110, 50 minutes; $165, 80 minutes), as well as some new services that are unique to the area, such as the Warm Stone Vichy Massage ($150, 50 minutes). "This is a massage in which the therapist combines the muscle-easing strokes of a warm stone massage under seven showerheads continuously cascading over the guest while promoting detoxification," adds Dykes. "This treatment is the best of both worlds." It appears the spa and menu updates are making an impact, as according to Dykes, numbers are now at pre-Katrina heights, and the spa is consistently nearing its maximum capacity of 400-plus guests per day during weekends and other high-traffic times of the year.

Clockwise from Left: The hotel is located in the French Quarter; a fountain and retail area greet guests upon arrival; luxe nailcare services round out the spa menu.
Clockwise from Left: The hotel is located in the French Quarter; a fountain and retail area greet guests upon arrival; luxe nailcare services round out the spa menu.

Still, the hurricane, which was one of the five deadliest and costliest storms in U.S. history, took its toll on the property—and the spa. "The challenging part is that many service industry employees as well as massage therapists, stylists, and nail technicians have moved away," says Dykes.?"In addition, our local clientele has different spending habits now. Due to the storm, many locals are still focusing on rebuilding their homes and communities and are not able to spend money on items and services for themselves."

To address these challenges, the hotel has been hosting job fairs, and the spa team is reaching out to local schools in an effort to find talented therapists, estheticians, and other technicians to add to a growing roster of 50-plus staff members. And to encourage the return of local guests, a 20-percent discount for Louisiana natives is in place Monday through Thursday. "The majority of our business does come from the hotel, but we do have a very loyal group of locals who visit our spa frequently," says Dykes.



One part of the spa that seems to inspire loyalty, in both locals and hotel guests, is the retail area, which Vera Bibb, assistant director of spa, says makes up a huge percentage of the spa's sales. While homecare products are a popular purchase, Dykes says it is the spa's other unique offerings that keep clients coming back. A home linen line from the makers of the spa linens, lingerie, clothing, and holiday-themed items as well as gifts for men, women, children, and pets selected by retail manager Christy Rantz are among the options available. "She brought in some creative and unique lines that our guests really enjoy," says Dykes. In the future, trunk shows scheduled around special events will be offered in the spa's retail area, as well.

Also on tap is yet another update. The spa team plans to devote a section of the menu to eco-friendly services. "The plan is to make a treatment room completely green—paint, linens, and products used will all be safe for the earth," says Dykes. "We will offer organic manicures and pedicures, facials, and body treatments. This project is currently underway, and we feel it will be welcomed with open arms by our guests." And it's just one more way The Ritz-Carlton Spa, New Orleans will help its clients achieve Big Easy bliss.

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