Why Your Spa Trip Will Never Be the Same

A meditation session at the Wild Rice Retreat, in Wisconsin

January's resolutions are sure to be amplified this year, with pandemic-related stress and anxiety spurring demand for healthy getaways. But with yoga retreats in Bali on hold and many fitness boot camps paused, Americans are seeking out other wellness options. "Fortunately, travelers are realizing they can enjoy the benefits of a regenerative break close to home," says Chris Norton, CEO of Equinox Hotels, which has seen strong interest in staycations since the brand's New York City property reopened in September.

Wherever they end up, guests are likely to notice big changes. Among the most noticeable will be the widespread adoption of COVID-19 protocols such as masks, frequent disinfection, temperature checks, and even disinfecting robots, like the pair introduced last spring at the Westin Houston Medical Center (doubles from $163) to zap germs with UV light. Broader shifts are bubbling up, too. Many resorts have added private experiences and mental-health programming, class sizes are shrinking, and everything is moving outside, no matter the weather.

"We've had a tremendous uptick in interest in outdoor activities," says Simon Marxer, the director of spa and well-being at Miraval Group, which operates retreats in Austin, Texas; the Berkshires, in Massachusetts; and Tucson, Arizona. "People are craving the stability and continuity of nature."

Properties are even questioning the idea of having a gym. "We quite purposefully do not have a traditional fitness facility," says Heidi Zimmer, founder of Wild Rice Retreat (from $240 per night, all-inclusive) in northern Wisconsin. "Nature provides all the playground we need."

For travelers, the rapid pace of change represents an opportunity to fine-tune each trip, whichever of these goals they're after.

Greenery surrounding a whirlpool at Mayflower Inn & Spa


Guests will find an alternative to the communal gym at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami (doubles from $254). The hotel has two new private fitness centers that can be rented by the day ($272 for 12 hours), each kitted out with an elliptical machine or spin bike, a treadmill, weights, fresh fruit and sports drinks, and a shower. At the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills (doubles from $495), a private fitness suite is bookable for two-hour workouts (included with select room rates or $75) and boasts a custom air- and water-purification system plus a Peloton bike and Hydrow rowing machine. A number of Hilton hotels, including Embassy Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown (fitness rooms from $199), in Michigan, have Five Feet to Fitness rooms stocked with TRX systems, spin bikes, weights, and yoga mats and blocks — all within stretching distance of the bed.


As a result of the pandemic, resilience-themed programming is particularly hot right now. Miraval Berkshires (doubles from $1,038) offers an intriguing option that teaches guests about inner strength through encounters with birds of prey. Guests help care for injured owls and hawks that rehab on site.

A man getting a quartz massage at a spa


Mayflower Inn & Spa, Auberge Resorts Collection (doubles from $689), in Washington, Connecticut, debuted a spa last December in partnership with New York City health and fitness club the Well. Amenities include a cryotherapy chamber, a traditionally styled hammam that adds optional light therapy, and a "biophilic thermal pool," which is surrounded by 400 plants to purify the air and promote calm.


Equinox Hotel (doubles from $595), in New York City, offers cutting-edge tools and treatments to improve rest, including high-end soundproofing, blackout window treatments, sleep coaching, even a "sound and harmonic resonance therapy" treatment that aims to replicate the benefits of three hours' sleep in a 30-minute session.


At the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort (doubles from $499), guests can choose from a wide range of machine-driven, hands-off treatments. Among them are the Prism Light Pod, a pain-reducing red-light therapy; a private halotherapy suite, with a dry salt treatment and infrared light; and a Vibragenix machine, which mimics an hour of cardio in 10 minutes.

A version of this story first appeared in the January 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Why Your Spa Trip Will Never Be the Same.

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