Best Cruise Ship Spas

By ,   April 12, 2016 ,   Ships and Lines

Many cruise lines provide full-service cruise ship spas, allowing guests to de-stress the minute they set sail. Enjoying the treatments of a luxurious cruise ship spa can relax passengers, reawaken their senses and restore the feeling of inner peace. The following review is integrated with Carnival Cloud 9 Spa and Carnival Cruise Spa Prices.

A cruise vacation is all about getting away from daily routine. That easily sets the stage for a magical spa experience. Cruise ship spas are serene, with both leading-edge and traditional treatments for body, skin, nails and hair. You could indulge in a special ritual designed to melt away tension and stress. It might begin with a milk bath and continue with aroma stone therapy. Many other treatments are available to try, including hydrotherapy, herbal steam baths, meditative relaxation and medicinal mud applications.

Many people make their first spa visit on a cruise vacation, so the attendants are accustomed to answering various questions about spa treatments and services. Be intrigued and go ahead to ask about the types of aromatherapies, massages, hand and foot treatments.

Cruise ship spas regularly add new treatments, and even the most experienced spa lovers can find out something new. You might treat yourself to cellulite reduction, oxygenating facials and cosmetic treatments which soften wrinkles. If you have chronic neck or back pain, choose an acupuncture treatment. Some cruise ship spas also feature tooth whitening - just imagine returning from your voyage with a brighter smile.

If you wish to simply check yourself and stay in the shipboard spa, some cruise lines have spa-specialty staterooms incorporating luxuries such as spa-quality toiletries, jetted bodywash showers and more. Those staterooms are situated very close to the spa and your next treatment is moments away.

Cruise Ship Spa Services

Standard Treatments

Cruise ship spas provide most of the same services offered by land-based spas: facials, massages, wraps, body scrubs. Of all these treatments, massages are the most popular. Onboard the NCL Norwegian Epic ship, for example, massages constitute 65-70% of spa services. 

  • Most cruise ship spas feature a range of massage styles, from aromatherapy and basic Swedish to hot stone massages. The aromatherapy massages are generally Swedish massages in which scented oils are used to help set client's mood - lavender scents calm the nerves, mint refreshes the body. Hot stone treatments use heated stones which are placed on customer's back before the beginning of the massage (and sometimes during it) to help loosen the muscles. Deep-tissue massages are good for those who prefer a lot of pressure (and perhaps a little pain). 
  • The second in popularity are facials, representing about 10% of spa services. All facials aim at cleansing and moisturizing the skin. If you've never tried a facial before, you might choose to start with a gentle one, as the more comprehensive facials include blackhead removal. 
  • Scrubs and wraps round out the standard spa treatments. Scrubs exfoliate skin, leaving arms, legs and all other areas feeling smooth and soft. Wraps are usually used for detoxifying and the client is slathered in algae or mud and wrapped tightly in foil for about to 30 minutes. Skip the wrap if you are even slightly claustrophobic. 

Nontraditional Treatments

Eastern cosmetic, treatments and "medispa" (medical spa) services are comparatively new to cruise ship spas, though growing in popularity. The upgrowth of medispa services is being driven by cruise demographics, and because passengers tend to skew older, cruise vacations are a good match for such cosmetic services. Nontraditional eastern treatments include reiki, acupuncture and reflexology. 

  • In reflexology, the therapist applies pressure to the ears, hands and feet to activate chi (healing life energy) in parts of body corresponding with the manipulated pressure points. Reflexology is frequently combined with massage for a complete treatment. 
  • Reiki is a more ephemeral treatment. A healer places his/her palms on specific parts of a the body of the patient to give and move energy around. It is said to promote internal healing and  relaxation. 
  • Acupuncture is also an energy-based treatment. The energy is manipulated through small needles placed on specific chi points on the patient's body. Acupuncture is often used to treat chronic pain, insomnia, seasickness. It promotes overall well-being. 
  • Medical spa (medispa) and cosmetic services found in cruise ship spas include dermal fillers, Botox, Ionithermie cellulite reduction and teeth whitening. 
  • Dermal fillers are noninvasive treatments that temporarily restore the youthful fullness to facial skin, soften wrinkles and plump up lips. Dermal fillers like Dysport, Perlane and Restylane are administered via injections. 
  • Botox is similar to dermal fillers. It targets lines around the eyes and creases on the forehead. Botox also is injected. Dermal filler and botox injections have to be given by medical professionals, even on cruise ships. 
  • According to spa claims, Ionithermie cellulite reduction treatments help clients detoxify and lose inches, more often off their butt, thighs and stomachs. A treatment consists of the specific area being slathered in algae, wrapped in plastic and given a small amount of electrical stimulation. You sweat a lot and may really lose inches that way. 

Top 10 Cruise Ship Spa Treatments

The bad news first: Cruise ship spa treatments are quite expensive. The good news, however, is that many cruise ship spas are perfectly designed pleasure dens with dozens of treatment options, ranging from traditional massages and facials to trendier therapies like acupuncture and teeth whitening. A standard 50-minute massage will cost you around $90 - $120, not including the tip. On days when the cruise ship is in port, you'll find discounted treatments as most passengers go ashore and spa business is slower. Though pricey, cruise spa appointments are booked up fast, so make yours the minute you step onboard or pre-book online to avoid disappointment.

A treatment is as good as the person doling it out. The setting is also important and certainly can help. Ocean views, decor, comfy waiting rooms and first-class amenities such as steam rooms with heated tile chaise lounges are mood-setting props that give a boost to mediocre masseurs. Some lines also pamper with in-cabin massages for ultimate privacy.

Here are 10 of the best treatments at sea:

  1. Hot Stone Treatment. Super popular nowadays, this ubiquitous therapy is offered by all cruise lines for a reason. Rounded smooth stones are firstly heated in warm water and then pushed in deep strokes against the aching back or whatever needs attention. The combination of firm pressure, warmth and aromatic oils melts the knots and all the worries in the world.
  2. Outdoor Cabana Massage. Disney offers four massage cabanas on its private Castaway Cay, clustered at the end of the isle in adult's-only area, just steps from a private beach. Other lines provide similar set ups, including on the beach of Half Moon Cay - Holland America Line's private San Salvador island. Emerald Princess and Crown Princess offer cabana massages on deck.
  3. Foot Reflexology. This kind of therapy targets foot's pressure points which correspond to various body areas. The point is a state of complete relaxation. SeaDream Yacht Club spas offer basic foot massages and reflexology, and both can be done on deck in a quiet spot with the ocean as the backdrop.
  4. Frangipani Conditioning Hair & Scalp Ritual. All of our lives' tensions go straight to the head and having it rubbed is both incredibly relaxing and stimulating. Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and other major lines feature scalp massages. Part of the treatments include a vigorous shampoo, blow dry and style after, but it depends on the package.
  5. One-Hour Combo. Norwegian Cruise Line offers the greatest combo named 'Earth, Wind & Sky'. It includes a scalp, neck and face massage that is followed by hand and foot reflexology. Most cruise ship spas provide combo treatments, and some of these are as long as 4 to 5 hours - a great way to pamper several parts of your body in one shot.
  6. Swedish Massage. Stick with the basics at the end of the day and enjoy a firm deep tissue rub aboard Crystal Symphony or Silver Whisper. Another top Swedish massage is offered aboard Norwegian Sun.
  7. Thai Massage. This one is a traditional therapy dating back thousands of years. The main thrust here is the application of 'stretching' movements which promote overall well-being and flexibility. The Canyon Ranch spa on Queen Mary 2 offers this and so do the Star Clippers ships and SeaDream Yacht Club twins.
  8. Massage for Two. One of the most memorable experiences aboard Disney Magic may be a morning isolated away in one of the three spa villas of the ship. You can spend heavenly two hours soaking in a private outdoor hot tub and then enjoying simultaneous deep tissue massages. Chilling out is next on a chaise lounge with a cup of herbal tea. 
  9. Salt and Ginger Body Scrub. Your skin is the largest organ of the body and there is some 18 sq. feet to maintain. Most cruise ship spas offer invigorating exfoliation regime. The therapist applies a gritty paste that sloughs away dead skin cells. If it's offered, opt for an exfoliation and massage combo.
  10. Rasul. The mineral-enriched mud pack is perfect therapy for skin, and not just face. Rasul begins with cleansing seaweed-soap shower. Then it follows in a private chamber by a couple who apply medicinal mud to each other's bodies. The ritual ends with herbal steam bath. Definitely a healthy and intimate way to spend relaxing time with your partner. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are among the cruise lines offering it.

Today cruise ship spas are multimillion-dollar industries and offer exotic treatments to ease any ill or simply pamper their guests into relaxed bliss. According to the president of SpaFinder, Susie Ellis, the early days of cruise ship spas were quite different from today. Ellis worked with Cunard Line back in the early 80's. As an experiment, one of the laundries on the 6th deck on Queen Elizabeth II was converted into a small spa. Though the space was cramped and there were no windows, it was a huge success. 

Fast forward thirty years, and every major line outfits its cruise ships with wondrous facilities that include spa treatments (for women, men and even teens), salon and barber services, thermal relaxation areas and thalassotherapy pools. Cruise ship spas are so popular that prime-time appointments often fill up on the embarkation day. Spa lovers in the know hit the reservation desk before unpacking or visiting the buffet. 

Cruise Ship Spa Pricing

Like the types of services provided by cruise brands, cruise ship spa pricing is consistent with high-end urban land spas. For passengers who come from more rural regions, prices could come as a shock. 50-minute Swedish massage typically costs around $150. Be prepared to pay more for deep-tissue, aromatherapy or hot stones. 

The reason for the higher end of cruise ship spas pricing is two-fold. 

  1. First of all, ship's spa has no competition (unless you're planning on visiting the famous spa at a port of call). They can charge whatever cruise market will bear. Judging from how quickly time slots fill up, the market can bear a lot. 
  2. Second, with few exceptions, cruise lines are not competing with each other because virtually every spa on a major line is operated by one single company - Steiner Leisure. Prices do vary between cruise categories - luxury, premium and contemporary - but there is practically no difference between cruise companies within the same category. On Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean, a 50-minute La Therapies Hydra Lift facial is $119. The same facial, on Crystal Cruises, costs $132. Steiner Leisure operates the cruise ship spas on all of these lines. Canyon Ranch, operating the spas on Celebrity Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, charges $135, $175 and $153 for a 50-minute deep cleansing facial, respectively. 

However, not all spa services are more expensive than land-based on a cruise. Cosmetic treatments often cost the same or are even more affordable. For example, botox injections can cost up to $500 in a city spa. Prices on a cruise ship typically start at $300. Teeth whitening treatments at your local dentist can cost anywhere from $600 to $1,000, depending on the treatment and if more sessions are needed. On Crystal Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, teeth whitening costs $150 for one session, which can last up to 7 years (according to the spa) without any in-home maintenance. 

The delivery of spa procedures can be less expensive for cruise ship operators, as they can hire experienced practitioners from all around the world who are used to being paid less than a European or U.S. doctor, would. It is also cheaper to deliver these cosmetic services, because the facility management on a cruise ship is cheaper than land-based operation. The spa company this way has lower expenses than a home-based clinic, and it can pass those savings on to clients via lower prices. 

Other benefits of getting such treatments onboard a cruise ship include more attention before and after the procedure and beautiful environment in which to recover. 

Cruise Ship Spa Complaints

Onboard spas are big business and sometimes it feels like they are a little too concentrated on the bottom line. Read on what to avoid when you are looking to relax: 

6 Bad Cruise Ship Spa Experiences

  1. The Hard Sell. The most common complaints that cruisers have about visiting cruise ship spas are about product pitches, always following the treatments. Nothing ruins a relaxing treatment like a therapist hitting you with a hard sell while you are still in massage afterglow. The key: Simply tell the spa technician that you are not buying anything. A softer approach, however, is to say that you have already bought the suggested products on your previous voyage and don't need any more. 
  2. The “Miracle” Treatment. Have you ever heard of Ionithermie? No way, unless you got talked into trying this on a Princess Cruises trip. The spas on Princess are managed by Steiner Leisure Ltd., the biggest spa-at-sea operator. Steiner aggressively promotes its Ionithermie procedure that uses clay, algae and electric current in order to “detoxify” tissue and reduce cellulite. The costs for three sessions is about $300. Unfortunately, the sea algae oil for $1,000 did not improve my cellulite. The key: Don’t attend "free seminars” about beauty and weight loss while onboard, as they are always sales pitches for treatments that are not guaranteed to produce results.
  3. Treatments that require a needle. You would think passengers would balk at having some cosmetic work done at sea. Wrong: Steiner’s Medi-Spa (onboard Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line and others offers dermal fillers, Botox, wrinkle treatments and lip enhancements administered via a needle by “spa physician.” According to Steiner, these doctors undergo a 3-day training in Miami on “facial injectables and onboard sales and marketing strategies” but prior “experience in dermatology or plastic surgery is a plus but is NOT required.” The key: Leave medical treatment to trained MDs back home.
  4. Fool’s Gold Facial. Do you love gold? Yes, we all do, but with a Steiner 75-minute 24-Karat Gold Facial for $325 on Norwegian, Seabourn and others, gimmick facial is pushed beyond preciousness. Some 2,000 years ago, Cleopatra may have slept in a gold mask, but despite some cruisers’ urge to splurge on heavy metal glow, there is scarce scientific proof that treating skin with gold leafs has aesthetic benefits. The key: Be a smart consumer - research any claims before booking treatments that seem too good to be true.
  5. Fancy Steam. Free sauna and steam room access at sea is a thing of the past, except on older cruise ships that feature them in the changing rooms. We are currently in the era of the “thermal suite” including saunas, steam rooms, hydrotherapy pools accessible to those guest who book “spa” category staterooms and those willing to pay $40 for a day pass. The key: Tour ship's thermal suite on the embarkation day. If it is really impressive, ask about couples’ rates and discounted weekly passes.
  6. Toothy Mistake. Do you wish to flash a megawatt smile in your cruise vacation “selfies?” Before you sign up for onboard tooth-whitening, consider this: intense, fast tooth whitening often causes sensitivity and even pain. You’ll have to backtrack certain beverages like coffee, tea, red wine and cola, as well as foods such as orange juice, blueberries, tomato sauce, for at least three days. The key: See the dentist a week or two prior to your cruise for tooth-whitening, or try less-intense options.

The Best Cruise Ship Spas

Cruise lines take different approaches to their onboard cruise ship spas. The traditional approach, which is found on lines like Princess and Royal Caribbean, is to simply place a salon, fitness center and spa onboard. These facilities are outstanding, with the newest high-tech cardio machines and creative spa treatments inspired by Eastern traditions, but they are just another amenity to enjoy while on a cruise vacation, along with fine dining, swimming pools and energetic musical productions. These spas are best for cruisers who opt for an all-around cruise with the spa as one of getaway's components.

The newer approach, embrased by Costa Cruises, is to turn part of the ship into a "destination spa," where guests can immerse themselves into the cruise ship spa experience, even better than in a land-based spa resort. On Celebrity's and Costa's newer ships, specifically designed spa staterooms create a Zen in-cabin experience with easy access to all spa facilities. Spa restaurants offer light and healthy fare in keeping with the wellness theme. Lines' special packages for these guests give them free access to exclusive in-cabin treats and thermal suites. These offerings are best for dedicated spa enthusiasts who would spend nearly their entire cruise wrapped in relaxing spa atmosphere.

Then there also hybrids, like the newer Carnival and Holland America ships, which feature spa cabins and excellent spa facilities, but not quite the level of complete spa immersion offered by their competitors.

Celebrity Cruises, Canyon Ranch SpaClub at Sea

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Celebrity Cruises' Solstice-class ships is a splendid complex extending beyond the physical spa. It includes AquaClass spa cabins, AquaSpa Cafe and Blu (a couple of dining venues specifically dedicated to healthy fare such as smoothies, salads, fish and lean meats). Passengers can truly have a spa-inspired getaway onboard one of Celebrity cruise ships by eating, relaxing and sleeping in spa-associated locales. Ships' AquaSpa cabins feature multi-headed spa showers and spa-oriented bath products; a choose-your-own-pillow menu and upgraded linens; complimentary flavored iced tea and bottled water; access to a room service menu of whole grains, salads and other healthy dining choices. These passengers also get exclusive access to the specialty Blu restaurant, and complimentary use of Persian Garden steam room and SpaClub Relaxation Room. A "spa concierge" provides product information, books treatments and offers recommendations.

Canyon Ranch SpaClub

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub itself offers over 20 exceptional facial and body treatments, including the Environ Enhancing Vitamin Therapy - a powerful treatment created to micro-exfoliate, purify and rehydrate skin. The Persian Garden sauna and steam room has a tropical rain shower and oceanview heated relaxation chairs. The Solarium is the most wonderful at sea, with two whirlpools and pools, whimsical light, soaring glass ceilings and water shows. The gym is fully stocked and sports a jogging track and the newest fitness machines.

Costa Cruises, Samsara Spa

Costa's Samsara Spa is equipped with aromatherapy steam room, thalassotherapy bath, luxurious meditation beds and a Japanese tearoom. This spa offers premium services, such as 24-karat gold facial treatment and ayurvedic massages. The beautiful Samsara Spa suites feature calming color schemes and bamboo-effect doors, along with Elemis bath products, a special scent diffusor, eco-cotton bathrobes, sumptuous bedding and herbal teas. Samsara guests may dine at the exceptional Samsara Restaurant, which is focused on light menus. They also have unlimited access to all spa areas and free visits to the Tridosha Shrine (Turkish bath), Temple of Peace meditation room, thalassotherapy pool (plus Solarium on Costa Diadema) and the Japanese Tea Room. Specialty fitness classes, meditation sessions and spa treatments cost extra.

Samsara Spa

The 2-level Samsara Spa (4 levels on Costa Diadema), features an Asian-inspired design with rice paper walls, wind chimes, bonsais, lantern lighting, dragons and teak Buddhas. The facility offers a variety of treatments, including ayurvedic therapies that use herbs, oils, salts and treatments tailored to couples. Each spa visit ends with a Japanese tea ritual. Cruisers have access to sauna and steam rooms, rainforest showers and sun beds. Next to the spa, a vast gym and fitness area sports fitness balls, weights and machines.

Royal Caribbean, Vitality@Sea Fitness Center

The spas on Royal Caribbean Cruises' Freedom-class ships stand out for the enormous gym complexes which are among the largest of any cruise ship fitness center. Royal Caribbean ships offer the first-ever boxing ring at sea which is also used as an advanced aerobics style workout. The workout areas offer a breathtaking range of free weights and machines, with a separate room for classes like cycling, boot camp, yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi. All cardio machines have personal LED screens. Large windows surround the gym so guests can gaze at the ocean while building up a sweat. The line also offers physical activities for children.

Royal Caribbean's spa offers the usual range of treatments by Steiner Leisure: massages (hot stone, couples, Swedish), facials, body wraps and reflexology. Acupuncture is also available. The salon is tucked off to one side and features manicures, pedicures, teeth whitening, hair cutting and styling. With line's teen-geared YSPA program, children ages 13 to 17 can also book treatments, such as "surfer scrub" and "acne attack." More standard facials, manicures, pedicures and massages are also available for teens.

Seabourn Cruise Line, The Spa at Seabourn

Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest boosted the luxury cruise ship spa concept to entirely new levels. The sprawling 2-deck spa facility is extremely large for a small vessel and offers everything from a Finnish sauna to Kinesis wall. Also intriguing are Seabourn's Spa Villas, featuring oversized bathtubs, balconies, living areas and daybeds. Each 2.5-hour session in these private villas includes a spa treatment.

The Spa at Seabourn

Trained specialists are close at-hand to help guests indulge in a variety of treatments from 10 Eastern cultures, including Chinese aromatherapy and reflexology. The Kneipp Pool is not to be missed - it is separated into regions of cold and warm water with changing pressures.

The Spa at Seabourn features an impressive fitness room that is one step up from smaller luxury ships' gyms, but the yoga room truly impresses with its Kinesis Wall for gentle exercise and a screened-off area for Thai floor massage. Seabourn spa treatments are lavish. Guests can pay for access to spa's "serene" area, offering two herbal saunas, showers, relaxation room with heated loungers and a private open-air deck. Prices depend on the itinerary, but generally run about $300 per couple for entire cruise.

Cunard Line, Canyon Ranch SpaClub

As a result of the affiliation with Canyon Ranch, Cunard's spa genuinely looks like a land-based destination in terms of expertise. All treatments are quite distinctive in comparison with the usual cruise ship spa offerings. An example is the ashiatsu ultimate deep-tissue massage where the therapist hangs from the ceiling and uses his or her feet. Another favorite is Thai Massage including a series of stretches and it is totally relaxing. In addition, there are massages for arthritis, chronic pain, aching bones, and even seasickness. Acupuncture, Reiki, Ayurvedic treatments and even Ice Cream pedicure complete the offerings. 

The facility is vast but well laid out. An onboard boutique sells products of Canyon Ranch, and the steam room/sauna/thalassotherapy area is the ultimate in relaxation. The dedicated "waiting room" has large, cushy lounge chairs facing floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the seascape. The fitness facility is separate, so working out and going to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub have different vibes. Spa treatments can be pre-booked up to three weeks before sailing.

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub also offers daily SpaClub Passport passes that allow entry to ship's Aqua Therapy Center, locker room and relaxation lounge. It is $40 for a day (discounts are available for multi-day passes. The SpaClub Passport is free of charge with any paid treatment.

Crystal Cruises, Crystal Spa and Salon

Crystal cruise ship spas are exotic areas with standout features including a private, canopied sun deck and deluxe dry float bed suite. The spa of Crystal Cruises has been designed with the feng shui philosophy in mind. The Zen theme creates a really calming atmosphere. Enjoy sweeping sea views during relaxing services like a Japanese silk booster facial and aroma stone therapy.

Crystal Spa

Treatments, which range from a couples massage and acupuncture to an increadible salt and ginger scrub, are outstanding. The staffers won't try to sell you anything, they are just exceptional. The Crystal salon offers the full range of services: haircuts, styling, manicures and pedicures. The gym is outfitted with contemporary equipment and flat-screen TVs to amuse while exercising. The locker rooms are also upscale, featuring a sauna, Elemis toiletries, multi-head showers and a minifridge stocked with complimentary mineral water.

Have in mind the only problem with Crystal Cruises spas - appointments book up very quickly. Reserve a treatment as soon as possible, and remember that the salon will be quite busy on formal nights.

Norwegian Cruise Line, Mandara Spa

Try a jasmine flower bath, oxygen lifting facial, or an exotic coconut rub and milk wrap at this sanctuary of bliss. Remember to not miss the exclusive Salt Room which is surrounded by body cleansing crystals, that mimics the therapeutic salt caves in Eastern Europe.

Mandara Spa

Silversea Cruises, The Spa and Silversea

The 8,300-square-foot Silversea spa boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, 9 treatment rooms, an outdoor whirlpool, indoor and outdoor relaxation areas. Don't miss the Thermal Suite and the connecting Turkish bath chamber for a relaxing body ritual with salts and organic sugar-based scrubs.

Whether you want to live the spa life on your next voyage, just want a lovely spot to relax for a couple of hours or need healthy cuisine and fully tricked-out gym to be happy on your cruise vacation, we just tell you which cruise ship spas we think are the best in business. However, you can't go wrong as all cruise lines are enlarging their spa facilities and add offerings like Botox and acupuncture, as well as new treatments and Rasul rooms. Many also provide popular group fitness classes like yoga and spinning.