New to Destination Spas? 10 Tips for First-Time Spa Guests

Last updated November 6, 2023

How to spa like a pro? Here are our top ten tips for first-time spa guests.

Going to a destination spa is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. Not only do you receive relaxing treatments, but you spend hours in an environment that screams tranquility (albeit at a sweet whisper).

It’s almost impossible not to feel calmer after lounging in a soft recliner while sipping herbal tea and listening to the gentle sound of a bubbling water fountain.

But if you aren’t a seasoned spa guest, it’s hard to know what to expect at a destination spa. It can be a bit intimidating, too. So, let’s review the two cardinal etiquette rules:

  1. Arrive 15 minutes early to check in, be assigned a locker and receive a fluffy robe and slippers to wear in the spa.
  2. Next, change into your robe and sit in a lovely waiting area for your aesthetician or massage therapist to call you in.

Beyond these two rules, there are a slew of other subtle tips that can help you get the most out of your destination spa visit. We asked four spa-goers to share their tried and true tips for first-time spa guests that will most certainly put you at ease.

Ten Tips For First-Time Spa Guests From Regular Spa-Goers

So if you are new to the destination spa scene, here are our top ten tips for first-time spa guests.

1. Decide on what type of experience you are looking to have and match your destination spa choice to your answers. 

“Ask yourself, ‘What is the main thing I want to get out of this?’” advises Sandra Gordon, a health writer who has visited six and counting destination spas. “For example, do you want to relax, work out extra hard, be pampered, spend time outside, reboot to nix an unhealthy habit, detox, spend time with friends or learn about something in particular?”

When selecting a destination spa, you may also want to know if the spa serves alcohol (some do, some don’t). You will also want to know what kind of food they offer (farm-to-table, spa healthy or resort indulgent).

Do they allow children at the spa? Most don’t. What kinds of activities and spa treatments do they have on the menu?

2. Plan your schedule in advance. 

You will be amazed at all of the activities you can participate in. Many of which are included in the cost of your spa fees.

Activities range from diet and wellness lectures to fitness and dance classes. A lot of spa resorts offer activities such as horseback riding, hiking, biking, water sports, ziplining, yoga, meditation, cooking demos and art classes.

“I tend to be very spontaneous,” says Connie Thanasoulis, a career coach and newish spa-goer, “but I regret not looking at the spa schedule closely the times I’ve gone to destination spas because I’ve missed out on activities I know I would have enjoyed.”

Popular classes and spa appointments also tend to book up quickly, so it’s worthwhile to sign up before you arrive on site.

3. Schedule spa treatments early in the morning or in the evening. 

Most destination spas offer treatments as late as 8 p.m. and as early as 8 a.m. 

“Personally, I love having dinner in my robe and then having an aromatherapy massage or a facial or scalp treatment before I go to bed,” says Sallie Fraenkel, a spa industry OG and founder and president of the Mind Body Spirit Network, where she works with destination spas, immersive wellness resorts and wellness goods and service companies.

“By keeping the treatment oil on your body overnight, you get even more benefits than you would if you washed it off after just a couple of hours.” In addition, appointment availability at these times is much better than later in the day, when everyone wants to book a treatment.

4. Choose your preferred gender of therapist—and tell them what you want in terms of pressure, areas to be worked on and the like. 

Some people prefer a same-gender massage therapist, while others prefer the opposite gender. 

“I like a male massage therapist because they tend to have a stronger touch than a female,” Sallie says, “but it’s a personal preference.” Male or female, she encourages spa-goers (first-time and seasoned) to give real-time feedback to the massage therapist or aesthetician on whether they are using the kind of pressure you want and if the temperature of the room and table are to your liking. 

“Many people feel intimidated during a massage, but there is nothing worse than enduring a massage that is painful or one where the pressure isn’t firm enough,” reports Sheryl Kraft, a freelance journalist and integrative health & wellness coach who has been to countless destination spas, including the famed Golden Door in California. 

Sheryl also advises that if you’d like to have quiet time during your treatment and your service provider is a chatty type, wait for a lull in the conversation and politely say “I’m going to close my eyes and drift off now.” 

5. Ditch the robe if you don’t want to wear it outside the spa. 

At some spas, many guests choose to wear their robes in the halls and even the dining room. If that doesn’t feel comfortable to you, don’t do it! And if you’d like to wear your underwear or bathing suit under the robe, do that.

“You can also ask if there is a special way to get from your room to the spa that offers some privacy,” says Sallie. Likewise, if you feel inhibited by disrobing in front of others in the locker room, look for a changing room or bathroom stall to disrobe in.

During most treatments, your body will be discreetly hidden under a blanket, so you can choose to go naked if you like, or keep your underwear on if it won’t interfere with the treatment.

6. At every visit, try something you’ve never tried before… 

“I’ve had a lot of ‘aha’ moments trying out new activities,” says Sallie, “so I always recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new every time you go to a spa.” 

It could be a CBD or lymphatic drainage massage, a treatment that is indigenous to the area you’re visiting or an activity like standup paddleboarding. 

7. …but also take classes in activities you’ve already tried. 

“I signed up for a TRX class at one spa even though I do a few of the exercises at home already because I was curious to see what a full routine would be like,” says Connie. “It turns out there is a lot more to TRX than I knew, and I learned a lot of new exercises.”

8. Bring a bathing suit. 

Even if you don’t go swimming, you might enjoy the hot tub and aqua exercise classes. “I was so glad I brought a bathing suit to one destination spa because my friend suggested we do a water pole-dancing class, which turned out to be the highlight of my visit,” Connie recalls.

9. Plan for downtime. 

“It’s tempting to cram your schedule with all of the wonderful offerings of a destination spa, but make sure you have some downtime or you’ll leave the spa feeling tired and unrefreshed,” advises Sheryl. 

“It’s tough because you want to feel like you’ve taken advantage of everything you can, but it’s best to prioritize the things that are a ‘can’t miss’ and stick with those.”  

10. Visit the spa area! Even if you opt-out or can’t afford treatments. 

You won’t get the real essence or relaxation benefits of a destination spa unless you spend some time in the spa area. Perhaps you just opt to soak in the hot tub or take a steam or sauna. Perhaps you just want to read by a quiet pool.

Either way, you’ll be basking in the ambient calm, surrounded by feelings of peace and well-being. 

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