It is June 24, the last day of our family reunion at Walt Disney World and on The Disney Wonder cruise ship. Interspersed with the unforgettable Disney memories, we have survived delayed flights, temper tantrums, a lost (and happily, found) driver's license, a five-year-old's hysteria during The Haunted Mansion ride, and nasty sea urchin stings. Today we're docked at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, and everyone is doing their own thing.

I'm ready for the spa.

I confess: I'm a spa junkie. Given a choice of recreational activities, I'll opt for a spa treatment every time. I enjoy the environment, designed to be soothing and restful. The delicious scent of rosemary that inevitably wafts through the entry area always triggers a relaxation response. I appreciate the chance to step into a world of indulgence, dedicated to my well-being. I love getting the kinks worked out of my tired muscles. I emerge from my spa experience refreshed and revitalized, better able to cope with the real world.

I'm not alone. During the past several years, spa treatments have become a required recreational option at incentive meetings, much like golf. (For fresh ideas on these two motivators, turn to our cover story on page 24). These days, hard-working producers of both genders are flocking to the spa for a bit of restorative pampering — and, responding to demand, spa facilities at hotels and resorts and even on cruise ships are expanding like crazy. I receive press releases almost daily about multimillion-dollar spa projects.

American spas haven't always been so elaborate. Twenty-five years ago, when I got my first therapeutic massage (at a small studio in San Francisco), the word “spa” wasn't part of the popular lexicon. And, knowing nothing about massage therapy or spa etiquette, I was extremely nervous. How far should I disrobe? Would it hurt? Should I expect to talk? It turned out that my therapist, Ira, was a skilled practitioner whose calm and professional demeanor made me feel instantly comfortable. He used a combination of techniques, including the relaxing strokes of Swedish massage to wake up my circulation, and the deep (but not painful) pressure points of acupressure, for an energizing lift that lasted for days. I was hooked — but it wasn't until many years later, in the late 1990s, that the level of massage therapists at hotel facilities began to approach Ira's expertise. Today, you can count on getting a quality massage at almost any hotel spa, although in the big new spas, some might find the vast choice of treatments to be overwhelming. (For a different, and hilarious, viewpoint on why spa treatments can be confusing, read Dale Irvin's “Last Laugh” on page 84.)

As for me, I enjoy trying new treatments, particularly those that draw on local customs, such as Thai massage (similar to assisted yoga), and Hawaiian Lomi Lomi (rhythmic, rolling strokes). Some form of therapeutic massage can be found in nearly every culture.

I'm content with nearly any spa environment, but my favorite is a room with a view, preferably outdoors. Back on my final family vacation day at Disney's Castaway Cay, I was delighted to discover two beachside spa cabanas and quickly booked a morning Swedish massage. It turned out that my excellent therapist, Decy, also knew reflexology and acupressure — and had a late afternoon opening. In the happy tradition of “you can never get too much of a good thing,” I decided to end the day with another session. I rationalized that unlike other addictions, this one was good for me.

Now, sitting at my desk a few days later, swamped with work, there's a smile on my face as my mind travels back to those two treatments in the spa cabana, with its view of the tranquil turquoise sea and the feel of soft, salt breezes. And not incidentally, my back survived the return trip home in much better shape than usual.

Have a wonderful — and relaxing — summer.

Regina Baraban, Editor
rbaraban@meetingsnet.com