Sunday, November 25, 2007

Spa Toccare at The Borgata: Simply Luxurious


Spa Toccare at The Borgata
One Borgata Way
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
609-317-7555
www.theborgata.com

Visited: June 2005

In A Nutshell: Lovely & Luxurious, what more can I say?

Genre: Hotel Spa

The Scene: The Best Of The Borgata's Hip, Chic, And Luxurious Style Applied To A European

Spa Environment: Perfect For Releasing The Inner Diva (Or Don) In You

The Damage: Moderate But Affordable With A Little Advance Planning; I had the 50 minute Bilberry Facial for $85.00 and a combination 50 minute Deep Tissue-Sweedish aromatherapy massage for $120. The Borgata automatically includes a 20% gratuity up front, so my total experience cost $246.00.

The Experience: The Prelude —Hip, modern, chic, hot, trendy, sure, the Borgata Casino certainly lives up to its reputation as Atlantic City’s casino of choice for the younger at heart. The rooms are lovely, the games are state-of-the-art and as soon as you enter the Casino, it’s easy to see why they don’t hire just anyone to serve cocktails to the high rollers. But does the Borgata magic transcend to its spa? We (NJ Spa Girl and four of my spa-going buddies, including one new recruit!) recently visited Spa Tocarre to find out.

It was my birthday and I had longed to visit the Bortgata since it opened. So, a group of us hopped in the car and decided to make a mini-vacation out of our Borgata experience, the centerpiece of which would be our trip to its Spa Tocarre in between some serious outlet shopping (did I mention only one of us was a casino game player?).

I had signed up for a Complete Retreat aromatherapy massage and a Bilberry Facial. However, the day before our appointment I got a call from the spa manager to inform me that my massage therapist would be unavailable. The alternative would be to get the same treatment later in the day, or to keep my appointment time and instead choose from either a Deep Tissue or a Sweedish massage. (NOTE: A Deep Tissue Massage, while perfect for overworked and tense muscles, involves intense pressure and therefore is not for the faint at heart or for the beginning spa goer. Instead, try a Sweedish or an aromatherapy massage!)

Since I was going to the spa with a group of my girlfriends, I opted for the change in treatment. The next day, we took the elevator to the 2nd floor and arrived at Spa Tocarre’s reception area, opposite the Borgata Hotel’s magnificent indoor pool (complete with whirlpool, sunroof and palm trees). I was pleased to find that the change had been entered on their computer system and to accommodate me for the inconvenience, they arranged for me to receive a combination treatment featuring “the best of” the therapist’s Sweedish, deep tissue and aromatherapy techniques.

When we left the reception area and entered the spa itself, I knew we were in for a treat.

The Lounge -- A Spa Tocarre representative immediately welcomed us and provided a tour of the women’s spa (Fellas, don't worry, Spa Tocarre has a separate Men's spa just for you!), including the pristine locker room, showers, steam room, whirlpool, hot soak, sauna, spa shop, lounge and beauty salon area (fully stocked with hair scrunchies and everything else a girl needs while getting dressed after her spa experience).

As we changed into our spa robes and went to the lounge to wait for our appointments, we were immediately transported into a wonderfully relaxing world as modern and relaxing as it is luxurious.

I could have spent an hour enjoying the beautiful fireplace lit only with scented candles and reflective mirrors while lounging on the whimsical orange art deco chaise lounge. The soothing array of orange and brown earth tones that colored the comfortable armchairs and matching ottomans made for the perfect complement to the plasma TVs (a Borgata signature accoutrement)—turned on, but silent to create a perfect blend of modern luxury and relaxation!

Spa Toccare’s fully stocked juice bar included a wonderful selection of fresh fruit and an extensive selection of teas, bottled water, and juices made for a delightful finishing touch.
But alas, the time soon came when I had to leave the lounge to partake of my massage and facial!

The Massage -- The next stop on my journey was my Deep Tissue massage. My therapist Jose really hooked me up, treating me to a few extra minutes (I was with him for an hour) for my birthday and his own special Pina Colada aromatherapy technique using a blend of warm and wonderfully scented pineapple and coconut oils. He also combined therapies going deep on my neck, back and shoulders to work out the kinks and adjusting the pressure almost intuitively along the way. Gentler Sweedish techniques accompanied by a wonderful selection of mango, eucalyptus and other divinely scented oils rounded out my relaxing and highly therapeutic journey.

My girlfriends also gave their therapists high marks for their Complete Retreat massages, describing then as relaxing, refreshing, soothing.

But perhaps the most compelling testimony of the day came from the member of our entourage for whom the trip marked her maiden spa voyage. She received the spa’s signature treatment – a 50 minute Toccarre Touch massage. Initially a bit apprehensive and unsure of what to expect, she said her fears were quickly allayed by the treatment which left her saying “I would definitely do that again”. Enough said!

The Facial -- Next it was on to our facials. My therapist Suzanne delivered a wonderfully refreshing massage, complete with a refreshing minty eucalyptus mist in between each stage of the treatment. She took time to educate me about how the skin breathes, nutrition for the skin and tips on taking care of it.

My friends were similarly pleased by their Bilberry facials.

The only potentially sour note was hit when due to a scheduling mix up one of my buddy’s facials was cancelled at the last minute. The spa manager left a voice mail message for her in our hotel room but we missed it because we were already on our way to the spa. However, we were immediately notified of the cancellation upon our arrival and the spa manager personally came into the lounge and whirlpool areas to find my friend and provide her with a gift certificate for a complimentary facial for use at a future date—the perfect make good!

Without question, the Borgata understands the value of keeping its customers satisfied. In fact, we’re already planning our next trip back to the spa to get my friend her free facial and so I can see what other wonderful treatments the Tocarre Spa has in store!

The Extras -- Did I mention we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the wonderful eucalyptus mist steam room, state-of-the-art sauna, wonderful waterfall in the spacious whirlpool, soothing hot soak tub, whirlpool-side bottles of water, and catching a few zzzz's on the comfortable lounge chairs…everything the average working girl needs to be a diva for a day!

Insider Info.: Go early—before noon— and go often! Use your Borgata points if you can—they’re good at Spa Tocarre! Try the Epicurian coconut and mango body lotion at the spa's complimentary lotion bar and take home some scented aromatherapy beads for as little as $6 in the spa store!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Serenity Day Spa: A "Home Town" Favorite

Serenity Day Spa
330 Old Bridge Turnpike, South River, NJ 08882
(732) 257-8118
www.serenitydayspanj.com

Visited: August 2005

In A Nutshell: If you're in Central Jersey and looking for a way to "get away from it all" for a few hours--alone or with some friends--Serenity is a nearby affordable escape.

Genre: Beauty Day Spa

The Scene: Don’t be fooled by Serenity’s corporate, modern-looking website. It’s one quiet, cozy, unique and comfortable retreat -– a state-of-the-art spa with a traditional, "bed and breakfast"-type feel.

The Damage: Surprisingly Affordable; I had an Aromastone Therapy Message (which includes a lime exfoliation) for $115 and an Energy Zone Facial for $70.

The Experience: The Background -- I had been to Serenity several times in the past and enjoyed every minute of it, but wondered if the experience had changed since Serenity joined The Premiere Collection, a conglomerate operating hundreds of spas, salons, and boutiques throughout the United States and Canada. Had Serenity lost its personal touch and warm feel by “going corporate”? You know I had to find out! So, when given a $150 gift certificate to Serenity for Christmas, I decided to give it a try—this time with the critical eye of a spa reviewer and the tired body of a spa patron.

The spa is housed in the historic Van Nest House, a beautiful neo-classical mansion built around 1840. In fact, it’s easy to miss Serenity since it looks like a home owned by a wealthy family or a quaint bed and breakfast from another era. But trust me, if you’re ever traveling on South River’s busy Old Bridge Turnpike, you’ll want to slow down and experience this wonderful retreat from the modern world.

The Lime Exfoliation -- The friendly, professional staff greeted me with a smile and almost immediately introduced me to Lily, the therapist who would deliver my lime exfoliation followed by my Aromastone Therapy Massage.

The lime exfoliation is a not-so-distant cousin to Serenity's Body Buff (the body treatment formerly known as Serenity's Sea Salt Glow for those who may remember when). If your skin is dry or just in need of some good old-fashioned rejuvenation, you’ve got to try a Body Buff for only $65. The treatment blends healing sea salts designed to detoxify and exfoliate the skin with lime and ginger as well as soothing, moisturizing oils applied using a very gentle massage technique from head to toe. The Aromastone Therapy Massage opens with a very similar treatment, less the sea salts.

But I digress. As Lily showed me to my first treatment room, she explained that I could place all my belongings in the tote bag that hung behind the door. This would serve as my personal, portable locker room for the duration of my journey.

In a word, Lily was simply wonderful and so were the services she rendered.

In any case, my lime exfoliation proved a wonderful prelude to the hot stone massage treatment that would soon follow. In fact, I almost fell asleep during the incredibly relaxing process! But just as I was about to doze off completely, Lily's friendly voice brought me back to reality long enough to guide to one of Serenity’s pristine guest showers to rise off the magical mixture she had just applied. When I stepped out of the shower, I couldn’t help but marvel as how moisturized and soft my skin felt.

The Stone Therapy Massage -- Next it was on to my Aromastone Therapy Massage. Lily used the perfect combination of heat and pressure as she used warmed, smooth stones and massage oils to deliver a wonderful, soothing and relaxing full body massage. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t recommend a stone massage to a spa novice since the pressure and heat can be a bit intense. But, if you try one at Serenity and are fortunate enough to get Lily as your therapist, I say go for it! Professional, knowledgeable and attuned to her client’s needs, she was great at tailoring the treatment to my individual preferences.

But alas, all good things…when my massage was over, Lily walked me downstairs to a quaint sitting room and invited me to partake of the spa’s offering of fruit, water and hot teas.

The Facial -- Just as I had finished my fruit and water, I was greeted by Sheila, the esthetician who would provide my facial. Although not quite as warm and friendly as Lily, Sheila was pleasant, very knowledgeable and delivered an excellent facial. Her approach reminded me of a cross between a doctor/dermatologist and a beautician, as she assessed and diagnosed the condition of my skin and tailored the treatment accordingly.

Sheila also gave me some excellent skin care advice and recommended the perfect moisturizer for my skin. I also appreciated the fact that her product pitch was not heavy handed, which was one of the issues I had with the Serenity of years ago and a criticism I often have of most spa facials. Instead, she explained exactly what she was using on my skin and why. When she was done, she asked me how the moisturizer felt and if I would like some more information about it. Since my skin felt great and I was in search of a good moisturizer I said, “Yes!”

By the time I got dressed, gathered my belongings and got back to the front desk to pay my bill, Sheila had left some literature and a tube of the moisturizer for me with the receptionist. No pressure at all...Needless to say, I had to bring some home!

In short, Serenity is as wonderful a day retreat today as it was the first time I visited more than 5 years ago. You should go...really!

Insider Info.: If you know an expectant Mom, treat her to Serenity’s Mom-To-Be Massage for only $80. I’ve given 3 of these as baby shower gifts in the past year and continue to get thanked for it!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Essence Hair, Nail & Body Spa: Maiden Spa Voyage

Essence Hair, Nail & Body Spa Essence Hair, Nail & Body Spa
1678 Pennington Road
Ewing, NJ 08618
609-538-8106
http://www.essencespa-salon.com/

Visited: May 2005

In A Nutshell:
A nice, affordable retreat when a day spa or hotel spa are physically or financially out of reach.

Genre: Beauty/Salon Spa

The Scene: Hip, Chic, And Upscale But Very Comfortable And Very Zen-like—Think Barbershop 2 Meets Elizabeth Arden


The Damage: Surprisingly Affordable; I had the Ultimate Time Out for $125 (plus gratuity) which includes a "Stressbuster" massage, refresher facial, manicure and pedicure. Where else can you sample all of those services at that price?

The Experience: The Salon—When I first walked in to Essence, I knew there was something familiar yet different about this beauty spa. Perhaps it was the way the upscale style and contemporary tastes of the owners--Troy and Tommi Vincent--subtly pervades the beauty salon’s d├ęcor and piped-in music that immediately let me know I was in for a soulful journey.

The friendly, professional staff seemed genuinely happy to see me, calling me by my first name throughout my entire experience and honoring my appointment without delay.

As I walked across the distinctive hardwood floors supporting the salon area where the shop’s stylist and barber worked away on a young girl and an older gentleman, I couldn’t help think to myself this is not the typical beauty/barber shop—or beauty spa for that matter.

Across from the hairstyling area the cozy, yet comfortable and very neatly kept, manicure stations were accompanied by an impressive selection of nail polishes that I couldn’t wait to try. But that would come later during my Ultimate Time Out, a half-day of pampering and beauty consisting of a massage, facial, spa pedicure and manicure.

The Oasis—Turning the corner, I observe another satisfied Essence customer enjoying what l now know was a decadent foot soak and pedicure. As I proceed up the stairs, I notice a sign asking patrons to please keep the noise to a minimum as I enter “The Oasis”. Suddenly, I’m transported into a tranquil, Zen-like world as the sounds of Stevie Wonder are replaced with what I imagine are a compilation of instrumental tracks from a CD that might be called, “The Best Of Waterfalls, Dolphins, Shooting Stars & Other Relaxation Sounds.”

As I change into my robe and secure my belongings in my locker—complete with sandals and a plastic bag for my jewelry—I slowly inhale the scents of the beautifully lit aromatherapy candles and help myself to a juicy, sweet fresh strawberry before my facial begins.

The Facial—My refresher facial can only be described as peaceful, gentle and rejuvenating. In between the cleansing, exfoliating, toning and moisturizing steps, my cosmetologist Cherise (who also happens be the owner’s sister–but trust me, nepotism has NOTHING to do with why she was the perfect person to deliver the facial for my sensitive skin!) sprays my face with a deliciously scented moisturizing spray which serves as my only source of resistance from the tempting state of slumber that beacons throughout the treatment.

Throughout the treatment, I kept waiting for the comfortable scraping and irritating scrubbing that came with my last spa facial and am pleased to report it never came. At the end of my time with Cherise, my skin looked and felt great—I think I half-jokingly asked her if I was allowed to take it home with me!

The Massage—It doesn’t get any better than this, I thought. Then, I got on Joe’s massage table, an experience that gives new meaning the phrase, “It hurts soooo good.” My Stressbuster massage was incredible. While I ooh-ed my way through parts, I left ahh-ing in a state somewhere between butter and Jell-O.

As I got dressed back into my street clothes and physically prepared to leave the Oasis (part of me is still mentally there!) to meet Juanita for my pedicure and manicure, I thought to myself “They picked the right name for the top two floors of this lovely salon spa!”

The Mani- & Pedi-Cures—Before coming to Essence I didn’t think spa pedicures were worth the money, especially when I can go to my local strip mall and get my feet done for a fraction of the cost. But Juanita changed my mind, delivering one of the best pedicures I’ve ever had. The chair was comfortable (even without the remote control!), the water was hot just the way I like it (thanks to a thermostat device in the basin which heated the water throughout the course of the treatment) and the foot scrub she used did wonders on my rough spots. And did I mention the multi-step treatment allowed extra soaking time? Ahhh…

Needless to say I was a little disappointed when it came time to polish my toes and get my manicure, but all good things…Juanita did a nice job on my manicure, the highlight of which was a glass Emory board that she masterfully used to file and buff my natural nails.

The Future—Although I hear Essence is currently scouting bigger locations that will enable them to provide steam, sauna, showers and other water/pool-based services, I left relaxed, satisfied and eternally grateful to my friend who had given me the gift certificate. The Ultimate Time Out service is exactly that–and for the price, I may have to go again next month!

p.s. The handwritten Thank You note from Troy and Tommi which came a few weeks later to invite me to come back soon was a very nice touch....Don't worry, I will!