Thursday, January 3, 2008

Balance Spa & Fitness at the Loews Philadelphia

1234 Market Street, 5th Floor
Philadelphia, PA


Visited: November 2007

Genre: Hotel Spa

The Scene: Chic, Art Deco, Modern Facility Where Fitness and Spa Meet

Spa Environment: In Transition When I Went, But Generally, Well-Appointed and Well Worth Another Visit Once Management Change Is Completed

The Damage: Reasonable For A Luxury Hotel Spa; I had the 80 minute East Meets West Combination massage for $140.

The Experience -- the Prelude: When my sweetie and I decided to go away Thanksgiving weekend, we were almost instantly drawn to the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia. Like many other travelers,we researched our travel options online and armed with our AAA discount, we decided on the Loews--a luxurious, first class, affordable option for our holiday escape. In addition to a fantastic view, quality service and a great restaurant (The Loews is home to the very chic and very yummy Sole Food), The Loews had a spa that you KNOW I just had to try.

I admit I was a little nervous at first, when I had difficulty finding a price list or other details (aside from a few pictures) about the spa on the Loews Hotel web site. These fears were allayed some when we called the hotel and were immediately connected with the Balance Spa and Fitness center upon request.

When the gentleman who took my call asked what services I would like, I asked him what he would recommend since I couldn't get any ideas from the web site. He instantly suggested the spa's signature East Meets West Combination massage. He explained the treatment was a custom blend of Eastern Shiatsu and Thai massage with Western Swedish/Deep Muscle techniques. And, at only $100 for 50 minutes, I decided to treat myself to the 80 minute version for only a few dollars more at $140. Besides, I had always wanted to try Shiatsu and figured this might be a great entree into the Japanese art of applying pressure to various points on the body in order to relieve stress and tension.

The Arrival: When I arrived at Balance Spa & Fitness, I was immediately blown away by the size of the facility. With a 20 meter, two lane heated lap pool the immediate right and a spacious cardio and strength training area in front of me, it was easy to see why the space was called the Balance Spa AND FITNESS CENTER!

I later learned that hotel guests could use the pool for $10 per day and that the 15,000 foot spa encompassed the entire Fifth Floor of the Hotel. The latest hip hop and dance music piping in provided a very fitness-friendly atmosphere but begged the question in my mind, how is this going to translate into my spa experience?

The reception area was to the left, flanked on one side by a curiously almost empty beverage case stocked with only a few bottles of water. The friendly receptionist who checked me in made me raise an eyebrow when she explained she needed to find my massage therapist, who had yet to return from lunch. A rookie mistake perhaps, I thought as she handed me a robe and towel. Upon entering the women's locker room, it occurred to me, she hadn't offered me slippers, any refreshments or a tour of the facility--all of which I've come to expect from hotel spas.

Luckily, I always bring my own slippers and my spa robe was very roomy and comfortable. In fact, it was just like the cozy spa robes that were in our hotel room, so I was optimistic when I took a look around while waiting on my massage therapist.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had an assigned locker but no key! I quickly returned to the front desk, where the receptionist apologized for her mistake and again assured me she was still trying to locate my massage therapist, this time by placing a call to her cell phone. Fortunately, the spa was completely empty and my things were just where I left them when I returned to my locker.

The Tour: I quickly forgot about the receptionist's oversights when I saw a rather large sized sauna, across from which stood an equally roomy steam room. Both featured easy-to-understand instructions for setting the temperatures and timers to your likely. And, the steam room was equipped with my favorite eucalyptus spray, which beckoned me to indulge after my massage.

The showers and rest rooms were pristine, although I noticed that extra towels were not available anywhere aside from the front desk. I also noticed that the spa was strangely quiet, without any zen-like or yoga-friendly music that typically provides the soundtrack for a hotel spa experience. Beyond that, the spa was fairly well-appointed with cotton swabs, lotion, mouthwash, showers, a hair and makeup area and many of the other accouterments you would expect from a luxury hotel spa.

In the waiting room adjacent to the treatment areas, though, there was a bowl of apples and oranges, but no tea, water, juices or refreshments of other kinds that I could see. In fact, in the entire chic, modern, minimalistic, art-deco-meets-the-neon-50s-diner decorated spa, the only thing I could find to read while waiting was a back issue of Liberty Sports magazine.

This was another strange detail that seemed disjointed with the very chic but inviting, luxurious client experience promised by the Loews Hotel. But before I could ponder that disconnect any longer, Eloisa, my massage therapist arrived to take me to my treatment room.

The Treatment: In a word, my East Meets West Combination massage was fantastic. I mentioned to Eloisa that I had no idea what to expect from the Eastern portion of the treatment but was hoping that the Western portion would focus on my neck and upper back, since that's where I typically carry my stress.

I chose a lavender scented oil for the Swedish portion and Eloisa explained how she would go about employing the various techniques throughout the course of my treatment. The first half, she incorporated Eastern techniques, gently pulling, stretching and applying pressure at various points across my arms, legs, feet and face.

At first, I was a little tense since the movements were a bit reminiscent of some of the range of motion exercises I had in physical therapy when I hurt my knee many years ago. However, there was no pain this go round and when I finally relaxed, I was surprised of how quickly I started to feel "tension free" in the parts of my body the therapist was working on.

When I turned on my stomach for part two, Eloisa employed a familiar combination of Swedish and deep tissue massage. And, in spite of the fact that there was no background music and the massage table wasn't heated, I was so relaxed I nearly dozed off by the time she was done.

Insider Info.: On my way out, I grabbed a photocopied price list from the receptionist. It was then that I solved the mystery of the disconnects and rookie mistakes that had provided a curious undercurrent for my Balance Spa & Fitness spa experience. It seems that the Balance Spa & Fitness center's contract with the Loews Hotel was expiring and management of the spa, fitness center and pool would soon be switching hands in the months to come. That single fact explained so many of the minor disappointments I had experienced during my visit (all of which were made up for by my wonderful East Meets West massage) that I'm looking forward to returning to the spa to see if and how my escape might be different once the facility is under new management.

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