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Spa Etiquette and Guide

A trip to the spa should be a relaxing, blissful experience, but if it"s your first visit, it can be slightly nerve-wracking not knowing what to expect. The following tips on spa protocol 101 will remind you to mind your p"s and q"s even while you"re being pampered--and act as a manual to make the most out of your first spa-going encounter.

The Basics

Showing up on time

If you"re running late, you lose - spas often can"t push your appointment back more than 10 minutes. Need an incentive to arrive on time? Many spas have serene relaxation lounges -- some even run the full gamut with heat (steam and sauna) and hydrotherapy facilities (hot tubs and fancy showers) -- which act as a prelude to get you in the tranquil spa mindset before your service.

Cancellation policies

Be conscious that short-notice cancellations will probably incur a charge, especially if you"ve left your credit card number at booking. Know the spa"s cancellation policies when you book and give as much notice as possible if you change your appointment plans.

Mind your manners

Your cell phone or BlackBerry should be turned off--and kept off--while in the spa; using either is a huge no-no. Better yet, leave both at home and make Miss Manners proud. In a relaxation room, conversation is fine as long as it"s in a soft tone.

Male or female therapist?

It"s up to you. Spas make every effort to accommodate guest wishes in this regard. Keep in mind that at peak hours, it may be harder to fulfil your request, and that for less-requested treatments, the spa may have only one therapist available. Remember to book in advance; if you are a fan of a particular therapist, chances are someone else is as well.

In the buff: Spa Nudity

Nudity is probably the aspect of spa-going that causes guests the most anxiety. Let"s be serious--baring it all to someone you"ve just met can feel awkward. But keep in mind that most therapists in the States go to great lengths to maintain guest modesty, stepping out of the treatment room to allow you to disrobe and get comfortable under the sheet on the massage table. If you"re uncomfortable about being in the buff, you don"t have to undress completely; it"s perfectly okay to wear underwear while having a massage. Second, there are select treatments for which spas will often supply disposable undergarments. Though they"ll never make the La Perla catalogue, they do ensure some modesty. Read more on Spa Nudity

Tips for tipping

Leaving 15 to 20 percent is customary. Tips should be left at the reception desk, which will have gratuity envelopes and pass them along to the therapist (you may want to check with your spa prior to paying, as most permit cash tips only). Received services from more than one therapist? Leave a separate tip for each one. Also, more often than not, spa staff appreciates when the gratuity is left in cash. At a medical spa, tip the facialist, not the medical doctor. Some spas include gratuity in the price, so it"s always best to check before.

Leave these at home


Though many spas offer locker facilities, leave jewelry and valuables at home in order to avoid any worries or stress.


Because the emphasis should be on relaxation and because others may be allergic, it"s best not to wear perfume to a treatment.


For the most part, smoking is not allowed at spas. If it is, there are usually designated areas where you can smoke.


Unless the spa is designated as "Pet Friendly," leave pets at home.

Cell phones

Leave phones and pagers at home or turn them off before entering the spa.

More Tips

Getting acquainted

Upon arrival and prior to your treatment, request a tour of the spa, which will acquaint you with your surroundings and introduce you to the spa facilities, such as saunas, steam rooms, and relaxation rooms. Generally, if a spa is equipped with these offerings, their use is complimentary with a treatment, although there may be a charge at other times or if services rendered were not above a certain dollar amount.

Speak up

All aspects of treatment can be modified to your taste: amount of light, music selection and volume, room temperature, talking or no talking. If you would like for the pressure of your massage to be adjusted, let your therapist know. Also, feel free to ask questions. If any part of your experience is unsatisfactory, first tell the therapist. If the response isn"t helpful, speak to a manager or the owner of the spa, if available.

Book ahead

When available, advanced booking - by phone or online booking - will likely minimize your wait time. At many hotels and resorts, spa appointments can be made at check-in, though some request that arrangements be made when making your stay reservation.