On a recent trip to the culturally rich island of Oahu, I visited three spas: SpaHalekulani and the new Spa at the Waikiki EDITION (which is now The Modern Honolulu), both in Honolulu, and the Ihilani Spa at the Ihilani JW Marriott Hawaii Resort Hotel & Spa over at the Ko’ Olina Marina and Resort. Maybe it was the fact that I was already in paradise, but there is truly something magical about the Hawaiian touch. Integrating holistic beliefs and cultural tradition, or eco-friendly products and well-experienced therapists, each spa provided its own unique experience, relaxing me into a deeper state of island bliss.
Comfort and Quiet: Ihilani JW Marriott Resort Hotel & Spa at Ko’Olina
The Roman baths at the Ihilani Spa and an aerial view of the Ihilani Hotel
An escape from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, the Ko’Olina Marina and Resort sits on the west side of the island. Located in the Ihilani JW Marriott Resort Hotel & Spa at Ko’Olina, the Ihilani Spa has re-emerged after a renovation to reveal an airy and casual spa, complete with separate men’s and women’s areas in which treatment rooms are kept separate as well. The women’s spa area is equipped with lockers, private showers, Roman baths (pictured), dry sauna, steam room, needle shower, and a thalassotherapy tub, which pumps in water straight from the ocean. Here, I enjoyed my first lomilomi massage, which I learned means to move in and out, referring to moving the blood towards and away from the heart. The technique employs long strokes using the palms and forearms, which I found even more relaxing and effective than a Swedish massage, and the arm-stretching and leg-bending towards the end of the massage felt amazing, especially after the long flight.
Mermaid Kariel teaches a Fin to Fitness class
Not only is Ihilani Spa a great place to unwind and relax, but head to the outdoor spa pool and you just might see a mermaid out there. The fun and invigorating Fin to Fitness class led by Mermaid Kariel (who spent over 400 hours making her mermaid tails!) is an aquatic workout using a monofin and the dolphin kick to tone your tush and exercise your core. Each 60-minute class can burn up to 800 calories and I was feeling it in my abs the next day, despite not being exhausted after the workout. A number of free fitness classes are offered as well, like a 2.3 mile walk along the four lagoons of the Ko’Olina Resort led by a fitness instructor who provides facts and details about the island along the way. I took advantage of the morning Stretch by the Sea class, which was the perfect way to start my day, relaxing both my body and my mind.
Ko’Olina is about 40 minutes west of Honolulu, and if you’re looking to get away from the sky scrapers and traffic of the city, the Ihilani will make sure you have everything you need, including some peace and quiet (at least until the Disney Aulani opens up next door this August!)…and mermaid sightings, if you’re so inclined.
Swanky Minimalism: The Spa at the Waikiki Edition
The Waikiki Edition*, the six-month-old lovechild of famed hotelier Ian Schrager and Marriott Hotels, has differentiated itself by opting to stay away from the Hawaiian shirts and “aloha” greetings of its neighbors, Drashell Schmidt, spa supervisor at the Waikiki EDITION, tells me.
The front desk at The Waikiki EDITION and the private beach
For a luxury hotel, the five-room European wellness spa at the EDITION is particularly minimalist – not only in design, but also in amenities. Without the basic relaxation room, steam room, or sauna, the spa has its work cut out for them in making a first impression on paper. Fortunately, what the spa lacks in amenities, it more than makes up for in the quality of personalized service, cleanliness of facilities, and eco-friendly product selection and unique scent bar. Also, most of the spa’s therapists have at least five years of experience before being hired at this spa.
The mani-pedi area at the Spa at The Waikiki EDITION
My therapist was well-educated and painfully thorough (in a hurts-so-good kind of way). Not only did she suggest a facial that was better suited for my skin, but she was also a pro with extractions and even took care to check my ears for blemishes. During the blissful 90-minute treatment, I embarrassingly caught myself on the verge of snoring during one of the most amazing facials – the Nature’s Most Pure Facial using one of my favorite product lines, Amala. The spa also carries products by Primavera, Elemental Herbology (used in the spa’s signature facial), and beach-friendly Jessica gel nail polish. In-room services are encouraged and a special lunar couple’s massage is offered under the stars, where tables are set in the middle of the conceptual lagoon (an 8-inch deep pool).
For those seeking swank elegance once-removed from the nearby Hawaiian-themed hotels, the EDITION fits the bill to a tee while managing not to forget where it is.
*Note: Since this article was published, The Waikiki EDITION changed management and is now operating as The Modern Honolulu.
Tradition and Wisdom: SpaHalekulani
Located by Gray’s Beach, an area historically known to have healing waters, or kawehewehe, SpaHalekulani of the 27-year-old hotel Halekulani is honoring the history of its location with a new treatment, Waianuhea.
The word means ‘healing waters,’ and the two-and-a-half-hour treatment integrates salt from the ocean; scents and oils from the night blooming jasmine, which used to grow rampant in the area just outside of the spa; and energy work combined with elements of traditional lomilomi massage.
The relaxation terrace at SpaHalekulani and sunset
Beginning with a traditional foot pounding on the spa terrace, circulation is encouraged using sticks made from palm trees. A warm foot soak in salted water follows to cleanse the feet, the body, and the mind. After being led into the treatment room, I received a cleansing jasmine body scrub, then went to the shower steam room for 10 minutes in the private bathroom of my suite. A cold towel on ice, a cold bottle of water, and of course, a beautiful orchid awaited me, and my skin soaked in the scrub. At the 10-minute mark, Flora, my therapist, signaled that it was time for me to shower and come back out for the rest of my treatment (yes, there was more!).
A treatment room at SpaHalekulani
Now to the fun part – the energy work. Flora showed me the shells she would be using and explained their meaning, adding that the shells would act as an extension of her hands, and were used because of the relationship to the ocean and its healing properties. What looked like a typical scallop shell was used to read my body, and after about 5 minutes of silence, she asked if my right side bothered me more. Ding ding ding – she was spot on and hadn’t even touched by body yet. She commenced the massage, working out the knots in my body with jasmine essential oils and finished with a jasmine body butter.
At the end of the Waianuhea, I was led back out to the outdoor relaxation area where I was offered hot tea or iced tea, and mochi ice cream. And as if it couldn’t get any better, at check-out, all guests who experience the Waianuhea treatment are given a bag of Hawaiian salt, traditionally gifted from one family or friend to another, to use in a foot soak at home or to cook with, as well as a sarong to remember SpaHalekulani and their time in Oahu – an amazing end to an already-amazing treatment.
Ihilani J.W. Marriott Hawaii Resort Hotel
92-1001 Olani Street, Ko Olina
Oahu, HI 96707
The Waikiki EDITION
1775 Ala Moana Boulevard
Honolulu, HI, 96815
Toll-free reservations: 800.466.9695
2199 Kalia Road
Honolulu, HI 96815
Toll-free reservations: 800.367.2343
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