Spa newbie lacks confidence but wants to experience bliss
June 17, 2010 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I've never been to a day spa, want to treat myself, and don't know what to expect.

So, I'd like to visit a spa I've read good things about, and I have no idea what to do or how to proceed. I always hear my female acquaintances talking about how much they enjoy "spa days" and even though I've made it to my 40s without having tried it...I'm ready. But here are my questions:

I'm not in the best shape; can a slightly chubbier gal enjoy a spa trip (it is an all-woman facility, so that does help, but still...)? Do you sit around naked? Walk around naked? I also don't follow the — er, "landing strip" philosophy of personal grooming. Is the au naturel look embarrassingly 1970s these days?

Can I take a book or electronic device to read? Would that be weird? What do you do while you're sitting around in a warm, steamy room? I'd be going by myself and would have no one to chat with, so I'm worried that I'm going to be staring at the wall uncomfortably with nothing to do. If I could sit and read I might really enjoy that, but the book I'm currently in the middle of is on the Kindle app of my iPad, which I guess I don't want to take into the hot or wet rooms. How about magazines?

Where does my purse go? Do I carry it around from room to room?

Do spas typically serve wine or something? It might help me relax; is that common?

Is it better to go in the morning or afternoon (assume a weekday)?

What should I do to prepare for the visit? What should I know? What should I by any means avoid doing or saying?

Many thanks. I know that's a lot of questions. I appreciate your answers!!
posted by TochterAusElysium to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've gone to similar facilities in NYC, so I can speak generally about the experience.

Your purse: For places where you pay an entrance fee, you generally are given a key to a locker in which to lock up your personal belongings.

Reading materials: you're probably not going to want to carry anything around. You won't look silly just sitting and resting; that's what people go to the spa for! Or you can listen in on the conversations around you (or join in, if you can). You certainly wouldn't bring an electrical device into a sauna or steam room.

Clothing: you'll catch on pretty quickly what people do. If the facility is same-sex, then some people will probably be walking around nude, but others will be half-nude or fully covered. Your choice!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:42 PM on June 17, 2010

Paper reading material is usually not allowed in the hot rooms, because they give off a gas that makes eyes itch. If you've got whole day, it's perfectly acceptable to lie down and take a little nap, if you have a cot assigned.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:42 PM on June 17, 2010

Best answer: Olympus Spa is not your normal day spa, it is a Korean bath so it has its own rules and norms.

So to answer your question:
1. Yes, you can be chubbier and go to the spa. You will see older, wrinklier, and fatter ladies than you.
2. In this spa, it is forbidden to wear clothing in the bath area and sauna (except for your bathing cap). Everybody is naked. In the other warm rooms, you will wear the provided robe.
3. If you are staring at pubes you are doing it wrong. But yes, it is just fine not to shave.
4. No reading materials in the bath area, no electronic devices. The hot rooms are hot, you'd wreck your device. You can have a book in the hot rooms, but it would be better (IMO) to read the trashy magazines provided in the reading room.
5. Your purse goes in the provided locker
6. I don't believe this place has a liquor license, the lunch room serves Korean food and tea.
7. It doesn't matter what time you go on a weekday
8. If you sign up for a scrub, you will be nude on a table in a room with 10 other tables with 10 other naked ladies getting scrubbed and hosed down. I would not recommend a scrub on your first visit. Otherwise, just don't stare and relax. I like that place. Do not take it as a gold standard for spas. If you want something more upscale, think Pro Club or Salish lodge or something.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:47 PM on June 17, 2010

Best answer: I'm so happy for you! A few times a year I treat myself to a day spa day (here, for reference) and it is such a calming, renewing experience.

While I don't know first-hand (checked the site) the spa you note in your Q, here are my best responses to your questions:

1. The chub factor.
Don't worry about it. You will see all shapes, sizes and types of women at the spa.

2. The naked factor. I would assume it is clothing-free, but you should have a towel (and possibly robe) to walk around in. Your best bet here is to call the spa and ask them directly - they have most definitely heard this question before so don't be shy about asking.

3. The landing strip factor.
In SF at least, we've got all kinds of styles going on. See number one above -- nobody really cares.

4. What to do? You will be surprised at how happy you are to do absolutely nothing but stare at the wall. Also, books and other paper or electronic devices won't necessarily do well in such a wet, steamy environment. However, I noticed on the spa's website that they have a reading room... See next item...

5. The purse.
The spa will undoubtedly have lockers (with locks) where you'll put your purse, clothes, etc. This is something you can confirm with them when you call to ask them about the clothing sitch! ;)

6. Adult beverages. Sometimes spas serve wine, sometimes they don't. You should ask.

7. Morning vs. afternoon. Depends on how long you want to stay. Personally, I prefer later afternoon so I can steam/soak/lounge for a couple of hours, then head home for a VERY light dinner and drift off to sleep.

8. What to do/avoid? Do: relax and luxuriate in the liberation and all over good physical sensations. Avoid: overtly checking out or staring at other people and talking loudly. People want to chill and relax.

Hope that helps!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:48 PM on June 17, 2010

Best answer: I totally get the anxiety but I promise you, you can dispense with it.

You check in and the nice desk lady shows you the locker room. You will spend almost all day in a bathrobe and slippers or flipflops provided by the spa in your locker. You do not need to worry about locking your locker - they provide a key. You will then be given a tour, which will include some combination of pool, steam room, sauna, whirlpool and whatever else they've dreamed up in spa land lately.

I wear a suit when I'm in the water areas; in the sauna, I think usually half the people are nude but I hate saunas (I can't breathe!)

Basically, you just bounce around from room to room. You may want to book a treatment; look at the list. A pedicure tends to be a nice, cheap way to stretch out your day. Don't feel pressured to.

If they have a cafe, you can buy lunch. I go in my bathrobe; some people go in yoga pants. Many of them have lounge areas by the pool or in another area; you can bring a book or a magazine in case this is an option. I love lounging in my bathrobe and reading!

There is usually a no alcohol policy; it's dangerous with steam and sauna. I promise you though that as soon as you've had a tour you'll feel oriented and not weird. And I am a short tubby ass who assures you that there are all kinds of bodies in spas and as beauty therapy/girl fests go, its where I feel least awkward.

Have a great time!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:51 PM on June 17, 2010

Best answer: I go to Olympus regularly! It's a great place, you'll enjoy it. They're very laid back and you have nothing to worry about, I promise! Here's what will happen:

You'll walk in the door, sign a form that says you've read the spa's rules, and pay your entry fee, which is currently $30. They'll give you a robe and cap (they have all sizes of robe, too!), two towels, and a locker key. They'll also take your car keys so you don't walk off with the locker key by accident. In the entryway of the spa proper there are numbered cubbies for your shoes. Then proceed to the locker/changing room, put your stuff in the locker, and don the robe and cap. From there you can cycle between:

a) the big room with the pools, dry sauna, steam sauna, and mugwort well. Everyone walks around naked in there except for the caps, but there are numbered cubbies along one wall for your robe, towels, water bottle, etc. so you don't have to run back to the locker room all wet and nude.

b) go to one of the warm rooms and soak in the heat. Personally, I only ever use the salt room--the other two (sand, mud+jade) are too hot for me. You'll wear your cap and robe in here.

c) read/rest in the "nap room", which has gently heated floors and pillows and blankets, or in the massage waiting area, which has couches and electric foot massagers. Cap and robe here, too.

d) go to the teensy spa cafe and get some rockin' Korean food to eat. I recommend the bulgogi or the tofu soup. Dishes run about $8-11, add in another buck or two for a cold beverage. Tea's free. Appetizers are included and they are delicious. Cash and credit cards only. Again, cap and robe.

As far as being too chubby, not groomed correctly, etc.: throw that right out the window. You'll see all kinds of bodies there, and nobody gives a shit what you look like. It's pretty empowering in that respect.

I would suggest taking a day off and/or going to Olympus earlier on a weekday, especially for your first time. Budget a good four or five hours for maximum relaxation. Saturdays get very busy, very early, so I wouldn't recommend going then.

Reading material: There are plenty of Korean and American magazines in the nap room and in the massage waiting area, and those are really the only places you'll be able to read. Definitely leave the Kindle at home.

Things you will want to take with you: water bottle, toiletry kit (if you don't want to use the shampoos and soaps they provide), hairbrush, MOISTURIZER. Hair ties if your hair is long since the caps aren't all that elasticized.

One last suggestion: do spend the extra money ($60) and get yourself a body scrub*. It is truly divine. Stay away from the massages, though, I've heard decidedly mixed reviews on them.

Okay, one more: drive south a few blocks on South Tacoma Way and get a green tea donut at the Boulangerie bakery in Pal-Do World market. Get there early enough and they'll still be warm. It's the only way to go.

*and if you do get the body scrub, make sure you budget an extra $5-10 for a tip. It will be well earned. Make sure to get your scrubber's name so you can drop the tip in the correct box in the lobby.
posted by Vervain at 1:37 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would like to throw my two cents in as a dissenting voice. My BF bought me a half spa day at an Aveda (I think) spa. It was the nicest place, nice people, nice decor, great services, but. I was bored out of my mind. Bored to the point and getting anxious. You know that creeping irritation that comes out of your gut? I got that.

So now I know, I am good w/ an hour massage and that's it. If you always have to be doing something like a lot of people, a spa day will either be an event that helps broadens your horizons and teaches you how to just "be" or it will get on your last mother fuckin nerve.

Either way, its a good thing to experience, there will surely be something you find that will make it worth your while.
posted by stormygrey at 9:04 AM on June 18, 2010

The unspoken rules at a Korean spa are slightly different from the rules at a typical Westernized "day spa" (and I love both kinds).

At a Western spa, much less eye contact. Cheesy magazines and bing-bongy music and hushed voices. There's a complex menu of services that all sound vaguely edible and cost more than my electric bill in the Atlanta summer, but they're indulgent and fun.

At a Korean spa, the lights are bright and there are often multiple generations of a family there. There are usually no private showers, but the whole situation becomes normal quickly. Shower before/after almost everything you do, especially if you put on your provided uniform and wander out into the mixed-gender common area; you will probably be given a toothbrush as well. Sometimes I never leave the wet area, but then I miss out on the subtitled soap operas and the various hot/cold relaxation rooms. The services, as crazycanuck says, are done in a group setting and you slither around on a vinyl table while a woman dressed in black lace bra and panties scrubs off two or three layers of epidermis, washes your hair, and flips you into positions your gynecologist uses drapes for. It is AWESOME, but probably not on your first visit until you've gotten a sense for what the Korean spa experience is like.

Have fun! Wish I could go with you!
posted by catlet at 10:18 AM on June 18, 2010

stormygrey - try Jeju in Gwinnett. Totally different experience from where I'm guessing you went (Highlands?) I don't go there any more.
posted by catlet at 10:20 AM on June 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Just got back. It was a truly pleasant, relaxing experience.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 3:22 PM on June 18, 2010

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