Vacation is almost here. You can see it in every vaccine rollout update, taste it with every outdoor dinner, feel it in the warming air. For tired, burnt-out American mothers, the mere thought of relaxing at a resort spa, far away from laundry and meltdowns, can erase the bitter taste of Zoom school, multitasking fatigue, and endless chores. But, as resorts and hotels around the country slowly start welcoming vacationers back, there's a plot twist no one saw coming: Kids are now part of the package, encouraged to splash, meditate, stretch, and get a massage right next to mom and dad.
The trend is meant to accommodate parents who no longer rely on grandparents for child-free vacation time. It also represents a new approach to hospitality: To meet the needs of families that have been stuck together through the pandemic, hotel managers and spa directors are making family time a priority, in semi-private or rather public ways. At the new spa at the Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite in California, whole families are invited to hop in the hot tub, splash in the mineral showers, relax in the sensory room, and swing on the daybeds in the dedicated outdoor space. At Shore Lodge in McCall, Idaho, parents can now add a facial for a child 13 and up to their perhaps optimistically named 'State of Unwind' spa package.
Headed to Mexico or Hawaii? Children-friendly spa packages have been popping up there, too. Zadun, a Ritz Carlton resort in Cabo, recently launched a Family Getaway package, with a yoga session for all, mani-pedis for the children, and massages for the adults, when families book the Casa Grande — a separate portion of the spa. At Las Alamandas, a recently reopened coastal resort south of Puerto Vallarta, when families block a time at the spa, kids are offered mini-reflexology, pedicures and the very of-the-moment 'Anti-Stress Massage.' In Playa del Carmen, the wellness resort Palmaïa – The House of AïA has recently started offering massages for parents and children together, adding a fidgety third wheel to a couple's massage. The renovated Four Seasons Resort Hualālai in Hawaii has amped up its kids' spa offerings, with facials for teens and nail art and hairstyling for children as young as 4.
Even mindfulness is on the table. Upon checking into the Malibu Beach Inn, parents are informed that a family guided meditation session is now available, with no age restrictions; a guide from the Mindry, a local meditation studio, can arrive in the room and make your 5-year-old Zen, if only for 45 minutes.
All of this may raise some overgrown quarantine eyebrows. While luxury resorts have been catering to well-heeled families for some time now, the spa was for the most part a sanctuary — the one space cordoned off from kids. The modern-day spa as we know it has been, for the longest time, a no-kids zone; think the swanky, adults-only getaways of Sex and the City, or the lavish (or out of control) girl trips on the Real Housewives. Not to mention the fact that many spas and wellness salons in the U.S still do not allow children inside. That's because for many, children are at odds with everything the spa represents — namely, peace and quiet.
The rise of wellness and self-care — marketed to women as a de-stresser from life's duties — has turned the spa into a sanctuary free of small, rushing feet and loud, squeaky voices, a place where one could sip cucumber-infused water without also procuring a juice box for the small person squeezing into their lounger. With the pandemic turning back the clock on family dynamics (that is, creating more unstructured together time, supervised primarily by women) mothers are confronted with the possibility of family time where 'me time' once reigned.
Not everyone's happy about it. After endless pandemic months, taking a vacation away from the kids is what some overtired parents truly dream about. New York-based Eunice Buy, the co-founder of cookware brand Material Kitchen and a mother of two, draws the line at the spa. "If it's relaxation for mama — no kids," she says. "Vacations as a family tend to be more active. When it's just my husband and me, we're looking to unplug from 'Mom, I'm so hungry!' declarations. It's important for parents to experience things apart from their children. It's a chance to check in with yourself and, for me, ensure that who I am extends beyond the title of mom or wife."
Tiburon, CA, marketing consultant Jennifer Marples, who has 13-year-old twin girls and a 15-year-old son at home, doesn't mince words: "I love my kids, but at the spa? Hell no."
And yet, destinations that offer family wellness services report skyrocketing demand. At the Resort at Paws Up in Montana, massages and other treatments are offered to kids as young as 2, "as long as they can last on the table without feeling squirmy," according to spa manager Laura Russell. "We have seen a 40% increase in family spa buyouts and family spa treatments since last June," says Russell. The need, says Palmaïa owner and founder Alex Ferri, comes from the parents: "If an adult lives a lifestyle, he or she wants her kids to be part of it. We allow that to happen and it seems to be working."
And it's not as if the concept is brand new. Historically, hot springs were communal, multi-generational gathering spots for indigenous cultures, and the Turkish hammam has been a weekend family destination. In Eastern Europe, bringing kids to the bathhouse for a weekly ritual of scrubbing and soaking is common. Japanese onsens, in some cases, welcome family time.
Hard to believe, but true: Some parents, like San Francisco mom Rheanna Martinez, are excited about involving kids at their next spa adventure. Martinez spent the majority of 2020 working from home as a global creative and brand lead for Facebook while helping 7-year-old daughter Paloma with Zoom school. "We've been getting our nails done together for 5 years," Martinez says. Paloma also has been to a number of spa outings, mostly as a spectator — but that may change soon. "I'd check her comfort level, but she does love a foot, hand, and head massage," Martinez says. Occasionally Martinez gets "rude comments" from women at the salons, claiming Paloma shouldn't be there. "It's my choice as a mother," she says. "This is an age where I really see her growing up, so I want to embrace it and have experienced it with her outside of the house."
A lovely time for some, an unthinkable scenario for others, whether they have children or not. "As someone who obnoxiously takes her dog everywhere, I can understand parents who might want to share a spa day with their kids, says Valerie Demicheva, a Palo Alto, CA director of communications for a startup. Demicheva doesn't have children, and is not quite sure about mingling with them during me-time. "When I'm relaxing at the spa, I don't want to hear a toddler signing that Frozen song," she adds. "Maybe if kiddos don't shout, run amok, or throw cucumbers at each other, we can coexist?"
Spa managers around the country are well aware of the ambivalence; since the pandemic, more and more destinations have been offering buyouts for families and pandemic pods — primarily for safety reasons, but also, perhaps, since a hot tub full of children isn't everyone's idea of paradise. In many cases, little ones are only allowed if the family reserves a dedicated time slot. But some destinations, like the Resort as Paws Up, just ask families to be respectful of the sound policy: raucous mini-visitors can be asked to leave. At Palmaia, the treatment rooms are secluded and hidden in the jungle, providing a nice botanical buffer between guests, no matter their age.
"A buyout allows families to relax and comfortably enjoy the spa to themselves while practicing social distancing," says Lee Zimmerman, co-owner of Rush Creek Lodge, where a buyout, meaning that the customers get to have the spa all to themselves, costs $1,200 for 2.5 hours, for a party up to 15. At the Four Seasons Hualālai, "the buyout option became increasingly popular for families looking to enjoy a restorative bonding experience during their stay," says Director of Rooms Melissa Galindo of their $6,000-per hour package. Restorative? Bonding? Kids? All in the same sentence? That's one post-pandemic lifestyle change we didn't see coming.
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