May/June 2006  




“After all, the entire body's weight rests on the feet, and when they are relaxed and spread over the floor like butter, everything works better.”

his isn't a foot massage," the therapist protested, working deft fingers into my soles ad renewing my tired feet. "It's a pedicure."

It was certainly the most intense and pleasurable pedicure I have ever encountered, and it was administered in the spacious new spa aboard Holland America Line's Noordam, the first of the company's ships expressly designed to contain all the elements of the $225 million Signature of Excellence initiatives, which include a really spectacular Greenhouse Spa and Salon.

greenhouse-2The spa, like the fitness area and salon, has panoramic windows overlooking the sea as the ship travels and offers views of the ports of call when the Noordam is docked. The huge leather pedicure throne I was sitting on has back massage capability, but it is the extremely capable hands of Bo - Bogusia Grambowska - that make the treatment memorable. When she finished massaging, sloughing and creaming, soaking, trimming and polishing, I had smooth feet and legs I was proud to show off.

I am actually not doing just a pedicure, but a hands and feet combination costing less than $100, among the packages offered by the spa at special rates while in port. Unusual for a cruise ship spa, this Greenhouse gives passengers a list of these specials on the first day rather than announcing reductions on each port day. Spa Director Kelly Drabbe has set up this system, and it's good for the spa - they are not competing with themselves by offering reduced rates on the same treatments available at other times. It's good, too, for the passengers, who can book their specials right away rather than squeezing in their appointments among all the others on the port day they have chosen.

Since Bo tells me this is not a foot massage, I really have to find out what is, so I book the full foot and ankle massage from her ($39) and a half hour of heaven after which my whole body alignment is different. After all, the entire body's weight rests on the feet, and when they are relaxed and spread over the floor like butter, everything works better. I praise the massage, but Bo tells me that if I really want deep massage, I should book a full body one with Donnabel Bernardi. "She's very small, but she is really strong and she knows how to take the knots out," Bo says.

greenhouse-1I see Donnabel another day, and she is all Bo said she was. She literally introduces my body to her touch, and then goes after every tightened muscle and out-of-kilter joint, using arms, hands and elbow. She works in a room generally used for couples massage. "I do a lot of work with couples," she says, "and friends, mother and daughter."
The spa also has full treatment rooms with showers that can be opened in to one room, where they can give just about any treatment as a couple’s one, including wraps, etc. On my cruise the bulk of the clients are men, and Drabbe says the company's new men's barbershop is successfully offering a transition between familiar luxury shaves and haircuts and treatments including massages and skincare.

The new teens' program has been less used, primarily, Drabbe says, because teenage girls are getting their treatments with their mothers, and they choose the same treatments rather than the shorter special teens' menu. “For massage and any other treatment in which the client is alone with the therapist, the parent must be present anyway,” Drabbe notes. “And with manicures and pedicures, they usually want the same one the mother gets, so they start and finish at the same time.”

The spa also has a dry float suite with a massage option and a very beautiful set of thermal treatments with access available for a fee by the day or for the whole cruise. The huge hydrotherapy pool, heated ceramic lounges and in-suite showers, steam and aromatic room, were all very popular with passengers, especially during the cooler day or two after leaving New York.

greenhouse-3The fitness area has new and well chosen Cybex machines, free weights, a Pilates reformer, bicycles, stair steppers and so generous a number of treadmills, that nobody was ever seen waiting for one during the ten days I was on the ship. The Lido pool area is set aside for lap swimming only from 7 to 8 o'clock in the morning; a very welcome move since lap swimmers usually have a hard time navigating around paddlers, children and volleyball players. Some fitness classes require a small fee: others are free along with Pilates mat sessions, yoga, spinning, aerobics, stretch and personal training. Free seminars were offered on weight and inches loss, anti-aging and more.

The spa offers teeth whitening at $199, much cheaper than the same treatment in most land-based facilities, as well as Ionthermie for inch reduction. In addition, the Elemis Aromapure ‘Time to Spa’ amenities find their way into the staterooms, so the spa experience continues there. Likewise, all dining rooms have a really tempting array of low fat, sugar-free and vegetarian selections. The desserts are so voluptuous that there is no sacrifice involved and even guests not watching their carbs or calories were seen to whisk away the tall chocolate concoctions at lunch.

The 1,918-passenger Noordam is now sailing 10-day Mediterranean cruises before returning to New York in the fall to offer roundtrip New York Caribbean itineraries 10-11 days in length.

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