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Ships Clear Decks for Fitness and Beauty Centers : On-board gyms and spas offer passengers jogging and aerobics programs, weights, swimming and often hydrotherapy.


It seems hard to believe that the first serious spa program at sea was initiated only 10 or so years ago, when the posh Southern California spa Golden Door introduced the Golden Door at Sea aboard Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2.

But today, almost every ship sails with some sort of gym or fitness center, a jogging track, a daily exercise program that includes aerobics classes and other energetic activities, and a menu that includes low-calorie meal suggestions.

Like most of the casinos, shops and photographic services, the spas and beauty shops at sea are run by outside concessionaires rather than by the cruise lines themselves. Two British companies, Steiners and Coiffeur Transocean, dominate the scene, between them operating spas aboard nearly 90 cruise ships.

Coiffeur Transocean, celebrating its 30th anniversary at sea this year, has 44 shipboard spa and beauty concessions, including the plush 6,000-square-foot Roman Spa aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Norway, and a staff of about 300.

Steiners, dating back to 1903 when the company got its first royal warrant as Queen Mary's hairdresser, has more than 40 shipboard concessions. Today it's headed up by Michelle and Clive Warshaw; she's the granddaughter of the founder.

When the Golden Door sailed out of QE2's life not long ago, Steiners got the nod to replace them and set about creating brand-new facilities with a lavish two-deck spa dubbed The Ultimate Spa at Sea. The company also operates the huge 12,000-square-foot Nautica Spas on Carnival's megaships Fantasy, Ecstasy and the Sensation, due in November.

Steiners and Coiffeur Transocean both hire virtually all British practitioners who have had training and a minimum of a year's experience on the job, and then spend additional time teaching them American words for hair and beauty treatments--things like bangs instead of fringe --and to dispense with the traditional sir and madam .

Michelle Warshaw emphasizes that passengers should not necessarily expect to get the trendiest of hairstyles aboard a cruise ship. "It's not about being fashionable, it's about making people feel good," she explained.

Penny Rothwell, a company supervisor for Cunard Crown, suggests that passengers book massages and beauty treatments soon after boarding to get desirable time slots. The busiest days are those of the captain's welcome aboard and the farewell parties.

Typical prices for beauty services aboard cruise ships are suggested by those at the beauty shop and spa aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's new Windward, operated by Coiffeur Transocean. A woman's shampoo and blow-dry or set is $27, a man's haircut $17.

Herbal therapy massages are $33 for 33 minutes, $50 for 45 minutes, and $66 for an hour. Facials cost $33 to $66, manicures $17 and pedicures $27. Spa services such as slenderizing and toning body wraps are $55 each.

We think the best spa at sea is the one on the QE2 with its two decks of brand-new facilities, each some 3,000 square feet.

The most unique feature of the QE2 spa is the thalassotherapy pool on Six Deck, with its seawater massage from seven different high-powered jets, each at a different, very specific temperature and position. High jets, for example, will concentrate only on the neck and shoulders to relieve pain or tension and enhance circulation.

Passengers may come in for free consultation and use of the thalassotherapy pool, saunas and steam room between 7 and 9 a.m. and 6 and 8 p.m. daily.

During the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. period, thalassotherapy is included in a variety of optional spa packages. A $42 "wake-up" treatment, for instance, also includes a body brush to remove dead skin, a high-pressure-jet "blitz" water massage, then inhalation therapy with special aroma additives.

On Seven Deck, there is a gym, aerobics area and indoor swimming pool. Instructors lead classes in low-impact aerobics, stretch and relaxation as well as a seven-station workout system.

Another lavish full-service spa is the Norway's Roman Spa, which works very much the way land spas do, with passengers reserving a full day, half day, an individual treatment or even a three- or six-day total program that includes daily massages.

When we were aboard a year ago, we splurged on a half-day introductory program (for $99 each) that included a skin exfoliation, herbal therapy, gym, sauna or steam room, Jacuzzi and aqua-cise pool exercises, plus a low-calorie lunch served in the spa lobby.

Besides the spa, the Norway also has a 4,000-square-foot health and fitness center with aerobic workouts, running/walking clinics, fitness testing and evaluations, and Cybex weight-training equipment.

The only problem with both these facilities is that they are located on lower decks with no windows or portholes.

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