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Letting the Kids Make Mud Pies at Spas

April 11, 1999|EILEEN OGINTZ

In the middle of their first trip to Disney World, 10-year-old Tricia Roberts and her 12-year-old sister Brandi were happily swathed in fluffy robes and focusing on skin care.

They were being treated to "my first facials" for kids at the Grand Floridian Spa and health club. Other children there were getting massages and manicures.

"Definitely the spa was a high point of the trip," said their mom, Susie Roberts, who delivers Coke for a living near her Crescent City, Calif., home. "They treated us all like queens."

Roberts said she was determined to be pampered on her vacation and wanted to share the experience with her daughters. "It made it more fun, a mother-daughter thing," she said. "The kids felt so grown up and their faces were so clean I couldn't believe it."

Children at spas? The idea was unthinkable a few years ago when spas were places for rich ladies to lose weight. But the presence of kids is growing at even the toniest resorts, where the emphasis now is on fitness and wellness along with weight loss. Parents are booking spa sessions for their children, and even paying $100 for the privilege.

"Parents will pay for a massage for a 4-year-old," says Gaye Steinke, spa manager at the Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek in Colorado. The Burke kids and their friends each got at least two massages during their recent stay at Beaver Creek.

"My husband is a massage freak," said Jeanne Burke, who lives in Ridgewood, N.J. She said the kids get spa massages along with their parents wherever they vacation.

"It feels really good and it takes away all of your stress," 11-year-old Brian Burke said.

Families like the Burkes are driving the trend. They don't want to forgo the pleasures of a spa vacation just because they want to travel with their children. Christmas week, for example, the ultra-luxe Peaks Resort in Telluride, Colo., was packed with children, its KidsSpa day-care center running at full tilt.

"If I go to play, I'm going to take the kids with me," said Los Angeles screenwriter and day-spa aficionado Jeannie Davis, echoing the sentiments of many busy parents. "I don't do anything recreational without my kids."

As more kids come, a growing number of resort spas is offering more for them. At the Cloister on Georgia's Sea Island, junior fitness and kick boxing classes are being planned for this summer. The Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach in Puerto Rico is adding kids' yoga classes, while the Peaks schedules massages and vigorous mountain hikes for its pint-size customers.

"Parents want to introduce the kids to a healthy lifestyle, and this is a nice way to do it," said the Cloister's Jane Boza.

"The best part is doing something you don't normally get to do at home," added 14-year-old spa veteran Jenny Burke.

That enthusiasm is why some spas are initiating just-for-teen spa programs. The Cloister has a teen spa package that includes personal training, massage and other treatments. Canyon Ranch in Tucson and the Berkshires touts special half-price deals for teens accompanying a parent during certain months.

"We're going to see more emphasis on family-oriented spa programs because the response so far has been very good. The trend is integrating children into the spa programs and initiating fitness fun," said Bernard Bert, founder of the 1,000-member International Spa and Fitness Assn. and author of "Fodor's Healthy Escapes" ($18.50).

At the same time, Bert adds, so many spa resorts, like La Costa in California, the Peaks in Colorado and the Phoenician in Arizona, now offer well-regarded children's camp programs so that if spas aren't open to kids, parents can get all the pampering and workouts they want, knowing the kids are happily occupied elsewhere.

Lois Miller, for one, has been taking her teenage son to the Phoenician for a decade. "It's a nice blend of being together and being apart," the Los Angeles businesswoman said. The best part: coming home from a family vacation relaxed and renewed rather than frazzled. No wonder, Miller said, she's seeing more and more families there each year.

They're at other spa resorts too. The spa Web site, for example, lists about 53 kid-friendly spa resorts.

SPAFINDERS reservation service also has plenty of family-friendly recommendations, president Sheryl Sciro says. Even guest ranches are picking up on the trend, offering spa packages for families, said Gene Kilgore, author of "Kilgore's Ranch Vacations" (John Muir, $22.95).

That's not to say all spas are welcoming such young guests. Most destination spas where the emphasis is totally on the spa activities don't, said author Bert. Neither do cruise-ship spas, not even Disney.

After extensive customer surveys, Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa in Corona, Calif., recently banned children under 16. "People complained they were disruptive," explained CEO John Gray, noting the response to the ban has been uniformly positive.

But not with Jeannie Davis, who loved sharing the Glen Ivy mud baths with her children.

"The kids loved the mud baths as much as the adults," she said.

The Cloister: telephone (800) Sea-Island, Internet

Hyatt Resorts: tel. (800) 55-HYATT, Internet

The Peaks: tel. (800) 789-2220, Internet (

Canyon Ranch: tel. (800) 742-9000, Internet

La Costa: tel. (800) 223-6800, Internet

The Phoenician: tel. (800) 888-8234, Internet

SPAFINDERS: tel. (800) ALL-SPAS, Internet

"Kilgore's Ranch Vacations" (John Muir, $22.95): Internet

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