By Kara Williams, on December 8, 2013

Spa showdown in Providenciales

I collect massages on vacation the same way other people collect T-shirts, coffee mugs, magnets, or local art when they travel. I’d rather spend “souvenir money” on a sublime spa treatment in a new-to-me locale, because a pampering rubdown truly helps me let go of the daily grind back at home. I know I’m on vacation once I’m feeling refreshed and renewed, having saunaed and steamed at a local day spa or hotel spa, whether it’s close to me at a Colorado mountain resort or on a far-flung tropical island.

On a recent girlfriend getaway to Turks & Caicos, a pal and I each opted for not one, but two spa treatments during our short, four-night stay in Providenciales. (Hey, we’re worth it!) They were decidedly different experiences: one 60-minute Bamboo Massage ($160) at the posh, full-service spa at Regent Palms on Grace Bay and one 50-minute Classic Swedish Massage ($99 + $30 outcall fee) by Spa Tropique in the comfort of our condo at The Somerset.

We actually had our in-room massages booked before we arrived on the island. The Somerset doesn’t have an on-site spa, but the concierge at this Grace Bay condominium resort will happily arrange Spa Tropique mobile appointments for guests. I’d never had an in-room spa treatment before, but I loved the idea of getting a massage and then being able to crawl into a comfy bed afterwards for a nap. Plus, how nice not to have to go anywhere: the pampering comes to me!

However, my friend and I didn’t want to miss out on being able to sit in a steam room or otherwise kick back in a relaxation lounge while sipping on citrus-infused water. So we spent the bucks to book treatments at the Spa at Regent Palms, right next door to The Somerset (it’s just a five-minute walk to the spa, through a shared gate).

Upon arrival at the Regent Palms, it’s easy to slip into “spa mode,” with the wonderful floral and herbal scents emanating from the boutique, where we checked in (a variety of potions and lotions are for sale here). Of course, accompanying instrumental music also set the tone.

Viewfinder Tip: Some spas automatically charge a gratuity to your final bill. Be sure to ask if that’s the case, before you accidentally double-tip your therapist.

The women’s locker room has cottage-like, light green walls with white accents; amenities here include a steam room, sauna, and outdoor showers. I did check out the small Regent Palms steam room, and found it lacking: though a spa attendant turned on the steam for me a few minutes before I entered, it never really got hot unless I was standing on the bench underneath the steam source (obviously not comfortable or safe, as the bench is slippery with condensation). I found it odd that the steam room light fixtures were unscrewed and resting on the floor.

A couple of other picky points: there was a stain on the pocket of my supplied robe and the robe/towel hook in an indoor shower cubicle was coming away from the wall. Granted, it was off season in Turks & Caicos, and resorts often deal with construction and upkeep projects when few guests are there. So, I’m hoping that these incidences (old robe, broken wall hook, removed light fixtures) have been fixed or replaced now that high season is underway in the Caribbean.

The Spa at Regent Palms relaxation area where guests can rest before treatments is outdoors in a beautiful tropical setting. I kicked back on a cushioned teak lounge chair in front of an in-ground water feature. Reminiscent of a babbling brook, the long, mosaic-tiled pool (just for show, not for swimming) reflected the surrounding palm trees and the individual, stand-alone treatment cabanas (pictured above).

My 60-minute Bamboo Massage in one of the roomy cabanas was very good, but not spectacular. I appreciated that my massage therapist wasn’t chatty (I’m all about quiet, save for piped-in music during my treatment), and she deftly used the differently sized pieces of bamboo to knead the knots in muscles from my neck to the bottom of my feet. I left the Spa at Regent Palms feeling quite relaxed and content, but not necessarily blown away by the setting or the service.

Our condo’s dining/living area became a massage room


The next day, two Spa Tropique massage therapists arrived at our condominium at The Somerset just a few minutes later than the scheduled time. (They had a little trouble finding our door.) We opted to have them set up one portable massage table in my master bedroom, and the other for my friend near the sliding glass door in our living/dining area.

I admit that the sheets on the Spa Tropique portable massage table weren’t nearly as luxurious as the linens at the Regent Palms, and the face cradle wasn’t as cushioned. However, my massage therapist Molly’s skilled hands more than made up for the less-than-luxe table. Though I’d booked a Classic Swedish Massage, which typically uses mild to medium pressure, I noted to Molly that I really like a firm touch, and she didn’t hold back – which I loved! In 50 minutes, she was able to work through some tight knots that were leftover from the previous day’s Bamboo Massage. Her skilled maneuvers made up for any lack of soothing music or “spa scents” you might find in a full-service hotel or day spa (though I suppose I could have stuck my iPod in my bedroom dock or lit some candles for spa ambiance).

In the end, when comparing services and surroundings, I’d have to say that the in-room treatment ($129 +tip) outweighed the hotel spa treatment ($150 + tip) in Turks and Caicos. And, actually, I was pleasantly surprised by this outcome. Always cost-conscious, I like to see the value in my vacation splurges (and I do equate my “spa souvenirs” with a splurge, not a need).

While I am the first to appreciate the bells and whistles that come with a full-service hotel spa, I’m glad I found a less expensive way to enjoy a very, very good rubdown in Providenciales. While I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting the Spa at Regent Palms (do make time for relaxing in its outdoor, tropical oasis before or after your treatment), if you’re looking to save a few dollars and enjoy the convenience of not leaving your condo or hotel room and you want a really good, thorough, firm-handed massage, I’d go with services from Spa Tropique. Just ask for Molly.

What do you look for in a spa?