A sampling of pampering

Crystal Serenity cruise ship in portRelax and refine your Ship shape at the new Breed of onboard spas

CARIBBEAN SEA – While others pursued paddle tennis or sunned on the Lido deck I was happily ensconced in a terry robe, lounging in a spa of deck 13. Feng shui designed, its balance and harmony induced serenity in me; and its floor-to-ceiling windows showcased the sea from one of its most prime spots – the aft.

My locale was the Crystal Serenity; our destination was the Panama Canal.

There was a time when no treatment could tempt me to trade a day in the ocean’s open air for the typically darkened recesses of a ship’s spa. But those days are long gone. Spas have moved out and up – to the upper decks, that is. They’ve been enlarged (some hitting the 25,000 square-foot mark) and most complement fitness facilities that has been upgraded from a couple of marginally operational treadmills to topnotch gyms, several sporting 180-degree ocean views.

For an aficionado, perusal of spa menus these days must elicit the same excitement that a gourmet diner feels at an eatery like Nobu in New York City – the only problem might involve choice. From Hot Stone Massage and Japanese Silk Eye Zone Therapy to Turkish Bath (with grottoes and fog showers) and Frangipani Conditioning Hair and Scalp Ritual (using Tahitian floral essence) . . . the lavish list goes on and on.

The goal of my visit to Serenity’s spa was to experience something different, something I hadn’t found on land. And from its brochure description, Ionithermie Algae-Detox fit that bill.

It read: “Created by a surgeon in France, Ionithermie is the only therapy available that helps to detoxify the body and offer substantial inch loss after just one session. A breakthrough therapy for the reduction in the appearance of cellulite, Ionithermie combines 21st century technology with vegetation from the sea floor. You will experience firming, toning, smoothing of the skin and inch loss after just one session.”

The 70-minute treatment cost $132.

The operative words “inch loss” and “one session” persuaded me to test this claim.

“What do you most wish to accomplish with this treatment?” Renate, Serenity’s spa technician asked. “Tell me your goal. Detoxify? Firm and tone? Reduce cellulite? Lose inches?” “Yes, yes, yes and yes,” I replied, feeling a bit greedy.

She then began: measurements of my waist, hips and thighs; application of the algae, kelp and ivy enriched products; gentle electrode stimuli (to propel the active ingredients deep into my skin and muscles); cooling body lotion and finally, the moment of truth – post-treatment measurements.

Nine and one-half inches! I was both shocked and pleased as I measure 60 inches on a very tall day and weigh in around 100 pounds.

At this point of my tale, I’m usually asked to confess that it was water weight that contributed to my inch loss and that the girth reappeared within days. But that would be the wrong ending.

Whether it was my thrill at easily zipping into my jeans or the sight of a slimmer mirror image, the Ionithermie experience jump-started my body, or more appropriately my brain, into action. It compelled me to drink more water, increase my daily sit-ups, refrain from sugar . . . all the things I know I should do. And months later, the result is unchanged.

More importantly, I was sold on the quality of treatments found at sea and consequently vowed that all cruises on my future calendar would include an “experimental” spa day. Spa treatments on my cruise ranged from $72 for a 25-minute Swedish massage to the Ceremony of Earth, a 6 _ -hour multitreatment package, for $561.

Crystal (800-446-6620, www.crystalcruises.com) has spas that rank consistently at the top of the Conde Nast Traveler “Best at Sea” list. Others that fall into this coveted category include:

Silversea Cruises (800-722-9955, www.silverseacruises.com). The fleet’s acclaimed Mandara Spas showcase traditional European spa therapies with Balinese techniques and décor. The name Mandara comes from an ancient legend about “the gods’ quest to find the elixir of immortality and eternal youth.” The massage menu is extravagant. Massage Around the World incorporates a variety of massage techniques found throughout the globe. The signature treatment, Ultimate Indulgence, features a massage by two therapists working simultaneously. Its most recent offering is found poolside – massage given in a private cabana.

Radisson Seven Seas (800-285-1835, www.rssc.com). The legendary Carita of Paris spa gives guests access to one of Europe’s most exclusive beauty facilities. Radisson offers passengers on every ship in its fleet the opportunity to experience the treatments of sisters Rosy and Maria Carita (renowned in their day as “magicians of beauty” by European high society).

Among its trademarked treats are Renovateur, an innovative exfoliation process that has been a Carita secret for over 40 years, and Pro-Lift skin care therapies. Carita’s Pro-Lifting machine can be used in conjunction with several skin treatments to deep-cleanse and make the skin firmer and radiant.

Seabourn Cruise Line (800-929-9391m www.seabourn.com). In addition to a spa menu replete with body treatments, facials and massages, the Spa at Seabourn also features three “Ceremonies” of several treatments that complement one another.

Disney Cruise Line (800-511-1333, www.disneycruise.com). True, the cruise line caters to guests from 3 months old and up and showcases a 200-foot-long Mickey Mouse themed pool slide. But its older passengers are equally indulged – by the ships’ spas. The ultimate massage is performed on the beach of Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. Tropical Rain Forest is found onboard – it features heated beds, soothing music, tropical rain showers, a gentle sauna, aromatic steam room and a cool fog shower.

Enjoy your spa experience: