A Spa With A View

Sometimes the destination is the journey.

Author by Cole Kazdin
Art credit: Megan Schaller

Hotels are places where routines go to die.

My earliest memory of staying in a hotel is from when I was three or four years old. My dad was going to New York City for work and brought my mom and I along. We must have done touristy things like visit the Empire State Building, but none of that stands out in my mind. What I remember is the hotel. More specifically, the club sandwich my parents ordered for me from room service our first night there.

This was a big deal. My parents were very health-conscious. I grew up in one of those no soda, no TV, no processed foods households. I didn’t even know that bread could be white.

Until I saw that club sandwich.

I gasped when my mom lifted the domed silver cover to reveal a tower of toasted white bread, mayo, and what seemed like 15 kinds of meat alongside fries and a Coke. It was so delicious, I actually thought I was going to pass out. It felt like rebellion — as if I had just lit up a cigarette in front of my parents in the room.

“It’s a treat!” my mom told me. We had the rest of our lives to eat yams and listen to public radio. This was vacation. I didn’t think life could get any better.

***

As an adult, I lead a relatively healthy lifestyle — I follow a vegan diet, exercise regularly, and own a $24 meditation pillow, which I intend to start using any day now. But I still look forward to abandoning my healthy ways whenever I check in to a hotel. (Cocktails, not kettlebells, please.) For that reason, I assumed I wasn’t the target demographic for the “wellness rooms” popping up in hotels across the country.  After all, who goes to a hotel to “eat clean” when they could order room service and watch a 90 Day Fiancé marathon instead? Could a guided meditation by Deepak Chopra fill my soul the way that club sandwich did? Doubtful, but I was willing to give it a try.

Over the past few years, a growing number of hotels have jumped on the high-priced health bandwagon by rolling out so-called wellness rooms. These chambers of GOOP-y indulgence have amenities like nutritious in-room dining and circadian rhythm lighting. As a rule, wellness rooms cost more than regular hotel rooms. The other rule is: You will probably hear Deepak Chopra’s voice at some point during your stay.

Even though wellness rooms are a recent offering, they’re becoming fairly standardized across different hotel chains. The MGM Grand in Las Vegas, for instance, offers what they call Stay Well rooms, which cost about $30 more than other rooms and were designed by Delos, a company that describes itself as the “pioneer of Wellness Real Estate™.”

Many amenities listed on the Stay Well website are vague — “healthy bedding” and “cedar elements.” There’s a welcome video, too, from Deepak Chopra, who’s collaborated with Delos on multiple projects and serves on the company’s advisory board. “Stay balanced, stay refreshed, stay well,” he says, smiling, in his low, soothing voice. The rooms also have air purification, which is a real thing, and vitamin C-infused shower water, which sounds like a made-up thing.

(When I Google “vitamin C shower benefits science,” the first article that comes up is by the consumer advocacy group, American Council on Science and Health, with the headline, “Vitamin-C Showers: Money Down the Drain.”)

Delos is also creating wellness rooms at a few Marriott hotels and a Residence Inn in Florida. If you can get past the corporate speak on the Delos website, e.g., “We have developed integrated solutions that address human sustainability,” you’ll learn that the company turns offices, hotels, and other “indoor environments” into wellness spaces. This process isn’t particularly well-defined. Apart from purifying air, it appears that Delos is just putting the word “green” in front of everything.

The Even hotel chain is a new wellness brand created by the International Hotel Group, the hospitality behemoth that also owns Kimpton and Holiday Inn, among other hotels. There are currently eight Even hotels around the country, and 12 more are in the works. The rooms are geared towards helping business travelers “keep their balance on the road,” according to a press release.

Every Even hotel features an “upscale, fast casual” restaurant called Cork & Kale and a strong emphasis on exercise, with on-staff personal trainers and a gym much larger and more comprehensive than the average, sad hotel gym with one treadmill and a stability ball. The rooms themselves also have workout spaces, along with equipment and 18 different in-room exercise videos.

Wellness rooms sound like a lot of pressure, but I understand their appeal. Years ago, when I had a job that kept me on the road much of the year, hotels began to feel more like a chore than a treat. Any semblance of a routine, like being able to exercise, felt like a win. At that time, I would have loved to have stayed at an Even.

The Even chain’s wellness rooms even offer optional standing desks, which at one point were all the rage — remember that whole “sitting is the new smoking” thing? Apparently, standing desks are the new smoking, ever since a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who stood at work were twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who sat.

Still, bonus points to Even for skipping the Deepak Chopra videos. I don’t have anything against Chopra personally, but the only tangible impact of hotel wellness rooms, as far as I can tell, is Chopra getting rich off of them.  

So, when I recently visited a wellness suite at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles, I wasn’t surprised to hear his familiar voice.

“Be the silent witness of your own self,” Chopra’s voice says calmly as I enter the room. The TV is already on, and he’s leading a guided meditation, over videos of sunsets and nature.

“Is there any way to turn that off?” I ask the marketing manager, who’s graciously offered me a tour. She nods towards the remote. But I leave him on, for now.  

The Four Seasons has perfected the wellness room the way they perfect just about everything else. I smell the faintest whiff of lavender (the spa is on the same floor, and if you spring for a wellness room, you get discounts there). The suite itself is elegant, with blonde wood floors instead of carpeting. Circadian lighting (by Delos) can be set to “energize” (bright), “play” (purple), or “relax” (dim). There are air purifiers in every wellness room (and for the two-room suites, an air purifier in both rooms), as well as a shower dechlorinator, Lather bath products, and a special Cleveland Clinic-approved menu reserved for wellness guests. The mini-bar has healthy snacks and no alcohol except for fair-trade quinoa vodka.

“What if I want a whiskey?” I ask my tour guide.

“You can order one,” she tells me.

The first two times I tried to schedule this tour, all the wellness rooms were fully booked — and I can see why. The suite doesn’t feel high-pressure, except for the exercise bike in the corner, but I can always toss a blanket over that. There are thoughtful touches, such as small succulents and books about spirituality and wellness (two are by Chopra).

He is still talking in the video, in gentle, reassuring tones. I sit back on the soft, white couch. I listen. “Be the silent witness of your own self,” he says. It sounds familiar. Have I heard this before? It takes me a minute to register that I have. The video is on a loop. “As the breath slows down, the mind also quiets,” he continues. I close my eyes. I inhale the lavender wafting from the spa. I feel completely and totally relaxed. In this moment, I want for nothing. Not even a club sandwich. Which is a good thing, because it’s not on the menu anyway.

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About Woolly

A curious exploration of comfort, wellness, and modern life — emotionally supported by Casper. It’s a beautiful magazine published by a mattress. Come on, you know it’s not the weirdest thing to happen this year. The first issue includes a love letter to comfort pants, a skeptic's guide to crystals, and an adulting coloring book.