Friday, February 22, 2008

A Tale of Two Spas (Both the Same)

I had two spa visits this week (oh the things I do in the name of blog research…) Actually, I had gift cards that had gone unused – and that’s just stupid. (Especially now that gift card holders can steal your money a month at a time if you dally – so use your frickin’ gift cards people. Every last penny.

Though I visited two different day spas, one in the heart of Boston, one in the suburbs - the experiences were remarkably similar in important ways; Where they sucked, they sucked badly and where they were great – they were awesome.

Spa Experience #1: Exhale Boston

Atmosphere: Yuppie Zen
Scent: Cinnabar(ish) & citrus, but not overwhelming
Music annoyance level: 3
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1=ears bleeding, 5=blissed out)

I arrive at Exhale a mere 3 minutes before my scheduled facial. The teenager at the desk informs me I’ve arrived “right up against my appointment time.” I try to explain that I’ve been standing on the corner of Boylston & Arlington Streets calling the spa and getting the voicemail. I turned to the iPhone: Google maps doesn’t show a street address for Exhale as they are located in a “collection” of shops. Their website is flash-based, so I can’t get past the landing page – where they haven’t bothered to put the address. Voicemail doesn’t have a “press 2 for directions” so when missy pants sniffs her post-teenage snipe at me, I almost throw iPhone at her head. But I love iPhone so instead I say through gritted teeth that I would have arrived sooner, but had to call a co-worker to get me the address of the spa SINCE NO ONE ANSWERS THE PHONE AT EXHALE SPA. {blank stare from teenager}

A second teenager (okay, actually what appears to be a second inexperienced young retail worker who I’ll continue to refer to as a teenager) asks if it is my first visit to Exhale. I say yes as what sounds like Kitaro attempts to soothe me in the lobby. Teenager 2 instructs me to walk the length of the hall, enter the elevator and press “transcend” to reach the spa treatment rooms. Really - transcend?

I lurch down the hall like a furious Quasimodo and press transcend.

I arrive in the rumpus room region of the spa, tastefully appointed with Buddhas of all sizes and candles and racks of organic, free range, fair trade cotton yoga clothing. I approach the second check-in desk where there are two people waiting and a very nervous third teenager manning the desk. The teenager is frantically tippy tapping into the computer and not finding what the highly-coiffed blonde strumming her fingers on the counter wants her to find.

A natural fiber-clad spa worker walks toward the desk and asks if anyone is “Michelle.” The second highly-coiffed blonde in line in front of me says "I am" and wanders off toward the dimly lit chamber of rattan. The teenager continues to tap. I thought I heard a "damn" as she called someone to guide her through the system. A second spa worker asks why I am there and I explain I’m there for a facial (and now 10 minutes late.) She leads me to the changing room and instructs me on the use of the locker.

I change and sit where instructed and try to meditate the furious bees out of my brain when a quiet presence stops at the entrance and asks for Lori in the nicest imaginable tone. I raise my hand like I was in Miss Nassa’s second grade class and she giggles and leads me to the treatment room.

Dianne (with two "N"s) Cecere was the esthetician scheduled for my facial and I boy did I luck out. She was fantastically perfect. Extremely knowledgeable, didn’t try to sell me anything before any assessment, and a gentle spirit. So great was her technique, explanations of products, and soothing tone – that soon I relaxed and forgot my aggravation of getting there. The facial was fantastic, the hand massage was divine and I felt the stress of the week fall away.

Then I went to check out.

Nervous blonde girl was still at the desk. This was going to be bad. I handed over my gift card and waited for the confusion to begin. You see when I finally got through on the telephone to make the appointment I also confirmed the balance on the gift card. That took 10 minutes as Exhale has recently changed to a new computer system – but they had not yet transferred gift card balances to the new system. So the teenager I spoke to put me on hold and would periodically take me off hold so I could hear her tapping into the computer and frantically calling someone “in the back” to confirm the balance. She confirmed the balance, I wrote it down with her name, time and the name of the person “from the back.”

But that didn’t help nervous blonde girl who couldn’t get the computer to register the gift card. She asked if I would mind going upstairs to check out. Why would I? I had to walk that way to get out and I was looking so forward to more teenagers.

Clearly the nervous blonde had called upstairs because none of the four teenagers behind the counter had a clue why I was there. So I hand over my bill and gift card to teenager #3 and attempt to explain that there may be an issue, but the teenagers are talking amongst themselves, so I don’t get a word in edgewise before she says “there’s like no balance on this card.” I restrain myself and try to stay calm after my excellent facial. I explain that I was aware that they had switched over to a new computer system and that I had confirmed my balance. She continued tapping into the computer for another minute before consulting another one of the teens, who stared thoughtfully at the monitor while Teen #3 repeated her statement that the gift card had no balance.

Since I was in a hurry to leave, I thought I would cut to the chase and asked the teens to consult someone who was familiar with the computer change (and related issues) so I could get underway. One of the teens got a grown up “out of the back” who guided her through a workaround (which appeared to consist of reloading the gift card in the amount I told them and then charging it for the treatment + tip.) Not a smooth exit, but at least I was allowed to leave before I got snappy.

In Exhale’s favor – Dianne Cecere and the ability to pay for the treatment + tip on the gift card. Not in Exhale’s favor – everything else.

Spa Experience #2: Bella Sante, Lexington

Atmosphere: Custance Place Shopping Plaza exterior belies tasteful salon exterior
Scent: White tea & citrus, but not overwhelming
Music annoyance level: 4
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1=ears bleeding, 5=blissed out)

Everything that I didn’t like about the first spa experience, carried over to the second spa experience. Less than gracious front desk reception (I guess I annoyed the front desk woman when I brought my ice scraper into the spa with me. We were midway through a snow storm and I knew there would be 4 inches of snow on the car when I exited – and I was right.)

I was escorted to the locker room, shown how to lock the locker and told where to wait in the waiting area. I sat reading the fashion issue of the Improper Bostonian until Tamara came to get me.

Again, I lucked out with the person assigned to my spa treatment. Tamara was fantastic – calm, quiet, professional. Trained in acupressure, she really worked out the kinks and the tension (some of which was probably caused by the trip to Exhale.) She was an expert and took great care of me.

I returned to the front counter to check out only to have snippy front desk lady tell me that I couldn't use the gift card for the tip. Um, hello – THIS WAS A GIFT. Was I meant to spend money on MY GIFT when there was plenty of money on the GIFT card? Apparently yes. So now I have $20 balance which I need to go and spend on random products. I am displeased.

In Bella Sante’s favor – Tamara, absolutely expert and recommended.
Not in Bella Sante’s favor – everything else, especially having to spend my money on a GIFT that was GIFTED to me. As in a GIFT.

No more spa treatments, ever. I couldn't possibly stand the relaxation.

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