We’re less than a week away from Spa Week , which offers deep discounts at local spas — $50 massages, facials, mani/pedis, salt-scrubs and every other treatment you can imagine. To help navigate all the deals out there, we asked spa and travel writer McLean Robbins to join us on this week’s Got Plans?
Before you send in your questions, get to know a little bit about Robbins, her favorite spas and some tips for bachelorettes.
Tell us about you. How did you end up an expert writing about spas and travel and fashion?
I’m really really lucky! Kidding. I majored in English and journalism at Wake Forest and nabbed an editorial internship with Washingtonian during my junior year of college. We were working on a “100 Best Stores in D.C.” package at the time, and I loved to shop. It was a natural fit. I continued fact-checking and writing regularly when I graduated, working with great publications like DC: Modern Luxury and DailyCandy, where I wrote about everything from new restaurants to fashion shows.
I’ve always loved spas and had the opportunity to work on a number of stories about new spas coming to the area -- like the Jefferson and Bliss at the W. As those properties opened, I started covering travel as well. Now that’s where I spend most of my time. I love the luxury market (who wouldn’t?) and really think it’s important to convey a “real” experience to the reader.
Spa Week is coming up. Are there any new/novel services are out there that people might want to try while the promotion is going on? Any spas that newbies should hit?
Spa Week is ... the spa version of Restaurant Week, and it has the same pluses and minuses. The treatments are usually pretty straightforward -- spas usually offer a massage, a facial, and a pedicure, or, if you’re lucky, a mani/pedi combo. I look for those that are regular services on the menu discounted to $50 for Spa Week, and those that are a full hour, not 50 or 45 minutes. I also try to avoid anything with “express” in the title -- it usually means the service isn’t as thorough as a regular spa treatment would be, and thus not as relaxing or effective. A facial, for example, might not include extractions in the “express” version, and thus the cleaning isn’t as deep.
If you’ve never had a massage, that’s a great way to start your Spa Week experience. Opt for a “Swedish” or “relaxation” massage if you’re worry about the pressure being too deep. Hot stone treatments are also great ways to relax. If you’re squeamish about being naked (don’t be, it’s totally professional!) try a Thai massage -- you’ll get great relaxing stretches, but you wear yoga clothes.
Facials are great, too. Just don’t try a peel or deep extractions before a big event. You might break out.
Spas I love for Spa Week include Red Door -- their signature Stress Melter ritual (a wrap, scrub, and lotion application) is super relaxing and normally more than $200. I personally love the Willard location because it feels more resort-like than the others. Parma, just outside Tysons Corner, is great for spa-goers looking to try something new: They specialize in Ayurvedic medicine and have an Ayurvedic massage on their menu. Some of the Baltimore spas are also offering great treatments: One has a shellac mani/pedi on the menu, which is great because your nails and toes will look perfect for up to 14 days, and another has a 120-minute scrub and wrap.
Try to book during weekday hours as spas are less crowded and you’re likely to get a better service. Arrive 15 minutes early to fill out any needed forms and start your relaxing, and stick around before or after to use saunas or steam rooms. One last thing: Tip on the full price of the treatment, please! It’s customary to tip like you would in a restaurant, up to 20 percent.
We’re in the era of Living Social and Groupon spa deals. What’s your take on getting a discount voucher for spa services? How do they differ from the Spa Week experience?
It’s a generalization, but with spas, you often get what you pay for. Those that are discounting their services aren’t full for a reason. It’s the same reason that many of D.C.’s best spas aren’t participating in Spa Week: They can’t handle the extra business as they’re already full. When I use a discounted booking site, I tend to use Gilt City or RueLaLa, members-only sites that have limited D.C.-area deals and are known for their higher-end products. Those sites tend to have better spas in their offerings.
An exception? I got a Groupon for Spa World out in Centerville to lower my entrance fee by half. It was totally worth the $18!
We’re almost into bridal season. Any great salons out there for bridal makeup? Is there a fast, inexpensive place for the bridal party to get glam? And where would you go if you wanted to plan a pre-wedding girls’ day out?
I’d suggest actually using a makeup artist who will come to your house or hotel and work with you and your bridal party. Laura Bateman, Kat Aragon and Victoria Stiles all do a great job.
In terms of salons to get glam, I love Nectar Skin Bar in Georgetown. They do a wonderful job with facials and have an awesome little garden out back where you could host a bridal shower or bachelorette spa day. Sugar House and Lorien Hotel & Spa in Old Town are also great for this. If you wanted to do it all — hair, spa and makeup -- I’d try Toka or the new Luigi Parasmo salon. In terms of luxe, the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental do a great job, and the boutique spa at the Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown is great for a small spa day with your ‘maids. Sesen, out in Vienna, is great for pedicures and they have a pretty extensive menu of offerings. Emerald Door, in Maryland, is equally good. I’d bring all of my girlfriends out there for a bridal spa day. Nusta is also great for a spa day for gals.
I wish we had a great option like DryBar for blowouts or 20 Lounge for nails that was both discount and chic. I’d still suggest booking an appointment at MAC: They’ll do a full face of makeup for $50 in product purchase, which is pretty easy to achieve. Sephora will do the same if you reserve in advance. For mani/pedis (I never splurge on these -- I just make sure the salon is clean), I love Coco Nail & Spa near my house in Ballston. They use hot stones in their pedicures.
Any good getaways within three hours of Washington that you’d recommend for spas and ambience?
I wish we had more. I spent a weekend at the Mandarin Oriental earlier this year and an afternoon at the spa there felt like a whole vacation. Spa Minerale, out in Lansdowne, is our nearest “resort” spa, and [it’s] only a 30-to-45-minute drive. The new Four Seasons in Baltimore is gorgeous, and their facilities and treatment quality rival the best I’ve had around the world. Beyond those, I’d suggest Linden Spa at The Inn at Perry Cabin or Nemacolin in Pennsylvania for a great getaway.