The spa experience, afloat on a ship, takes relaxation to the next level. Imagine drifting into bliss with a full-body massage, soothed by the real-life sounds of the ocean instead of a recording.

From facials to fillers, almost every treatment offered on land can be enjoyed at sea. Smaller ships may only have one room for spa services, but most ships dedicate a large area to decadence, with multiple rooms, hair and nail salons, and luxurious thermal suites.

Thermal suites are a unique cruising joy, allowing a quiet escape from the rest of the ship. The Enclave, on Princess Cruises, comprises a Turkish-style hammam, hydrotherapy pool, steam room and sauna. Viking showcases the benefits of Nordic traditions with alternating hot and cold encounters, such as snow rooms and dunking ice buckets. Celebrity Cruises’ Edge Class ships have a rainfall water therapy room, swinging chairs for meditation and a ‘Crystalarium’ filled with aromatherapy crystals. Cunard has meditation rooms equipped with acoustic loungers and sound therapy facilities. After a steam session in its thermal suite, P&O offers a DIY body exfoliation to use under powerful monsoon showers. Some of the Carnival Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages ships have mud rooms, where you (and your partner) can be slathered in mud for some therapeutic fun. 

Virgin Voyages has a range of active things to do on their ships
Virgin Voyages has a range of active things to do on their ships

In the treatment rooms, beauty services include high-tech facials, body wraps and scrubs, manicures, pedicures, waxing, spray tanning, lash extensions, brow grooming, hair styling and men’s barber and shave services. Solo or couples massages may incorporate hot stones, salt, seaweed, oil, herbs or chocolate. Medi-spa services include teeth whitening, injectables (Botox) and acupuncture. 

Some cruise lines allow passengers to book treatments on their website before departure, but most prefer guests to make appointments on board at the spa’s reception or by calling from the telephone in your cabin. On luxury ships, your butler can make bookings for you.

Be aware that prices will be higher than the cost at your local spa, and a gratuity of 15–20 per cent is automatically added. Discounts may be offered on days when the ship is docked at a port, which tends to be less busy, or if you purchase multiple treatments. Products are also available for buy after your treatment, but there is no obligation to purchase.

For unwinding outside the spa, many ships have adults-only relaxation areas on the upper decks. Usually located outdoors with panoramic ocean views, these spaces may have plush sunbeds, chillout music, pools, hot tubs, cabanas, bars and waiters to deliver snacks and drinks. 

Beyond these indulgences, spa-inspired offerings on cruise ships extend to special accommodation, cuisine, shore excursions, seminars and even entire voyages devoted to mind and body. 

Paul Gauguin's wellness experiences extend off the ship
Paul Gauguin’s wellness experiences extend off the ship

One of the most exclusive experiences is Goop at Sea with Gwyneth Paltrow, who partners with Celebrity Cruises. This group trip involves spiritual, mental and physical workshops, as well as a ‘live conversation’ hosted by Gwyneth herself. Seabourn organises an annual voyage with integrative medicine guru Dr Andrew Weil, who hosts a mindful living program to help reduce stress and anxiety. Guided meditation, yoga, crystal sound baths, acupuncture, massages and herbal medicine consultations are among the options. 

When visiting ports of call, some cruise lines sell shore excursions with a health or fitness focus. The best example is Oceania’s Wellness Discovery Tours where you can try things such as reflexology on a rice barge in Bangkok, soaking in ancient mineral baths in Italy or practising qigong in the rainforest village of Kuranda, near Cairns.

Nutrition is key to wellness, so cruise lines have no shortage of lighter foods to keep the wellbeing feeling alive. Oceania has one of the most extensive plant-based and healthy menus at sea, plus smoothie and juice bars. Azamara is also renowned for its vegan and vegetarian selection. Celebrity Cruises has a Spa Café serving smoothies, juices and acai bowls, while Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships have the Vitality Café juice bar.

If you take your spa seriously, book a cabin near the facilities so you can wander down in your (provided) bathrobe and slippers. Celebrity’s AquaClass suites come with a spa concierge to assist with bookings, a yoga mat and free access to the thermal suite, fitness classes and Blu, an upscale restaurant serving health-conscious meals. Scenic Eclipse’s spa suites boast a huge Jacuzzi bath designed by Philippe Starck and mist showers featuring light therapy and guests receive a complimentary one-hour treatment. Azamara, Carnival, Holland America Line, Seabourn, MSC, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line also have spa accommodation options.  

Silversea has introduced an all-encompassing spa concept called Otium, which brings the spa life inside your suite. With everything complimentary, let your imagination run wild. Unwind in a candlelit, patchouli-scented bath prepared by your butler, accompanied by Champagne and caviar, before snuggling into your pillow-top bed wrapped in Egyptian cotton sheets to watch a movie with truffle-flavoured popcorn and a martini. Heaven!

Ponant passenger sits in the spa.
Wellness at sea with Ponant