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Vacationers embrace floating spas

Americans love aromatherapy massages and body wraps. Signaling a growing trend, 54 percent of travelers surveyed by the Travel Industry Association of America last year were interested in going to a spa for their vacation, including 28 percent who were more interested than five years before.

If you’re among them and have been debating whether to visit a spa or go places such as Aruba, Alaska or Australia this year, it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. There are spas that go places with you - floating ones onboard cruise ships.

Besides the spa treatments, passengers aboard cruise ships can attend wellness seminars, work out at well-equipped gyms and receive personalized advice by a fitness trainer. “They can actually disembark their ship in even better physical condition than when they began their vacations,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 21 cruise lines.

In addition, passengers can have fun - and relax.

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“I’ve been waiting all year for this,” exclaimed a passenger from Los Angeles we met as she entered the thalassotherapy pool at the “AquaSpa” aboard Celebrity’s Mercury cruise ship during a May trip to Alaska.

A retired teacher who suffers from arthritis, she spent a half-hour in the bubbly salt-water pool that is heated to body temperature and has pipes to massage the neck and shoulders, jets for the back and legs, and an “airbed” for reclining over additional jets that give the sensation of floating. She followed the session in the pool with a massage.

To ensure choice of treatments and time - the ship has only so much therapeutic mud onboard to go around and just so many days in which to apply it - it’s best to make appointments the first day of the cruise, said Suriya Soonthornnon, Mercury’s AquaSpa manager. “On vacation, people have more time to focus on themselves, and many do. It’s all about relaxation and rejuvenation,” he said.

As many others, the Mercury’s AquaSpa is managed by Steiner Leisure, a British company that operates spas on more than 115 ships. Each offers European-style treatments and services such as hot stone massages and seaweed wraps.

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On a ship’s spa, like on a day spa on land, you pay for the services you use (packages are available). Prices are comparable and sometimes lower than at land-based facilities. The seminars and many exercise classes are complimentary; some, such as yoga and Pilates, have a $10-15 fee.

But the overall vacation cost can be considerably lower. The fares on the Mercury cruise we took to three ports and Hubbard Glacier in Alaska started at $749 for seven nights ($107 per night). On land-based spas such as The Setai in Miami Beach, Fla., during the same May period, rates were $595 per night; at the Enchantment Resort’s Mii Amo Spa in Sedona, Ariz., rates started at $395 per night.

The AquaSpa aboard the Mercury is more than 10,000 square feet and has an ocean-view gymnasium with cardiovascular and weight machines and aerobics area, and a beauty salon offering hair styling, manicures and pedicures. Personal trainers, sauna, and a jogging track are available. Meals in the dining room, included in the price of passage, have low-fat and vegetarian selections.

On Celebrity’s bigger ships: Millennium, Infinity, Summit, and Constellation, the AquaSpas are more than 25,000 square feet and have a cafe adjacent to the spa serving light cuisine all day. The flavorful dishes - we love them - include papaya slices and liquid yogurt for breakfast and chilled strawberry soup, Mediterranean salad and grilled chicken and salmon for lunch and dinner.

For information, visit www.celebrity.com. Other floating spas we have enjoyed are onboard the ships of Royal Caribbean, with themed facilities that include decor, art and artifacts of a particular location such as ancient Egypt or classical Rome (www.royalcaribbean.com).

Humberto and Georgina Cruz are a husband-and-wife writing team who work together in this column and communicate about their retirement plans. Send questions and comments to AskHumberto@aol.com or GVCruz@aol.com.