One of the things that repeat cruisers learn on larger ships such as Ruby Princess is that one of the first things you do on the first day of your cruise is head over and make a spa reservation, because they fill up fast. No surprise, given the number of people you see walking around with blissed-out expressions.
Here's my Q&A with Aretha Hunter-Morgan, the spa director on Ruby Princess, conducted in the foyer of the ship's Lotus Spa near the end of an idyllic sailing along the Mexican Riviera.
Tell us a little about your background in cruising.
Aretha Hunter-Morgan: Well, I’ve been on Princess ships for over 15 years. I started first as a nail technician, then I worked on my leadership skills and eventually became a spa manager. I’ve been a spa manager for the last five years. I love it.
Just so I’m clear, what is the relationship between Princess and Steiner?
At Steiner we branch out to all the cruise lines, we own spas pretty much in all the cruise lines. So the spa is owned by Steiner and everything else is owned by the cruise line.
Do you work strictly on Ruby Princess?
No, I move around. This is my second year on the Ruby. After your first contract with Steiner is done, you can request where you want to go. If it’s available, they send you there. But it’s my second time on Ruby and I’m almost finished. Then I am going to the Regal Princess. So something different — it’s a beautiful ship. I’ll go there in June.
For those who've never been on a cruise or been to a spa, what do they need to know?
The first thing I like to tell my guests, the first thing they must do when they board is to go to the spa. Within the first day’s time, it is always very difficult to get an appointment, to reserve the space.
What do they find here?
In the spa we offer multiple things: all the different treatments, we have the VIP thermal suite, that is the total relaxation area. If you want to unwind, just get away from everyone, that is the place you must be.
Please tell us about some of the different features.
With the thermal suite, it features two steam rooms, it has a sauna, and then we have a heated ceramic bed so they are warm when you lay on those — totally relaxing. It's just the area to get away, to relax. It always have a fragrance to it, which we change each day. We use lemongrass, and we have one suite with no fragrance for those who don’t like fragrance.
So it’s just like a subtle aroma in the room.
Yes, it’s to help relax the body. We have steam and sauna to get those pores open, and this helps to mentally relax, to destress the body.
I was going to ask how a spa can contribute to a person’s wellness.
With a spa operation, it is all about wellness, relaxation. We offer a lot of different treatments in the spa, based on the information we get about the passengers. The first thing I ask passengers is, Are you looking for relaxation, are you looking for pleasure, or pain, because we have deep tissue massages.
We have to get at them really hard. We have a bamboo massage with really warm bamboo shoots, and we roll them onto the body, with deep pressure. For relaxation, we have hot stones on top of the person, it helps relax the muscles and destress the body. You feel very relaxed after a hot stones massage.
What are some of the other treatments?
We have the Chocolate Indulgence package, we just introduced it five months ago. We use chocolate and do a full body exfoliation, then we do a chocolate mask to get a mini facial. Scalp massage, foot massage. Some of the ladies love this. You do smell divine, like chocolate, and it leaves the skin very smooth as well.
What’s the other one, seaweed?
Yes, Aroma Spa Seaweed. The seaweed is a very intense treatment, because that one is detoxifying the body. So that is part of continuing education, we have been trained to ask the guests if they are allergic to iodine, seafood, algae. Some of the guests with a lot of arthritis pain, fibromyalgia aches and pains, this really helps to ease the pain. It is the longest benefit massage we have in the spa. Lasts up to five weeks. So you have a Swedish massage, and you are really relaxed. With the algae, you cleanse the muscles, it removes the lactic acid and tension from the body, and you’re going to feel relaxed and beneficial from that one.
Are there certain spa treatments that are tailored for certain age groups?
No, not really. Bamboo massage, we wouldn’t recommend it to someone 65 and up. The body can get fragile as you get older We’d recommend seaweed number one, and definitely hot stone. We have a Thai Poultice as well, this is Thai and Chinese herbs infused and that is very good if you have stress in the muscles.
I haven't heard of Thai Poultice.
We have it on all the Princess ships. We have another called called Coconut Thai Poultice — it’s all coconut extract and Thai. It's excellent if you find the skin very dry, and we use it on the face as well.
All of these treatments are available on any Princess ship?
Yes, on all the Princess ships and what we have put together from the office in Steiner. We create this discount, it’s called 10-20-30. Most of the guests want to experience two, three, four of the treatments, we make this 10-20-30 promotion where we start to do discounts where you can get a lot of saving when you experience more than one of our treatments. You get 10% off on your first treatment, 20% off your second treatment, and 30% off your third treatment on the same cruise. All three treatments must be booked at once, and it is per person. You don’t have to have it on the same day, it is just so you start getting some discounts. You can try three, four, five different services and get the savings. And it’s worth it.
What do these cost?
Our signature services are the hot stones and Thai Poultice. They are starting from the price range of $149. You can find our bamboo massage of 50 minutes for $159. The 75-minute treatment and up starts at $195. Plus you can factor in the 10-20-30 savings.
These typically sell out during a cruise?
Yes. The spa gets very busy so you should stop by at the very beginning before it gets booked up.
You're the spa director, so you don’t do hands on?
I don’t. I might if I have a staff down. You have to chip in.
What's your background?
Cosmetology. I used to do nails. Everything in the spa is my domain, so I know what to do as well.
How many staff do you have here?
I have a total of 26 staff. I also have an acupunturist here, I have an MD doctor, I have a barber, nail specialists, hairstylists. I have massage therapists from all over the world.
How does the fitness center fit into the salon?
We call it the Lotus Spa and Fitness Center. The first question a lot of guests ask is, Where's the gym? The gym is complimentary and is open from 6 am until 10 pm. If you're under 16 you must be accompanied by a parent.
And there are other kind of workout routines on board?
Yes, many. What we have are different schedules. We have yoga, Pilates, bootcamp, body sculpting. We educate the passengers that we can sign up for different classes. Or, if they want to just come and use the gym, they can use the treadmill, elliptical, free weights.
Do Pilates and yoga workout routines happen just once on a cruise?
No, it depends on our itinerary. Most of our classes we set at sea time so we have enough people for them. Normally, on a seven-day cruise , we do three classes, one for each sea day. You can do it one shot, or you can do a package of three and get savings.
What about the steam room and sauna?
In the changing rooms, in the men’s and women’s rooms, we have complimentary steam and sauna. Just come in and use it as you like. We also have keyless lockers and they can also lock away their stuff.
The spa sounds like a pretty good revenue center.
Spa is always a great revenue area. What I love about being on Princess is we have a lot of repeat passengers. They always come back again and again. And on Princess, we have Elemis, [a skin care product], at a fantastic rate.
Are there any rules about spa employees dating the passengers?
That's not allowed. Zero tolerance, that’s not allowed. And passengers are not allowed in our crew area, even if invited by a crew member.
Do you get off the ship on port days?
I do, I love to go ashore. When I go ashore I go to the beach, or I go somewhere with wi-fi and talk with my family. Or I like to try different foods, so I try different food when I go out.
Do you head out with different crew members?
My husband is on board, he works in the bar as a bartender, so we always go out together when he has the time. I also go with some of my girls in the spa.
Republished and updated from an earlier version.
In our series Wellness & Fitness
- 7 ways to keep fit on your next cruise
- 10 cruise lines for fitness buffs
- Cruise tips for slimmer sailings
- Cruise ship spas: What to expect & what they cost
- Top spas at luxury cruise lines
- 12 reasons a cruise is a healthy vacation choice
- Seabourn amps up its wellness & fitness offerings
- Getting sick on a cruise ship