There are spas, and then there are spaaaahs (emphasis on the aaah). The spa at Grand Velas Riviera Maya is the latter, a sanctuary so removed from the noise and stress of the outside world that it feels as if you are actually in another world.
Naturally, there are all the standard issue luxuries one expects in a spa: robes and sandals and spiritual music playing in the background, plus soft, poofy couches for reading magazines and drinking tea after your massage. There's a 360 view of the jungle that surrounds the spa – an actual jungle, not a Disney-fied design element that mimics a jungle – and a treatment menu that includes services based on ancient healing techniques from India and Mexico. (Many of the treatments feature earth- and plant-based products used in Mayan culture, among them coffee, vanilla, honey, and lemon herb.)
But it's not the jungle or the fluffy slippers or the natural products that make the spa so otherworldly – though, to be fair, each of these sets you on the path to the “other world” and are, therefore, an important part of the experience; rather, it's the Spa Water Journey at Grand Velas Riviera Maya that's the real escape. And by “escape”, I mean escape from yourself.
The journey starts with a shower and several brief alternations between the dry sauna and herbal steam room with color therapy. (Subtle lighting in the steam room shifts almost imperceptibly from mint green to petal pink to sea blue.) After your pores are sufficiently opened and you are sufficiently chilled out, your guide – because every journey requires a guide – shows you to the clay room, where you're provided with a small cup of clay to massage into your skin, hair, and nails.
It feels odd at first – the room is damp and the tiles you sit on while applying the clay are cold – but something happens, a surrendering of sorts, after your entire body is covered in what is basically mud; you forget that your bikini is too small or that work is killing you or that the kids have a class project due the day after you get home from vacation. Everything melts, sort of like the clay, and you sink into the quietest, most peaceful part of yourself, that remote and hard to find place in your mind that knows everything is going to be fine.
Now calmer than you've been in months, your next stop is the ice room. It sounds counterintuitive – you likely came to Mexico to get away from the cold – but it's all part of your journey to relaxation Mecca. (And you're only in there long enough to shock your skin and possibly, your assumptions – What is hot? What is cold? What is the meaning of life?)
It's now on to the actual water part of your water journey.
You walk along a pebbled path – a nice massage for your toes – to an enormous atrium with floor to sky high windows that show off the jungle that surrounds you. There are large and small whirpools and waterfalls everywhere. If you close your eyes, it sounds like you are at the epicenter of multiple crashing waves.
The first stop in the atrium is the hot walk. (Not its proper name, but an appropriate one.) The hot walk is composed of two lap pools set side by side. One is hot, the other cool. Both are shallow. The idea is to walk in the hot pool first – about 30 feet – and chase it with an equal length walk in the cool pool. Repeat three times.
Though I'm not sure of the hot walk's physical health benefits, it's a great way to get silly and shake off fears, the spiritual, mental, and emotional benefits of which are many. (And it's not scalding hot. It's just warm enough to make you feel brave for having “conquered” it.)
Next up is the warm pool with waterfalls, bubble volcanoes, and neck jets. Basically, this is a large, bean-shaped pool lined with areas to get water massages that soothe your neck and back muscles.
Lastly, there's the polar pool, but be warned: polar pool is the proper name – like, the one assigned by Grand Velas – and it is, indeed, polar. Of the ten or so people that were in the atrium when I was there, only two others dared dip in the polar pool. I was one of them, and though it's definitely cold, I highly recommend doing it. Your skin will tingle, your nerve endings will awaken and your mind will jump over that invisible hurdle that says “no” to all the things you want to try but are too scared. (And after you've done it, as with everything scary that isn't actually all that bad, you'll wonder what you were afraid of.)
The Spa Water Journey isn't remarkable because it's pretty or relaxing or the penultimate pampering experience, though it is all of those things. It's remarkable because it shifts the needle on your internal compass, the one that points you towards peace or chaos, joy or sadness, hope or resignation, by addressing all of your emotional and physical senses. It sets the stage for growth, which is the real life-changer.