Of the many articles I’ve written about the Fantasy so far, just one botched dinner stands out as the negative amidst and ocean of positive. But today I write about the worst experience I had on the Disney Fantasy, as a precautionary (and rather painful) tale with the hope that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Located on decks 11 and 12, forward, the Fantasy’s Senses Spa & Salon offers a wide range of services and treatments, from haircuts and coloring to a variety of massages and acupuncture. A fitness center allows guests to work off the extra pounds earned in the ship’s buffet and teens even have their own private spa area offering unique experiences like a chocolate massage, ice cream mani-pedi, or an “acne attack” facial. It all sounds enticing and enjoyable, which is exactly what it’s designed to be. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it worked out in my experience with the Senses Spa, with a day of relaxation replaced by a week’s worth of soreness and discomfort.
Choose Your Massage Carefully
I knew covering the 3-night Inaugural preview cruise of the Disney Fantasy was going to be fun, but also exhausting trying to see everything the ship offers in the short amount of time provided. My wife Michelle suggested we finish our time there with a massage, so one of the first places we headed when we stepped onboard was the Senses Spa, to book time on the final day of our voyage. There was a line ahead of others ahead of us also booking their treatments and while we waited, a seemingly helpful staff member brought us a card outlining the available massages and corresponding prices.
After perusing the options, we selected the 50-minute “Couples Massage,” as it was written on the card, for $242. The staff member then presented us with a few different options for that massage, including a traditional Swedish massage, an “aroma stone therapy” massage, and a bamboo massage. We are no massage experts, but have had and enjoyed a Swedish massage before. But with the stone massage described to us as featuring heated stones and oils along with traditional massage techniques, we went with that option. Mistake #1.
When we returned for our scheduled time, worn out from running all over the ship for two and a half days, we were ready for some serious relaxation. And it started pleasantly enough, inviting us to change into comfortable robes and sit down in the “relaxation room” until it was time for our massage.
I particularly enjoyed the room’s cushy chairs, quiet environment, and cucumber water.
There we met our masseuse (for Michelle) and masseur (for me), who led us down a tranquil winding hallway to our dimly-lit, but colorful private room where two massage tables awaited us. After settling in, we were each tended to individually, though side-by-side throughout the ordeal that followed.
My masseur asked me if I’d recently had a massage. When I told him I hadn’t, he said he’d go easy on me and to let him know if the pressure was too much. Mistake #2.
He also asked if there were any areas of my body that were particularly problematic, to which I replied my legs were sore from walking around the ship and my upper back was tight from carrying my equipment. He said he’d certainly focus on those areas. Mistake #3.
The 50 minutes that followed consisted of anything but relaxation. The quick foot scrub at the beginning was welcome and the promised hot stones were soothing as they were gently rubbed over my back, legs, arms, and hands. But the majority of the massage, for myself and Michelle, involved extreme pressure being exerted on every muscle, bone, and space in-between, resulting in a lot of wincing, squirming, and ultimately exhaustion. Someone firmly running fingers underneath my shoulder blades and between the bones of my feet does not make for an enjoyable time at sea.
I was later told that what we experienced is called a deep tissue massage. And it was rather excruciating, particularly since we were expecting to feel completely relaxed – not beat up – during the experience. As I wrote above, we are no massage experts. Though who frequently get massages may have seen this situation coming a mile away. But as novices, we weren’t properly informed as to what exactly we had just purchased. The staff member describing the couples massage options to us never once mentioned that it was going to be a deep tissue massage instead of a Swedish massage. And even if she had uttered those terms, I’m not sure I would have known the difference without her explaining it.
Then came the sticker shock. It turns out the stone massage is considerably more expensive than a Swedish massage, with our bill on the way out totaling $318 instead of the expected $242. Not were my muscles feeling pain, but at that moment my wallet was as well. Needless to say, I complained.
Granted this was the Inaugural voyage of the Disney Fantasy and a few kinks were expected. But unfortunately for me and Michelle, our muscles were the victims of one of these kinks, leaving us stiff and sore for the following week. I’m honestly not sure what good a deep tissue massage is, as my muscles feel no better and it certainly wasn’t relaxing, but I’ve been told that it was supposed to clear toxins from my body. Perhaps I didn’t have many toxins to begin with.
The Senses Spa staff was surprised to hear that we didn’t enjoy our massages and worked to correct the issue in the best way they could. They gave us the $242 price we thought we were getting and I received a call from the spa manager a few minutes later inviting both of us to return for the rest of the day to enjoy their Rainforest experience, a $32 value. (More on that below.)
I’m still not happy about paying hundreds of dollars in exchange for nearly an hour of pain and a week’s worth of sore muscles, but at least I learned a few lessons from the experience that I now pass on to you, correcting each of the mistakes listed above.
Solution to Mistake #1: Be informed. Ask questions. If you’re booking a massage or any other treatment in the Senses Spa, make sure you know what you’re paying for and how much it will be up front, to avoid surprises later. Don’t feel intimidated if you don’t know the difference between a Swedish massage and “Elemis Aroma Stone Therapy.” I certainly didn’t and I paid the price for it.
Below are the official descriptions of two of the massages offered at the Senses Spa, the first a Swedish massage and the second the stone massage we received:
This massage for couples seamlessly combines 10 exotic cultural touches—including Swedish and Deep Tissue techniques—to create a relaxing and beneficent experience for the each of you. The massage that’s heaven for individuals becomes a shared journey into blissful relaxation for two. When booking this treatment, only one name from your party is needed to reserve.
This soothing stone therapy harnesses the ancient power of Basalt stones to melt away tension and deliver a deep-penetrating therapy for the muscles. The heated volcanic stones are placed on key energy points while warmed oils are worked gently into the body with traditional massage techniques. This holistic approach to relaxation is as sensual as it is effective.
Ironically, the former mentions “deep tissue” while the latter does not. The “deep-penetrating therapy” of the stones was the only enjoyable part of the experience. The phrases “melt away tension,” “worked gently,” and “relaxation” should not be used to describe this treatment. Instead, I would choose “deeply painful” and perhaps “muscle abusing.”
Solution to Mistake #2: Stop your massage if you’re not enjoying it. Neither Michelle nor I spoke up during the massage as we winced in pain, assuming it would either get better or that all the pain would somehow be worth it in the end. It wasn’t. If your masseuse asks to be told if the pressure is too much, make sure to say something. I should have. And don’t assume the treatment will get better. In fact, it will likely get worse.
Solution to Mistake #3: Despite the fact that I mentioned that my legs were sore, the majority of the massage was focused on my back. If you don’t like the way your massage is going, put a stop to it and make sure you get what you want, not what they think you need. You’re the one paying for it.
Hopefully our pain will be your pleasure should you decide to book a massage on the Disney Fantasy, Disney Dream, or any other Disney Cruise Line ship. Choose wisely.
I did accept the spa manager’s invitation to return later in the day to try the Rainforest experience. Beyond the salon and massage treatment rooms, the Senses Spa features an exclusive area dubbed the “Rainforest” featuring a unique variety of showers, saunas, jacuzzis, and other amenities. It costs $16 per day for access with a week-long pass also available on the Fantasy.
Though the Rainforest only mildly helped the soreness I was feeling from the massage a few hours earlier, it was an enjoyable, and at times fun, experience that I would recommend trying, at least for a day. The video below offers a quick tour around the Rainforest area, including a quick dip into each of the light and aromatherapy rich showers.
Video: Senses Spa Rainforest on the Disney Fantasy
The Rainforest showers are quite the eye-opener, not only for their vibrant rainbow of colors but for the experiences within. A trio of buttons inside each stall rains a variety of water pressures, colors, scents, and temperatures down onto those inside. Inspired by tropical storms and other naturally wet occurrences around the world, it’s a mixture of enjoyable and surprise.
The Cool Mist Experience is exactly what it sounds like, spraying ice cold mist onto those stepping inside. I personally couldn’t enjoy this cold shower, but those coming from a hot workout in the nearby fitness center might finding it soothing.
Tropical Thunder and Rainforest alternate between lightning effects, mist, small rain, heavy rain, and hot and cold waters, with both shocking and satisfying feelings guaranteed to wake the body up. I personally preferred the warm water option of Tropical Thunder the most. And Water Fun is just wacky, with water sprayed from every which way.
The Rainforest is a co-ed experience, so all are required to wear bathing suits throughout. It’s private to those who have paid to get in, but not as private as a locker room or changing area.
Those looking for a dryer time can try the Hamam (steam bath), Caldarium (steam room) and Laconium (dry sauna).
The Hamam and Caldarium were too hot for me, though they likely would have done wonders for my sore muscles after the unenjoyable massage earlier in the day. I did find the heated seats of the Laconium to be relaxing.
The Rainforest’s balcony featuring heated lounge chairs and two colorfully-illuminated jacuzzi hot tubs is a highlight of the area. It’s rather serene and offers a wonderful panoramic view of the passing ocean.
It was on this balcony that I witnessed the horn battle as the Disney Fantasy pulled alongside the Disney Dream at sea:
The Rainforest, in all, is a great add-on to a Disney Fantasy vacation, offering a getaway from the getaway as a little slice of quiet privacy amidst all the ship’s excitement, even more private than the available adults-only areas.
Though I greatly appreciated the invitation to experience it, it ultimately did not sooth my aching muscles. The massage we received is not the massage we paid for and I hope that Disney Cruise Line does a better job in communicating with its guests exactly what each of its Senses Spa treatments entail, and how much they cost, before booking. At the time, I felt like I asked enough questions about the massage and had it clearly explained to me, but that ended up not being the case. There are no silly questions and you can’t ask enough of them. If you’ll be trusting your body to someone for an hour or more while you’re on vacation, you should make sure you’ll come out of it feeling better, not writhing in pain all the way home.
More photos from the Senses Spa and Rainforest: