Royal Denship Force Blue, Fraser Yachts, Superyacht
The 207-foot Royal Denship Force Blue, with Fraser Yachts, has one of the most expansive spa spaces in the global charter fleet.Courtesy Fraser Yachts

My first experience with a true onboard spa was more than a decade ago, aboard the 325-foot Canadian Vickers Christina O. I remember touring the yacht and wandering into a room that a stewardess called a spa; it was actually a full-size beauty salon. The space went far beyond the occasional massage table that was found aboard charter yachts back then. It had nicer chairs for haircuts and coloring than some of the spas I'd seen in London and Manhattan. At the time, a spa of that nature was so unusual as a charter-yacht feature that it nearly seemed out of place.

As things turn out, the space was ahead of its time. Today’s superyachts come out of the shipyards with vast amounts of real estate devoted to spas, fitness areas, saunas, treatment rooms, aromatherapy, massage — a few even have juice bars where regular cocktail bars used to be.

325-foot Canadian Vickers Christina O, Camper & Nicholsons, Superyacht
The 325-foot Canadian Vickers Christina O, built in 1943 and once owned by Aristotle Onassis, was one of the first luxury yachts to offer charter clients a true onboard spa experience. She charters today with Camper & Nicholsons International, and the spa program is still very much a part of what makes a week aboard special.Courtesy Camper & Nicholsons

And if client demand is an indicator, there is more to come. As Jason Macaree, the director of Reymond Langton Design, put it in the recent “State of Wealth, Luxury and Yachting” report from Wealth-X and Camper & Nicholsons International: “We think that the spa experience is accelerating, and I am sure this will make for some interesting space concepts in the next few years.”

The client desire to enjoy healthy indulgences while maintaining a regimen of well-being on vacation is also changing the way charter yachts are staffed. Captains now seek chefs who not only can produce gourmet seven-course tasting dinners, but also excel at everything from vegan to paleo to Atkins diet recipes. I once spent a few days aboard the 114-foot Sunreef Che off the coast of St. Barth, where French wines and cheeses flow freely. On board, though, the chef's specialty was macrobiotic menus — think miso-soup cleansers for breakfast and bloody marys made with fresh-squeezed tomato juice. (There was an actual look of horror in the galley when I uttered the words "chicken parmesan.")

Stewardesses and deckhands who can serve double duty as personal trainers and massage therapists are finding themselves in great demand aboard charter yachts too. On larger builds that carry more crew, dedicated positions for staff with serious spa experience are now as common as crew spots for bosuns with divemaster training.

Burgess Yachts, Grace E, Superyacht, Charter
The 239-foot Picchiotti Grace E markets its spa program by encouraging charter guests to "step into this tranquil zone, relax, unwind and breathe." Brokers with Burgess Yachts can help charter clients organize everything from head and neck massages to exfoliations before stepping aboard.Couresty Burgess Yachts

"I am new to the yachting industry, but have been practicing my trade for approximately six years," says Trista Spolarich, who represents the new breed of spa experts found aboard some charter yachts. She runs the program on the 163-foot converted naval vessel Plan B, which charters through Ocean Independence. "I am a chiropractor by trade, with additional experience and certifications in Thai yoga massage, sports and deep-tissue massage, acupressure and Rolfing techniques.

I decided to pursue these soft-tissue techniques in addition to my doctorate as a wellness tool. The more techniques I learn, the more knowledge I gain, and the more likely I can help clients achieve relief and optimal well-being more quickly.”

Spolarich is many levels above what most people think of as an onboard masseuse, and a growing number of charter yachts have spa menus that reflect the talents of crew like her. The 207-foot Royal Denship Force Blue, which charters through Fraser Yachts, offers a steam shower, hydro-massage Jacuzzi, sauna, mud bath, hair salon and massage room. Charter guests can book facials, waxing, mani-pedis — just about anything they might find on a spa menu back home.

Burgess Yachts, Grace E, aromatherapy, massages
Laura Shiels aboard Grace E, Shiels offers everything from aromatherapy to deep-tissue and Indian head massages.Courtesy Burgess Yachts

Laura Shiels, who is the spa therapist aboard the 239-foot Picchiotti Grace E, with Burgess Yachts, helps guests relax and make use of the yacht's sauna, cold-dip plunge pool, hydrotherapy bath, serenity room, massage tables and more.

“Besides having an entire deck dedicated to the spa and wellness program, we offer a wide variety of treatments in our spa,” Shiels says. “You have the option of having treatments customized to suit your needs. Relax and release tension with a Swedish, deep-tissue or Indian head massage, or unwind and indulge in a hot stone or aromatherapy massage. Reinvigorate with a sweet-and-savory full-body exfoliation, or treat your hands and feet to a manicure or pedicure. We also offer brow shaping and threading.”

Feadship Lady Britt, Superyacht, Edmiston
The 207-foot Feadship Lady Britt, which charters through Edmiston, devotes much of her sun-deck space to fitness and well-being features. She has an air-conditioned gym, Finnish sauna and wellness spa with qualified Elemis beautician on her sun-deck level.Courtesy Edmiston

Shiels is also discovering that Grace E guests who might not be "spa types" are making use of some of the spa spaces, the ones designed for unwinding at pretty much any time of day.

“Our relaxation room is a wonderful feature,” she says. “Light fills this tranquil and open room with an uninterrupted panoramic view. Relax and unwind before or after your treatment, watch the day go by or settle down to watch the sunset. There is a certain air of elegance to this room, which allows the guests to escape while enjoying their time on board.”

Royal Denship Force Blue, Fraser Yachts, Superyacht
Walking into the spa on Force Blue means coming out from the harsh sunshine and into a space whose light, scents and spaces are in harmony.Courtesy Fraser Yachts

A word with Lara-Jo Houghting

Lara-Jo Houghting is a charter manager at Churchill Yacht Partners. She's also a licensed massage therapist, so she knows a thing or two about selecting a yacht with a top-notch spa program. Her fleet includes the 162-foot Christensen Remember When, which has a spa therapist as part of the crew.

How can clients tell if an onboard spa space is ideal? When you're a licensed massage therapist on land, you have a studio, a controlled environment that keeps distractions, temperature, noise, even smells to a limit. On a yacht, you're dealing with crew and guests running around, smells from the galley, temperature fluctuations, movement from the yacht. Look for a designated area on board for spa treatments, misters or air conditioning if outdoors, and privacy shades so you feel comfortable.

What kinds of clients seek out spa charters? We've seen an increase in ladies-only charters, making for a great girls' getaway. Whether it's a divorce celebration or five lady couples or mom-daughter-granddaughter quality time, a yacht offering a spa program would be a terrific fit.

Can a charter yacht without a dedicated therapist still offer great spa services? Yes. A third stewardess/massage therapist would need to toggle both jobs while guests are on board. The yacht would most likely have a limit to the number of hours of massage therapy that can be provided per day, but the quality of the treatments would still be the same.