No amenities and face visors: how a trip to a hotel spa in Dubai has changed

Going to the spa was always an intimate experience, so has that changed?

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That's the word I would use to describe a trip to one of Dubai's spas right now, days after the government eased restrictions, allowing them to reopen.

What was once an opulent affair, steeped in excess, is now scaled back and minimalist.

But that's not a bad thing.

While most of Dubai's spas are busy prepping their premises to strictly adhere to the health and safety guidelines they must now operate within and are yet to reopen, several have been quick off the mark to throw their doors open again.

Anantara The Palm Dubai, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Taj Dubai and Atlantis, The Palm, are among a number back in operation.

So what's such an intimate experience like in a world with Covid-19? And are you still getting value for money, considering many of the facilities are still closed?

We visited Atlantis's ShuiQi Spa to find out.

How the spa safety precautions impact your experience  

The guidelines for reopening are strict for spas and massage parlours in Dubai.

For a start, steam rooms, saunas, inhalation rooms, ice rooms, Jacuzzis, hot baths and hammams are not allowed to reopen yet, so if you're here for the whole experience, it's probably best to save your money and wait.

Staff and visitors must wear face masks, there are strict hand-washing routines for therapists to follow and social distancing must be maintained.

Shared amenity kits in changing areas must be removed and replaced with individually wrapped versions placed in lockers. Food and drinks must be served in disposable containers, and self-service water dispensers must be replaced by sealed water bottles or machine dispensers.

Dubai's spas reopen with safety in mind

Dubai's spas reopen with safety in mind

The circular also specifies that creams and scrubs have to be applied using disposable wooden sticks.

So we enter ShuiQi with trepidation, wary that we might be let down by a once favoured Dubai pastime.

Before we reach the entrance, we are temperature-checked and given a cool towel. However, this once refreshing wipe now also has sanitiser in its solution.

The front desk staff are all wearing masks, so other than not being able to see their pearly whites and the social distancing stickers on the floor, that process remains the same.

And while it's quiet now, with only a few people around, it's likely not to stay that way for long.

Rosemary Read-Larsen, director of ShuiQui Spa and Fitness, says that on Tuesday morning alone, she'd taken 120 bookings for the coming days. Forty-two people had been booked in for Wednesday alone; not bad, considering the spa would take 60 to 100 bookings on a normal weekday before the pandemic.

How spa treatments have changed

But it's once you venture into the spa itself that things look a little different. The changing rooms, once resplendent with amenities, now seems bare. Gone are the piles of fluffy white towels, bottled water and beauty kits. What remains is a stark room, where inside your locker, lies a plastic-coated robe and slippers. Oh, and there is hand sanitiser everywhere.

There are plenty of signs around informing us that the surfaces are newly sanitised and safe, and that there is a capacity limit of six people.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Ashleigh Stewart. Lifestyle. Rosemary Read-Larsen, ShuiQi Spa & Fitness director at the Atlantis hotel. Spas and massage salons in Dubai have received the green light to resume services. Tuesday, July 7th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Rosemary Read-Larsen, director, ShuiQi Spa and Fitness, says, its 'not the spa I love'. Chris Whiteoak / The National

When you're in the treatment room, to be honest, it barely seems any different – other than the fact the therapist is wearing a full face visor, and a face mask.

All the equipment is also coming straight out of more plastic coating, too, just for some extra reassurance. Therapists here don't wear gloves, but there is definitely an indoctrinated rule about cleanliness, with renewed focus placed on hand-washing and sanitising.

ShuiQi doesn't use disposable wooden sticks to apply its products, but disposable fan brushes instead, as not to take away from the experience.

Perhaps the biggest change might be in the relaxation room, which you're generally taken to after a treatment. I'm told there was once a veritable buffet of snacks and teas on offer, but now, there is one lone basket of crisps. However, your therapist will bring you a hot ginger tea and a bottle of water, so you're not going completely without. Every second reclining chair is out of action, to ensure social distancing.

So in all, if you can handle a post-facial world without a snack buffet, and don't mind minimalism, then a spa treatment should still be on the agenda. Especially as many hotels, as they reopen their spas, have that in mind and are offering deals and discounts to get people through the doors.

After all, Read-Larsen says, spas were already "extremely hygienic places before the pandemic, now that's just heightened".

"Covid has taken the abundance of luxury away from us. This isn't the spa I love, but I understand why these decisions have been made and this time will pass."