Tribune senior correspondent
December 30, 2010
Who doesn't love a little — or a lot — of 'me' time?
It's time for a big dose of well-earned pampering after the frenzy of holiday shopping, wrapping, cleaning, baking, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, traveling, refereeing, cleaning. Not to mention decorating, un-decorating and doing all the laundry generated by the joys of the season.
Good will toward men? Sure! Now it's time for some good will toward … you.
Recuperative self-indulgence is great but you still want value for your dollar. Which is why I set out to determine if an $85 pedicure ($100+ with tip) at the fanciest spa I could find is worth almost four times as much as the $25 pedi at a walk-in place in a strip mall — my usual go-to nail choice.
My luxury quest took me to The Peninsula and its Spa by ESPA for a 75-minute "deeply nourishing pedicure" that cost a little more than $1 a minute. Come to think of it, that's about the same cost per minute as the no-appointment-necessary pedis that I'm used to. They're in the $22-$27 range and take about a half hour.
At The Peninsula, it's paneled wood, peaceful lighting and take-a-seat-in-this-big-comfy-chair and can I get you something to read and some tea — "black, green or herbal" — or perhaps some strawberry water? New age spa music plays on the sound system. (Cancel six hours in advance or you'll pay, even if you're a no-show.)
At the mall, you sign in, choose a polish color and wait your turn as you watch a quiz or reality show on a flat screen TV near the ceiling. It's one large, often-bustling room with well-thumbed Oprah Magazines, patrons jabbering on their cell phones and harsh lighting. Not a spot you plan to linger.
Back at the fancy spa, Viviana takes me to a small room with two pedicure chairs, a small sign on the wall that says, "No Cellular Phones" and more hot tea, this time with a hint of vanilla. We've got the room to ourselves.
Big ahh as she offers "a hot neck wrap so you can relax your neck a little better." It smells of lavender and I'm loving it.
At the walk-in nail spa there is no hot neck wrap and no privacy. But the swirling hot water in the spa chair is every bit as soothing as at the high-end place.
Volume is key at these strip mall places and at these prices you're obviously not going to get as much time or attention. After the foot soaking, the process of pumice applied to calluses is quick but efficient.
Viviana, by contrast, takes her time using progressively finer levels of emery boards to smooth my feet. Then comes an aloe and apricot foot and leg scrub followed by a "nourishing" body oil foot and leg massage with a concoction of grape seed and vitamin E from England and then — get this — a masque for my feet and calves.
The masque is a combo of a fancy mud and "deeply nourishing" body cream. I'm not sure what the difference is between nourishing and deeply nourishing but the cost of the "deeply" stuff is a whopping $14.20 an ounce if you want to buy some to take home.
Wait, there's more: a hot towel wrap; more massage. Divine.
With the pedicure, I also get access to the Peninsula's steam room and the "relaxation area" where I can order lunch, wait for my nails to dry and read the complimentary New York Times, Financial Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal.
Did I mention the louvered wooden lockers, the icy cucumber circles for my eyes in the restorative steam, the water with orange slices after?
Had I signed up for two hours worth of treatments (for example, by adding a $35 classic manicure) I could have spent the day at the pool, used the hotel's well-equipped gym and taken any of the classes offered there — that include yoga, water aerobics, cardio, strength training and Pilates.
Not bad for $120 (the cost of the pedicure plus manicure).
Meanwhile, at the strip mall I got a few minutes of leg massage, a nice polish job and drying time at a group station.
Bottom line? Think of the cheaper pedi as an energy drink; the high-end pedicure is Champagne. The strip mall place is efficient, gets the job done and offers a little pampering. A good value.
My expensive foot treatment was divine but it requires a combination of time and money that most of us don't have. Would I go back? For sure. Especially if someone else is paying.