Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 24, 2021
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Miami Vice

Indulge in the twin temptations of spa and golf in Florida's sin city

I left my toxins in Miami Beach. Also a pile of exfoliated epidermis and about a dozen golf balls. My mission? Cram as much pampering and swinging as I could into a week in Florida's hedonistic headquarters. Spas are the largest and fastest growing segment of the travel and leisure market and Miami is definitely on top of the trend.

I've been pummelled, palpitated, heated, cooled, saturated, stroked, immersed, exfoliated, detoxified, contorted, burnished, gelled, oiled, sloughed, steamed, toned and hydrated. I've become a massage table "couch potato" who has perfected the belly-to-back flip.

Rated number one in Miami by the Zagat U.S. Hotel Resort and Spa Survey, Turnberry Isle's five-star resort has it all: marina, tennis courts, two golf courses, grand Mediterranean architecture with gushing fountains, statues and tropical gardens, five restaurants and a fabulous new spa. Everything is top-notch, but it's the staff -- from Bernard the sommelier to Nelly at the spa and René at the Grill -- who will make your stay a happy one. The resort has almost 400 rooms but with all the personal attention you never feel like the anonymous guest in room 301.

The likes of Bill Clinton and Sarah Jessica Parker have played the two immaculately maintained golf courses here, both designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Bird-watchers will enjoy a number of sightings on the Audubon-approved North and South courses, including black and white swans in the lakes and flamingoes in the bunkers. Golf Digest ranked the resort among the "top 10 golf courses in the country for outstanding service." Every year, at least 40,000 balls are fished out of the lake surrounding the 18th island-green of the South course, including a couple of my Titleists.

Last summer Turnberry opened a new $10 million spa and fitness centre. With a dramatic curved glass wall topped with a skylight and a three-storey wrought-iron spiral staircase you can't help but make a dramatic entrance. Spa director Tammy Pashel believes today's savvy spa goers "are looking for something more than loofahs, scrubs and seaweed wraps. They want to escape." You can still have the usual stuff here but why not transport your senses to Bali, India or Italy? It's cheaper than a plane ride.

Pashel imports mud from Italy, crystals from Hungary and sea salts from Bali. My first "trip" was a Javanese Lulur, a treatment given for 40 consecutive days to Balinese princess brides-to-be. By the time those maidens said their vows they were totally detoxified, glowing and perfumed. Nelly escorted me into a treatment room with flickering candles, soft Oriental music and the massage bed artfully draped with a brilliant Balinese cloth upon which was a tray holding the essential ingredients of the Lulur: jasmine/frangipani oil, turmeric/rice powder, yogurt, shower gel and lotion. I lay facedown on the table strewn with rose-petals. Through my peephole I had a bowl of rose petals to look at instead of the boring floor. Nelly explained that the Lulur is an ancient ritual involving prayer, order and rhythm. First came the oil, then a rub of turmeric and yogurt. Next we were off to a shower stall. The only part that I found a bit jolting was when Nelly cranked up the high-pressure hoses and aimed them at my back and legs. Good for the circulation I'm sure. After I soaked in a bath (more rose petals and candelabra), I was escorted back to the table for a light massage with jasmine lotion. Balinese bliss!

How many times have I heard that a certain line of skin products will get rid of wrinkles and offer visible improvements? When Tammy suggested I try the Revitalization Cell Facial I was skeptical. But I had to admit my face was less red, less blotchy and fine lines around my eyes were substantially decreased. The product, Cellcosmet from Switzerland, was invented by a Nobel Prize winner and uses live plant extracts and God knows what else. The theory is that it helps generate healthy new cells. Whatever. It works.

Golf, tennis and spa packages start at $119 per person in summer; $199 spring and fall; $289 winter (all prices in US dollars). Specific golf or spa packages are also available. Call (800) 327-7028 or (305) 936-2929 or visit

I could happily have succumbed to everything on the Turnberry Spa menu but decided to check out some of the other new spas on the Miami scene. Here's a sampling.

Thai Nirvana
Parked outside the Dezerland Beach Resort Hotel is a shiny red 1973 Cadillac sports coupe. The lobby is filled with Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe cardboard cutouts, more vintage autos, gas pumps and Wurlitzers. The mood at the adjoining Nirvana spa is less about Hollywood glitz and more about soothing and servicing its patrons. Spa menu items include Platza, a Russian treatment performed in a sauna and Colonic Hydrotherapy (probably not the ideal choice after a spicy Cuban lunch). I elected to try a Thai massage. Into a tiny room I went with Bob, who has studied with a master in the field. Working on a simple mat on the floor Bob took me through a series of contortions and stretching movements patterned on the asanas of Hatha Yoga. He wrapped my feet with hot towels infused with essential oils of sage, lavender and eucalyptus and talked about spiritualism and energy. Bob explained that Thai massage was born of the divine states of Buddhism, love, compassion, joy and balance. For him it was almost a religious experience; for me, it was an hour of the most profound stretches I'd ever enjoyed. Definitely Nirvana.

For spa services and packages, call (800) 355-0564 or (305) 867-4850.

Detox at the Ritz
The newest oceanfront luxury resort in south Florida has a fountain-of-youth theme based on Ponce de Leon's discovery of the Key Biscayne area. Inspired by his quest for longevity, the spa offers a menu of age-defying therapies, including an Ocean Balance treatment that takes place in the Atlantic waves. Unique to the spa are a Key Lime and Coconut Body Scrub, plus an Everglades Grass Body Wrap. I started with an Aromatic Pine Sea Scrub. Then Susan added hot water to a mixing bowl filled with marine algae from Brittany, France (famous for its seaweed, I'm told) and slathered it on my entire body. Then she wrapped me in a gigantic sheet of foil and told me the more it bubbled and burped and squeaked the more toxins it was eradicating. As I percolated away she massaged my scalp. We finished with a multi-jet shower and a satiny moisturizer. Back in the co-ed lounge I sipped one of the Ritz's signature health drinks -- a mango-passion fruit martini (shaken not stirred) and examined my face in the mirror. No miracles yet.

Island Getaway packages including spa discounts start at $189. Call (305) 365-4500 or visit


Nothing Kinky at Sonesta
There was a torrential downpour when I checked into the newly renovated Sonesta, but weather isn't really a factor on a spa vacation. The father and son in the communal lounge were relaxing between their Krauter Bath, using German botanicals and their Gentlemen's Facial. Years ago, finding a man in a spa was rare. Today 40 percent of the clientele is male and they've graduated from a basic massage to facials and pedicures. Sonesta spa director Nancy Soccorso doesn't go for "gimmick" treatments offered elsewhere, such as cigar soaks or Texas BBQ wraps, so I booked a deep tissue massage -- less relaxing than a Swedish massage but very effective on my kinks. My masseuse, Leslie, quickly found some giant knots in my neck and managed to dissolve them with her hands of steel. A spa can have the grandest decor and the most sumptuous bathrobes, but the proof is in the kneading.

Three-night spa and salon packages for two start at $1071 through fall and winter. Call (305) 361-2021 or visit

Discovering my dosha at the Mandarin
Zen and the art of minimalism would describe the dramatic decor of the new Mandarin Oriental. To get mellow I started in the Chi Studio with Ronel for a half-hour relaxation session. A dozen energizing candles were flickering on the natural bamboo floor. We started with some Qui Gong exercises in breathing and movement and ended up on mats clenching, then releasing all the muscles in our bodies from toes to face.

Relaxed and revived, I was taken to my own private suite for the spa's signature indulgence, the Ayurvedic Holistic Treatment. Starting with a cup of worry-free tea and a foot bathing ritual, Catherine asked me some questions to determine my dosha. Don't' know what a dosha is? Neither did I. I still don't, but it has something to do with three body type classifications based on your build, temperament and elimination patterns. That day, it seems I was part Kapfa (water and earth) and part Vata (ether and air). This analysis determined what essential oils would be used.

After I was exfoliated and polished I rinsed off in the shower and then flopped back onto the table for an Oriental scalp massage using pink mud (also good, I'm told, on pregnant women's stomachs to prevent stretch marks) and a face cleansing. Had I opted for the full treatment, Catherine would have poured oil into the third eye in the middle of my forehead. Oh well, next time. For a finale, Catherine rang Tibetan cymbals over my toes to "clear the energy."

Two-night Spa Exclusive packages (based on double occupancy) start at $1125. Call (305) 913-8288 or (866) 888-6780 or visit

A Brazilian and a Rainforest at Ocean Point
Ocean Point was originally built as a condominium tower in Sunny Isles but has been transformed into an all-suite hotel. Cook your own dinner, visit View (the hotel restaurant) or call upon a team of in-suite chefs to cater your dinner party. Spa treatments are available in your room, on your balcony overlooking the ocean or at the compact gym and spa. Heleno, a charmer from Brazil, performed the signature Rainforest scrub with a Swedish massage as the prelude. A multi-spray Vichy shower and a hydrating contouring lotion left me with glowing, soft skin. Most massage therapists are competent; some have an intuitive touch. Heleno has the magic.

For spa packages call (866) 623-2678 or (305) 940-5422 or visit

Vanderbilt's Playground at Fisher Island
Take the seven-minute ferry to exclusive Fisher Island, nicknamed Billionaire's Island, and you might bump into Andre Agassi or Steffi Graf on the grass tennis courts or Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan in the spa. Originally the summer home of William K. Vanderbilt, it's now a swish spot for those looking for security, luxury and privacy. I played the nine-hole golf course, nicely contoured and maintained, but a toy of a course involving a hide-and-seek game searching for holes six to eight. My time would better have been spent in the Spa Internazionale, rated the sixth best hotel spa in the US by Travel & Leisure. Catering to the rich and famous, with a state-of-the-art gym, it even has its own dermatologist who provides Botox injections to erase those pesky aging signs.

Three-night spa packages start at $3150 (double). Call (800) 537-3708 or (305) 535-6020 or visit

Blue Monsters and Sharks at Doral
Calling itself the Kingdom of Golf, the Doral Resort & Spa boasts five courses: Gold, Red, Silver, Great White and the famous Blue Monster. Home since 1962 to the Doral-Ryder Open, now known as the Genuity Championship, the Blue certainly has bite. Try to heed the starter's advice: "Stay out of the rough." And the numerous bunkers and lakes and lagoons. Number 18 has been ranked the most difficult finishing hole on the PGA Tour. You won't forget it.

Doral also has extensive spa facilities. Along with the usual items on the menu, Doral includes nutrition counselling, cooking classes, astrology, tarot card readings and a golfer's workout. The balustraded patio and formal Italian fountains were modelled after a Tuscan villa. If you spot a blonde descending from a helicopter, it might be Greg Norman checking on the condition of the White Course he designed and his store that sells his "sharkwear" and wine.

Golf and spa packages start at $125 per person per night in summer; $289 winter; $180 spring. Call (877) 89-DORAL or visit

Alas my week of indulgence had come to an end. Not only was I squeaky clean and glowing, but I'd kicked a long-time habit. I had never smoked in the daytime, but set me loose at a cocktail party, put a glass of wine in one hand and I craved a cigarette in the other. The thought of inhaling smoke after all those detox and purification treatments was suddenly repugnant. I may, however, suffer from pampering withdrawal.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.