Bask, Art and Chips in Atlantic City
Don’t let your preconceptions of Atlantic City keep you from booking a spa weekend with friends or significant others. For one thing, besides the obvious draw of casinos and star-studded nightlife, Atlantic City is growing its other lively arts – spas are among them, as are dining spots and a little off-boardwalk theater.
Maybe it’s Exhale’s high-profile brand name linked with one-year-old hotel 1,800-room Revel that is the perfect match capable of producing an unexpected AC experience. Both are young, sleek, modern, full of light, sparked with a very broad client profile that distinguishes Revel apart from its AC siblings. Even 10-year–old Borgata does not let you forget that a casino makes its heart pulse.The trip to AC started less than auspiciously. Sure, it was a fam trip and it was sponsored by Atlantic City and the hotel I’d stay at with a colleague, but it did not have to start with a trip to Brooklyn to get to Manhattan from Queens. Luckily, two veteran travel writers had packed their peanut butter sandwiches and were ready for anything including a few laughs and never looked back at the tempting bags of chips that seemed to be part of every stretch limo.
As the Artsy Voyager, she was looking for art in Atlantic City, I was along for that ride and I was about to write a review for this site on the Exhale Bask Spa at Revel; she and I were planning to compare notes on the spa. The Art spots we visited included the Dante Theater (affiliated with Stockton University), which has its own Ninth Circle Players Repertoire Company in the heart of AC, the Noyes Museum, a short drive to Oceanville from the legendary Boardwalk and we did a long double take at the gorgeous glass sculptures at the Borgata, which get a bit lost in the casino lights, bells and whistles below. In fact, no one seemed to be the least impressed with those incredible sculptures created by American glass-blowing artist Dale Chihuly [he founded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State].
Circled overhead by Chihuly’s massive works is the casino, smack in the center of your view as you check in at the Borgata. Not so at the Revel. There, you have to take three escalators to arrive at the check-in counter (or find the little three-floor elevator that will take you there as well); to access the casino, you must deliberately be looking for it and take an elevator ride to that particular floor. In other words, you are not perceived automatically as a casino aficionado: you could be staying at the Revel for the view, for the spa, for a getaway and never even SEE the casino.
The Exhale Spa called BASK is on the same floor as the check-in counter, which is set within a nearly endless expanse of lobby floor filled with natural light from the floor to ceiling windows– a hint of what you will find even in standard rooms, walls of windows overlooking the ocean and/or the city.
Away from the rigors of sunlight, pools, bars, eateries, and the casino, is the snug cocoon of an Exhale spa. For non- spa trekkers, almost 20 Exhale Spas dot the country from east to west, north to south. The company has grown exponentially in about 10 short years. Booking from a short list of compelling treatments is always a challenge. I arrived no more stressed out than the next gal, rife, however, with ergonomic injuries [neck, elbows, shoulders], I was scheduled for two signature treatments: the flow massage (one hour, $165), and the power facial (one hour, $225). The spa lists a long menu of treatments and combinations of them.
Check-in was a bit dicey – apparently the spa imposes an 18% gratuity long before patrons have sampled a treatment. Treatments can be added to room charges but the sticking point could be the up-front gratuity for some.
I’ve never had a preference for female over male massage therapists – I think of it as fate and accept who is assigned to me. In this case, a broad, tall 26-year-old Matt introduced himself to me; the next thing I noticed was his handshake, warm, not forced and on the pudgy side. Nothing signaled to me how truly effective a masseur he was, except that given his size, he was very low key as if swallowing up his size somehow to make me (at five feet tall) feel comfortable.
Ever curious I asked what brought him to this career. As a teenager on a swimming team, he found he was very good at discerning just how to loosen a Charlie horse among team members during competitive racing. After he joined the Navy, he returned home with a strong insight: touch heals. He trained at Harris, a vocational school for the basics and through Exhale’s own training program for the signature treatments the company has become known for.
My massage therapist extraordinaire, Matt Poole, explained this was indeed the spa’s signature body massage and it could go on for 90 minutes. After climbing up onto the treatment table, which was coddled in sheets and warmth, overlaid with a satin baby-bunting like cover, he spoke to me about the flow. How it was choreographed to free energy blockages, relieve tension by using more lymphatic drainage techniques over the deep tissue type.
He started with my face, my head and temples, usually reserved for the last gestures, the farewell. I just let myself fall under the spell.
Exhale’s signature massage oils could be one of three: For uplift, a formula that promotes circulation and relieves muscle soreness contains arnica wild crafted from the mountain highlands that acts as a potent anti-inflammatory agent and is blended with warming bay laurel, rosemary and basil to relieve muscle congestion; Detox is a blend of alpine juniper, cypress and lemon, all of which help in the release of toxic build-up in sluggish digestive, circulatory and lymphatic systems; or finally, a relaxing potion that is usually matched with a deeply calming massage of oils of sandalwood, vetivert, jasmine and cloves, designed to ease fatigue and exhaustion and soothes an over-stressed nervous system. Matt used the detox on me, which was just as well as I love the smell of citrus.
The treatment reduces inflammation, improves flexibility for me this was in my neck area, which frankly gave me some trepidation as I am already in Physical Therapy to improve my mobility. Tennis elbows or tendinitis such as I have usually begins with the neck. Matt managed to create space between my shoulders and neck on both sides that made me feel I might leave an inch or two taller.
From there, he moved his muscular hands along my spine, creating a flow from up to down to up. Described as a deep tissue massage without the pain, it was clear he had run into some of my trickiest spots without my even mentioning them. This, to me is yet another sign of a person who is truly integrated with his career choice; what I like to call the healing impulse cannot be trained. Either you have it or you don’t. He has it. What he did with my legs is a mystery but they were extended much further than I am ever able to extend them in my yoga classes. Could this be because my spine was warmed up, my hips relaxed, or was it the way he bent my knees deeply into the armpits? Whatever it was, my legs felt lighter than air.
Julissa Bruzek, the Esthetician , tested my skin to decide whether to apply the Cool Beam Laser an LED light or the Ultra Sound. As I have evidence of hyperpigmentation from overexposure to sun, she opted for the Cool Beam Laser and chose Sircuit Cosmeceuticals’ Youth Accelerator, a smart peel pumpkin enzyme mask. Of course, like most facials, this one involved a bit of extraction or squeezing the nasties, but it was done quickly and I emerged without a single red mark on my face. The entire facial relieved the tension that ordinarily builds up around the mouth and the eyebrows. Delicious.
Surprisingly both spa pros suggested hopping into the steam bath or sauna, followed up by a Jacuzzi dip and a relaxing session afterwards. I was surprised — as usually after a massage with rich oils, therapists suggest you stay put, relax, no bathing it off. All clients are encouraged to slip into the Himalayan Salt Room, dominated by Buddha bust; its bricks are made of salt and the room is organized to help you further detox. The temperature is a dash lower than the relaxation rooms, which are amply supplied with herbal teas and fresh fruit.
I finally bumped into my colleague again even though BASK is a beehive of circuitous routes from one treatment to another. Her massage was good but by no means one “to write home about.” We caught up in one of the wet rooms, steam bath, sauna and Jacuzzi, whereupon we hopped in.
Thankfully, there are guides in the hallways kindly escorting patrons to their next station because the last thing you want to do after getting all massaged and calm is to refer to a map in dim lighting.
Deals can be had at the posh Revel. Midweek pricing can drop down to $79 a night, as the warmer months near, that price is apt to go to $129 per night.
Exhale’s BASK offers packages, too: from A Day of Transformation [$310] to customized group packages. Christine Papaspanos, Manager of Guest Experience said 90% of the spa clientele are guests at the property and that year-round her biggest market is bachelorette parties and other affiliated groups. Right now, the spa does not use the travel agent distribution system.