When I heard there was a new day spa going in to the GCH I was very excited about the possibilities. I'm a bit of a spa enthusiast, and am a semi-regular at BurkeWilliams down at The Block. I also occasionally visit some of the other hotel day spas in SoCal, and my two favorites are The Lodge At Torrey Pines and The Montage Hotel down in Laguna Beach. They are spendier than BurkeWilliams, but boy are they worth it!
I was surprised in 2001 that the GCH didn't open with a day spa facility, and felt that was a huge mistake on Disney's part. Disney obviously realized their mistake, because they have just spent a big chunk of change and about 8 months of construction to install a small new day spa facility in the GCH. It's being run by Mandara Spa, an outside company that operates spas in upscale hotels around the world. Unfortunately, it looks like Disney made a mistake with contracting this facility out to the Mandara people.
I stopped in the spa a week ago to check it out. It was around 5:00pm and I had just come from work, I was dressed very nicely, and I certainly know how to act in an expensive hotel. I walked in to the very small Mandara lobby and found three young ladies behind the desk all chatting with each other. As I approached I got a quick glance from all three of them, and a very tight smile from what appeared to be the head girl. Not one of them actually said anything to me, such as "Hello" or "Hi" or maybe even an advanced concept like "Good afternoon". I was sort of stunned by the non-welcome, and began looking around the small lobby for a moment.
The facility is pleasant, but not too impressive. It's decorated in muted earth tones, but it doesn't look very lush or themed to anything. (Aequis Spa up in Portland, a fantastic luxury day spa, has Balinese-Modern themeing down so well you would swear you left the city and are in the Indian Subcontinent!) The lobby and hallway to the treatment rooms was simply "nice", but not as nice as it should have been.
There was one dog-eared spa menu sitting on the little counter and I bravely asked "Excuse me, is this the menu of services?". The girls looked up from their conversation about paperwork and where to put the pencils, and only said "yes" with another very tight smile offered as their attempt at courtesy. I was offered no information, the girls didn't look at me again, and they seemed happy as clams to pretend I wasn't there. I certainly was not offered a tour of the facilities, as any halfway decent spa would have done. (BurkeWilliams will gladly give you a 10 minute tour of everything! When I'm there I see quiet little tours going through occasionally, and they always offer herbal tea or citrus water to the tour guests being led through the facility, in addition to the glossy BurkeWilliams spa menu they give everyone)
What is worse, the Mandara price list in this grungy, wrinkled menu of services was exorbitantly high! 150+ dollars for a basic 50 minute facial, 180+ dollars for massage services that last 50 minutes, etc. That's up in the league of The Montage, but The Montage has service down pat and would bend over backwards for a potential new client peeking their head into their brand new, large, luxurious facility at Montage. When I go to The Montage spa, the concierge there always makes sure I get a fantastic view table at The Studio restaurant in the hotel after my spa services. And I'm not even a hotel guest there, just a local coming in for an afternoon at their spa. And Mandara certainly doesn't have the large mens or ladies lounge facilities with outdoor plunge pools, hot tubs, sauna, steam, fireplaces or lavish sitting rooms. They aren't cheap, but they treat you wonderfully at The Montage from the second you step in the door!
I would be okay with the Mandara prices if they were offering superior service in a state of the art luxury facility, but from the reception I got from the three separate Mandara employees staffing the lobby last week, they just lost any chance they had at getting my business. After a few moments of me getting over my initial shock at how poorly the three employees were handling this potential new customer standing in their lobby, I purposely hung around for two minutes and just stood there reading the spa menu. Those girls just kept right on talking to themselves about trivial little topics and simply pretended I was an invisible man standing 10 feet from them. It was actually quite funny because I could tell they were conciously trying to ignore me. Funny!
I finally turned to leave, and these three employees didn't say one word to me as I quietly walked out the door. Much like the word "Hello", the word "Goodbye" isn't in the Mandara training manual apparently.
I suppose the Mandara folks feel they have a captive audience at the GCH, people who will schedule services during their 3 day stay and probably never come back, only to be replaced by a new batch of gullible tourists the following year. There's likely an element of truth to that thinking unfortunately. But someone needs to get those Mandara employees up to speed very quickly, or this little day spa will never get off the ground. The locals could keep this little place busy in the dead of winter or when park attendance drops off after the 50th or if the economy takes a nosedive and tourists stop splurging. And certainly the guests at the GCH who book services at Mandara will have prior experience with luxury hotel day spas such as Montage, Lodge At Torrey Pines, Palm Springs resorts, Hilton Head, etc. Someone going in to Mandara is going to expect SERVICE, and those Mandara employees are apparently horrible at service.
What makes me laugh is that they officially changed the name of the hotel to Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Unfortunately, the Mandara employees don't deserve to be getting that headliner credit on the sign out in front of the hotel. What was Disney thinking?!