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A Royal Retreat at Sea

© Courtesy of Cunard line

Canyon Ranch on the Queen Mary 2 has given the term “spa cruising” a whole new meaning.

As the owner of a 30-ton steel trawler, I admit I have some old-school notions of what a ship should be—a simple galley, a head, a stateroom, maybe even a crow’s nest if outright fanciness is called for. You see, after a successful though sedentary career as a book editor, I decided to take a 1,500-mile trek up the East Coast of the United States at the helm of my own trawler and write a novel. The segue from suits and business lunches to foul-water gear and sandwiches in the pilothouse was exhausting but exhilarating. The months of writing alone at my desk ashore was harder. I desperately needed some pampering and the Cunard line’s flagship palace, the Queen Mary 2, promised the ultimate treat for a salty dog like me. This, I thought, flipping through the glossy brochure, this has five-star restaurants, casinos, and, for God’s sake, a Canyon Ranch spa with a dedicated staff of more than 40. And I went for first-class accommodations at $3,400 a person. Clearly the only thing salty about this trip would be the caviar served at the Champagne bar.

While it seems every cruise company offers spa services these days, the marriage of Cunard and Canyon Ranch has resulted in a 20,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility that rivals anything on land. The reception area is serenely beautiful: dark wood with glass tiles, a Zen water wall, pale marble floors, soothing music. But the Relaxation Lounge solarium, with rows of recliners and a view of the magnificent Atlantic, really capitalizes on the spa’s floating locale. During my five-day transatlantic crossing, I tried only a smidgen of the treatments and services among the many available.

Day 1

It’s gray and rainy, with whistling winds and rough seas. After a vigorous training session, some cardio is next. But making one’s legs pump up and down on an elliptical machine that rolls and pitches with the ocean’s swells is too much of a coordination challenge. Instant tanning seems the better choice.

An hour later I’m wearing a paper thong and rotating like a chicken on a rotisserie while a petite South African coats me in a light mist from something resembling a spray gun. Over the next few hours, the DHA compound will activate proteins in the top layer of my epidermis. The color is more than just a golden pigment, she says.

Day 2

I report to the beauty services salon eager to give myself a new look. My stylist has pink streaks in her auburn hair that are not immediately confidence-inspiring. But after two hours of gazing out at the stormy Atlantic with my head covered in tinfoil, I have the best hair color of my life.

Day 3

The seas are calmer today, but the sky is still overcast. No matter. With my fabulous new highlights and sun-kissed complexion, I look ten years younger—even before my Ayurvedic massage. Warm herbal oil is drizzled over me, then rubbed down my body with deep strokes. I feel as if my muscles are being elongated, like every ounce of stress is being pulled from my tissues.

Day 4

The best weather yet, though the mid-Atlantic in April is always a far cry from the Caribbean. I make it to a morning training session before my late-afternoon appointment for the Body Thermal Contouring Seaweed treatment. After a gentle exfoliation, I’m covered in a very briny-smelling mud, wrapped in a heavy blanket, then lowered into a water tank where I float weightlessly. Afterward I’m sprayed off and gently moisturized. I don’t want it to end.

Day 5

It’s my last day aboard the QM2 and I plan to hold my sadness at bay with…yes, more time at the spa. I try the dental whitening treatment. The technician gives me five applications of a gel, then seats me under a bright light. My smile is a couple of shades lighter but still natural-looking. I’m a tad disappointed not to come out with completely artificial, blindingly white teeth, but I suppose that isn’t in keeping with the all-natural Canyon Ranch approach. As we sail up the Thames in the last hours of the trip, I head to the Veuve Cliquot bar to drown my sorrows in tiny bubbles and some of that salty caviar.

Mary South is the author of The Cure for Anything Is Salt Water: How I Threw My Life Overboard and Found Happiness at Sea (HarperCollins, 2007). To book a cruise on the QM2, go to cunard.com or call 800-728-6273.