By KRISTEN BELLSTROM AndTANIA KARAS
Forget tired old facials and manicures. These days daring spa-goers can try anything from having their body tapped with a wooden hammer to taking a (literal) chill-out session in a room where snowflakes fall from the ceiling. Even spas that are sticking with more-traditional techniques are increasingly pushing them to new and often mind-boggling extremes (Hawaii's Grand Wailea Resort recently rolled out a 10-therapist, $2,000 "20-Hands Duo Massage"). And the extreme-spa movement's reach isn't limited to the U.S.; Parisian outfit Dans le Noir le Spa offers rubdowns in pitch-black rooms -- a potentially tricky arrangement that becomes a snap when all the massage therapists are blind.
Many of the new offerings are aimed at luring customers back to the spa. While the industry enjoyed a rapid expansion during the boom years, about 7 percent of U.S. spas have closed their doors since 2008, and pros say that even the survivors are struggling. According to the International Spa Association, a trade group, nearly one in four spas reported a drop in revenue from September 2010 to March 2011.
To keep the white-robed masses coming, experts say, some spas are hoping to set themselves apart with one-of-kind experiences -- a task that has become increasingly difficult as once-unusual options, like watsu (an in-water treatment) and lomilomi (a Hawaiian massage technique), have found their way into even the most pedestrian of spas. (For more, check out "Extreme Makeover: Spa Edition.")
Indeed, experts say wooing today's seen-it-all spa-goers requires some serious creativity. Here are 10 spas from across the globe offering new and often mind-boggling extremes.
1. Arctic Ice Room at Qua Baths & Spa (Las Vegas)
Relaxation-seekers can chill out in a 55-degree, mint-scented room where tiny ice crystals fall from the ceiling. Heated benches and floors help strike a balance between too cold and just right.
$45 for a spa day pass
2. 20-Hands Duo Massage at Spa Grande at Grand Wailea (Wailea, Hawaii)
This three-step treatment for couples begins with an hour of hydrotherapy. Next is a half-hour foot soak and pressure-point foot massage. Then, finally: The couple is treated to a "hula wave" as 10 therapists circle them, massaging constantly with their 20 skilled hands.
$2,000 for 2 hours
3. Taiz Sensorium at Miraval Resort & Spa (Tucson, Ariz.)
As ergonomic chairs go, the Taiz Sensorium chair is nothing short of a contraption. Participants are cocooned between heated flaxseed cushions and spindly arms that transfer sound vibrations to their bodies via strategically placed wooden orbs. The combination of aromatherapy and music brings people to "nonordinary states of consciousness," says the designer, and makes for a sensory-rich experience.
$250 for 50 minutes
4. Blind Massage at Dans le Noir le Spa (Paris)
The name means "in the dark," because massages at this spa take place in pitch-black rooms with blind therapists. The practice developed in Asia, where blind massage therapists are renowned for their highly developed sense of touch. This Parisian outfit offers visitors an hourlong rubdown amid relaxing aromatic oils and calming music.
$120 for one hour
5. Thermal Bath at Liquidrom (Berlin)
This urban spa in the center of Berlin offers a giant, heated saltwater pool beneath a lofty dome. Underwater music and colorful lights throughout the space make for a relaxing, modern bath experience. Liquidrom is open until 1 a.m. and has a bar with live music.
$40 for a day pass
6. Womb Room at Corallium Spa Costa Meloneras (Maspalomas, Canary Islands)
Among its numerous luxury spa offerings, the Corallium offers its clients a one-of-a-kind journey to the start of life with a low-lit room designed to evoke memories of the womb. Guests lie on "blood-colored," draped waterbeds as the pink-and-red-carpeted floor slowly revolves.
$69 for a nonguest spa day pass
7. Fish Pedicure at the Mizu Spa (Folkestone, England)
What could be more relaxing than letting dozens of tiny fish nibble at the dead skin on your feet? The "doctor fish" trend began in Sivas, Turkey, as a treatment for psoriasis, then took the U.S. by storm four years ago. It quickly fell out of favor because of health concerns, though many Asian and European nail salons and spas still offer the treatment.
$27 for a half-hour session (including a pedicure)
8. Manaka Tapping at Lake Austin Spa Resort (Austin, Texas)
It's like acupuncture without the scary needles. Therapists gently tap spa-goers' pressure points with a tiny wooden hammer and peg.
$155 for 50 minutes
9. Snake Massage at Ada Barak's Carnivorous Plant Farm (Talmei Elazar, Israel)
Finally, a spa experience for the truly fearless. Thrill-seeking clients let snakes of the nonvenomous variety slither across their bare skin. Reportedly, the creatures' varying weights and cool temperature make for a relaxing kneading sensation as they slide down the spine. This one-woman massage parlor is a sideshow to the owner's primary business: cultivating rodent-eating plants.
$80 per session
10. Wine, Coffee, Sake and Green Tea Baths at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Spa Resort (Hakone, Japan)
This Japanese spa features 25 varieties of heated baths and saunas, but oenophiles know to head to the wine bath. Red wine flows from a 12-foot fountain in the shape of a wine bottle. According to the spa, these unique baths rejuvenate the body and beautify the skin.
$23 for a day pass