In the midst of excessive partying and glittering displays of beautiful people parading around Miami Beach, Florida, the Canyon Ranch Hotel and Spa is a bit of an enigma. At this resort, you won’t find a dance club pulsing ’til the wee hours of the night, a raucous bar full of drunk twenty-somethings, or cabana boys delivering fried chicken tenders to guests by the pool. That is exactly why people stay here—and they like it.
A mecca of health and wellness, is part of the famous Canyon Ranch chain of resorts across America, with some traveler-friendly specialty features: The resort offers rooms by the night, it’s a la carte, and alcohol is served. So for anyone wondering what the Canyon Ranch philosophy is all about, without wanting to commit to an intensive week-long stay, the Miami Beach resort is for you.
The promise of a wellness vacation completely escaped my mind, though, as I was driving into Miami Beach. With the windows rolled down and the welcome scent of salt spray from the ocean permeating the car, I was giddy with the thought of “This is it! This is what I’ve always seen on TV!” since I’ve never been to Miami Beach. The art deco architecture competed with high-rise resorts, water views could be glimpsed in between buildings, and suddenly that famous Miami Beach vibe was everywhere. I was happily surprised that Canyon Ranch was close to the action of South Beach—just ten minutes away.
It’s hard to tear yourself away from the activities of Canyon Ranch to explore downtown Miami Beach, though, as I would soon find out. Upon check-in, which happens at four informal desks in the main lobby and where guests sit down and chat with the front desk staff, I was given a four-page pamphlet featuring the daily activities happening at the resort for the week. More than 40 activities are scheduled each day—and the majority of them are all free. If you’re bored on your vacation here, it’s your own fault.
A bit overwhelmed, I headed to my suite to begin my three-night stay. Yes, a suite, because all guest rooms at the Canyon Ranch Hotel and Spa are one- or two-bedroom suites ranging from 720 to 1,200 square feet. The entrance opened into a kitchen adjacent to the living room with spectacular ocean views from the balcony. In the spacious bedroom with a king-size bed, another balcony delivered the same stunning ocean views.
What was most impressive, though, was the enormous bathroom. Never before have I seen a bathroom this big or luxurious in a hotel suite. A deep soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower were stocked with eco-conscious toiletries, a scale sat underneath the full-length mirror (this is a wellness resort, after all) and a separate makeup table all surrounded a glass-tile mosaic inlaid floor.
Though the ocean and spa facilities were calling, the rumbling in my stomach won out and I made my first of many visits to Canyon Ranch Grill. With this one meal, the philosophy of the entire resort became clearly evident. Catering to expected indulgences, the resort offers healthy twists. There were fries on the menu, but they were the property’s famed artichoke fries—not made from potatoes and certainly not fried, but delicious all the same.
Milkshakes, sodas and chocolate chip cookies can be found, too, but the sodas are handmade and the cookies baked with whole wheat flour. Each menu item lists an extensive array of nutritional calculations, from calorie count to salt content to whether or not the item is gluten free.
The food is not only healthy—it’s also extremely delicious. A poolside cabana offers more casual fare, including piña coladas and other alcoholic drinks, as does the Carillon Lounge. The main dining room is open throughout the day with oceanfront seating. The ingredients are local and seasonal, and you can expect a heavy emphasis on fruits and veggies.
Looking at the list of activities, I narrowed down my top choices for the next couple of days. With so much to choose from, it can be hard to allocate your time, especially with the many pools and extensive fitness center available.
I chose an early morning Qigong class on the beach to start off my list, but there was also indoor rock climbing (with ocean views), salsa dancing, ballet, belly dancing and candlelight stretching. Those are in addition to a serious lineup of fitness classes, from spinning to body sculpting to core training, all from 7 am to 7 pm each day.
While the scheduled activities were tempting, my passion led me to the world-class spa. Here’s a wonderful surprise: The Aquavana thermal suites are included in your stay! Score!!! Free spa facilities for your unlimited use. I’d just entered nirvana.
The Aquavana suites are a collection of healing waters, thermal cabins and soaking pools. Among my favorite destinations in Aquavana were the Experiential Rains, where sound-, light- and temperature-specific rains mimic the feel of a Caribbean monsoon or an Atlantic storm. From yin to yang, I would leave the tropical climates of Experiential Rains for the Igloo, where the frozen tundra is replicated in an arctic-inspired room with twinkling lights and the scents of menthol or eucalyptus wafting through the chilly mist raining down.
A bubbling footbath, Finnish sauna, herbal laconium and crystal steam room were among the other options, as well as heated loungers and a hydrospa. Throughout the day, a decent number of guests can be found in Aquavana, but in the early morning and late at night, I was the only one in the entire complex. A thoroughly indulgent experience.
Of course, I had to have spa treatments in the largest spa in Florida. The staff were excellent, even when I showed up for a treatment about 15 minutes late. They were courteous and professional, with no sales pitches for products to buy. The Detoxifying Body Wrap smoothed my skin with all natural ingredients before I “floated” in a pool for healing relaxation. The next day, I received an Ayurvedic Herbal Purification treatment that was more than two hours long, with a dead sea salt scrub, full body massage and a steam treatment. I was so relaxed that it was an effort to take the elevator just four floors back to my room before I succumbed to a long nap.
The beach—and the rest
My brief stay didn’t allow me too much time to simply lay on the beach (the summer storms didn’t help, either). If I had been able to while away a day in the sand, I would have enjoyed doing so in a complimentary lounge chair under an umbrella. In addition to no fees for using chairs or umbrellas on the 750-foot expanse of ocean, there are also no resort fees—and Wi-Fi is complimentary at the Canyon Ranch Hotel and Spa. It’s nice not to be nickeled and dimed.
Guests can indulge in or completely avoid the health and wellness aspects of the resort. For those seeking insight into a healthier lifestyle, though, you will not be disappointed. Canyon Ranch Miami Beach offers a spot of healthy tranquil serenity, and in today’s world, we could all use a little more of that.
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