Courtesy Tara Angkor Hotel

A friend who likes the life-changing aspect of destination spa vacations asked me if she should try a cruise. The question gave me pause.

Cruise ships do have spas, some quite elaborate with thermal suites and thalassotherapy pools and such. But are they up to snuff when compared to land-based spas where healthy living classes, lectures, and cuisine are part of the scene?

The simple answer is no. A fairer comparison is a resort spa; the experience about pampering above all else.

There are shipboard spa lectures, but they are often focused on getting you to buy something — such as a magic herbal remedy. Dining room menus may have a spa selection, but only as one of many choices. That thermal suite probably has an entrance fee.

The extensive menu of treatments will come with quite hefty prices. You can have an exotic Thai poultice massage, but it will cost you $195 or more. Expect to pay $119 and up for a 50-minute Swedish massage.

The treatments are designed as much for newbies, who want to try something new on vacation, as for experienced spa-goers. Aye, there's the rub.

While you may encounter an experienced therapist with great hands, you're just as likely to get someone as interested in seeing the world (and selling you commissionable product) as getting that knot out of your upper back.

Bottom line: Don't expect a cruise ship spa to change your life.

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