AUSTIN, Texas – Several years ago, I reviewed for Popupla. Everything was so amazing that it felt like a movie set, so I turned my story into a screenplay. (Let’s call it a professional liability: I’m in the industry.) If my first visit was The Original, then let’s consider this treatment of my recent visit, five years later, The Sequel.
Act 1: The Journey Begins … Again
All good sequels need a great opening scene. Something that reminds you of the first one, with a twist. Lake Austin Spa Resort provides a doozy of an opening – arriving at the spa by boat. Instead of taking a cab (so basic!) or renting a car (so much work!), guests are escorted from two spots near downtown Austin: Walsh Landing by Tom Miller Dam or underneath the Loop 360 Bridge Boat Ramp near Westlake. I hop on at the bridge, the location closest to my home, and relax as Captain Jimmy steers us past beautiful lakefront mansions for the 20 minute ride to the spa dock. Cue the definitely relaxing — but also exciting — theme song.
A good sequel contains many elements from the original. In this case, they are the warm and friendly staff who welcome me back, the beautiful rooms stocked with the spa’s famous bath products, and the fantastic cuisine.
But sequels should give the audience new characters and adventures. And here, too, I'm not disappointed. Summer 2017 saw the debut of W.O.W.W., the Wellness on Water Workout series, based on the wonderful branch of science that posits that being in, on, under, or simply near water positively impacts one’s well being. (Who am I to argue with science?)
As part of the program, the spa has added more than 30 new lakeside activities, such as K.I.P.S. (Kayak Inverval Paddle Sets), Stand Up Fit, and Stand Up Flow/Paddle Board Yoga. Over in the Junior Olympic lap pool, classes offerings include Aqua Fluid Motion, Aqua, and Blue Yoga.
I start my W.O.W.W. program with Floating Fitness, a class that involves working out on a BOGA Fitmat, the love child of a yoga mat and a paddleboard. Yes, it requires balance. Yes, I fall off once. Okay, I fall off twice. But it makes for an exciting way to gain flexibility and build up my core while having splashy fun.
Another great lake class is Hydrobike H.I.T.S. Imagine a spin class on the water. You get all the high-interval intensity to set the heart rate soaring, only you can coast and recover while soaking in the sights and sounds of the lake. Peloton, eat your heart out.
After few hours on the water, I hit the loft for Progressive Relaxation/Meditation, a 45-minute guided meditation designed to leave one peaceful and rested. I fall asleep, so I guess it worked. I wake up ready to tackle my favorite part of the day, dinner.
My favorite character from The Original was executive chef Stéphane Beaucamp. His French-influenced menu was decidedly non spa-like (big bonus), each meal an absolute delight. Chef is back with a vengeance in The Sequel, where the big gun in his arsenal is chicken pesto pasta. How this is only 405 calories remains one of life’s great and joyous mysteries. (The magic of the movies…) The dish pairs perfectly with the new twist in the dining room plot: The spa now serves wine with dinner. Big thumbs-up review! Five stars! Call the Academy and tell them to polish off the statuettes.
Act 2: A New Day
Breakfast of avocado toast served with a poached egg, followed by a hike into the beautiful hills around Lake Austin, start the day. I’m so chill, and it hasn't even been 24 hours. Back at the spa, I am introduced to more than twenty new characters that have been added to the cast of treatments. It’s almost too much, keeping track of all these extras, but two new massages steal the show.
The 80-minute Weekend Warrior Massage adds range-of-motion and assisted stretching to a deep, full-body experience, making it ideal for athletes or anyone looking to enhance their mobility for the action sequel they’ll have to do in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
The Gifts and Grace Massage, on the other hand, addresses the person as a whole, combining energy work with body work. Designed for those who have trouble sleeping (not me), live under extreme stress (me! me! me!), and have an overactive mind (what do you think?). This is the indie film of treatments — thoughtful and deliberate — and also languid. Like The Second Most Exotic Marigold Hotel.
My afternoon is spent near the lake doing Texas Hotflow/Outdoor Yoga and taking a sunset cruise. I am uneasy about the suggested Age-Defying Laser and Antioxidant Facial because laser treatments scare me. (My face should never be a horror movie.) But their signature treatment uses a non-ablative fractionated laser that helps antioxidant creams penetrate the skin. And I am promised results. So I bury my fear and submit.
Act 3: The Dénouement
My last outdoor activity on my last day is the Walk on Water/Pedal & Paddle, a group water “hike” along the scenic nature preserve shores on my choice of kayak, hydro bike, or pedal board. I choose the pedal board, which looks like a step machine on a paddle board, because I’d been told stand-up pedaling is easy on the muscles and tendons. And because I look cool using it.
On the taxi back to town I catch a glimpse of myself in the rear-view mirror. I look relaxed and my skin positively glows. Those lasers weren’t kidding.
My mind starts to drift to thoughts of the spa in the fall… early morning hikes in the hills, sitting in the hot tub, reading a book by the fireplace in the living room, maybe a Lavender Dreams massage. Really, the only thing better than a Sequel is a Trilogy.