You've just suggested another early morning theme park mini-marathon to your spouse, and from her barely audible murmur you realize she's debating which relative should get the kids when she stands trial for killing you. We've all been there. Fortunately, Orlando is awash in spas ready to wrap, rub and restore your loved one back to domestic tranquility.

The cost of a basic one-hour massage is well over $100 before tip at most of these places, however. Even mid-priced hotels seem eager to tack "Resort and Spa" on to their names to get a cut of that action, regardless of whether they actually know how to run either. In an effort to get you the most inner peace for your money, we sent the Unofficial Guide research team to evaluate eight Orlando spas in close proximity to the theme parks.

At each resort, our team had a standard massage, a basic facial, and a manicure/pedicure combination. Each service was scheduled on a different week to ensure one person's bad day didn't mar the whole evaluation. Also, we used the same small group of researchers throughout the tests to ensure the most consistent comparisons of what is admittedly a somewhat subjective experience.

We rated each spa on a one (poor) to five (excellent) scale in four areas: "Service" includes our interactions with the spa staff on everything from scheduling appointments and the massage, facial, or nail work, to follow-up questions after the visit; "Facilities" rate the amenities, function, and décor of the locker rooms, waiting areas and equipment used before and after the services; "Amenities" rate secondary spa offerings such as food and snacks, pools, fitness centers, and the like. Finally, "Sales Pressure" indicates how much the spa staff pushes you to buy its products after your treatment.

The Ritz Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes spa earned top spot in our evaluations, with Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa finishing second. The Ritz Carlton is so good that we recommend it despite their twenty-minute commute from Disney property. Perhaps a surprise, the best resort on Disney property seems to be the Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, which earned better marks than the more well-known Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Make sure when paying to check whether a gratuity has already been added to your bill. Most spas we visited, except Disney's, automatically included a tip of 18 to 20%.

Another fabulous money-saving idea is to check whether your spa offer a "day pass." These inexpensive (around $10 to $15) tickets typically allow use of the spa's fitness center, pool, sauna, steam room and showers for an entire day. Complimentary fresh fruit and tea are usually included. Disney's spas only offer passes to Disney resort guests, but the other spas we checked will accommodate anyone regardless of whether you're staying at that resort.

Orlando Spas Rated And Ranked

Spa Rating
Ritz Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes
Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
Buena Vista Palace Hotel and Spa
Mandara Spa at Portofino Bay Hotel
Canyon Ranch at Gaylord Palms Resort
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Mandara Spa at the Walt Disney World Dolphin
The Spa at Marriott Orlando World Center Resort

Ritz Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes

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Sales Pressure Low-Medium

Review

You'll enter the Ritz asking yourself whether you can afford the spa. You'll leave wondering why you're not staying at the hotel. So good are the services and facilities that you won't even mind the twenty-minute drive from Walt Disney World property.

Located in a separate three-story building behind the main hotel, guests are given a full tour when entering the spa, to see where each amenity is located. Every level is tastefully and elegantly decorated, including locker rooms, treatment rooms and waiting rooms. Both unisex and co-ed waiting areas are available.

Spa-goers also have use of a separate Jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms, plus an outside lap pool where the attendant will supply complementary towels, water and sunscreen. All of the equipment we used and observed was in working order during our visits. The only criticism our researchers had during any of our treatments was that the Ritz's atmosphere may seem more "formal" to some folks.

The Ritz was one of the few spas that offered a variety of massage oils, and the only one that adjusted the massage table's head rest to ensure our comfort. Sales pressure after the treatments was low; no one followed us around as we browsed the spa store's products.

Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa

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Sales Pressure Low

Review

Plush, swallow-you-whole robes are the beginning of the pleasures awaiting guests at The Spa at Buena Vista Place Hotel & Spa (formerly the Wyndham Palace and Spa).

Locker rooms offer two small, private changing rooms and a nicely-lit, posh vanity area. Treatment rooms are small and nondescript, but clean. Separate waiting rooms are provided for men and women. If one criticism could be made of the facilities, it's that they're a bit older and in need of updating. Treatments were top notch and staff encouraged use of the sauna, steam room and other facilities, and took time to explain the benefits of each.

Water was from a cooler, and no fruit or other snacks were offered during our visits. Sales pressure after our visits was log, with no attempt to sell any of the oils, lotions, robes, or WD-40 (joke!) applied to our bodies. A tip was included in the service, so be sure to read the receipt before adding a gratuity. Treatments are available for children ages 4-12 ranging in price from $20 - $70, but the money's better spent on you and your sanity.

Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

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Sales Pressure Low

Review

Also managed by Niki Bryan Spas, the spa at this Disney Vacation Club resort is a cut above the spa at the Grand Floridian. This is likely due to the newness of this location, with Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa having opened phase one in May of 2004.

Decorated in soothing shades of green, with a beach-themed waiting room, this multi-leveled spa is the real thing. Locker rooms, sauna, and fitness center are on the first floor, while the treatment rooms are a private elevator ride away on the second. Like many spas, the waiting area is co-ed. Overall, the spa is more spacious than the Grand Floridians', with the exception of similar small treatment rooms. They also have an ultra-cool machine that extracts all of the water from your bathing suit, if you decide to use one. Our only complaint about this spa is that during busier times of the year, attendants do not always provide tours of the facilities, and you're left alone to figure out how to navigate the lockers and changing areas.

A wide variety of Niki Bryan Spa products are available for purchase during checkout, and sales pressure was lower than at the Grand Floridian.

Mandara Spa at Portofino Bay Hotel (Universal Studios)

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Sales Pressure Medium

Review

One of two Mandara Spas in Orlando, the Universal Studios location has an edge over its sister spa located in Walt Disney World. Both locations are well-themed with Asian influences, such as Buddha statues and silk drape or wall hangings, but the Portofino location has some pluses, such as blankets offered while waiting, that make it the better of the two.

The Portofino Bay Mandara Spa has an unmistakable, tranquil Asian them. Waiting areas are done in comfortable earth tones and treatment rooms feature silk draped ceilings. Changing and bathroom areas are spacious and clean, but also include less-than-subtle advertisements for products sold on premises.

The tranquil theme extends to the stellar spa services, which included complimentary self-heating oil for our massages. Also included is the use of separate steam and sauna facilities for male and female patrons. The Portofino's sand-bottom pool is conveniently located near the entrance to the spa. Nail services are also located near the entrance. The fitness center is located on the other side of the glass wall, however, so you may feel a bit like that doggie in the window, especially if you're wearing only a robe and a smile.

Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

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Sales Pressure Medium

Review

Operated by Niki Bryan Spas, the spa at Walt Disney World's flagship resort is located in a separate building between the resort and the wedding pavilion, along the walking path to Disney's Polynesian Resort.

As Disney's oldest spa, the Grand Floridian's facilities are small, and have not been upgraded to the level of luxury found other high-end spas. The robes and locker are self-serve and the only private place to change is in the bathroom stalls. All but one nail drying machine was broken during two of our visits several weeks apart, and much of the other equipment seems to be showing its age. On a positive note, some of the best conversations we had with other guests happened in the Grand Floridian's lounge.

Our researchers had mixed feelings about the Grand Floridian. One thought it felt like a "high school gym locker room" while another noted the friendly service received, even though she arrived on the wrong day for her appointment. There was some pressure at checkout to buy products used during several of our treatments. If you're limited to staying on Disney property, try the Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa instead.

Mandara Spa – Walt Disney World Dolphin

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Sales Pressure High

Review

Although it maintains an Asian theme like the Portofino's, everything is dialed down a notch at the Dolphin's Mandara Spa, starting with the waiting areas, of which there are two: the Meditation Room, stocked with teas, water, and fruit; and the Consultation room, which is so close to the treatment rooms that voices occasionally disrupt clients receiving treatment.

Gone are the comfy sofas and chairs found at its sister spa. At the Dolphin, it's standing room only. And with two waiting rooms, it is surprising that both are co-ed, mixing robe-clad men and women.

The treatment rooms, although pleasant, are also not on par with the Portofino Mandara Spa. Instead of silk-draped ceilings, an Asian-inspired wall hanging decorates one wall. Trappings aside, the Dolphin's spa also lacks a sauna, offering patrons only a co-ed steam room.

The one important asset that both Mandara Spas have in common is exceptional treatments, including teeth whiting, delivered by skilled staff. The Dolphin's employees seemed to be the most talkative of any we encountered.

Relâche Spa at Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center

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Sales Pressure Medium

Review

This is the former Canyon Ranch SpaClub. We've sent three different researchers to the Gaylord Palms over the past few years. Our first experience was a nightmare, but the last two visits have been fabulous experiences.

When everything goes right, the Relâche is better that any spa in Orlando except the Ritz-Carlton. You"re greeted warmly as soon as you walk in, treatment rooms are clean and soothing, and the robes and slippers are luxurious. The unisex changing areas have fresh fruit, water and hot tea, and play soft music in the background, but note that the main waiting area is co-ed. Unlike many spas, facial treatments include a neck, shoulder, arm and foot massage. The salon area offers hair, nail, and waxing services.

Unfortunately, this spa's customer service failed us the one time we had a problem. A disastrous eyebrow waxing resulted in burns and redness on of our researchers, but neither the therapist nor management was responsive when we brought this to their attention. It took more phone calls days later to receive a small discount on our treatment and a grudging apology. It'll take many more consistently good visits before we consider this a one-time mistake.

The Spa at Marriott Orlando World Center Resort

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Sales Pressure High

Review

Located in the back of this sprawling resort, The Spa at Marriott Orlando World Center Resort is a small, separate building requiring a hike from your room or a really good set of directions if you're coming by car.

The ladies' locker room has no private changing areas, however the bathroom stalls are big enough to make do. Spa-goers have use of steam rooms and fitness facilities, too. There was a lot of male bonding to be had as The Spa was awash with men when we visited. Women should note that once you're in your spa robe, you're directed to a co-ed (yes, with menfolk) quiet room to await treatments.

Sales pressure after our treatments was high, with expensive oils and lotions strongly suggested at checkout. And unfortunately, the nail drying equipment was either broken or non-existent when we visited for our manicure. After shelling out $35 (plus tip) for a spa manicure, we were told to sit in the quiet room and blow on our nails to dry them.