Some vacations can leave you feeling so exhausted that you find yourself, ironically, saying this upon coming home: “I need a vacation after that vacation.”
A true wellness vacation, on the other hand, is meant to leave you feeling better than when you started —and feeling restored, rejuvenated, and ready to make healthy lifestyle changes that carry into your every day.
That’s what I found with a recent stay at a Hilton Head Health, a South Carolina resort rated the “No. 1 Health & Wellness Resort in America” by readers of USA Today. This tired new mom with an achy back needed a solo reset, and a wellness resort was calling my name.
Unlike traditional resorts that might feature all-you-can-eat buffets and swim-up bars—with the fitness and spa facilities sometimes an afterthought—a wellness resort such as Hilton Head Health weaves optimal health into the fabric of the entire resort experience. The fitness and spa offerings are integral, of course, but it goes beyond that.
Here’s what you can expect with a wellness resort vacation, based on my 3-day retreat at Hilton Head Health, also referred to as H3.
Waterboarding is one way to have fun on the river
A FOCUS ON YOU
This was a chance to step out of my daily routine and do something for myself. After all, if I don’t stop to recharge, how can I effectively take care of the people who rely on me, most notably the newest addition to my family? Leaving my home environment for a wellness resort on Hilton Head Island allowed me to shift more easily into this mindset and unplug from the responsibilities.
Hilton Head resort will with greenery creating a peaceful atmosphere
AN IDYLLIC SETTING
It’s no surprise that wellness resorts are typically nestled in stunning, nature-laden locales that invite a slowing down. We can draw inspiration from our natural surroundings, whether they be mountains, forest, beaches, or desert. For me, the daily beach walks and bike rides beneath a never-ending canopy of trees draped in Spanish moss were both energizing and beautifully comforting. I caught myself smiling —a lot—in this laid-back, Southern enclave so different from my urban home of Chicago.
BUILT-IN SUPPORT STAFF
Wellness resorts typically have an entire team of people ready to help you feel your best. H3 has an average staff/guest ratio of 2:1 and rarely hosts more than 50 guests at any one time. This helps make the experience uniquely personal. It fosters an environment where most of the staff—from the front desk to the dining team to the fitness instructors—know guests by their first name. (I was blown away by this seemingly “small” detail that makes such a big impact.) The team was there to help me customize the days to my personal goals and provide encouragement and support, even emailing me a questionnaire ahead of my arrival that asked about my goals, health conditions, food restrictions, and activity preferences so that they could guide accordingly.
Wellness staff member helping to achieve a proper pose
ACCESS TO WELLNESS EXPERTS
H3 has 40 years of experience in the business of designing wellness programming and retreats—well before wellness became trendy. A big piece of this success comes down to its in-house experts: certified trainers, registered dietitians, health coaches, and wellness educators. They are there to guide guests from all walks of life safely, and I had access to all of them during my stay. Atop group classes and 1:1 sessions, H3 offers a handful of wellness seminars each day from these experts, with plenty of time allotted for individual Q&A. During my stay, topics ranged from “Portion Control” to “Increasing Energy and Stamina” to “Weight-Loss Plateau Survival Guide” to “Developing Your Fitness Strategy.”
OPPORTUNITY TO TRY NEW FITNESS STYLES
Each day at H3 is a choose-your-own-adventure in wellness. There are more than 20 fitness classes, wellness lectures, cooking demos, and excursions from which to choose—daily. Unless you opt to join one of H3’s structured weight-loss programs, the time is yours to design at your own pace. I used it as an opportunity to try new things, such as Zumba and water exercise classes. And you know what? I discovered that while Zumba wasn’t my jam, water exercising—something I always thought looked “way too easy”—was immensely therapeutic for my achy back. In fact, it inspired me to sign up for the local YMCA down the street when I returned home because it has a pool where I can continue with it.
Accommodations that feel like home
Good sleep is just as important as how you spend your day—especially while on a wellness vacation. Because wellness resort accommodations can range from luxurious to eco-rustic and from private to shared rooms, it’s important to know which style best suits you and your budget. I stayed at the new hotel-style accommodation on H3’s property, the Sweetgrass Inn. I was grateful for the air-conditioned privacy in between classes, seminars, and bike rides to the beach. Plus, a simple sign at the top of the stairs on my floor transformed from initially cheesy to sweetly motivating during my stay: “You are stronger than you think.”
Unique, healthy, and tasty food choices are available for every meal of the day
While you shouldn’t expect to load up on sugars and saturated fats at a wellness resort, it doesn’t mean that the food won’t taste good. H3 hires chefs specifically trained in creating nutritious cuisine, so all the meals included in my stay were not only healthy, made-to-order, and appropriately portioned—but they also tasted great. (Did you know that hollandaise sauce could be made with non-fat yogurt? Me neither.) I appreciated that the menus and the all-day snack bar had calorie counts listed on each item of food—something that reinforced the education around healthy eating and portion control. H3 also offers intimate cooking demos and private cooking classes to bring this knowledge into your own kitchen.
There are many options to help relax and rejuvenate at the spa
Ahhh, the spaaa. Massages, body wraps and facials feel good, of course. That’s because there is a scientifically-backed benefit: They release oxytocin, a hormone that is closely associated with love and trust. When the mind-body is served by this, it can reduce anxiety and promote better digestion, which is a powerful tool in promoting optimal wellness and weight loss. I certainly felt these affects after the refreshing “Sole to Soul” treatment at H3’s Indigo Spa. The 80-minute treatment included a full-body exfoliation, along with a scalp, neck, and foot massage. It’s the type of experience I’d love to have once a week, but once-in-a-while will do!
Wind down with other guest who are also here for a relaxing time
LIKE-MINDED GUESTS TO MOTIVATE AND INSPIRE
During my stay, I met solo travelers, couples, a mother-daughter pair, and a mother-son pair. We all had the same goal: to not only feel healthier during our stay, but to learn tips on how to live healthier once we returned home. That shared goal invited an immediate kinship and camaraderie with these perfect strangers. The mostly Boomer-aged guests staying at H3 during my retreat time were friendly and encouraging, inspiring me to return home with the greatest souvenir of all: renewed motivation to live a healthier life.
All photos courtesy of Hilton Head Health