Spa at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

As I leaned back on a tile banquette, let steam wash over me, and stared up at the ceiling—lit with points of light like stars—I thought: This is the life.

But whose life? I wasn’t sure it was mine.

At the new Spa at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in DC, the steam room—the most fantastical I’ve ever seen—is fit for a princess. And isn’t a day at the spa a princess fantasy?

When I arrived, a female spa attendant beckoned me to sit on a leather bench. A wall of water trickled behind me. The spa has a serene Asian sensibility and lovely design.

A male attendant walked over with a tray bearing a ceramic cup of mandarin-orange-flavored water and rubber slippers and asked to take my shoes. On went the slippers as my black slingbacks were carried away on the tray.

The first woman crouched before me, so I was looking down and not up—this would be a theme—to proffer my locker key. The locker room is roomy enough for a royal entourage. Each locker is stocked with not only a robe and towels but deodorant, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Nice touch.

As requested, I had arrived an hour before my treatment, bathing suit in hand, for the “heat experience.” Kinh, a “spa facilitator,” walked me through my options: the Vitality Pool, a room-size whirlpool; the Amethyst Steam Room, named for the block of amethyst geode in one corner; and the Experience Shower.

The idea was to alternate my exposure to hot and cold, which, I was told, would help stimulate circulation, remove toxins, and start the relaxation process.

I plunged into the heated Vitality Pool, lured by the lounge-chair-shaped cutouts. You lie on top of jets—two near your shoulders and back, two near your hips, two under your legs. Kinh cautioned that the jets were strong; the pressure, she said, would lift me, so I’d float.

She activated the jets, but the sensation wasn’t so much like levitating as it was like being adrift. I had to hold onto the wall while I maneuvered myself up and down and around.

After ten minutes in the pool, I followed Kinh’s advice to a beautifully lit bowl of crushed ice. I was to scoop up ice and rub it over my now-warm body. It sounded torturous, but it felt invigorating.

I stepped into the shower. Did I want a “tropical rain” or “cool mist”? There were four choices. I pressed the button for tropical rain and was standing under a warm downpour. Each “shower” lasts 20 seconds. My favorites were “gush shower,” a cold waterfall, and “body jets,” a gentle kneading from several sides.

I was the only spa patron on that Tuesday afternoon. When I stepped into the steam room, I could hear Kinh scrubbing the shower and refilling the ice. I didn’t always see her, but I knew she was there.

Five minutes before my treatment, I headed to the relaxation lounge, where a row of five white-sheeted beds, each adorned with a purple orchid blossom, were separated by curtains. A counter held water, leather-encased magazines, and kebabs of fresh fruit stuck into a pineapple. I settled in with Marie Claire.

A therapist came to claim me for my Time Ritual, the spa’s signature treatment, billed as a “journey of the senses” that addresses not just physical but spiritual well-being.

Time isn’t cheap: The two-hour Time Ritual is $300. A regular 80-minute massage costs $225, a facial $225 with extractions.

For $350 (with the 18-percent tip), I expected the best treatment of my life.

The session started with my sipping “Worry-Free” tea while the therapist washed my feet.

She asked questions: What had brought me in today? What treatments did I like? (Massage.) Did I like body wraps? (No.)

The Time Ritual is not a set treatment; the therapist talks with you to decide what you need. Mine settled on a body polish, facial cleansing, and hot-stone massage. I settled on the table.

The body polish was the most gentle I’ve had, and not a bit of rough skin was left when she was done. The facial cleansing was no more than a face wash.

She was caring and warm. When I mentioned that some of the stones in the hot-stone massage were cutting into my spine, she offered to continue with a regular massage and skip the stones. The massage was nice but not out of this world.

A friend who had the Time Ritual said that although it wasn’t the best massage of her life, checking out for two hours was relaxing. She loved being waited on hand and foot.

The price of this bliss seems high. But I’ll admit that I did sleep soundly that night and the next, and a kink in my shoulder disappeared.

And I do think about that steam room. Next time I’ll book a lower-priced treatment, like a $65 pedicure, and still get my gush shower. A girl can dream.

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.