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Review | Virgin Experience Day | Spa Pamper Day

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Virgin Experience Days to see if I wanted to review an experience days for the blog.  There were a couple of different options but I knew straight away that I fancied trying a spa day. I've been so busy lately that the idea of taking a few hours out to relax and unwind just seemed heavenly.

The service from Virgin Experience Days themselves was really good.  I chose the Pamper Day and Champagne Lunch For Two which normally retails at £49 (the website says it's reduced from £98) and the vouchers came quickly in a nice cardboard sleeve that could be given as a gift.  We had a choice of hotels and spas and we chose one in Bournemouth, the ">Hallmark Hotel, as it was the closest to us.  Again, it was booked easily with a quick phonecall.

I didn't know what to expect from the day itself because I've never been to a spa day before, so I can't compare the day to others I've been to.  My expectation was to feel relaxed, and, to an extent, pampered.  I guess I imagined fluffy robes, slippers, dim lights and calming music but maybe that's just what spas are like in the movies! If you've been to a spa day please do share your experiences in the comments as I'd be really interested to hear what others are like.

We arrived just before 11 and booked our lunch for 1pm.  We were shown the facilities, which included an aromatherapy cave, steam room, sauna, pool, relaxation lounge and jacuzzi.  There was also another indoor pool upstairs but that had separate changing rooms and I didn't fancy getting undressed twice (or walking through reception in my bikini!) so we just stayed downstairs.  I was surprised by how small the spa area was; you could only really splash around or sit in the pool, you couldn't do lengths or anything and I'd say you'd only comfortably fit 8-10 people in there.


We were given a couple of towels and then we tried the amenities.  The steam room was quite nice but there was a mosaic theme and quite a few of the tiles had come loose.  Actually that was a bit of a running theme throughout the spa if I'm honest; there were lots of loose/missing tiles and it all looked a little tired and in need of some TLC.  The sauna was also nice but again, when more than 3-4 people were in there it was a bit cramped.  I didn't really understand the point of the aromatherapy cave, it didn't smell particularly nice and there was a big hole in the middle of the floor where so many floor tiles were missing.  The final room we went in was the relaxation room, which was just some sun loungers, magazines and a water feature.  There were some girls in there reading magazines, I wish I'd thought to bring one as that probably would have been quite a nice place to relax.

Amusingly for us, after we'd done all of this we looked at Tom's watch and it was only half 11! We had no idea what we were going to do for the next hour and a half until lunch.  In the end we just splashed around in the pool and sat in the steam room until it was time for lunch.  I heard some women in the changing room talking about treatments but I have no idea what they do there; it wasn't mentioned to us on the phone or when we arrived and I didn't see any treatment rooms.  The changing rooms were tiny with two tiny cubicles so I had to queue to get changed.  We were shown upstairs to the bar and were served a glass of champagne which was really nice.  The restaurant for lunch was just actually the bar area for the hotel and was quite busy with guests.  We were allowed to choose anything from the lunch menu which ranged from £5 sandwiches to £10 main meals.  I went for a club sandwich and Tom had a steak sandwich.


Because I'd been slightly disappointed with the spa itself I really wanted the lunch to be amazing but it just wasn't.  Tom asked for his steak to be medium-rare and it was more like well done and my club sandwich was just a chicken breast, a rasher of super crispy bacon and then some lettuce and tomato; no sauce or flavour or anything? I left half of mine as it was really tough and tasteless.

I was hesitant about posting this review as Virgin Experience Days were so kind in asking me to review the experience and I'm really appreciative we were given this opportunity, and it's completely not their fault that the hotel was disappointing.  But I feel as though I have to review it as if I'd paid the £49 in order to be able to recommend it or not, and I have to say that if I had I might have been a little disappointed (I certainly don't think there's any way they could charge the £98 it's reduced from).  What I would say is that my parents have used Virgin Experience Days in the past and have always had good experiences - they're quite a regular Christmas present in our family!  I'd have no hesitation in recommending them though I don't know if I would recommend going to the Hallmark Hotel (Bournemouth).  There was a sign outside saying that monthly membership (which includes spa access) is £25 so you could use the amenities for a month for what you pay each, which somehow makes it feel a bit less 'indulgent'!  I think if I stayed there as a guest it would be amenities that I'd enjoy using if I was there, but in my opinion I don't think it's special enough to offer as an 'experience day' for non guests.  The other hotels offered in that particular deal look absolutely amazing (there is a castle on there, and some of them sound like they're in amazing locations) so my feeling is that the deal itself offered by Virgin is a good one, but I'd give this particular hotel a swerve.

I was thinking about booking a spa break for both of us in the New Year but now I'm not so sure as maybe I've 'overegged the pudding' in my head in terms of what I think a spa day is like and I don't want to be disappointed again! Do share with me your experiences as I'd love to hear if you've been on a spa day or another experience day similar.


19 comments

  1. Hi Rosie,
    long time reader, first time leaving a comment! My partner and I stayed at the same hotel using airmiles last year and I was also disappointed the spa facilities so you're not alone there. In august this year I stayed at longleat center parcs and had a day in the aqua sana spa there with 7 other girls, hands down the most amazing place I've ever been! You get the whole 'fluffy robe' experience there are at least 20 different rooms/area's to use offering different things and a restaurant serving wonderful food. I can't rave enough about it! Because we were staying at Center Parcs we booked a 3 hour session at a rate of £27 each, i think it is more if you're not staying there, but trust me it's so so worth it! It was like something out of a film or holiday brochue, honestly amazing. x

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    1. Thankyou so much for your comment Laura! I really appreciate it as I was feeling a bit like I might just have had too high expectations of the day - I think I just wanted the robe and slippers, haha! More than anything it just felt very tired and some areas not entirely clean. Your time at the spa at Center Parcs sounds absolutely amazing! I will definitely have to try that! xo

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    2. No problem at all - i know exactly what you mean, i went there with an idea of pampering & relaxation in mind, specifically chose to go there because of the spa facilities, and in fact found the opposite. Generally just a little run down, members of staff wandering through the area and talking which didn't really go with the spa atmosphere that you would expect, and changing rooms tiny and very dubious as to how clean they were - in fact I think we may have just quickly towelled off, got dressed and then had showers back in our room! What a shame that it doesn't seem to have improved much in the space of a whole year. Definitely try the Aqua Sana spa if you can - just fab! :) x

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  2. It sounds extremely pants. What a shame!

    Your review is really fair and informative. An indulgent spa break should be luxurious and feel a bit special, not dodging dodgy tiling and bad sarnies.

    Don't let it put you off though. There are loads of amazing spa breaks out there.x

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  3. Hmm, I have a lot to say about this - First off, it frankly sounds pretty shit and I admire your honest review. Tiles coming loose, no robe? What?! Basic stuff! It does look pretty much like a local swimming pool and thats not too great is it? Cheeky on the price as well, argh.

    Also, the food seems really inappropriate for a spa - I mean, I'd expect really nice light food to stick in with all the lovely health benefits of a spa, and not wanting to feel like crap once you get back into treatments/the water.

    Honestly, I've only ever been to one spa. I know a few people who work in spa's and they all say that most people there see it as another boring job and that terrified me. I didn't want people touching me half arsed, I thought I'd realise and feel really awkward and uncomfortable, so when me and Dan were going for the first time, we went all out and chose Thermae Spa in Bath (3 hours drive away)...

    I reviewed it here - Go and take a looksie, you NEED to have a look http://www.fridayisforeverblog.com/2012/09/discovering-bath-thermae-bath-spa-also.html

    I wouldn't say it was as amazing as I expected, but it was my first time at a spa too, but looking back and comparing it to your review, its heaven. Me and Dan promised we'd save to go yearly once we got a house sorted. The atmosphere was lovely, I swear it turned everyone into super friendly people because everyone was really nice and chatty in the pools and whatnot, and there was plenty of space and that! The food though, oh my god. In all seriousness, when the time comes to getting married, I'm getting in touch with them and BEGGING their chef to give me recipes to give to my caterers or just to come down and cover the event - No exaggeration, it was the best food I ever had. And the steam rooms were AMAZING, and the treatments were professional and so so relaxing! Hello drool! Ah.. Honestly, worth every penny.

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  4. Don't let this experience ruin spa days for you! They should appreciate honest feedback and act on it!
    I love spa days - I go three or four times a year. Something about hiding away for a day and being pampered just helps! And if they don't give you a robe and slippers they are doing it wrong!
    To recommend a few - I loved Cowley Manor, Chapel Spa and the Greenway Hotel, all in cheltenham. All brill. Thermae Bath Spa was great too, I had a few treatments as well. In fact I always make sure I have a treatment or two (most do a package for certain treatments, or you can select your own) as it just feels more special.
    Spa days are expensive and they should feel it - most of the ones I've been on have been pampering and luxurious. I think I'm now addicted, and am always looking for new ones to visit!

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  5. I've been to the Aqua Sana spa in centre parks (suffolk) twice, and also to the Thermae spa (as Sarah above) and I must say that the centre parcs spa beats it hands down, although it was a nice spa, nothing on the Aqua Sana one at all! It truly is as Laura the first commenter describes. Do NOT let this put you off at all, keep trying other as and you'll have way better experiences!
    I think you did the right thing in publishing the honest review! They are probably in need of money to spend on the place to get it up to scratch, hence doing deals like this to try and bring more money in, but its clearly backfired a bit!

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  6. I've only been to one spa day, at Nottingham Forest Centerparcs, and it was glorious. Lots of plinky plonky relaxing music as you would imagine, big fluffy robes and *loads* of different rooms full of different experiences. Including one which smelled really lemony, which was amazing! But also a cute garden, a fairly big pool and waterbeds! Would definitely recommend, can't remember the price but it was definitely not that expensive. Seems a shame that the one you went to wasn't that impressive!

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  7. ah Rosie, don't give up on the spa days just because you got a rubbish one. I've been to some and had the lovliest most relaxing days- but they have included treatments- a definite must or you arent really paying for more that a fancy swimming pool.
    I'm sure that anyone looking to visit this hotel would appreciate your review as it will save them a rubbish day!
    Much love <3

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  8. Well done you for posting a proper, honest review!
    It doesn't make me think any less of Virgin Experience Days, because I know they're good, but I think it's great that you have been perfectly honest here! Nothing worse than a disappointing day out that you had been looking forward to. xx

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  9. You did it! I've been following your debate over whether or not to post accurately. I'm proud. Honesty really and truly is the best policy, and you did it! I'm sorry to hear about your stay, but hey, you got some bubbles! Champagne makes any day better. xoxoxo

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  10. I'm really happy you did this review despite anticipating about it due how disappointed you were. It's a shape that it didn't leave up to your expectations, such a shame when things like that happen :( Atleast you know not to visit that hotel again! I hope you do book another spa soon and it lives up to your expectations.. even if you have to take your own fluffy slippers and dressing gown! xx

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  11. Please don't be put off by this rubbish experience - spa days are not meant to be like this! I use a local spa (to me, not you sadly!) which costs £65 for the day, inc. use of all facilities (much better than the ones you experienced) and a three course lunch which is fab. I always have a treatment but you could have a lovely day without as there is so much to do which is included in the price.
    This sounds like a rubbish spa and Virgin should stop using them - especially in view of the sign advertising the £25 a month deal, it cheapens the experience for paying Virgin customers.
    Again, please don't be put off spa days, they're not all like this!! xx

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  12. I've had some really bad spa experiences but a few amazing ones. A few years ago I went to Careys Manor in Brockenhurst (my mum worked there at the time) and it's probably one of the best places I've been to. I know it's now a senspa so it's a bit more expensive than what it originally was but it's a gorgeous place and not too far from you!

    Laura
    maxandmummy.blogspot.co.uk

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  13. Hi Rosie, just found your blog the other day and I love it! Since I'm a bit obsessive I also found you on twitter and instagram.
    Just had to post here, I am a spa therapist and work in a gorgeous spa, the one you went to does not sound like a spa!! It sounds and looks like a glorified pool. Definitely give it another go, and ensure you get your gown and slippers!
    xx

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  14. Its always good to hear what other peoples experiences were before choosing days out like this. Great blog, with some good info.
    There are loads of experience days sites offering some great days out but hearing from someone whose already been is a great help.
    www.experiencedaysdiscounts.com

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  15. It's a shame your spa day wasn't as planned - though in my partner's experience they've always been great (I can't say i've been to one myself) - good on you though for an impartial review.

    I often use www.yourexperiencedays.co.uk/compare-experience-days to find new things for me and my girlfriend to do in my area.

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  16. I have heard a lot of my friends that have been to a number of Spa's say their favourite is Ragdale Hall in Leicestershire. I think word of mouth is one of the better methods of finding a good one. I know there are a lot of sites with different spa's available. Not sure if there is a site rating/reviewing spa's. That would be useful.

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Thank you in advance for your lovely comments, they mean the world to me! If you have a question or want to get in touch, tweet me at @rosieoutlook.