Review: Blue Lagoon’s Retreat Spa, Iceland: It’s Not Worth It
Blue Lagoon Spa Retreat Spa: Why It's Not Worth It
Blue Lagoon Retreat Spa, Comfort Package: ISK8,900 (US$65, £50, €55), Premium Package: ISK11,900 (US$87, £67, €74), Retreat Spa ISK49,000 (US$359, £275 ,€304). Norðurljósavegur, Blue Lagoon, Iceland.
Blue Lagoon's Retreat Spa is the more luxurious and exclusive access package to the beautiful Icelandic Blue Lagoon. It is also a waste of money.
Private Access the Retreat Lagoon, away from the crowds
Private Changing Rooms with Showers & Blue Lagoon Skincare Products
The Retreat Lagoon swim-up bar is a nice touch
The Ritual's self-service structure lacks the luxury, indulgence or attention to detail necessary at this price
The no photographs policy is unjustified and the 'lifeguard photographer' option is naive at best
The Tactless, Rude Security at the Retreat Lagoon are a stark contrast to the check-in and restaurant team
Iceland's Blue Lagoon offers multiple access options
There are levels, however. The Blue Lagoon offers three packages for day visits if you are not a guest at either the Silica Hotel or The Retreat Hotel. I prefer to stay in Reykjavik as there is almost nothing to do near the Blue Lagoon area once you indulge in its namesake.
The three access options are at three very contrasting price points. The Blue Lagoon’s promotional marketing is in full swing on its website naming their access packages “Comfort, Premium and Retreat Spa”. The price points are ISK8900, ISK11,990 and ISK49000 respectively. The key question, of course, becomes: is it worth handing over ISK49000 for the Retreat Spa?
Once In A Lifetime?
The online marketing pitch projects images of impossibly beautiful guests gazing longingly into camera lenses; the models’ faces caked with a silica-white frosting. Somewhat ironic as I doubt these ladies have ever eaten buttercream. I scroll past more Icelandic models swathed in bathrobes reclining in black “nests” (actual words) looking rested and vacant.
Which package should I get? The fact Mrs EatGoSee and I are also spending a month apart starts to play into my thoughts as she ducks the intense Dubai summer heat. Some light online research about the Retreat Spa experience revealed a deluge of hyperbolic, near-religious testimonies.
All these factors tip me towards: let’s just do it. When would I seriously do this again? If you’re going to do it once, you may as well do it right, right?
What does ISK49000 get you at the Blue Lagoon Retreat Spa?
A comparative chart helpfully itemises everything you get with Retreat Spa and implicitly shames the Comfort and Premium alternatives, despite their optimistic names. The Retreat Package enables access to the Spa, the Lagoon, access to private changing rooms with “skincare amenities”, a drink of your choice and a Blue Lagoon Ritual. The “Ritual” is ambiguous and intriguing. More on this later.
How can you tell if the Retreat Spa is worth it?
All such experiences are inherently subjective but even I want to know whether I get my money’s worth.
The first thing you have to exclude is the novelty factor of the Blue Lagoon. Sure there’s only one Blue Lagoon but I have other options at drastically lower prices giving me access to the same geothermal plant wastewater attraction. That is right. The Blue Lagoon is not some natural wonder. As Wikipedia explains:
“The lagoon is man-made. The water is a byproduct from the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi where superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon.”
Blue Lagoon Retreat Spa: The Experience Begins…
The drive into the Blue Lagoon area is dramatic. Stark and dark like visiting another planet. The Blue Lagoon’s water emerges brilliant. The entrance for the Retreat Spa is separate to the Comfort and Premium parking and entrance. The feeling of exclusivity starts here away from everyone. You were ushered into a separate entrance like some long drive to a private mansion.
The Retreat Spa building exudes that signature Nordic industrial look with pops of brass and colour. The design brief was “ambiguous Bond villain lair or Nordic luxury retreat, walk the line”. For a brief moment, I consider whether I should have booked a room at the hotel here.
The Retreat Spa check-in is effortless. We wear pale blue wristbands allowing you to charge additional items. It is a nice touch. No one wants to walk around with bulky wallets while wearing bathrobes.
The private changing room is a large en suite shower room complete with a selection of Blue Lagoon toiletries. The slate grey smart aesthetics continues complete with rain showers, hairdryers and hair straighteners. You are asked to shower before getting into the Blue Lagoon. You were provided with a collection of smart and pleasant smelling Blue Lagoon toiletries, which you can take with you after your stay.
The experience so far feels warm, private and luxurious. There is a sense of exclusivity and attention to both the details and the customer that feels generous and sincere. The exclusivity theme continues as The Retreat Spa keeps a private entrance to its own section to the Blue Lagoon. That’s right, you have no doubt seen a plethora of Blue Lagoon photos with a sea of tourists bobbing around the pale blue waters. If you are someone seeking privacy or looking for a more personal experience, you should seriously consider the Retreat Spa at this point. I read a number of blog posts from others – especially women – who felt uneasy about wearing swimwear in front of large numbers of strangers. This is another consideration for you if it is that you prefer more privacy or seclusion. You cannot see anybody else from the Retreat Spa in another part of the Blue Lagoon. It truly does feel like you are here alone, unless you meet another couple.
One feature that I particularly enjoyed was the swim-up bar. You sit in a section of the pool adjacent to the spa restaurant. Simply push a button and a smiling waitress appears ready to take your order. A selection of champagne, wine and beer await you, your blue wristband and, eventually, your credit card. Naturally, I order sparkling champagne for Mrs EatGoSee while I continue my mission to sample Icelandic beers; this time nursing a Bord.
There is truly something to be said for sitting in near 0° weather with your body submerged into a geothermally-heated Blue Lagoon while sipping champagne.
So far, so luxurious. There are even water fountains directly piping Icelandic chilled groundwater from beneath the lagoon out of taps and directly into your mouth.
What could possibly go wrong?
This is the point where the experience at the Blue Lagoon starts to sour. The opportunity to swim in the Blue Lagoon is a unique experience. However, it is not unique across the three options available and, so therefore, it has to be looked at in the round. So far almost everything up to this point can be experienced in the other options. You would compromise on privacy and the private changing rooms.
The Blue Lagoon Ritual is a standout feature that nudged me towards the Retreat Spa. The website works itself into a full lather and goes into marketing hyperbole overdrive. It is self-described as the “hallmark of the spa journey”. The Ritual treatments would be the defining experience to tower over the other options. More specifically, the treatments that come to define what is truly a spa experience.
I struggle somewhat to describe the Ritual as a “hallmark” and, in fact, it only sets up what comes next for a bewildering disappointment.
I should say this point that I am holding the Blue Lagoon Retreat Spa to a very high standard. I have the good fortune of going to many spas in Dubai and a number of other countries during my travels. There is a certain expectation that comes with luxury spa treatments. Sadly, this is where the value for money proposition for the Blue Lagoon Retreat Spa falls apart at the seams.
What is missing?
The aura of exclusivity and prestige does not extend to the spa experience. Worse, the sense of seclusion and intimacy that is meticulously curated in the Blue Lagoon is wholly absent as you find yourself in what can be described as a Batman’s Bat Cave with Nordic design features. Not in a good way.
Three different mineral scrubs are made available to you. That is right, they are made available to you. You have to apply these yourself. There are moments sat on a bench in partial darkness adjacent to strangers in silence where the mineral’s tingle the questions, “why am I doing this myself and what have I actually paid for?” There is no trained smiling beautician or massage therapist inviting you to lie down on a bed while they gently apply the scrub to your body enquiring whether the pressure is OK. I expect this at a spa. I have 49000 reasons to expect this today.
No one talks me through the purpose of each mineral treatment. I do not know what they are for. I managed to overhear someone in reception tell another guest (who asked, because they also did not know) what is in this green scrub. Worst of all, I was left guessing where to start, where to go next and what to do when I arrive at each of the three Ritual sections. The waitress at the Spa Restaurant took more time to explain the salt crust on the butter. I am a grown man. I work out the habit of bathing daily with success. But I am paying for this. I am paying to be released into a room like a pheasant in a field and then, like some escape room, work out what to do next. It is inconceivable anyone should have to do this at this cost.
Worse, I made the unseemly mistake of trying to rinse this silica chalk scrub off my body with the wrong shower to only be reprimanded by someone who – until this point – could not bring themselves to acknowledge my existence. This is not the first time I have been scolded at the Retreat Spa; a point I will return to soon.
This Ritual feels more sacrificial than it does luxurious. The team here should – at a minimum – have one person designated to each of the three sections in order to explain to everyone what it is they are applying to their body, how they should apply it to their body, how long they should keep it on their body, expand on the therapeutic benefits and, finally, take questions.
Even this would be a step down from the fact that again – at this price – this is not a private treatment at the hands of a therapist conducted in a dimly-lit room playing innocuous spa music. There should easily be a therapeutic treatment coupled with some sort of massage which is available in the Blue Lagoon as a water massage for the additional price of cash and wait for it – €100 plus, each.
The Ritual fails. I am struck by the absurdity of a bunch of adults who have paid a material amount of money to be escorted into a room where they have to scrub themselves in a communal area and then wait, lining up, for others to finish showering in the correct shower. It does not feel luxurious. It certainly doesn’t feel exclusive. It has more in common with lining up for a hot dog at a football game at halftime than it does with a once-in-a-lifetime, luxury spa treatment.
The Guest Service
I experience diametrically opposite highs and lows during this retreat spa experience. The team who welcomed us and served us during the lunch service were professional, impeccable and attentive. They are very well briefed and they want to ensure that you are very comfortable. You can tell that this is a highly trained team who are invested in the well-being and care of their guess. You are very much treated like guests without obsequious moments.
This, however, was challenged both during the Retreat Spa as well as in the private Retreat Lagoon.
The Matter of Photography
There is a point worth raising here that will irritate some. You are not allowed to bring smartphones, cameras or any other electronics into the private Retreat Lagoon. This is not for safety reasons. This is not to nudge you towards some kumbaya disengaging from the outside world and towards embracing the stark surroundings.
It is, as we were abruptly told, to maintain the exclusivity and privacy of the Retreat Spa. There is a “lifeguard” assigned to take photos for you. He can send them to you on his smartphone.
This is dumbfounding. An “official photographer” does not preserve the exclusivity and privacy of a Spa. I could easily dismiss this nonsense as pretentiousness masquerading as sincerity. But, let’s think it through. On one hand, people swimming in their bathing suits during a special stay do not want their photos taken by some stranger on a phone that they do not control. We live in an age of data privacy. People are sensitive about their images and personal being used or, more accurately, misused.
On the other hand, this is a special opportunity very much projected as such, and – to be blunt – at ISK49,000 per person, I am more than entitled to take a photo with my wife with my own camera. I have 49,000 reasons to do so.
This is the point when a security team came to talk to us. That is right, you heard me, a security team. If this was not enough, the borderline scolding spouted by the staff against me and Mrs EatGoSee for trying to take a photo together is something I have rarely experienced as an adult. You can bet that the geothermal water was not the only thing coming to a boil. We are told that celebrities come and they like their privacy. Celebrities? What do I care about celebrities?
This is the story of why I do not have any photos in the Blue Lagoon to share with you here.
As the security team finish with us, they do the same with another couple clearly on honeymoon. This does not make me feel better. I cannot help but wonder if the Retreat Spa security team would insist that any actual celebrities (with large social media followings) abstain from taking and sharing photos of the experience. A subsequent canter through Instagram confirms poor enforcement, at best.
The Spa Restaurant
The Spa Restaurant is adjacent to the Retreat Lagoon. The menu here focuses on light and directionally-healthy dishes such as the miso soup (ISK1900), beef tataki, chicken with barley and quinoa or the gravalax (all ISK3900). The wine list is succinct with a well-chosen list including a Pouilly-Fume and Riesling that we both enjoy alongside the sushi platter and a ceviche.
The Spa Restaurant proficient service warm the industrial concrete and mid-century modern decor. You should come here whether alone, as a couple or in a group. You do not need a booking with the Retreat Spa. The good news is that the “one free drink each” option in your Retreat Spa package can be cashed in here or at the swim-up bar in the Retreat Lagoon.
The Lava Restaurant
Your Retreat Spa booking also affords you a reservation at the Lava Restaurant but nothing more here.
The service here is equally attentive, friendly and engaging. It is less formal than the Spa Restaurant and the staff are more chatty. The Lava Restaurant is an enormous space with soaring ceilings and a partial Blue Lagoon view. Lava is clearly intended to sit up to hundreds of covers and churn through the deluge visitors who land upon the Blue Lagoon. It lacks the intimacy of the Spa Restaurant so it is slightly odd that the Spa Restaurant is not the preferred reservation option for the Retreat Spa. Better still, a reservation at Moss Restaurant, featured in the 2020 Michelin Guide. After all, the Retreat Spa aims to ‘preserve the exclusivity and privacy’ of its guests? The quid pro quo is you can take photos in the Lava Restaurant.
Our affable waiters walks us through a fixed two or three-course menu as well as an à la carte option. The two-course menu is ISK6900 whereas the three-course menu is ISK7900. Impressively, there is also a vegan menu option for those so inclined. The wine menu is more extensive than that at the spa restaurant. Amusingly, the wine prices were 25% less at the Lava Restaurant vs the Spa Restaurant for precisely the same wine. My Pouilly-Fume tasted the same but certainly went down easier.
The lamb fillet is a hearty main course with a sticky glacé sauce accompanied by baby carrots, Icelandic mushrooms and mustard (ISK4900). Mrs EatGoSee approvingly munches through the Ástarpungar: a local fried doughnut with raisins topped with salted caramel, vanilla ice cream and a mango chocolate mousse (ISK2200). So good, the staff brought us a second one on the house to wash down with my double macchiato.
So Would I Return to the Blue Lagoon Retreat Spa?
Both the Comfort and the Premium packages satisfy much-desired opportunity to swim in the Blue Lagoon. You also enjoy one silica face treatment, a towel and a free drink. This feels familiar. The Premium Package adds the extra bonus of a second mineral treatment, a bathrobe and slippers as well as an additional sparkling drink at Lava Restaurant with your booking. It is also hard to put a price on the freedom to take photos without being chastised.
As a reminder, it is €36 for the Comfort access or €54 for the Premium access. Two people can easily select the Premium pack and pay for lunch at Lava for the price of one person during the Retreat Spa.
The differentiator lies in the value of the Ritual treatment which must seriously improve to justify its pricing and sustain its luxury proposition. The Ritual is lazy and lacklustre at best when compared to other luxury spa treatments. It falls woefully short of luxury spa treatments in unique locations experienced in the Middle East, Seychelles, Mauritius, Caribbean or South East Asia. They should certainly provide a private therapeutic treatment service for the supposedly special minerals and include some form of massage treatment as part of the price. The current services meagre and the absence of a massage to make this available for an additional €100+ feels extortionate.
I suspect those distant-looking models were lying down in disbelief, recuperating, as they paid so much for so little.
The photograph policy is wildly out of touch. Nowadays, people want to indulge in unique, luxurious experiences and take photos together and share it online or just look back on fondly. The notional proposition of having a lifeguard-meet-photographer taking photos on a smartphone is forehead-slappingly absurd.
Lastly, the Lava Restaurant, as pleasant as it is, is a tangible step-down from the Spa Restaurant which could be reserved exclusively for Retreat Spa guests.
Who Should go to the Retreat Spa?
People who must avoid large crowds, people who want to indulge in the silence of the area, people who have ISK49,000 to burn, people who are indifferent to doing the Ritual experience themselves at this price. People who do not mind having someone else taking their photos and sending it to them.