What exactly is a wellness retreat…and can you just knock around?

I am told that wellness retreats are vacations that allow you to focus on your mental, physical, and emotional health while participating in fitness and meditation routines, healthy eating, and spa therapies. Okay…got it.

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You know….just because we’re at a wellness retreat…doesn’t mean the rules change. We’re not here to make friends. I’ll come back to that.

Melissa wanted to surprise me with a gift of a stress-free getaway…to relieve some of the stress that has been weighing me down. She loves me.

She told me to reserve the time, but didn’t tell me for what…or exactly where…at least until near the time to go. And when she finally told me…I started teasing her and said, “Oh…like a CULT?”

Well…it wasn’t anything like a cult…but it also wasn’t anything like a wellness spa…certainly not anything like we expected.

But I was also kinda familiar with the area. The area was smack in the middle of what was known as the Borscht Belt. I was familiar with it. Melissa was not. Think Dirty Dancing on steroids.

My family spent time going to the multitude of hotels and bungalows that were seasonal getaways for the masses from New York City. My father and grandfather belonged to an organization called King Solomon Lodge, a part of the Knights of Pythias. I never understood the fascination…I always thought it was just a group of old men getting together and kibitzing over nonsense.

The families would get together at these all-inclusive resorts in the Catskill Mountains. It was very family-oriented…so much so that parents would drive up, check in, and tell their kids to scat until dinner. They had everything at these places…it was like a city unto itself. Someone described these places as cruise ships on land. Yeah…pretty much sums it up.

Our destination for the weekend was Honor’s Haven. It was one of those resorts that, like some of the others, has been transformed into a business with an entirely different use. This one, formerly Fallsview, is adjacent to another of the former resorts, the Nevele, has adorned itself as a wellness center. And it is ginormous.

Honor’s Haven Lobby

Melissa booked for us a package of a Spa & Healing weekend. The package included Swedish massages, energy yoga sessions, acupressure massages, guided nature walks, and a healthy buffet breakfast and dinner each day. We had full use of the indoor pool, the Jacuzzi, as well as the sauna rooms. Melissa also booked a facial for herself and an extra massage for me.

The weekend got off to a bad start before we even arrived, as Melissa got an email saying that the facial she was so looking forward to had to be canceled because the esthetician had a family emergency and would not be on site. But what about another esthetician…or another day? A wellness spa has only one esthetician employed? Doesn’t sound right to me.

Melissa had booked me a massage for 4 p.m., for right after we arrived. Since her facial was canceled, she spent the time roaming the grounds and getting a feel for the place until we were to be at dinner at 6 p.m.

What really set the stage…and this is kinda channeling those old Borscht Belt resorts…they told as we entered the dining room that they place you at a table…for every meal…each day…for the entire weekend…with other people. “You’ll be interacting a lot with these people…”

Melissa….with other people. Here we go.

“I don’t like this forced camaraderie,” she tells me. “I thought it was going to be me and you in white robes and fluffy slippers…me…you…not five new friends.”

Our table for the weekend at Honor’s Haven

Kumbaya, my Lord…Kumbaya…

Melissa made it clear that she wanted no part of the gang at our table.

The dining room began to fill up as there was a very large group arriving for what would be a one-night stay…some sort of bonding event for them. There were a total of 12 tables with most of the seats filled.

And, then, there was us. Melissa and me and some new weekend friends. Well, not for Melissa. And I tried hard to go along with that, but Melissa says I just give off that vibe that I am approachable. What can I say?

Lenora was an older woman, there with her daughter Tierney who had been there before and brought her mom for the return trip to this sanctuary because she quickly disclosed that she had a massive breakdown.

Bushra was a middle-aged woman, from New York, who not only trauma dumped, but had her motor running almost the entire time with non-stop personal information about her husband, daughter, and a horse with a cell phone in its mouth. Don’t ask.

Emily was a young woman who seemed like she was about to launch herself off the mountain top, admitting that she was there for an escape from her life, and was asking probing questions of everyone before her ass even hit the seat.

And there was Bonnie, who was lucky enough to be sitting by her lonesome self because she either paid for a different package or was being rewarded for some act of kindness. It couldn’t be a punishment of solitary confinement because a punishment would be to actually sit with this maudlin crew.

Melissa maintained her position of not wanting to engage. She kept her head down and refused to look up so as not to even unintentionally make eye contact. Believe me, they each tried to engage her, but if you don’t look up, you don’t know that they are actually addressing you so you don’t have to answer. I am learning.

I was actually trying VERY hard not to laugh because of the absolute befuddled looks on the faces of these people as they are openly discussing why they are there and the problems of their lives…while Melissa is looking down, eating her meal, with zero reaction, less than zero acknowledgement.

Breakfast at Honor’s Haven

The food was actually really good. Probably the best part of our stay. A great variety and all healthy. They did have chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookies on the dessert bar…and most people, including Melissa, were putting them in napkins to sneak up to the room. I don’t know why I said “sneak” because nobody is watching, nobody cares. But it’s a wellness spa not a fat farm, right?

We were the first to be finished and Melissa signaled for me that it was time to go. So we got up and as we did, one of our spa mates asks if we are going to yoga at 7:30. I wasn’t even sure of the itinerary…Melissa was in charge of that. So we made our way to the elevator and I asked, “Are we going to yoga?” When Melissa told me that we were, I wished I hadn’t eaten so much.

We got changed, waited a bit, and then headed down to the spa area. There was one yoga room. How is there only one yoga room in a wellness spa? And there was no option for the type of yoga. There was one class. That was it.

And IN that one class…guess who? The rest of the crew. Dinner together…now yoga together.

The wellness lounge at Honor’s Haven

Kumbaya, my Lord…Kumbaya…

Take the shoes off and enter. Grab a mat and…buckle my seat belt…because…

Melissa and I have both taken yoga in the past. But neither one of us was prepared for this kind of session. To be honest, I was so afraid of not taking it seriously because of all of the planning and work Melissa put into arranging for a special weekend to reduce my stress. And, as it turns out, SHE was so afraid of not taking it seriously because she knows that I usually AM more serious about this kind of activity than most people. But she was also afraid to “react” because she knows I am easily set off and I will totally lose it…laughing.

The teacher presented a different style than either of us were accustomed to. And had we known we probably both would have passed on it. But you’re in there, you’re committed for the hour. The teacher’s “yoga voice” and the over-tapping on the body caused Melissa to “check out” in the first seven minutes. I had no idea that she was feeling like that because I couldn’t really see her face…and she was avoiding looking at me so as not to trigger me. I participated but was constantly looking at my watch to check for the time. It was a long hour.

After we were done chanting and stuff, the teacher decided to go around the room and check in with everyone…asking them what they would like to share.

First up? Emily. For someone so depressed she had a LOT to say. Now I am thinking I have to come up with something…and it had better be serious or else these people will think I am the weird one and Melissa will kill me.

Immediately after Emily, the teacher turns to Melissa. “Would you like to share anything with us?”

Melissa…as stern as I have ever heard her…”I’ve got nothing to share.”

Honestly…it completely threw me off.  And I was next. “I haven’t done this in a long time so I was really tight and couldn’t seem to get loose.” That was all I could come up with. But I guess it was good because the teacher replied with, “That’s great…just remember Alan…your body loves you.” Oh geez…

After everyone was done “sharing” we got up, put our mats away and before I could even lift my head, Melissa was gone. She was out of the room and putting her shoes back on. “Let’s just get out of here.”

Once we got back to the room…Melissa shared.

“I came here for a fucking facial, to get a massage, and go for a walk. I’m not here to hug trees with five new friends! You want to know what I was really thinking about the whole time in that yoga room? Wow…I have that cookie back in the room!”

I am an energy person and I am very intuitive…always have been. That yoga room was absolutely filled with such negative energy which is not unexpected since our friends…the people in that group…were all there for a reason. And while they trauma dumped at the dinner table, the negative thoughts, feelings, and energy were all being released into that room.

Melissa said it best…”They have a peace park here for a reason. I don’t want to listen to anyone going on about the earthquake or the eclipse. YOUR trauma is not a part of MY journey. I want to go into the sauna, but I don’t want to be cornered and having to listen to those people.”

And it’s still only Friday.

The next day started with breakfast at 8 a.m. back in the dining room with our friends.

Again…our table for the weekend

Kumbaya, my Lord…Kumbaya…

The gang must have actually picked up on the fact that their new friend Melissa wasn’t interested in engaging, and just talked amongst themselves.

At 9:30 a.m. there was the guided nature walk…with the group. We were going to be breaking from the itinerary and going on our own “hike” as there were a few trails on the perimeter of the grounds that led to a beautiful waterfalls.

The beautiful waterfalls on one of the trails at Honor’s Haven

We decided to explore on our own.

The lodge that once hosted the throngs of visitors at the Nevele

We managed to find an opening in the fencing along the property line and walked the grounds of the old Nevele, which is abandoned and crumbling to the ground. It was sad and somewhat creepy…but a sign of what has happened to many of the famed Borscht Belt resorts.

The hike was really nice. The trails were very well-marked and although somewhat easy, there were enough inclines and some rugged areas to make it a bit challenging.

The Mago Tree

Lunch was not included so we went to the center of the town of Ellenville to get a bite to eat. It’s definitely a small quaint town…the population is just over 4,000 people. As you drive through the area, there are some nice homes, old buildings, but so much of the homes in the area either look like they are about to collapse or that they are waiting for bulk pickup with all of the stuff on the property.

Borscht Belt Museum

We happened upon the Borscht Belt Museum, which has a wonderful display of many of the places that made the area the once popular destination it was. I had Googled places to eat but the one we found, and loved, didn’t even come up in the search. We found it accidently when driving around.

Morning Sunshine Market has a wonderful variety of healthy sandwiches, soups, desserts, and teas….including those of the vegan variety. Definitely a place to eat when your wellness retreat is not serving you that meal.

Back at the spa, Melissa and I had back to back massages with Lana, the same therapist I had the previous day. I found it odd that there is nothing on the spa’s menu of services for a couples massage. What spa doesn’t offer a couples massage? And even if you DON’T offer a couples massage, you don’t have a second therapist to work on you both at the same time in separate rooms? Apparently not.

Well…that’s not EXACTLY true…because…

They also don’t give you a choice of whether you’re getting a male or female therapist. You just find out when you get there. It’s like the Seinfield episode when George finds out he is getting a massage from Raymond. They should give you that option. But, then, they don’t GIVE options. You take the little that they have.

We both agreed that Lana was really good. Apparently, from information garnered from our friends, the “other” therapist left them kinda bruised. So although we can’t give a first-hand account of anyone else…it seems like Lana was hands down choice for a massage therapist for the weekend.

Following our massages, we spent time in the Jacuzzi and then the saunas…getting some use of the facilities.

Then it was dinner time with friends.

Again…our table for the weekend

Kumbaya, my Lord…Kumbaya…

Melissa gave me the green light to fully interact this time with the group. And after diving into some conversation with them, it became clear that the seven of us were the only ones in this HUGE place to be on a wellness or spa weekend. The others…were there for their respective companies (there were actually two of those groups) for bonding events. Bonding events. Not for a wellness retreat. Seven people for an entire weekend at a big wellness spa.

Bushra and Lenora also talked about how they were bruised from their acupressure sessions that day. We were scheduled for our acupressure sessions the next day before leaving.

The grounds at Honor’s Haven

We ate dinner, took a quiet walk around the grounds, and then retired early. When we got up in the morning…before we headed down for breakfast…I asked Melissa if she was still interested in the acupressure treatments. I am more familiar with the various massage techniques and after hearing Bushra and Lenora describe their black and blues…I was leery about it.

Melissa said that she was not feeling it either…neither one of us wanted to feel beat up. She then tells me that she got an email at 1 a.m. saying that if we wanted to cancel we had to do it by 3 a.m.

What the fxxxx! We are at a WELLNESS RETREAT. Supposedly. If we are getting rest and relaxation…WHY ARE WE GOING TO BE UP BETWEEN 1 AND 3 A.M.? Yeah…NO.

We had breakfast, our last meal there, first. Believe it or not, there was no Kumbaya as Bushra and Emily didn’t show up and Bonnie came in late. I was disappointed. I wanted to take a group picture at the table, just like they used to do at Kutcher’s and Homowack back in the day.

I did talk to the manager and asked that we be credited for the extras Melissa had paid since her facial was cancelled with no offer to reschedule it for another day, and we cancelled the two acupressure sessions.

The weekend ended up a bit of a disappointment. Honor’s Haven is beautiful, it is immaculate and even elegant. The grounds are beautiful. The staff is friendly and super attentive.

But if a place is going to advertise and market itself as a spa or wellness retreat, then it should offer services and options, and have the staff and resources to qualify as such. There wasn’t even soap or shampoo in the rooms.

I guess any place you go it can become whatever you make of it. But if I am on ANY kind of a getaway, I am certainly not interested in forced interactions with people who are intent on sharing their miseries with me. We didn’t sign up for that.

Kumbaya, my Lord…Kumbaya…


  1. Your stories make me laugh. Melissa and I would get along great, not a fan of strangers either. The hubby will talk to anyone. (Sometimes ,so much that I want to strangle him.) When on a cruise we either asked for a table for two or would eat somewhere else. Keep the stories coming.

  2. Great read Alan. The antics of your new friends and Melissa’s comments have you fertile materials for this one. Thanks!

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