Relaxing at the spa -- a thing of the past? More and more women prefer to have a social experience. Photo: The Surrey Hotel Spa

I can fondly recall a time when the only sound a person heard in a spa waiting room was the dribble of a plugged-in mini waterfall or an Enya track on loop. The lights were dimmed, the candles were flickering -- it was a quiet escape from noise, stress, and other people. And that's precisely how I liked my spa time to feel.

But in the past year or two, I've noticed that "quiet time" is not necessarily what other women look for in a trip to the spa. Many spa lounges are becoming social zones, where bridal parties, best friends, and mother-daughter duos outnumber single girls. Tea and snacks have long been standard, but now you can order full-on meals or even enjoy a glass of wine in many spa waiting rooms. Sure, it makes for a fun outing for groups, but what about those flying solo who just want an escape? Can these two very different types of clients coexist?

Inside Voices
In most spas, it all depends on the etiquette of your fellow guests. For example, "Cell phones and BlackBerries are banned in the 'quiet zones' of the spa," says Susan Grey, Director of East Coast Spa Operations at the world-famous Bliss Spa. But many women are resistant to put away their PDAs, and it's common to hear them clicking away despite house rules to the contrary -- both implied and often posted right there on the walls.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, Mary Blackmon, creator of Spa-Addicts.com, says, "I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect and request courtesy. I once was in a small lounge with a woman gabbing, so I asked her politely (and kindly) if she'd mind whispering," says Blackmon. The woman obliged her request, but would I have the guts to ask the same of a chatty neighbor? Probably not. Sometimes you might simply be stuck listening to clicking keys on a nearby phone or hearing a woman across the room recount the details of her recent labor and delivery, which I think we can all agree is not very relaxing.

Can't We All Just Get Along?
At least one spa industry executive thinks its possible to satisfy both the loungers and the chatters among us. "There's a big responsibility for spas that are going to be the larger spas to accommodate both types of consumers," says Mike Canizales, CEO of Spa Chakra on New York's Fifth Avenue. "We have transient spaces like the library and the rooftop deck for clients to roam around and socialize quietly," says Canizales.

"On a typical day, you might have 5 different people in our lounge area, but 3 out of the 5 are there alone. We do have guidelines like 'No cellphones please' posted throughout the spa, but we keep it quiet and we keep it zen-like with soothing music so no one is talking loudly," says Canizales. "If you set a certain tone with low-lighting and a very strong ambiance, and staff members speaking softly, people know how to behave."

Pass the Courvoisier
Of course, you can always select a spa that openly caters to one type of client or another. At New York's legendary Plaza Hotel, guests at the luxe Caudalie Spa wait for their treatments in a full-scale wine lounge, which offers complimentary libations courtesy of their sommelier. "The atmosphere in the French Paradox Wine Lounge is both relaxed and social," says Caudalie Head Aesthetician and Training Manager Regine Berthelot. "Many guests come in a group of 2 or 3, and we have bigger groups of 6 or 10. Single guests start chatting with other guests and often end up exchanging phone numbers and business cards," says Berthelot. The communal vibe of the lounge is perfect for those who want to relax and chat. And, you have to admit, the idea of downing some Chardonnay before a Swedish massage sounds pretty... intoxicating.

A Room of One's Own
For those who refuse to give up the idea of wearing a robe anywhere but a dark, quiet room with nary another soul in sight, New York's Surrey Hotel Spa is setting a new standard of alone time. The hotel itself, built on a quiet block nestled between Central Park and some small Madison Avenue shops, "is very residential and quiet," explains Cheryl Jacobs, Spa Director. And as for that alone time we promised you: "There are no locker rooms. Each treatment room is equipped with its own shower so guests can have a very intimate experience," says Jacobs. Your treatment room serves as your lounge, changing room, and shower, for a true quiet escape from everyone and everything.