A Destination in Arizona Redefines Wellness with an Emphasis on Attainability, Happiness and Inner Transformation

Finding a happy place.

Five years ago Marc Skalla and Adam Ross schemed up the idea to launch an approachable and attainable wellness destination based on a simple model of their own transformative experiences. The two entrepreneurs—Marc worked in the chemical business and Adam once owned a tech start-up—randomly met at a party. They later began the dialogue of starting a wellness resort with one major difference: accessibility. The result was Civana Wellness Resort & Spa in Carefree, Arizona.

“Civana started as an exploratory thing, like, ‘Hey, can we make this thing work?’” recalls Adam, who previously visited Miraval and attests to a life-changing experience. “We thought there was something here, and we kept going. The biggest piece was making the offering more accessible, attainable and flexible. At the end of the day, our mission is to make the world a happier, healthier place.”

But Marc and Adam, along with a few other business partners and experts in the spa industry, had their work cut out for them. The property, formerly the Carefree Resort & Conference Center, was a bank-owned foreclosed property before they purchased it in 2017.

“We want to create experiences that last with people so they can take some piece of this home with them—whether it’s reconnecting with a partner or a friend or oneself and creating some lasting impact that makes their lives better.”

“Lucille Ball and Dick Van Dyke used to shoot at Carefree Studios [there was a little production stage], and they would stay here in the late 1960s and 1970s,” says Adam. “So when we took it over, it was a rundown, middle-of-nowhere conference center hotel that was cowboy, honky-tonk.”

By February 2019, after two years of renovating and repositioning, Civana opened with 144 light-and-airy guest rooms and suites; two restaurants; more than 100 complimentary weekly fitness, personal growth and spiritual classes led by meditation experts, sound artists and movement coaches; and a 23,000-square-foot spa with 22 treatment rooms. “I think building anything from the ground up is hard, but taking an independent hotel in Carefree, Arizona, and turning it into a top destination spa is a challenge,” says Adam.

This is not a one-size-fits-all model for wellness. The primary emphasis here is allowing guests the opportunity to find true joy and happiness. “Our model is à la carte [from 15 to 30 classes included per day], rather than an all-inclusive model, and you can dial up or back your cost based on what you want to do. The pressure to do things is lower,” says Adam.

The rooms start at approximately $300 in the summer and roughly $400 in season. “If you want to do an all-inclusive package, you can do that too, and it’s probably 20% less expensive than other wellness resorts.”

Next year Civana will unveil 40 renovated suites as part of a new retreat series—or curated wellness experiences—for groups, tapping into a network of speakers and visiting experts such as professional dancer and choreographer Joshua Pelatzky and Alex Elle, a writer and breathwork coach.

“One of our primary areas of focus is pathways to happiness,” adds Amanda Grant, chief program and partnership officer. “From movement to mindfulness and everything in between, guests are encouraged to explore ways to hardwire our brains toward an intentional bias for peace in the present moment. Overall, I love to watch the synchronicity unfold at Civana. Without fail, those who show up at Civana find what they need.”

To that end, the team is working on a happiness council and differentiating themselves in the realm of contentment. “We have this mission of happiness first and healthiness always, but this notion of happiness first is not sunshine, unicorns, kittens and rainbows. It’s about peace in the present, or contentment, and if we can give people tools to find happiness, that’s a big thing for us,” says Adam. “Mindfulness has been the big thing, but our spin is happiness.”

From a sunset sound healing led by an instructor who borrows from her Aztec ancestry using energy-clearing drums and sound bowls, to the guided Metate hike with lessons on the solar oasis, a wildlife watering hole and a glimpse of a giant, 40-foot-tall Saguaro with sculptural arms pointing in varying directions, there’s truly something for everyone.

“We’ve created an offering that’s accessible to more people,” says Adam. “We want to create experiences that last with people so they can take some piece of this home with them—whether it’s reconnecting with a partner or a friend or oneself and creating some lasting impact that makes their lives better.”

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