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There’s more to Valentine’s Day than flowers

From hot air balloons to spa treatments, it's about spending time together

“I hate Hallmark holidays,” says media consultant Joceyln Loleng when asked about gift ideas for Valentine’s Day. “It’s a lousy commercial fraud,” says Michael Slater, a CPA based in Melville, New York. Cynical New Yorkers. Maybe. National sentiment. Possibly. Actually, about 27 percent of those polled in a nationwide survey conducted by Los Angeles–based market research company Kelton Research said when they think of Valentine’s Day, what comes to mind is a “fake holiday engineered by card companies and florists.”

This year, Valentine’s Day bashers nationwide will have a chance to express their anger in the “I Hate Valentine’s Day Because… ” Contest, sponsored by Amarula Cream, a sweet liqueur imported and distributed by Brown-Forman Corporation. The first and only prize is a three-day trip for two to Chicago, the site of the bloody Valentine’s Day Massacre on February 14, 1929, an attempted mob hit on gangster George “Bugs” Moran by Al Capone’s cohorts that ending up killing several of Moran’s men.

“The contest is a great opportunity to take a light-hearted approach to the pressure both men and women face with Valentine's Day. They’ve had the opportunity to express their frustrations and stress that comes with the holiday,” says a spokesperson for Brown-Forman.Whether it’s a box of candy, heart-covered boxers or a dozen red roses, most of us end up buying a gift for a loved one on Valentine’s Day. Even Loleng says she’ll buy something small for her beau. And the majority of us — or about 76 percent — stress about it, according to the survey conducted by Kelton Research and sponsored by Brown-Forman.

Xperience it

But V-day is supposed to be the opposite of stress: it’s the time to be indulgent. And these days, experience ranks high on the indulgence scale. Or so says the founders of Xperience Days. “We see a definitive shift in the spending habits of consumers away from material possessions and traditional luxury items towards more experiential purchases,” says Gavin Bishop, one of the company’s three co-founders.

“The idea behind Xperience Days is to establish the concept of giving fabulous experiences as gifts, rather than the swathes of material possessions already cluttering our homes,” says Bishop.

Gifts at Xperience Days range from a private helicopter ride for two over Manhattan, $125 for 5-7 minutes of flying time, to a four-day Land Rover adventure in Moab, Utah, priced at $4,390. Other romantic sojourns include: dance lessons for two in Philadelphia, $95 — choose from classic ballroom dancing to the cha-cha-cha; master cooking classes at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco for $340; or a hot air balloon flight over Merrimack River Valley in Massachusetts for $440.

Xperience Days gift certificates cost about the same as if you booked it on your own but you don’t have to hassle with researching the companies and making the arrangements, says Gavin. Packaged in a handsome, dark green box, the Xperience Days gift certificate comes wrapped up in a burgundy bow.

A similar site that limits its experiences to New York is Giftybox.com. Each gift box contains 12 experiences of which the recipient picks one. There are five themes to choose from, priced from $49 to $79. Experiences in the Chocolate Addiction gift box range from a trip to a chocolate-making studio in midtown Manhattan to a tropical chocolate tasting at MarieBelle, known for its rich Aztec hot chocolate. Other romantic themes include a Winery Tour for Two or French Restaurant for Two gift boxes.

Spa treatments side-by-side

And then there’s always the spa experience. What’s hot this V-day is couples massage or couples rituals, says Melisse Gelula, beauty and home spa design editor for Luxury SpaFinder magazine.

“The spa that does not have a couple’s room is rare,” she says. Couples massage varies little from traditional treatments except that the couples have the treatments in the same room at the same time. Usually the massage tables are arranged side-by-side. At the Body Massage Center in Denver, a 30-minute couples massage cost $100. A 60-minute couples massage runs $160.

Rituals tend to be more exotic, and more expensive. At the Mandarin Oriental in New York, a couple can book the VIP suite for three hours at the cost of $1,090. One hour is set aside for relaxation in the Asian-style room, complete with an elevated bath and a kang bed, a sleeping platform made of bricks or clay. The rest of the time is devoted to a ritual consisting of a series of treatments, or a journey, inspired by traditional cultures and designed to create a “signature experience.

‘East Meets West’ is a common theme this V-day, says Kristina Fitzhugh, editor of online directory Spa Index, where Valentine’s Day specials are designated with a red heart on the specials page.

The $479 Sweetheart Spa Package at Le Petite Retreat Day Spa in Los Angeles includes a $100 gift certificate to Yamashiro's Restaurant, a popular Asian restaurant in the mountains of Los Angeles. The Hot and Steamy special at New Mexico’s Ten Thousand Waves, $398 per person and up, includes a two-night stay, a Japanese hot stone massage and a private hot spring bath.

Anything edibleAnd of course, anything edible applied to the body is popular around Valentine’s Day, says Gelula, especially chocolate. The best-known spa for its chocolate treatments is the Hershey Spa. The 3 ½-hour Chocolate Escape Package, $322, features a whipped cocoa bath, a 20-minute cocoa massageand a chocolate fondue wrap.

Cyber shoppers can order spa gift certificates online at SpaFinder.com, which can be redeemed at any of the spas listed in the company’s Directory of Participating Spas. Gift cards also are sold at Staples, Walgreen's and Kroger stores nationwide.