“I almost canceled this so I could work,” said a panelist on Jennifer Lopez’s first Limitless Voyage theme cruise. She was speaking about work/life balance to a group of women so eager to be together that they’d rolled out of bed for a 9 a.m. Q&A session after an epic party that had the entire ship dressed up and drinking and dancing until late.
Do you know who did cancel an appearance at the start of the cruise so she could work? JLo.
JLo also didn’t sail on the voyage, though that was never part of the plan.
It’s ironic, really. The Virgin Voyages sailing aboard the Scarlet Lady cruise ship, orchestrated by Lopez’s Limitless Labs organization, was themed around empowering women to reach their full potential in their professional aspirations while balancing that drive with personal growth and self-care. A panel of a dozen badass female entrepreneurs took time out of their busy lives to connect and party with 200 driven women looking to take their careers and social impact to the next level — all while having rockstar levels of fun on a no-holds-barred, adults-only cruise ship.
Time-strapped CEOs, cash-strapped budding businesswomen and I spent five days getting real, getting inspired, embracing truths, working out, laying out, finding moments of Zen, dancing merengue in the Dominican Republic, jumping into waterfalls, stuffing our faces, toasting our good fortune and shaking our booties well past our bedtimes.
Scarlet Lady, our floating home for the week, was the ideal playground, the battery that kept our energy charged via drag diva shows, pajama parties and all the pizza we could eat. It made sure that all the woo-woo moments and healing sound baths that came with the Limited Voyage programming were balanced with an irreverent vibe full of sexual innuendos and F-bombs.
For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.
All the Limitless Voyagers gave each other space to enjoy the sun, sand and sea away from their inboxes and countless Zoom meetings and conference calls.
As for Jennifer, Virgin Voyages’ own chief entertainment and lifestyle officer? She chose the daily grind over this chance to dig deep, play hard and get to know some amazing women.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
JLo might not have shown up, but I did. Here’s what she missed.
An epic cast
As the OG Fly Girl, Jennifer Lopez would have loved the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the Limitless ladies, who had bonded like sisters by the time the ship set sail following an all-out drone show over the Miami shoreline.
The group included 50 Latina entrepreneurs who were gifted the cruise by Jennifer Lopez and Virgin Voyages through a partnership with Grameen America, a micro-finance organization that assists small women-owned businesses in underserved communities. They were the most enthusiastic group, sitting in the front row at every event and radiating energy. Additional participants represented a range of ethnicities and ages; even a few men dared to attend the sessions as well. Ben totally could have come.
If Jennifer had any doubt about who runs the world (not her song, I know), she wouldn’t after meeting the dozen female CEOs, entrepreneurs and businesswomen who participated in daily Q&A panel sessions and so-called fireside chats. One speaker commented she had never experienced so many accomplished women in the same room at one time. They included Stacy London (star of “What Not to Wear,” now the CEO of State of Menopause), Katie Ann Echevarria Rosen Kitchens (co-founder of FabFitFun) and Carrie Byalick (president of Stephen Colbert’s production company).
This C-suite group was definitely a Virgin-style Rockstar Suite.
And yet these rockstars were not aloof, holding themselves apart from the ambitious women who came to learn from their success stories. They engaged in earnest conversation, posed for selfies and joined the Limitless ladies for dinner. Heck, Stacy London joined us in a workout class and took part in some raucous post-class cheering and chanting in the hallway.
In other words, these busy professionals showed up in every way, which, I discovered, is the Virgin Voyages vibe. People show up in full force for everything.
When Virgin says dress in red and party in the Red Room, the ship’s versatile performance space, the massive theater is packed with scarlet-clad revelers. When a group of Latina Gen Zers hosts a performance in the ship’s nightclub, the dance floor is packed with both guests and the ship’s own cast of dancers and singers cheering them on. When the server at Korean barbecue restaurant Gunbae asks if you want to play a drinking game, you say “hell yeah!” and take the soju shot.
I think Jennifer would have loved it.
Related: 11 things I loved on Virgin Voyages — and 6 I kind of hated
To be fair, as noted above, Lopez never intended to sail with us. She was going to make an appearance at a pre-cruise event. It wasn’t clear if she would perform or give a pep talk, but her absence was important enough that Virgin Voyages gave every cabin $100 in onboard spending money to apologize to guests who might have booked the sailing in order to see her.
But it was clear that a Virgin Voyages cruise in general, and the Limitless Voyage in particular, is all about showing up, connecting and getting your mind blown in ways you didn’t expect. I hope JLo feels inspired to join the cast of amazing women at the next themed cruise because she might be surprised at how she benefits from that.
A shot of courage
A Virgin Voyages cruise is not just about showing up; it’s also about taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone.
It’s not your grandmother’s cruise. Crew members can be tattooed, pierced or gender fluid — something not as visible on other lines. The ship’s Diva, a drag queen named Carlos, will call you up onstage and ask you to hold his balls, and you will order treats at “Lick Me Til Ice Cream” before or after you dare to get your first tattoo on board or belt karaoke songs in the Social Club.
The Limitless Voyage took this fearlessness and no-holds-barred way of living life to the fullest on vacation and applied it back to our everyday lives of work and relationships. The panelists discussed the art of risk-taking and how to face impostor syndrome. They challenged us to speak our truths but also to examine the story we tell ourselves about who we should be and make space for the life and work we want to live. (And if that got too touchy-feely for you, you could go to Deck 16 and beat up a punching bag or go to the Draught Haus and do shots to shake it off.)
Now I get that Jennifer Lopez might not have felt compelled to sit and listen to a bunch of successful women speak given that she’s likely wealthier and more successful than the incredible women speaking on her theme cruise.
But JLo, have you ever participated in a workout like The Class, led by its co-CEO Natalie Kuhn, who radiates kindness and enthusiasm like no one you’ve ever met? At 8 a.m., an ungodly hour on a party ship, she led a packed HIIT class that pumped us up with high-energy movement and even higher-energy music, then asked us to stop, place our hands on our hearts and consider what truth we wanted to embrace and what stories we wanted to abandon as we shimmied, burpeed and sweat into a better version of ourselves.
“Your quality of life is too important to be left up to chance,” she shouted, as I felt myself tearing up and vowing with each jump and each squat to abandon any toxic insecurities on the dance floor.
Yeah, we work on the floor, JLo. We took some risks on the floor, on the cruise and on shore excursions where we jumped off waterfalls. That sounds like your thing.
Detox and retox
I can also only imagine that for a busy professional like Jennifer, with her beauty business, her acting and her charity work and concerts, balance is hard to find. Does she go-go-go and forget to take time out for self-care, to do what she wants to do and not what her fans, business partners and publicist tell her to do?
On the Limitless Voyage, balance was a key component, both in our discussions and in our daily schedule. We pondered how to take time for self-care while pursuing our professional goals — without that yoga class or 10-minute meditation becoming another mandatory box to check. We explored how balance might not look like a debutante with a book on her head but rather a slackliner wobbling her way from point A to point B, and how work and life might not be opposing forces after all.
And we lived this balance on board — not in a tantric guru kind of way but with the Virgin Voyages mantra of “tox, detox and retox.”
We started our mornings with soul-baring panel sessions, then indulged in decadent breakfasts (like a burger served on two pieces of French toast at The Galley). We paid homage to JLo with booty burn workouts, then downed pina coladas on the pool deck while the rest of our bodies burned in the Caribbean sun. I spent an hour lying meditatively on a deck chair while a svelte, bikini-clad healer played singing bowls and rang chimes by my head, then got tipsy during a six-course cocktail-pairing dinner … because that’s how you roll on Scarlet Lady.
Related: Detox and retox: I tried 6 of Virgin Voyages’ free fitness classes, and here’s how it went
At The Feast, hosted by Rei Chou (a business owner, healer and personal coach) at the Extra Virgin Italian restaurant on board, my tablemates and I had a heart-to-heart about the gifts we have in abundance and what true fulfillment looks like while we stuffed our faces with meatballs, gnocchi and mini doughnuts. We danced shoulder to shoulder and socialized at crowded bars, then escaped to our cabins to seek solace in a softly swinging hammock, gazing out at the calming ocean waves.
Yin and yang, work and play, detox and retox. Sometimes, JLo, a cruise is the balance you need when work becomes all-consuming.
“I’m so honored and amazed that you all took time out from your vacation to visit us,” a Dominican woman told our tour group in Puerto Plata. We had to come to meet the women and girls working at RePapel to recycle paper garbage into new paper products (notebooks, cards, beads) they can sell to support their families.
So much of the Limitless Voyage was about ourselves: self-discovery, self-care, self-indulgence. But the organizers made sure we also focused on the larger community and how to bring more voices and perspectives to the table.
In the Dominican Republic, several vanloads of Virgin cruisers chose to skip fun in the sun to support a local women-owned business. The ladies welcomed us into their business headquarters with gifts and song to show us how they embrace sustainability, reducing landfill while creating opportunities for women to earn money closer to their families instead of traveling far from home to become housekeepers.
We ripped paper into shreds so it could be turned into pulp and sponged water off newly minted paper so it could dry into sheets. But the activities weren’t the point — it was the connection. There was a joy in dancing merengue with tour guides, bus drivers and gangly, wide-grinning 11-year-olds despite language and culture barriers and getting a small glimpse into how they are bettering the world despite a lack of material resources.
On board, we celebrated diverse voices as well, something you might not find on other cruise ships. Latina comedians Aida Rodriguez and Gina Brillon cracked us up while admonishing us whenever we dared to be oversensitive cupcakes. A Latina girl band brought down the house with their original songs, outsized personalities and sharp dance moves. Wait — does that remind you of anyone?
After five days, I leave this ship feeling refreshed, despite the hangover and food coma. I have a renewed commitment to rewriting the narrative I tell myself about my worth and rethinking what’s possible in my career. It’s not something I expected to find on a cruise — and certainly not one where I drank more and stayed out dancing later than I have in years.
Maybe Jennifer Lopez didn’t need a cruise to find such things. Maybe she’s surrounded by people who have her back and she always takes time for self-care. Perhaps she goes on epic vacations where she connects with others, reconnects with herself and tries something new.
But if I learned anything from the CEOs and women entrepreneurs at the Limitless Voyage, it’s that no matter how successful you are, self-doubt never disappears. You always have a need for more self-care, more connection with a supportive community and, frankly, more fun. Underneath all those C-suite execs were little girls freaking out that they were making mistakes or that they still weren’t good enough.
A wise woman once said, “You get back what you put out.” So, JLo, should you choose to host another cruise with Limitless Labs — and Virgin Voyages says there will be a reunion tour — I hope you find time in your schedule to attend. You might be surprised that you get more from the experience than you thought. You can thank me later.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories: