I Went on JoJo Siwa’s Caribbean Cruise to Heal My Inner Child. Here’s How It Went.

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I was on a ship in the middle of the ocean, sitting next to a table covered in sparkles, hair bows, gems, earrings, and pretty much every kind of accessory imaginable. I was getting a makeover from a girl even more decked out than the table. She wore her signature, head-to-toe sequined outfit that was impossible to miss. It was Penelope — the newest member of the four-person girl pop group XOMG POP!, founded by former “Dance Mom” star turned TikTok powerhouse JoJo Siwa and her mom-slash-manager, Jessalyn Siwa. “What kind of bow do you want?” Penelope asked. I thought seriously, before selecting the polka-dot option.

If this sounds like an unexpected scenario for a 20-something journalist more used to covering politics than pop stars, I agree. But I was on a mission to heal my inner child in the best way I knew how: spontaneity, adventure, and joyous, unapologetic femininity.

Basically, my inner child was in full tantrum mode, and Jojo Siwa was calling.

Generally speaking, the inner child is a part of the psyche that influences how adults experience emotions and interact with the world. When someone is in touch with their inner child, they feel curious and creative and excited about life. When the inner child is neglected, it’s not uncommon to struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, self-criticism, and feeling stuck or disconnected, per the Foundation for Post-Traumatic Healing and Complex Trauma Research. Over the past few months, I’d been struggling with burnout and noticed a big uptick in my self-critical tendencies and perfectionism. Basically, my inner child was in full tantrum mode, and Jojo Siwa was calling.

When I was invited to the XOMG POP! Royal Caribbean cruise — a three-night getaway to the Bahamas full of music and spectacle and relaxation — I knew this was my chance to infuse a little joy and childlike wonder back into my life (despite my having motion sickness in the past). I decided to do all the silly things my inner child wanted (case in point: I got a makeover, even though I was surrounded by 10-year-old girls and worried the gem adhesive would make me break out.) Above all, I decided to turn off my tired, burnt-out adult brain and let my inner child take over for a few days.

Once I was fitted with the sparkly cat ears that completed my makeover, I said my goodbyes to the XOMG POP! girls and decided to explore the rest of the ship. With 18 stories, four pools, a surfing station, a zipline, an aqua theater, a regular theater, a shaded and tree-filled “central park” walkway dotted with restaurants, and a million different bar and food options, it took a long time to see everything. But my favorite place by far was the boardwalk zone, an open-air deck with arcades, hot dog stands, ice cream parlors, and arcade games that reminded me of my childhood spent in beach towns. When I saw a huge carousel, I knew it was my chance to connect with the easy kind of childhood fun I wanted. I picked out my favorite animal — a golden horse — and went for a ride, not minding when my head started to spin. I was laughing, and it felt silly and special and intuitive.

Image Source: Sara Youngblood Gregory

On day two, the ship docked at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas. I spent the day wandering around gorgeous beaches, eating chocolate-and-vanilla swirled ice cream, and staring lustily at the on-site water park (despite what my inner child wanted, I couldn’t justify the ticket price). By the final day of the cruise, I knew I needed to do more to commit to the youthfulness of it all. When I got up that morning, I decided to have fun with my look (glitter eye shadow, pink lip gloss, and messy space buns paired with a matching pink short-and-tank-top set), mostly because hair and clothes and makeup had been feeling like a chore lately, rather than something I genuinely enjoyed.

From there, I went to two different XOMG POP! concerts, one holiday themed and one “party like a pop star” style. The girls — Penelope, Tinie T, Brooklyn, and Dallas — were dancing, singing, and facilitating dance-offs with the crowd. Both concerts had upbeat, energetic performances. But I actually spent most of the time looking at the audience around me, the families and kids who were clearly having so much fun. I still felt a little out of place — I’m still a childless, uptight adult at a kids’ concert, after all — but it did allow me an opportunity to appreciate how dazzled my child self would have been at this environment. And that gave me permission to relax and send love to my more youthful self.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a kid at heart,” Siwa tells me as we chat after the concerts. “I think kids are actually inspiring [with] their imagination, their ability to find the good, find the happy.”

When I woke up the next morning, the ship was once again docked on the Florida coast, and my vacation was officially over. As hard as I tried, I definitely did not heal my inner child in one weekend (my therapist tells me it actually takes a really long time). But neither did I fall into the self-critical ways of adulthood or feel disappointed I wasn’t more productive during the weekend. Instead, I was thrilled to simply reconnect with fun, which is probably what my inner child really wanted in the first place.

Image Sources: PS Photography / Sara Youngblood Gregory and Photo Illustration by Aly Lim

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