I spent five days aboard Goop at Sea, Gwyneth Paltrow's unlikely partnership with a budget-cruise giant. It wasn't what I expected.
The sun shone through the window of my stateroom on Celebrity Cruises' Summit as the captain greeted us over the loudspeaker. It was my first morning aboard "Goop at Sea," the much-hyped cruise from Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle company, and he promised that we were "in for a treat."
"You heard me right, that is Gwyneth Paltrow I am talking about," the captain said with excitement.
I picked up my stateroom phone, anxious that all the spots would be taken in the day's two workshops – a low-impact fitness class and an intuition seminar. This was, after all, Goop's inaugural cruise – a concept Paltrow first floated in January 2020 as a one-day sail around the Mediterranean, with wellness seminars and keynote talks in the style of the brand's $5,760 In Goop Health summits.
I shouldn't have worried. When I was connected with the guest-relations desk, they told me I was the only person to sign up.
I didn't face any competition for any of Goop's other onboard events, either. As the six-night cruise wore on, I began to realize I may well have been the only passenger who'd booked a ticket with Goop's offerings in mind.
Paltrow was not aboard the Summit, which set sail from the Port of Miami on October 9. Nor would she, or any Goop higher-ups, be on the other three Goop at Sea cruises scheduled for 2021.
Still, I dreaded greeting the 298 other passengers as I hurried up to the dock just 30 minutes before we were due to set sail. My flight from Philadelphia had been canceled at the last minute, which forced me into a very delayed layover. I arrived with unbrushed hair in a wrinkled midi dress and yellowing Air Force 1s, picturing the inevitable gaggles of pristine, thin women who'd already be on board sipping the new smoothie I'd heard Paltrow enthuse over on "The Goop Podcast."
Instead, I found myself among a group of quintessential cruisers - cargo shorts, leggings, flip-flops - all there for nothing but a good time among slot machines and daiquiris. No Goopies, no wellness warriors, and none of the glamorous staffers from Netflix's "The Goop Lab." In fact, nobody I spoke with knew they were aboard a Goop cruise at all, even the few who attended Goop events.
I've covered Goop and the wellness industry for years, and when I booked my ticket ($855.91, which included a stateroom with a balcony and the cruise's basic drink and meal package), I still quietly hoped the trip would have a hint of Paltrow's initial vision for Goop at Sea before the pandemic scrapped it. Those hopes were dashed pretty quickly.
But they were replaced with fascination as I witnessed, and immersed myself in, the eccentricity of Goop's unlikely collaboration with a budget-cruise giant known for its all-you-can-eat buffets and Broadway-style entertainment.
The shifting concept of the Goop cruise
Goop, which started as a newsletter in 2008 and is now a lifestyle empire valued at $250 million, does plenty of in-person events these days - seminars, weekendlong "summits," and concept stores selling supplements, gemstone water bottles, skin-care products, cookware, and vibrators, all packaged in Paltrow's gleaming, minimal aesthetic.
When Paltrow announced the Goop at Sea concept in January 2020, I expected a yacht of Lululemon-clad ladies and a glamorous Paltrow basking in the salty breeze of the sea.
"I love being on the water, I love being by the water, and I love being in the water," the actress turned wellness CEO told USA Today. "I think, energetically, it's very cleansing to be near the sea or in the sea."
I wasn't the only one with high hopes - Twitter lit up, with both Goop lovers and haters musing about the trip. "What are the odds of Marianne Williamson being on the Goop cruise?" the gynecologist Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a vocal critic of Goop, wrote. Journalists tweeted enthusiastically, volunteering themselves as passengers.
Then, the pandemic hit, with a cruise playing host to one of the first big public outbreaks. Information about Goop at Sea dried up, and it was canceled in June 2020.
In August, a press release touted a new concept: The trip would now be four separate cruises from October through December featuring Goop-approved experts.
Yet as I people-watched from the pool deck, ate a mass-prepared three-course dinner, and swayed to a live band performing Top 40 hits near the martini bar, I got the sense that the concept had drifted quite a bit from whatever was envisioned in some Goop headquarters meeting room.
After an all-you-can-eat buffet, I cried out my anxiety with a Goop clairvoyant
Headed to my intuition seminar on the cruise's first morning, I had a brief tour of the boat.
I walked down my floor's deserted hallway to the elevator, not hearing a peep until I reached the whirring slot machines. I strolled through the dimly lit Rendezvous Lounge, where a cellist had strummed away the night prior, and the solarium pool, decked out with waterfalls. I stopped at the buffet and grabbed a quick lunch - ratatouille, rice, and cranberry juice - then headed to the boat's main theater.
There, I was met by a Goop-approved clairvoyant named Deganit Nuur. Dressed in a floor-length white-and-gold peasant dress, Nuur told me and 20 other women how to trust our instincts.
"We are all born intuitive," Nuur said as we sat staring up at her in the ship's auditorium. "It's the music between the songs. It's a whisper."
In a quiet, dignified voice, Nuur guided us through a 15-minute meditation. She said using imagery like flowers and colors could make it easier to decode your "inner voice" and its messages. I wasn't sure what she meant, but I closed my eyes.
Nuur said to picture a golden sun floating 2 feet above my head, my name emblazoned on it.
"Focus on bringing all of your past, present, and future energy into the sun, then picture a hole in its bottom and it's flooding into you," Nuur said.
I felt a pit in my stomach and anxiety bubbling up toward my chest. Nuur said to focus on passing any sensations I felt through an imagined cord tied around my waist and release myself from them by letting gravity pull them to the earth's center.
This exercise can help us distinguish our feelings from others', Nuur said. "When you do this, you pass their sun back to them instead of hiding it for them," she added.
I envisioned the face of a person I loved deeply but whom I knew I had to let go. Through closed eyes, I cried, relieved. The anxiety dissipated, and I felt more whole than I had in months.
Somehow, I found myself doing squats on a cocktail-lounge dance floor
I attended all four of Nuur's seminars and hung on her every word. I noticed eight of the women from the first class also came back for more.
That seemed to be the case with Goop's fitness classes, too.
On my fifth and final day at sea, I hit the cocktail lounge's dance floor for a class with the New York City trampoline-fitness instructor Colette Dong, who has trained celebrities like Busy Philipps, Eva Longoria, and, of course, Paltrow.
I expected to bounce around on a mini trampoline. Instead, I found myself lying on a thin foam mat, thrusting my hips into the air and pulsing in a squat position along with eight other women.
"One more round, you're doing great," Dong told us. I looked around as multicolored lights flashed in my eyes and saw my classmates, who'd raved to me about Dong's other cruise-ship classes, groaning in delight. The class ended with a buzz - everyone had a great time and didn't miss the bouncy equipment.
These women had no expectations for Goop, which appeared to work in the brand's favor.
One night, I ran into a fellow intuition-class member in the bathroom. We chatted about how much we'd learned about ourselves, and she told me she had signed up for the next cruise, another Goop partnership with a different intuition expert, despite knowing nothing about Paltrow and her brand before the trip.
After the final intuition seminar, a short woman wearing a red "Cruise Control" T-shirt with an anchor on it was effusive.
"That was amazing, wow! You should also offer your sunscreen products on future trips. I love that stuff," she said. Others nodded in agreement. I realized they thought Goop was the skin-care brand Supergoop.
Even aboard Goop's cruise, I felt left out of its world
On the fourth day at sea, after a Mayan healing ritual (not sponsored by Goop) and a bout of seasickness, I lied on my bed scrolling through Instagram and saw a new post from Paltrow. It was nautical-themed - a blue sleek vibrator, flanked by shipping rope, with the caption, "Ahoy there, matey."
This was the closest reference to Goop at Sea I'd seen on Paltrow's social media - a cryptic hint, days into the cruise, with no clear acknowledgment of the Celebrity Cruises partnership. (Goop and Celebrity Cruises didn't immediately respond to my questions about the cruise, the vision for it, and how it fit into their respective business models.)
I crunched on a piece of room-service bacon as I scrolled back through Paltrow's feed and then Goop's official account. There were shots of healthy nut bread and a dry-brushing tutorial - but no mention of the cruise. It was on this page that, weeks after disembarking, I would see an ad for the sold-out In Goop Health summit, to be held near the Goop HQ in Santa Monica, California, a month later.
Even as I floated on the Goop cruise, I felt like I was on the outside looking in, via Instagram.
It wasn't the cruise I'd expected, but it was the vacation I needed
Entering the pool deck on my last day at sea, I spotted a man with bandaged feet lounging by the outdoor hot tub, a cocktail in his hand.
He'd become something of a legend on our trip, at least according to some people I met at the martini bar. It's unclear what happened to him when we'd docked in Cozumel, Mexico, three days prior, but it apparently involved a moped, a crash, Mexican police, rumors of a DUI, and an intervention by cruise staff. Perhaps whatever happened could have been prevented with a bit of chakra alignment, though his injuries didn't seem to weigh him down in the slightest.
I scanned the deck, spotting attendees of the silent disco I'd attended the night before. As I'd bopped my head to Adele dubstep in unison with a roomful of older couples, gay men, single 40-something women, and playful bartenders, I'd briefly wondered whether Paltrow listened to anything like this, until I realized I didn't care.
At my final dinner, a waiter performed a tableside card trick, shuffling the deck, fanning it out facedown, and asking me to pick one. He beamed as he asked if he'd correctly guessed the card in my hand. He hadn't, and somehow, that made it all the more charming.
As it turned out, Goop at Sea wasn't the spotless pseudoscience festival I expected but the vacation I needed. When I learned I'd be eating buttery escargot, not algae smoothies, my dread dissipated. Tanning by the pool, I realized, fed my soul more than listening to a Goop expert present a seminar on the latest juice cleanse. If this was what trusting my intuition meant, I was sold.