I sailed the high seas with over 2,000 Broadway fans. The cruise was more than just a vacation for these passengers.

5, 6, 7, 8... Broadway lovers set sail!

As a theater buff, I didn’t think there was anything better than watching a Broadway musical on a stage with elaborate costumes and a live orchestra — that is, until I experienced it at sea.

In March, I embarked on a cruise with over 2,000 like-minded theater nerds. The “Broadway Cruise 2,” the second voyage after its inaugural sailing in 2023, was a five-night musical extravaganza with dance classes, piano bars and nightly shows starring Broadway legends like Bernadette Peters, Norm Lewis and Christian Borle, among others.

From the moment we embarked from Miami to the Cayman Islands, it was clear that this was no ordinary vacation. For passengers aboard the Norwegian Pearl, it was a place to find community and a unique escape from life on land.

A large group of people posing together on a cruise ship.
Over 2,000 musical theater lovers sailed the high seas on the Broadway Cruise. (Joel Parks)

“Everyone needs a break from their 9-to-5,” said Paula Klein, a fellow traveler who arrived dressed as a character from Cabaret. “I know I do, especially when it involves singing [Stephen] Sondheim in fishnets.”

“It feels like home,” Joseph Praley, another fellow traveler and a first-time cruiser, said. “You can be whoever you want to be here.”

As laid out in the “Shipbill,” a nautical twist on the classic Playbill, the cruise offered a treasure trove of experiences — a variety of buffets, nonstop music and party nights. For me, the most thrilling part was to watch fans of all ages meeting their Broadway idols.

Bernadette Peters sitting on a piano with a microphone in her hand.
Bernadette Peters performs during the first night of the Broadway Cruise, which she followed with an audience Q&A. (Joel Parks)

That feeling was mutual for Ali Stroker, who made history in 2019 for being the first actress in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award for her role in the Oklahoma! revival. She delivered several tour de force performances on the ship.

“It’s a dream come true,” she told me. “So many Broadway performers have been through a lot, and maybe were the outcasts or the underdog growing up, so this is a supportive, incredible community.”

“All of us started out as fans,” said Andy Blankenbuehler, Tony-winning choreographer of In the Heights and Hamilton, who led daily movement classes on the ship. “Being here on the cruise, you’re surrounded by people who are willing to put their emotions at the forefront.”

At sundown, the ship became alive with guests dressed as characters from a range of Broadway musicals, from The Sound of Music and Cats to Phantom of the Opera, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Wicked.

Many of the passengers had an origin story behind the shows that inspired their costumes.

Two women dressed as waitresses and holding a pie.
Two guests dressed as the lead character in the Broadway musical Waitress. (Joel Parks)

One guest who was dressed as little orphan Annie from the musical Annie recalled watching the 1982 film “over and over” with her adoptive parents. She credited the musical for “helping me find happiness” in childhood.

Another fan, dressed as Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show, said putting on makeup and heels allows them to “step into my world of make-believe.”

“There’s nothing I get more joy out of than to see people expressing themselves,” a passenger dressed as the character Reverend Mother from The Sound of Music told me. “There’s no judgment or shame. It’s all about having fun.”

Two people dressed in colorful 1960s outfits.
Two like-minded travelers took inspiration from the musical Hairspray to don their best 1960s looks. (Eli Johnson)

Each of the ship’s 15 levels offered something different, from an arcade with 1990s-style pinball machines to a lively dance club and casino, which became gathering places for new friend groups.

Most of us couldn’t wait to return from excursions to share stories and talk about the outfits we planned to wear that night. Several passengers are returning for next year's Broadway Cruise 3, sailing March 31 - April 4, 2025 from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico.

After five nights of singing and dancing with green witches and dancing cats, I saw firsthand how the magic of the stage can be transformative, reminding us that in every story we find a piece of ourselves.

“The reason why we do this [cruise] is to share who we are,” explained actor Marcus Paul James, who participated in several performances onboard. “When you have an audience to share it with, it makes everything else line up and go, ‘Ah. This is why we do what we do, for these people right here.’”