Cruise Ship That Sailed in Storm Headed Back to Home Port

MIAMI (AP) -

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship ran into high winds and rough seas in the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, forcing frightened passengers into their cabins overnight as their belongings flew about, waves rose as high as 30 feet, and winds howled outside. The cruise line says that although no one was injured and the ship suffered only minor damage, it’s turning around and sailing back to its home port in New Jersey.

“I was shaking all over,” Shara Strand of New York City wrote to The Associated Press on Monday. “Panic attack, things like that … I’ve been on over 20 cruises, I’ve been through a hurricane, it was never like this. Never.”

Sixteen-year-old Gabriella Lairson says she and her father, Sam, could feel the ship Anthem of the Seas begin to sway by 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The captain directed passengers to their cabins. There, the Lairsons heard glasses shatter in the bathroom, and they put their belongings in drawers and closets to prevent them from flying across the room. They ventured to the balcony, where Sam Lairson shot video of wave after wave rising below.

“The winds were so strong that I thought the phone would blow from my hands,” Sam Lairson, of Ocean City, New Jersey, said in an email. “After that we had to keep the doors to the balconies sealed.”

The ship — with more than 4,500 guests and 1,600 crew members — sailed from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, on Saturday. It was scheduled to arrive for a stop at Port Canaveral, Florida, at noon Monday, then move on to other stops in the Caribbean. But Royal Caribbean said on its corporate Twitter account that the ship would turn around and sail back to Cape Liberty. “This decision was made for guests’ comfort due to weather forecasts” that would continue to affect the ship’s itinerary, Royal Caribbean tweeted. Guests will get a full refund and a certificate toward a future cruise — passengers buzzed happily about that news onboard, Strand said.

Gabriella Lairson said that by early Monday morning, people were out and about on the ship, checking out the minor damage in some public areas.

Lairson praised the crew and captain. “They did everything they could to make us feel comfortable,” she wrote to The AP. Fellow passenger Jacob Ibrag agreed. “I can’t wait to get home and kiss the ground,” said Ibrag, who saw water flowing down stairs and helped some people who were stuck in an elevator Sunday as he made his way to his cabin per the captain’s orders. The 25-year-old from Queens, New York, then stayed in his cabin until noon Monday, at one point filling his backpack with essentials in case of an evacuation.