"Another 20 degrees and I would have been in the water," said Alfred Caproni, of North Adams, Mass., who was on his balcony on the ninth deck. "All the water from the pools was coming right over the edge. It was like Niagara Falls. There were dozens of people with bleeding noses."
The Crown Princess was 12 miles southeast of Port Canaveral en route to New York late Tuesday afternoon when its crew reported problems with the steering equipment and the 113,000-ton ship listed hard to one side, Coast Guard Petty Officer James Judge said.
It slowly came back up, leaving a scene of terrified passengers scattered across its decks, halls and casino, then headed for the port.
Gerald Brock, a surgeon from Ontario, Canada, said Wednesday he assisted ship doctors in the triage room treating "dozens of passengers" with injuries ranging from fractures and dislocated joints to elderly people suffering shortness of breath and chest pains.
All 3,100 passengers and 1,200 crew members were accounted for, the Coast Guard said. But at least 20 people suffered serious injuries, including a child and an adult with injuries considered critical, said Stan Payne, CEO of the Canaveral Port Authority. About 70 others had lesser injuries.
Princess Cruises says three passengers and two crew members remain hospitalized. But all of the injured — including two critically hurt — are expected to recover.
The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board investigators are joining a cruise line probe into what happened to make passengers and furnishings go flying.
Some passengers left the ship late Tuesday night after it reached Port Canaveral, and buses shuttled others to an airport Wednesday morning.
Payne said the ship would remain at the port for several days. The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board planned to inspect it Wednesday, and Princess Cruises, one of 12 brands operated by Miami-based Carnival Corp., said it was investigating what caused the severe list. It wasn't immediately clear how far over the ship tipped.
"We deeply regret this incident and are doing everything we can to make our passengers as comfortable as possible under these difficult circumstances," company spokeswoman Julie Benson said. She said all passengers would receive a full refund and reimbursement for additional expenses.
Some passengers said the ship was already tilting Tuesday morning, even before the sudden roll to the side.
"I kind of thought I was dreaming, and then it just kept going further and further to the side. And then the chairs, all the chaises started shifting to the other side of the ship, and I woke up and people were sliding all the way across the deck," passenger Howard Danoff of Danbury, Conn. told CBS News' The Early Show.
"It was pretty scary event...it was probably the most horrifying thing that ever happened to me," Danoff added.
Caproni said he held the balcony tightly as the ship brought him nearly face to face with the ocean.
"I fell to the deck. I had to crawl to get back in my room," he said. "It was the most scary thing. We thought we were gone. We thought it was over."
The Crown Princess had been christened by Martha Stewart last month before it embarked on its maiden voyage to the Caribbean from its home terminal in Brooklyn. It was on a nine-day Western Caribbean cruise, had stopped at Port Canaveral and was scheduled to return to New York on Thursday.
Several passengers said Tuesday night's shipboard movie was supposed to be "Titanic."