MIAMI - 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 via Facebook 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."
The Coast Guard told CBS News the ship initially "diverted course as a precautionary measure" but wasn't in distress, adding that it was in touch with the Royal Caribbean every hour, and that the weather was improving.
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. 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 out on the balcony, where Sam Lairson shot video showing wave after wave rising below them.
"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, was sailing from Cape Liberty, New Jersey and was scheduled to arrive in Port Canaveral, Florida, at noon Monday. 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, according to the Twitter account.
Gabriella Lairson says that by early Monday morning, people were out and about on the ship, checking out the minor damage in some public areas. Some staterooms also were damaged, according to a Royal Caribbean statement.
Lairson praised the crew and captain. "They did everything they could to make us feel comfortable even though they were not allowed to be out around the ship that often," she wrote to The AP on Facebook. "The Captain regularly gave us updates."
Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez confirmed in an email that passengers were asked to stay in their rooms and said they were given complimentary access to their minibars.
Robert Huschka, the executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, was aboard and started tweeting when the inclement weather hit. He told USA Today that the ordeal was "truly terrifying." He described the cruise director nervously giving updates, and he later posted photos of shattered glass panels on a pool deck.
But Huschka was among passengers who found a silver lining in the storm. On Monday morning, he posted: "The good news? They never lost the Super Bowl signal. Perfect TV picture throughout storm!"
And despite her own worries, Strand said her daughter, 8-month-old Alexa, slept through the entire episode.