A cruise ship heading to Florida turned back to New Jersey Monday after waves from a storm slammed the vessel with such force the captain ordered passengers to stay in their cabins.
Monday afternoon, officials with Royal Caribbean, the owners of the 168,666-ton Anthem of the Seas, cut short the planned seven-day cruise and said it is expected back at its home port of Bayonne, New Jersey, Wednesday morning.
The cancellation put an end to vacation plans for the 4,529 passengers aboard, among them Joe Garraffo, of Lindenhurst, and employees of his Web marketing firm.
Garraffo, the owner of Efferent Media, also in Lindenhurst, said he was treating his employees to the cruise, which was destined for Florida and the Bahamas. When he peered out his cabin window, he saw giant waves whipped up by strong gusts that conjured up a scene from the movie “The Perfect Storm,” about a doomed fishing vessel.
“The waves out there looked as if they were taller than the ship,” Garraffo said. “The ship was rocking, things were falling off the dresser, doors were opening and shutting.”
Sunday, as the ship powered into a strong winter storm, the captain used the ship’s intercom to order passengers confined to their cabins and tell them his crew had underestimated the storm’s strength.
The captain made his intercom announcement at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Passengers were informed Monday afternoon that Royal Caribbean had canceled the trip, Garraffo said.
Glass tables inside a ship’s restaurant shattered because of the extra motion and large ceramic structures collapsed on the pool deck, Garraffo said. Other passengers posted photos to Twitter showing overturned furniture and a partially collapsed ceiling in a public corridor.
Another Twitter posting showed the wind gauge on the ship’s onboard television system clocking wind speeds as high as 106 knots — about 122 mph.
A buoy in the Atlantic about 260 miles south of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina reported waves of 30 feet and wind gusts of 74 miles mph late Sunday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Passengers will receive a full refund and a 50 percent discount on the price of a future cruise, a spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean said in an email Monday.
In a statement from the cruise line on USA Today’s website Monday, officials acknowledged “it was a tough day on Sunday and apologize for [passenger] discomfort. Safety is our highest priority and ships are designed to withstand even more extreme circumstances than Anthem of the Seas encountered. While the weather was unpleasant, the ship remained seaworthy at all times.”
Although disappointed by the cancellation, Garraffo said he may still plan another staff trip. This time, he said he’ll keep the trip on dry land, either in Manhattan or Atlantic City.