A cruise ship battered by rough seas and powerful winds in the Atlantic Ocean cut short its voyage and docked at its New Jersey port Wednesday night, as thousands of weary passengers streamed out of the ship describing what one woman called "a cruise from hell."
Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas pulled into Bayonne's Cape Liberty at 9 p.m. Passengers were seen on the decks waving and cheering as the ship docked.
"This was the most unbelievable trip, it was just something you can't even imagine," said a Bronx woman named Elaine who took the trip with her husband Freddy.
The ship was met at the dock by a team of U.S. Coast Guard inspectors. The inspectors finished their initial check of the ship Wednesday night and will continue the investigation Thursday, Coast Guard officials said. The extent of the damage to the ship was not immediately made available by the Coast Guard.
The ship, carrying more than 4,500 passengers and 1,600 crew members, departed Saturday on a seven-day cruise to the Bahamas. But the 1,141-foot vessel sailed on Sunday into a major winter storm.
The captain asked passengers to stay in their cabins as powerful 120-mph sustained winds and waves as high as 30 feet tossed the vessel around beginning Sunday afternoon.
"Everything was blowing open, the closets were flying open, glass was breaking," said Elaine, who has been on over 30 cruise trips with her husband. "It was a cruise from hell."
As passengers stayed inside their rooms, the captain made periodic announcements every two hours, then stopped altogether at midnight to allow people to sleep.
"Who's sleeping?" said an incredulous Kim Robinette, describing the tumult inside her family's sleeping quarters as they rode out the storm. "The boys are holding onto their beds."
"We didn't get out until 8 in the morning, we were stuck in our room," said Robinette, of Southampton, Massachusetts. "And when everybody got out in the morning, they were just looking at the damage that was done."
Gus Kompas of Queens, who was on the trip with his wife and two children, said, "I don't know what was going on in the control room but as the ship was rocking, [the captain] held it to the point where it was good, where everything came to safety after a few hours. He was good."
Royal Caribbean says four passengers reported minor injuries and the ship sustained some damage to its public areas and staterooms.
Passengers will get a full refund and a certificate toward 50 percent off a future cruise.
Royal Caribbean apologized "for exposing our guests and crew to the weather they faced, and for what they went through."
"The event, exceptional as it was, identified gaps in our planning system that we are addressing," the company said in a statement. "Though that system has performed well through many instances of severe weather around the world, what happened this week showed that we need to do better."
Superficial damage to the Anthem of the Seas ship has been repaired, and the ship is expected to resume its planned itinerary for next week's cruise, Royal Caribbean says.
The ship's misadventure prompted Florida Sen. Bill Nelson to call for the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the voyage.
Nelson questioned the cruise line's decision to proceed with the voyage in the face of a threatening storm.
The National Weather Service's Ocean Prediction Center had issued an alert for a strong storm four days in advance. The first warning was issued Saturday for possible hurricane-force winds in the area the ship was scheduled to sail through.
Passenger Robinette said the captain "did tell us in the beginning that we were going into bad weather but he thought he could get around it. The only thing I can say is, he did kind of comfort us" during the storm.
Royal Caribbean said the storm far exceeded forecasts, but the company would be strengthening its storm avoidance policy and adding resources at its Miami headquarters to provide additional guidance to ships' captains.