U.S. senator calls for probe of storm damage to Anthem of the Seas

MIAMI (AP) — Federal transportation officials might soon be looking into a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that ran into high winds and rough seas in the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend.

Sen. Bill Nelson has called for the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the voyage that forced frightened passengers into their cabins overnight Sunday as their belongings flew about, waves rose as high as 30 feet, and winds howled outside.

“The thing about this storm was that it was forecast for days. So why in the world would a cruise ship with thousands of passengers go sailing right into it?” Nelson said Monday on the Senate floor, according to a news release from his office.

The National Weather Service’s Ocean Prediction Center had issued an alert for a strong storm four days in advance, Susan Buchanan with the weather service said. The first warning was issued Saturday for possible hurricane-force winds in the area the ship was scheduled to sail through.

Royal Caribbean announced Monday that the ship was turning around and sailing back to its home port in New Jersey. No injuries were reported, and the ship suffered only minor damage.

“I was shaking all over,” passenger 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.”

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 Saturday from Cape Liberty, New Jersey. 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 onboard buzzed happily about that news, 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 on Facebook. She said she and her father were a little disappointed the ship was turning around, but she called it “the best thing for the safety of everyone.”

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.

Robert Huschka, the executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, was onboard 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, he posted: “The good news? They never lost the Super Bowl signal. Perfect TV picture throughout storm!”

Royal Caribbean gave guests free Internet access and a complimentary cocktail hour, spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an email. “Feeling better after the happy hour they just put on for the guests,” Sam Lairson joked.

And despite her own worries, Strand said her daughter, 8-month-old Alexa, slept through the entire episode.

This Ship Now: Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2

Queen Mary 2

The golden age of Atlantic Ocean crossings recalls images of elegant ladies arriving with huge steamer trunks, filled with elegant gowns and jewels, for their journey by sea. The jet plane might have taken over most trans-Atlantic journeys of today, but that doesn’t stop golden age-style romance and adventure from continuing onboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 (QM2). Fascinating displays of photographs, artwork and memorabilia remind QM2 guests of the line’s 175 years of service as they become a part of Cunard’s historic role in trans-Atlantic crossings.

QM2 is defined as an ocean liner rather than a cruise ship. And although a large percentage of its passengers are taking a leisure trip across the Atlantic, there are some who sail with the intention of relocating, accompanied by their life’s possessions and sometimes even their pets. Therefore, the QM2 carries a mix of passengers from many countries, celebrating significant occasions, moving to new homes and jobs or just enjoying a relaxed, civilized way to travel between North America and Europe.

On my June cruise, some first-time North American guests were intimidated by the stringent dress codes — three formal nights on a weeklong crossing, some with themes including a masquerade ball. Anyone wishing to be truly casual on a formal night is restricted to the Kings Court buffet restaurant and the Winter Garden. Those who attended the formal nights in the Britannia Restaurant, however, mingled with guests wearing everything from cocktail dresses to full black-tie attire.

The Britannia staff was exceptionally warm and accommodating, and the menu was an interesting mix of English classics with continental selections. At lunch and dinner, Canyon Ranch SpaClub selections are denoted with nutritional information, and the line aims to accommodate special dietary needs, from vegetarian to gluten-free.

Kings Court is plentiful and varied, too. Its table configuration, with screened nooks, creates intimate spaces, but it also produces a wandering clientele as they search for their table companions. The buffet is set up in a series of rooms, and it took some guests a day or two to discover the adjoining Chef’s Galley for healthy breakfasts and lunchtime burgers and sandwiches.

Many opted for the large Golden Lion Pub, where shepherd’s pie, a ploughman’s lunch and fish and chips provide English comfort food. Those who chose to pay the very reasonable a la carte rates at  Todd English Restaurant enjoyed exquisite meals, which were beautifully presented and served.

Trans-Atlantic crossings without ports of call are very different from other voyages. Even in summer, the winds and chill of the open sea limit time spent on deck. So the 2,600-passenger QM2 — with the highest space to passenger ratio in the cruise industry — becomes the world to its passengers for a week. They swim in its enclosed pools, line up in the mornings for tickets to the planetarium and attend enrichment lectures, concerts and classes, which range from Internet techniques at the Apple Learning Centre to elaborate napkin folding. There are readings of plays by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, games of bridge, traditional afternoon tea, an outstanding library, movies, ballroom and Latin dancing classes, films and challenging trivia contests.

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub and fitness rooms deserve special mention — they are outstanding. Classes from stretch to yoga and Pilates are held in additional public rooms, but the areas designated for individual fitness are very well-equipped and in use from early morning until closing. The spa offers a broad range of treatments, including chiropractic sessions, acupuncture and noteworthy reflexology. The facilities include a marvelous steam room with mosaic-tiled individual recesses.

Accommodations are especially important during a crossing with no time spent on shore, and QM2 has choices from 157-square-foot inside cabins, some looking onto the atrium, to two-level Queens Grill duplex apartments, measuring up to 1,566 square feet. Two Grand Duplex suites offer 2,249-square feet of space, including individual kitchens and exercise equipment.

Spending a whole week onboard creates a special relationship between passengers and the ship. Both first-timers and passengers who cross every year tend to be proud of their part in the decades of maritime history QM2 represents.