Passengers on the Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, which set sail on Feb. 6 and headed home to Bayonne’s Cape Liberty four days early after being battered by a major storm in the Atlantic Ocean, are probably not running to their travel agent to book their next cruise right now.
But does that mean that you should be turned off by a cruise vacation? How likely is it for a ship to be rocked by 30-foot waves and winds up to 120 miles per hour? Do captains normally have to order passengers to their cabins for 12 hours?
According to local travel agents, not so much.
The third-largest ship in the world, which was carrying more than 4,500 passengers and 1,600 crew members, had planned on a seven-day cruise to the Bahamas. However, a major winter storm had other ideas.
Four passengers reported minor injuries and the ship suffered some damage to its public areas and staterooms as the ship was tossed about, which Royal Caribbean categorized as “superficial” damage. Passengers will get a full refund and a certificate toward 50 percent off a future cruise.
“This isn’t a common occurrence on cruises because these companies are very equipped with modern equipment,” said Chandrakant Panchal, 11-year travel consultant with Ports & Voyages in the Parlin section of Sayreville, who books about 250 cruises a year, about 25 percent of them with Royal Caribbean. “This was just a fluke accident that hit the ship very hard and unexpectedly.”
Panchal pointed out that weather patterns are ever-changing, and in his experience, cruise lines tend to make the right decision on whether or not to sail. Right before superstorm Sandy, he had a group of 26 clients going out on a Norwegian of the Seas cruise, departing at 4 p.m. when the port was scheduled to close at 6 p.m. because of poor weather conditions.
“My clients were incredibly nervous, but they decided to go on the cruise because they wouldn’t get reimbursed unless the cruise line canceled,” said Panchal. “And you know what? Nothing happened. The weather was fantastic and they had a great time.”
Lisa Lee, 18-year travel consultant with Avenue Travel Group, American Express in Bedminster, said that in her experience, what happened with the Anthem of the Seas is extremely rare, but the Atlantic Ocean can be very unpredictable — in both the summertime during hurricane season and the wintertime during the winter storm season.
“I believe that this was an isolated incident,” said Lee, who books about 200 cruises a year for her clients, with about 45 percent of them traveling on Royal Caribbean. “Royal Caribbean set sail based on what they thought would occur. These situations can happen, but I wouldn’t deter my clients from going on a cruise in the future.”
However, some meteorologists aren’t exactly in agreement.
The 168,666-ton vessel should not have sailed southward into the path of the growing weather system, WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue told USA TODAY.
The possibility of a large storm in the Atlantic was noted by government weather watchers on Friday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Prediction Center issued its first alert at 1 p.m. Friday for hurricane-force winds Sunday in the Atlantic, according to NOAA spokeswoman Susan Buchanan.
“Even so, it is our responsibility to eliminate every surprise we possibly can,” the cruise line’s statement said. In a press release, Royal Caribbean said the storm “far exceeded forecasts,” turning a manageable storm into a dangerous one. Another warning came from the Ocean Prediction Center in the offshore waters forecast at 3:34 p.m. Saturday, Buchanan said. The warning predicted hurricane-force winds increasing to 63 to 75 mph, in effect through Sunday night.
The cruise line is strengthening its storm-avoidance policy in the aftermath of the storm, according to the statement.