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Passengers aboard rough cruise ship ride to get refunds, free cocktail hour

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Josh Einiger reports from Bayonne.

A passenger aboard the New Jersey-based cruise ship that ran into high winds and rough seas in the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend says he "can't wait to get home and kiss the ground."

The Royal Caribbean cruise ship is heading back to Cape Liberty, New Jersey. It is expected back Wednesday evening at about 9 p.m. Because it's going be so late, passengers will have the option of staying on the ship for the night and leaving Thursday morning, which is when they were originally expected back.

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.
There are more than 4,500 guests and 1,600 crew members aboard.

The good news for the guests: they will get a full refund and a certificate toward a future cruise, and guests now have free Internet access and a complimentary cocktail hour, according to a spokeswoman for the cruise line.

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.

This is what it looked like during the storm:

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!"

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.

This what the Anthem of the Seas ship looks like:

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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