February 27, 2016
(Updated 1 p.m. EST February 29) -- Royal Caribbean tweeted Monday that Anthem of the Seas is on its way home, calling its journey back "smooth." The cruise line also said the captain followed the company's new cruise avoidance policy and consulted with experts in making the decision to return to Bayonne early.
(Updated 9 a.m. EST February 28) -- Royal Caribbean issued a statement regarding the cancellation of the remainder of the current Anthem of the Seas itinerary Sunday, saying the decision was made with passenger safety and comfort in mind.
(7 p.m. EST) -- With a storm brewing on the East Coast, Royal Caribbean ended a cruise onboard Anthem of the Seas early and is sending the ship back to its homeport of Cape Liberty ahead of schedule.
According to the company's corporate Twitter account, "Anthem of the Seas will head back to Cape Liberty immediately to avoid a severe storm & provide guests with a comfortable journey back home."
#AnthemoftheSeas will head back to Cape Liberty immediately to avoid a severe storm & provide guests with a comfortable journey back home.— RCLcorp (@RCLcorp) February 27, 2016
A second tweet on the account Saturday night stated that the company was concerned about a storm developing off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. "We want to be extra cautious when it comes to weather in that area," the tweet stated.
Anthem of the Seas left Cape Liberty in New Jersey on Sunday, for a scheduled 13-day voyage to the Eastern Caribbean. Cruise Critic forum member lazeyey, who says she is onboard, posted that an announcement was made that the ship would turn around immediately, skipping scheduled port stops in Barbados and St. Kitts. Originally scheduled to return March 4, the ship now will return March 2.
According to the statement from Royal Caribbean: "Based on the most recent weather forecast, if Anthem of the Seas continues on its regular scheduled itinerary, the ship would encounter the brunt of the large and powerful storm on the return to Cape Liberty."
Royal Caribbean is refunding money for the two days passengers will miss and offering 50 percent of what passengers paid for the current cruise to be applied to a future cruise. Royal Caribbean also will cover the airline change fees, according to company spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez.
On Monday, Royal Caribbean tweeted some passengers onboard Anthem of the Seas are ill with norovirus but said that was not a factor in the decision to return.
Some #AnthemoftheSeas guests have experienced norovirus symptoms. About 10 per day from 6,000 total pop. Didn't affect decision to return.— RCLcorp (@RCLcorp) February 29, 2016
Anthem of the Seas encountered a major storm off the coast of North Carolina on February 7, when the 4,180-passenger ship sailed through 100 mph winds and 30-foot waves. Four people suffered injuries classified as "minor." The ship sustained mostly cosmetic damage from the storm, though its propulsion system also was damaged. The remainder of that sailing was canceled, and passengers were returned home early. Royal Caribbean offered a full refund for that cruise as well as 50 percent off a future cruise. The line fixed the damage -- and the Coast Guard cleared the ship for sailing -- before it set sail on its next scheduled cruise.
Royal Caribbean faced criticism for sailing into the early February storm, most notably from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), who called for the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate.
The statement from Royal Caribbean today cited this sailing as a factor in the decision to end the current sailing early.
"The safety and comfort of our guests and crew is always our first priority," the statement read. "On a recent sailing, Anthem of the Seas experienced bad weather that was much worse than forecast; therefore, we want to be extra cautious about our guests' safety and comfort when it comes to weather in the area. That is why we have decided to head back to Cape Liberty immediately so that we can stay a safe distance from the storm."
After Anthem of the Seas returned to New Jersey on the early February sailing, Royal Caribbean announced it would strengthen its storm avoidance policy and add resources in Miami, where the company is headquartered, to assist captains onboard ships in making decisions.
"We apologize for exposing our guests and crew to the weather they faced, and for what they went through," the line said in a statement at the time. "The event, exceptional as it was, identified gaps in our planning system that we are addressing."
--By Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor