Royal Caribbean said Anthem of the Seas encountered rough seas off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, while sailing Sunday from the New York area to Port Canaveral, Florida, in what was intended originally to be a seven-day voyage to the Bahamas. It said the ship suffered damage to some public areas and cabins but "remains seaworthy." None of the injuries was serious, the cruise line said.
Royal Caribbean decided Monday afternoon the ship would return to Cape Liberty Cruise Port in New Jersey.
"#AnthemoftheSeas guests are safe & accounted for," the company said on Twitter. "The ship is on it's way back to Cape Liberty. They will arrive Wednesday."
Passengers shared photos and video on social media of the harrowing ride, showing scenes of disarray on the ship.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration buoy off the Carolina coast recorded a gust of 76 mph, above hurricane-force winds, and waves of 30 feet high
, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.
Some passengers said on Twitter that in-house TV reports in their staterooms indicated winds of 120 mph to 150 mph.
Greg Cribbs said he and other passengers were told to stay in their rooms at around 3 p.m. Sunday, and he didn't leave until midnight when he went looking for food.
"Every hour we got an update until 10 p.m. When it got really bad for a few hours in the middle, the captain was too busy to give updates so we heard them from the cruise director," said Cribbs, adding he has been on cruises many times before but never had experienced anything like this trip.
"The captain had his hands full for a while there. Kudos to him for keeping us safe. Not easy to maneuver a boat in 150-mph winds!"
Cribbs said the ship "leaned way over as the captain fought the winds."
A Royal Caribbean statement said, "In an abundance of caution, the Captain asked all guests to stay in their stateroom until the weather improved."
It didn't say how many passengers were aboard the ship.
Cribbs said he felt the crew members handled the situation as best they could.
"Everyone is questioning how we got into that situation, but weather can be unpredictable so who knows," he said. Most people were just complaining about how hungry they were Monday morning, he said.
One passenger, Jacob Ibrag, asked for prayers Sunday night. "Hungry, tired and seeking prayer from all of you tonight. The #anthemoftheseas has been rocking with no end in sight," he tweeted.
Later, Ibrag took a lighter view: "Don't think I've ever missed land this much. In other news, wish I took those swimming lessons..."
Florida Senator and former astronaut Bill Nelson called upon the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the circumstances surrounding the cruise ship's decision to sail right into the heart of the hurricane-force storm.
"Why in the world is a ship going anywhere close to where the hurricane would be" Nelson said on the Senate floor on Monday. "I want the National [Transportation] Safety Board to come up with answers very quickly and make an admonition to mariners: when the storm is brewing, you don't go out of port," he said.
Passengers will receive a refund for their trouble plus half off a future cruise fare, the company tweeted.