Linda Harrison had no idea what to expect when her husband, Don, woke her at 3 a.m. Monday morning yelling "Get up! Get up!" inside their cabin aboard the cruise ship Grandeur of the Seas.
The couple from South Jersey are cruise ship veterans, having embarked on 10 or 11 island-hopping trips over the years.
But what took place over the next four hours was beyond their wildest dreams.
"I jumped up, threw on a robe, we grabbed everything in the safe and life jackets and went to our muster station," Linda Harrison said Tuesday night, safe and sound at home in New Jersey following what would also become a very long day getting home after what the world now knows happened: their cruise ship caught fire in the middle of the Caribbean.
The cause of the fire was not yet known, according to a spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean cruise lines Tuesday.
The Harrisons tell a story similar to other passengers, many who arrived home Tuesday on charter jets from Freeport, The Bahamas, where the ship eventually docked for an extensive repair job.
Despite what photographs show as a massive fire that engulfed much of the stern of the 2,000-passenger cruise ship, Linda Harrison said the crew and captain remained very calm throughout the early morning hours as passengers waited at their emergency locations on board.
"All the crew kept telling us was nothing there is to worry about, all just a little fire," Linda Harrison said. "They actually made it sound like it was a cabin fire."
At first, she tried keeping her daughter, 28, calm. Then, they noticed the life boats being lowered.
"I thought I was going to throw up," Linda Harrison said. "I could no longer console her because I needed someone to console me."
The life boats were not needed and four hours later, passengers were allowed to return to their rooms. The Harrisons got a couple hours of sleep, then spent the day on Freeport. Walking along the pier on the island, they got to see what all the commotion had been about.
"When we saw that, I’m telling you, my heart dropped," Linda Harrison said of the charred stern of the ship.
They returned to the boat Monday evening to learn Royal Caribbean was going to refund their cruise cost and give them another cruise free of charge. The cruise line also paid for their flight home, though the trip back to Baltimore wasn't easy since some 2,000 people had to get flights home.
In the end, Linda Harrison said the event "dampened our experience," but wouldn't stop them from going on another cruise in the future.
"We got four wonderful days," she said of the cruise that initially sailed from Baltimore on Friday afternoon.
By Brian X. McCrone, Philly.com
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