Troubled waters: Lititz families recount perilous cruise

By on February 10, 2016

LR20160211_cruisecouple2What was supposed to be a relaxing getaway for a couple Lititz families quickly turned to a situation they will never forget when the Royal Caribbean cruise ship they were on was forced back to New Jersey earlier this week.

The Anthem of the Seas, which left Cape Liberty in New Jersey last weekend for a seven-day trip to Florida and the Bahamas, changed its course and headed back to its port on Monday due to the extreme wind and rough sea conditions off the Carolina coast, forcing all passengers to cut their vacations short.

The severe weather rocked the ship as items on tables fell off, portions of the ceiling fell down, and pieces of furniture toppled as recorded winds rose to around 125 miles per hour.

No serious injuries were reported, but all of the over 4,000 passengers were confined to their cabins, including Ivan Reiff and his wife from Lititz. His party set sail this past Saturday with nine other family members, including several children.

“I believe the Captain assumed he could skirt close to mainland and the storm would move out…it didn’t…and by the time we were in it, we didn’t have the ‘horsepower’ to turn out of it, with very heavy winds coupled with 30 to 50-foot waves,” Reiff said Monday evening while still out to sea, during an exclusive interview with the Lititz Record Express. “He tried three times (you could sense it) to turn, but just couldn’t do it until the wind broke a bit. Then we were able to turn away.

“The decision to return was primarily because of the new depression starting off the east coast of Florida,” Reiff added. “Then, the final call was made to return to Bayonne Wednesday at 9 a.m. where we left from. The impression is so large that we couldn’t just go straight to the Bahamas. We were blocked.”

Reiff’s daughter Peyton, 14, has her own personal story from this alarming ordeal.

“This was the most scary experience I’ve ever had,” Peyton said. “I tried looking for my family after the cell service stopped working and I didn’t know what was happening. I went looking for them up the stairs because people were getting stuck in elevators. I finally got to the 14th floor when I saw water coming down like in the movie ‘Titanic. I didn’t know what was happening right away so I panicked, but later found out that it was from the pools up above. The ceilings were caving in, nobody could walk straight since the boat was always tilted to one side, and pots and furniture were breaking all around the ship.”

Lititz resident Lauren Culley-Zickefoose and her husband Steve were also on board. She recalled the event this past Monday via e-mail.

“It was a nightmare. It was truly horrifying, It was even worse than the photos depicted. The boat was at such an angle that we were walking on the edge of the wall at one point” Zickefoose said. “We were evacuated from a late lunch to our rooms Sunday afternoon, and that’s where we had to stay until Monday morning. The workers told us to take life jackets, but there were none! The only connection we had with staff was via the intercom. The wind was blowing so hard that our balcony door was shaking in and out, howling so badly. We had no food except M&Ms that they handed out, along with a snack-sized can of Pringles that was in our mini bar.”

To pass the time, pay-per-view movies were available free of charge, but it was hard for the couple to relax. At times, they had to even brace themselves on the wall to prevent from rolling off the bed.

“For breakfast, everyone was starving but due to the damage, only one restaurant was open. There was a shortage of tables, chairs, plates, and utensils. The line for a meal was about 500 persons deep, which wrapped around the outside,” she added.

As the ship made its way to safe and calmer waters, all that were involved could finally relax and breathe a sigh of relief.

The local families interviewed for this story are now safe and sound, but no doubt, have stories to tell their family and friends for years to come.

For their troubles, all passengers will receive a full refund, as well as a 50 percent discount off of a future cruise.

Cory Van Brookhoven is president of the Lititz Historical Foundation and has authored several books on topics involving Lancaster County history, including Lititz. He welcomes your comments at

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