Dr. Philip Shields was in his cruise ship cabin on the Star Princess early Thursday morning, when loud noises woke him up. He went out to his balcony and saw a large fire about 50 yards to the right. He got his wife and son, and left the cabin immediately.
"They were lowering the lifeboats as we were going to the various stations for disembarkment, so there was quite a bit of fear," Shields said.
Passengers were immediately notified of the fire over the public address system, and they were told to report to their muster stations, according to a statement released by Princess Cruises.
Fortunately, the 2,690 passengers and 1,123 crew members didn't have to abandon ship. Shields praised the crew -- calling them "excellent" -- for keeping the passengers safe during the fire.
"Their drills worked perfectly. We went to our stations in an orderly fashion, and I think it saved the lives of everybody onboard," he said.
One person died in the fire -- Richard Liffidge, 75, of Georgia, who suffered a heart attack -- and 11 others were injured. Two passengers suffered significant smoke inhalation and nine suffered minor injuries, according to Princess Cruises.
When Shields returned to his cabin, he was shocked by the damage the fire had caused.
"I never anticipated that it would involve our cabin," he said. "The walls were melted. The TV was melted. The bed we were lying in was burned. All our things were destroyed. It was quite an ordeal."
At least 100 rooms were scorched.
All Shields had left were the clothes he was wearing -- and barely that.
"They were pretty filthy by the time we got to the hotel."
Shields and his family are now staying at a hotel in Jamaica. Star Princess sailed from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on March 19 on a western Caribbean itinerary with calls at Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay and Princess Cays.