May 28, 2013 -- Passengers aboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas arrived in Baltimore today after their seven-night cruise was forced to end early when a fire erupted on board.
Royal Caribbean International arranged flights home from the dock in Freeport, the Bahamas, for all 2,224 guests, who recounted the commotion when the fire broke out early Monday morning, charring the stern of the ship.
Passengers told ABC News they heard "big explosions," including Luke Sluscher, 20, who said he stepped outside his room and "heard crew yelling 'mayday, mayday,' as they ran to put out the fire."
Still shaken from the ordeal, passenger Marlene Sluscher said she was 20 feet away from where the fire broke out.
"I was awake before I even heard the very first noises," she said.
Royal Caribbean said the fire was discovered at 2:50 a.m. ET Monday on the mooring area on deck three of its 11 decks. The ship was at sea at the time but made it to dock under its own propulsion.
The cruise line said the fire was extinguished and the affected area was cordoned off. Guests were allowed to return to their staterooms, the company said, at 7:15 a.m. ET. No injuries were reported. The ship docked a few hours later.
After assessing the damage, which gutted the rear of the ship on at least one deck, RCI officials decided to end the cruise in Freeport to make repairs. It's not clear when the ship will be able to serve passengers again. The May 31 cruise out of Baltimore has been cancelled.
Dan McTigue was one of the many frightened passengers hustling to muster stations near lifeboats during the ordeal.
"I heard these big explosions and saw the fire jump out of the ship. We couldn't get to the muster station because it was on fire," McTigue said.
When asked about reports of explosions, an RCI spokesperson said, "The cause of the fire is still under investigation. We are working closely with the various agencies that are looking into it."
Photos showed a substantial area of the stern burned on several decks and the fire destroyed a dining area and a bar.
The ship's crew tried to stop passengers from taking pictures of the fire and chaos.
Carrie McTigue told ABC News that "even when people put their cameras up to photograph the sunrise, they were told, 'no photos.'"
"I started crying. I thought we were going to die," said McTigue's granddaughter, Sophia.
The Grandeur of the Seas, which left Baltimore on Friday, never lost power. The cruise line planned a seven-night cruise.
Royal Caribbean told ABC News that about 20 people "took ill." Medical staff reported two guests were treated after fainting, with one report of high blood pressure and another of cramps.
The crew was able to control the fire but not passengers' fear as they waited for more than four hours to be given the all clear. Passenger Ashley Wallace said the terror set in the moment the lifeboats were lowered for a possible "abandon ship" call.
"When the boats started lowering, that's when everyone started crying," Wallace said.
Several other passengers told ABC News that the ship's captain and crew did a "terrific job" and handled the situation professionally.
Larry Haden, a passenger from Fairfax Station, Va., said he never saw anyone in distress.
"Everyone was very calm," Haden said. "You got that big knock on your door at 3 in the morning and you heard all the alarms go off, and we had our life jackets on and proceeded -- but it was fine."
"At first, it was a bit scary, but we were safe, really," said Chiara Hayden, another passenger. "They kept trying to keep us posted on everything that was going on. After seeing how the ship looked, we were very lucky."
Hours after the ship reached the Bahamas, Royal Caribbean president and CEO Adam Goldstein arrived on the island to meet with guests and crew. Passengers will receive a full refund of their fare and a certificate for a future cruise, and some said they planned on using it.
"The crew was great, the captain did well with the communication, so we will definitely be sailing again with them," said Sherry Baynes, who was with her young sons Josh and Matthew on the ship.
The incident followed a series of high-profile cruise ship mishaps on Carnival Corp. ships, the No. 1 operator worldwide.
An engine room fire crippled the Carnival Triumph on its way from Galveston, Texas, to Cozumel, Mexico, in February. It took tug boats nearly five days to haul it back to Mobile, Ala., as conditions and sanitation aboard the 1,000-foot ship deteriorated. In April, it broke away from its mooring in Mobile, Ala., while 800 people were on board.
Last year, Carnival's Costa Concordia ran aground off the cost of Italy, killing 30 people. Salvage efforts continue at the ship, which held 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.