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Grandeur returns to Baltimore after fire damage cancels six trips

The port of Baltimore's cruise business was made whole Friday morning, when Grandeur of the Seas began loading passengers for its first ocean voyage since a fire put the vessel in dry dock more than six weeks ago.

Despite gray skies and precipitation that toggled between mist and monsoon, smiling adults and children juggled a week's worth of vacation belongings through the Cruise Maryland Terminal and onto the 917-foot ship owned by Royal Caribbean International. With Grandeur rejoining Carnival Pride, Baltimore is once again a two-ship port.

"I want to have a cocktail or two. That's what I'm looking forward to," said Andrea Roman of Sayreville, N.J., who was with her husband and two sons, celebrating her recent graduation from Kean University .

Roman, like many other passengers, said she was not worried about getting aboard Grandeur.

"Now, I think it's going to be even safer. Royal Caribbean is going to have its guard up," she said.

Cora DeBraux of Chesapeake, Va., said after she heard about the fire, she kept calling Royal Caribbean and checking the company website to make sure the family reunion vacation she booked three months ago wouldn't be disrupted.

"To have Royal Caribbean cancel six cruises, that's extensive damage," she said. "But I felt confident after talking to the customer service representative — so here we are. We have confidence in the Lord that He will get us to the Caribbean for a family vacation and back safely."

Grandeur was certified to sail again by the Norwegian firm Det Norske Veritas, which maintains technical standards for the construction and operation of ships. The Coast Guard conducted an inspection after the cruise ship arrived in Baltimore.

The outside of Grandeur appeared unblemished, with no hint of the May 27 fire on the third-deck mooring area near the stern that forced it to make an emergency detour to Freeport, Bahamas, and cut short the vacations of 2,224 passengers, who were flown back to Baltimore.

But inside, workers are still renovating about 67 staterooms and several public areas damaged by smoke and water. Passengers bumped from this week's seven-night cruise to Bermuda were offered a full refund and a 25 percent credit on a future cruise, according to Royal Caribbean spokesman Harry Liu.

Liu said that he expects all work on the ship to be completed by the July 19 cruise from Baltimore.

Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of the website, said repair work looked good and those areas not yet ready will not be open to the public.

"Cosmetically, they did a good job," said McDaniel, who took an overnight Chesapeake Bay trip aboard Grandeur on Thursday as part of a promotional effort involving about 1,000 travel agents. "You could smell a little new construction, but nothing oppressive."

While the ship was in dry dock, the staff "deep cleaned" public areas and helped contractors with the restoration. About a week ago, they began preparing to get back in the hospitality business, said Frank Byrne, a Royal Caribbean vice president.

"We have a ramp-up period," Byrne said. "They put their uniforms back on, and we have the staff serve each other. There's a lot of practice to get back into routine. They're more than ready to get back."

Grandeur of the Seas had just returned to service in Baltimore in May after undergoing a $48 million renovation. The ship had sailed from Baltimore between 2004 and 2009 before being replaced by Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas.

The vessel was 35 nautical miles northwest of West End, Bahamas, when fire broke out about 2:50 a.m., according to the Coast Guard, which dispatched three cutters and two aircraft to aid the ship. The fire was extinguished by the crew. There were no reported injuries.

The cause of the fire has not been made public, but the Bahamas Maritime Authority is preparing an incident report, which is subject to review and comment by jurisdictions listed as "substantially interested states" by the International Maritime Organization.

Royal Caribbean canceled six cruises, a blow to the port's economy. Each cruise is worth about $1 million in money spent by passengers on hotels and meals and by the ship on fuel and supplies, according to port officials.

Baltimore handled 240,676 passengers on 100 cruises last year, resulting in a nearly $91 million economic impact for Maryland.

"This is nice for the economy and good for people who want to cruise out of Baltimore," said John Poremski of the port's cruise operations department. "We'll see them every Friday and every Sunday until September, when they'll switch to a Thursday through Saturday itinerary."

Baltimore will remain a two-ship cruise port until November 2014, when Carnival Lines will move Pride to Florida in a move many believe is a protest against stricter clean-fuel standards being imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Port officials vow to win back Carnival by April 2015 or find another cruise line to take its place.

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