Passengers cheer escape from 'horrible' cruise

The cruise ship Carnival Triumph is towed into Mobile Bay near Dauphin Island, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. The ship with more than 4,200 passengers and crew members has been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico following an engine room fire. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

The cruise ship Carnival Triumph is towed into Mobile Bay near Dauphin Island, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. The ship with more than 4,200 passengers and crew members has been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico following an engine room fire. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

In this Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers approximately 3,000 pounds of equipment, which included a generator and electrical cables, from the offshore supply vessel Lana Rose to the Carnival Cruise Ship Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico. The generator will be used to help provide additional power to the cruise ship, which has been idled for nearly a week following an engine room fire. (AP Phioto/U.S. Coast Guard, Lt. Cmdr. Paul McConnell)

In this Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers approximately 3,000 pounds of equipment, which included a generator and electrical cables, from the offshore supply vessel Lana Rose to the Carnival Cruise Ship Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico. The generator will be used to help provide additional power to the cruise ship, which has been idled for nearly a week following an engine room fire. (AP Phioto/U.S. Coast Guard, Lt. Cmdr. Paul McConnell)

MOBILE, Ala. — Passengers finally escaped the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph and were on the move Friday: some checked into hotels while others hopped on buses or jumped on charter flights home after five numbing days at sea on a cruise liner paralyzed by an engine-room fire.

The vacation ship carrying some 4,200 people docked late Thursday in Mobile to raucous cheers from passengers weary of overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul odors.

"Sweet Home Alabama!" read one of the homemade signs passengers affixed alongside the 14-story ship as many celebrated along deck rails lining several levels of the stricken ship. The ship's horn blasted several times as four tugboats helped it to shore at about 9:15 p.m. CST. Some gave a thumbs-up sign and flashes from cameras and cellphones lit the night.

"It was horrible, just horrible" said Maria Hernandez, 28, of Angleton, Texas, tears welling in her eyes as she talked about waking up to smoke in her lower-level room Sunday from the engine-room fire and the days of heat and stench that followed. She was on a "girls trip" with friends.

It took about four hours for all passengers to disembark.

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said passengers had three options: take a bus straight to Galveston, Texas, to retrieve cars parked at the ship's departure port, take a bus to New Orleans to stay at a hotel before a charter flight home or have family or friends pick them up in Mobile.

Gulliksen said up to 20 charter flights would leave New Orleans later Friday to take guests who stayed in hotels there to their final destinations.

Nearly 2,000 passengers arrived at a New Orleans Hilton in the wee hours, and by dawn many were headed out again to fly to Houston. They then had to get a connecting flight home or chartered bus back to their cars in Galveston.

"It just feels so good to be on land again and to feel like I have options," said Tracey Farmer of Tulsa, Okla. "I'm just ready to see my family. It's been harder on them than us I think because they've been so worried about us. It's been extremely stressful for them."

Buses arrived at the Port of Galveston on Friday morning after an eight-hour drive from Mobile. Port of Galveston police said they expected as many as 800 people by bus.

Some people faced a long drive home once they arrived in Galveston.

"It's going to be a very long day," said Dwayne McAbee, who had a six- to seven-hour drive from Galveston to his home in Fort Worth, Texas.

In Mobile, tugs pulled the ship away from the dock Friday, moving it down a waterway in the direction of a shipyard where city officials said it will be repaired.

Only hours earlier, weary passengers streamed down the gangplank, some in wheelchair.

For 24-year-old Brittany Ferguson, of Texas, the worst part was not knowing exactly how long they would be at sea.

"I'm feeling awesome just to see land and buildings," said Ferguson, who was in a white robe to keep her warm during cold nights.

As the ship pulled up, some aboard shouted, "Hello, Mobile!" Some danced. "Happy V-Day" read one of the homemade signs made for the Valentine's Day arrival and another, more starkly: "The ship's afloat, so is the sewage."

A line of taxis waited for people, and motorists on Interstate 10 stopped to watch the exodus of passengers. Some still aboard chanted, "Let me off, let me off!"

It took six grueling hours navigating the 30-mile ship channel. At nearly 900 feet in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.

Galveston is the home port of the ill-fated ship, which lost power in an engine-room fire Sunday some 150 miles off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

A team of six investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was in Mobile to look into what caused the engine room fire, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said Friday.

The NTSB was working with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bahamas Maritime Authority, which will serve as the primary investigative agency. The Bahamian government was taking the lead because the Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and it was in international waters at the time of the fire, Holloway said.

Still, the NTSB could take information from the probe and use it to make recommendations for improving cruise ship safety, he said.

Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized at a news conference and later on the public address system as people disembarked.

"I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation. And I'd like to reiterate the apology I made earlier. I know the conditions on board were very poor," he said. "We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case."

Joseph and Cecilia Alvarez of San Antonio said some passengers passed the time by forming a Bible study group.

"It was awesome," he said. "It lifted up our souls and gave us hope that we would get back."

The company disputed the accounts of passengers who described the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything to ensure people were comfortable.

In a text message, Kalin Hill, of Houston, described deplorable conditions over the past few days.

"The lower floors had it the worst, the floors 'squish' when you walk and lots of the lower rooms have flooding from above floors," Hill wrote. "Half the bachelorette party was on two; the smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes."

Passengers were supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival said it would give an additional $500 in compensation.

"This is my first and last cruise. So if anyone wants my free cruise, look me up," said Kendall Jenkins, 24, of Houston. Bounding off the ship in bathrobes, she and her friend Brittany Ferguson immediately kissed the pavement at the Port of Mobile in Alabama.

As the ship pulled up, some aboard shouted, "Hello, Mobile!" Some danced in celebration on one of the balconies. "Happy V-Day" read one of the homemade signs made for the Valentine's Day arrival and another, more starkly: "The ship's afloat, so is the sewage."

A few dozen relatives on the top floor of the parking deck of the terminal were waving lights at the ship as it carefully made its way alongside. Those about were screaming, whistling and taking pictures.

Hundreds gawked from dockside at the arrival at the Alabama cruise terminal in Mobile, the state's only seaport, as the Triumph docked.

Taxis were lined up waiting for people, and motorists on Interstate 10 stopped to watch the exodus of passengers from the cruise ship.

Some still aboard chanted, "Let me off, let me off!"

It took six grueling hours navigating the 30-odd-mile ship channel to dock, guided by at least four towboats. Nearly 900 feet in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.

In texts and flitting cellphone calls, the ship's passengers described miserable conditions while at sea.

Buses left the terminal over several hours. Up to 100 had been reserved to carry passengers either on a seven-hour ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans.

Galveston is the home port of the ill-fated ship, which lost power in an engine-room fire Sunday some 150 miles off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It was the end of a cruise that wasn't anything like what a brochure might describe.

Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized at a news conference and later on the public address system as people were disembarking.

"I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation. And I'd like to reiterate the apology I made earlier. I know the conditions on board were very poor," he said. "We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case."

Passenger Ferguson said crew members tried to make the situation bearable.

"They did their best to keep our spirits up," she said.

Joseph and Cecilia Alvarez of San Antonio said some passengers passed the time by forming a Bible study group.

"It was awesome," he said. "It lifted up our souls and gave us hope that we would get back."

While the passengers are headed home, Triumph will head to a Mobile shipyard for assessment.

Earlier Thursday — four days after the 893-foot ship was crippled in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico — the passengers and crew suffered another setback with towline issues that brought the vessel to a dead stop for about an hour just as it was getting close to port.

As the vessel drew within cellphone range Thursday, passengers vented their anger.

In a text message, Kalin Hill, of Houston, described deplorable conditions over the past few days.

"The lower floors had it the worst, the floors 'squish' when you walk and lots of the lower rooms have flooding from above floors," Hill wrote. "Half the bachelorette party was on two; the smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes."

She said "there's poop and urine all along the floor. The floor is flooded with sewer water ... and we had to poop in bags."

The company disputed the accounts of passengers who described the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything to ensure people were comfortable.

Carnival has canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before the engine-room blaze. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation.

Passengers were supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival announced Wednesday they would each get an additional $500 in compensation.

Kendall Jenkins of Houston won her first cruise as a contest prize. But she's never planning to set sail on a cruise again after the ill-fated voyage of the Triumph, despite the offer for another free cruise.

"This is my first and last cruise. So if anyone wants my free cruise look me up," said Jenkins, 24.

She and her friend, Brittany Ferguson, bounded off the ship Thursday night clad in bathrobes. They immediately kissed the pavement at the Port of Mobile, having spent their final minutes aboard jumping up and down excitedly.

Carnival CEO apologizes for doomed cruise

MOBILE, Ala. — Carnival Cruise Lines' CEO is apologizing to guests for the poor conditions aboard the disabled ship that was adrift at sea for days.

Gerry Cahill said at a news conference Thursday night as the Triumph was docking in Mobile, Ala., that he appreciated the patience of the 3,000 passengers on board.

He says Carnival prides itself on providing people with a great vacation "and clearly we failed in this particular case."

He says he plans to go aboard the ship and personally apologize to passengers.

Miserable passengers told stories of overflowing toilets, food shortages, foul odors and dangerously dark passageways.

As the ship docked, anxious passengers were lining the decks waving, cheering loudly and whistling to those on shore.

EARLIER

MOBILE, Ala. — This is not at all how it looked in the brochure: Pulled by a tugboat at a maddeningly slow pace, the cruise ship Carnival Triumph finally drew nearer to port Thursday as miserable passengers told stories of overflowing toilets, food shortages, foul odors and dangerously dark passageways.

The ship was expected to arrive about midnight, and officials said it would take passengers — carrying their own luggage, with only one functioning elevator on the ship — up to five hours to disembark.

Once off the ship, most passengers will head on another journey, this time via bus. Carnival said passengers had the option of a seven-hour bus ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans. The company said it had booked 1,500 hotel rooms in the Louisiana city, and passengers staying there would be flown Friday to Houston.

"I can't imagine being on that ship this morning and then getting on a bus," said Kirk Hill, whose 30-year-old daughter, Kalin Christine Hill, is on the cruise. "If I hit land in Mobile, you'd have a hard time getting me on a bus."

On Thursday night, dozens of chartered buses — with markings from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — had gathered in Mobile.

Carnival said it will cover transportation costs.

Earlier Thursday — four days after the 893-foot ship was crippled by an engine-room fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico — the more than 4,200 passengers and crew members suffered another setback with towline issues that brought the vessel to a dead stop for about an hour just when it was getting close to port.

Frustrations with the cruise line simmered on and off the ship, as passengers and their relatives questioned why it had taken so long to get back to dry land. The ship left Galveston a week ago.

As the vessel drew within cellphone range, passengers vented their anger.

Renee Shanar, of Houston, was on board with her husband, who she said has heart trouble. They were told they will be among the first to disembark, she said.

"I don't believe them; they've been lying to us from the beginning," Shanar said.

Disgusted by the foul air and heat on the lower decks, many passengers hauled mattresses and bed sheets onto the top deck and slept there, even staying put in a soaking rain. As the ship approached the coast, a slew of Carnival workers removed the bedding and took it downstairs.

"Today they cleaned the ship, they're serving better food, covering up basically, but at least they're making it more bearable," said Kalin Hill, of Houston, who boarded the Triumph as part of a bachelorette party.

In a text message, though, she described deplorable conditions over the past few days.

"The lower floors had it the worst, the floors 'squish' when you walk and lots of the lower rooms have flooding from above floors," Hill wrote. "Half the bachelorette party was on two; the smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes."

Shanar said passengers initially were given only cold cuts, such as turkey and vegetable sandwiches. Then another cruise line dropped off hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, but the line for that fare was nearly four hours long, she said.

"There's poop and urine all along the floor," she said. "The floor is flooded with sewer water ... and we had to poop in bags."

The 14-story ship still must negotiate a tricky, shallow shipping channel, and was expected to be the largest cruise liner to ever dock in Mobile. The channel narrows to 400 feet inside Mobile Bay, and the ship was only 115 feet wide. It was traveling about 5 mph.

The company disputed the accounts of passengers who described the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything to ensure people were comfortable. Carnival didn't immediately respond to questions the illnesses reported by some passengers.

Terry Thornton, senior vice president for Carnival Cruise Lines, said the ship received an extra generator that allowed hot food to be served.

"This is going to be a long day," Thornton said Thursday. "There is no way we can speed up the process."

Some travel agents said cruise prices and bookings have not been affected by the disabled Carnival ship, but others in the industry say it's too early to tell.

Thelbert Lanier was waiting at the Mobile port for his wife, who texted him early Thursday.

"Room smells like an outhouse. Cold water only, toilets haven't work in 3 1/2 days. Happy Valentines Day!!! I love u & wish I was there," she said in the text message, which was viewed by The Associated Press. "It's 4:00 am. Can't sleep...it's cold & I'm starting to get sick."

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the company tried to keep families updated and established a toll-free number for friends and relatives. Gulliksen said about 200 Carnival employees were in Mobile waiting to assist passengers upon their arrival.

The ship was about 150 miles off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula when an engine room fire knocked out its primary power source Sunday, crippling its water and plumbing systems and leaving it adrift on only backup power.

No one was injured in the fire, but a passenger with a pre-existing medical condition was taken off the ship as a precaution. In addition, the Coast Guard said in a statement Thursday that it evacuated a passenger who reportedly suffered a stroke.

Carnival said the original plan was to tow the ship to Progreso, Mexico, because it was the closest port, but by the time tugboats arrived, the ship had drifted about 90 miles north due to strong currents, putting it nearly equidistant to Mobile. It was also logistically easier for the company, which said costs were not a factor.

Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before the engine-room blaze. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation.

Gulliksen said the Triumph's recent mechanical woes involved an electrical problem with the ship's alternator on the previous voyage. Repairs were completed Feb. 2, and the problem was not related to the fire, he said.

Passengers were supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival announced Wednesday they would each get an additional $500 in compensation.

Once docked, the ship will be idle through April.

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