The floating nightmare for more than 4,000 people aboard Carnival's Triumph cruise ship ended shortly before 2 a.m. Friday, as the last passengers walked off the crippled ship and into the Alabama Cruise Terminal in Mobile.
Passengers were cheering and singing "Sweet Home Alabama," simply thankful to be on dry land, but also dazed and frustrated from several days at sea, wondering when they would get to leave the broken down boat.
"I can't believe I was there," said Brandi Dorsett, a Sweeney, Texas woman who spent the past week on the ship with two close friends on what was supposed to be a fun "girls' trip." Her husband had come to pick her up and they were headed to a local hotel so she could get her first hot shower in days.
The ordeal in the Gulf of Mexico began on Sunday when an engine-room fire essentially incapacitated the 102,000-ton Triumph, knocking out the electricity and propulsion mechanisms. The vessel, supposed to return to Galveston, Texas on Monday, was instead pulled by tug boats at about 6 mph to Mobile.
On board were 3,131 guests -- two others had to be evacuated early for health reasons -- and 1,086 crew members.
Not all of the toilets have been working, leading the crew to hand out bags to passengers for disposal of human waste. There's been no warm water for showers. Food has been limited and there was little communication with the outside world.
But the sewage seemed to rise to the top of passengers complaints, with the smell seeming to ooze from every corner of the ship.
Mike Westwood, a San Antonio retiree, said sewage was running everywhere in his section. They tried to use Lysol and his aftershave to stave off the stench.
"Mattresses soaked brown. The odor was terrific," he said.
Alexa Benedetti, a San Francisco woman on a reunion trip with some college friends, said she was previously a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republican and felt her latrine there was in better shape than the bathrooms on the ship.
Sewage backed up in her cabin's shower so that she couldn't sleep in her own room for the past few days.
"I want to sleep in a bed," she said. "I've been sleeping on a lounge chair under sheets that we made into a tent. And I want to sleep on a bed for a change. "
It took several hours for passengers to disembark from the ship. Passengers who did not have family pick them up in Mobile were herded onto buses to take them to New Orleans to catch a flight or straight back to Galveston.
Carnival also said it was picking up the tab for hotel rooms for the 50-60 families who came to Mobile. Hot food, blankets and phones were available to passengers when they entered the terminal.
The Triumph's foul odyssey, which has become the subject of 24/7 cable TV channel bulletins and other media reports, plunged parents, spouses and other relatives and friends of the passengers into a state of great anxiety.
"I realize that Carnival can't help the weather situation, and Carnival can't help if the tug line breaks," said Lani Corbett, whose daughter, Shannon, was also is aboard the ship. "I get all of that, but you can't help but be angry and frustrated when the timeline gets pushed back and back."
Corbett started a Facebook page, Carnival Triumph, where family members and passengers with access could post photos and messages. It had received more than 2,500 "likes" by Thursday afternoon and featured posts from frustrated and anxious family members as well as people on the boat.
Gerry Cahill, chief executive officer of Carnival, apologized for the conditions and thanked the crew for their hard work.
"I know the conditions on board were very poor," said Gerry Cahill, chief executive officer of Carnival. "I know it was very difficult and I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests to that. "
Passengers will receive $500, be reimbursed for the cost of the trip and be given a credit for a free cruise with Carnival.
Passengers coming off the ship uniformly praised the cruise staff, but many did not have kind words for Cahill, who boarded the ship and apologized to passengers before letting them off.
"He was holding us up saying gibberish," Westwood said.
The Triumph will remain in Mobile for about a week for repairs and for Carnival to figure out what went wrong on board. The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board have already launched an investigation into the cause of the engine room fire.
"You just don't want to imagine what I've been through, just to know that my daughter is on that ship with all that water and nothing I can do," said Nellie Betts, mother of Nicole, one of the Triumph's passengers.
Betts, a Tupelo, Miss. resident, said this was her daughter's first cruise, and likely her last. Betts said her 13-year-old granddaughter wants her mother back at their Dallas home.
"She said, 'Granny, when my mom gets home, she's grounded for life. I'm grounding her for life,'" Betts said.
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