Carnival Triumph passengers docked on shore in Mobile at 9 p.m. Valentineâ€™s Day, some wearing white robes, others kneeling down to kiss the concrete, while most were in search of a hot shower and working plumbing.
Debbie Moyes, of Phoenix, Ariz., described the unexpected seven-day trip as a waiting game.
"We waited in line for everything. Just over and over for food. Sat around and waited for updates. It was just a lot of waiting,â€ť Moyes, 32, explained.
Although food was scarce, Moyes noted a particular item of high quantity, saying, "[Carnival crew members] gave away free alcohol at one point, and there were a few fights that broke out, so they stopped that right away.â€ť
Sloshing carpets underfoot, red bags filled with sewage and sleeping quarters aboard the shipâ€™s deck were only a few of the experiences that passengers dealt with since Sundayâ€™s engine fire, which left them stranded in the Gulf, about 150 miles off the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. The ship, left out of Galveston, Texas, on a four-day trip, but was crippled by an engine room fire Feb. 10.
"The worst part was the odor; the odor was horrific,â€ť Alexa Benedetti, of San Diego, Calif., said, adding, "When you go to Bourbon Street after Mardi Gras â€” that smell before they wash the streets, that was the smell on the boat.â€ť
Gerry Cahill, CEO of Carnival, spoke briefly to assembled media and passenger family members, apologizing for the situation and saying his company had fallen short in handling the situation.
"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."
He then ended the press conference without taking questions to board the boat and apologize personally to the guests.
Benedetti believes what Cahill saw "was a completely different show,â€ť explaining that the conditions she went to sleep in varied dramatically from the conditions she woke up to see.
"Everything was clean. They were steaming the carpets, carpets that just yesterday evening were covered in sewage,â€ť Benedetti said. "The ship he is seeing right now is not the ship we were on.â€ť
Passenger Trey Love was less than impressed with Cahillâ€™s apology to the voyagers after their ordeal, saying that Cahill had a similar speech that was available online.
"At least he made the effort to come down, and be here in person,â€ť Love said.
Maria Hernandez said she was in no mood to stay on the ship any longer to wait for Cahill's apology.
"All we wanted to do was get off the boat and breathe the fresh air. We were all hot in there, sweating, just to wait for the CEO to apologize,â€ť Hernandez explained.
Hernandezâ€™s companion, Veronica Arriaga added, "He wasnâ€™t on the ship. He doesnâ€™t know what we went through, he doesnâ€™t know what our families went through.â€ť
"We survived,â€ť said Hernandez, of Angleton, Tex., even after enduring the harsh conditions of the ship. Arriaga went on to explain the scene, saying, "You could smell the feces all through every single hallway.â€ť
As for food and rationing concerns, Arriaga said, "One night the power went out, and they said no more burgers,â€ť after she waited in line for approximately six hours.
"It didnâ€™t look very cold, it didnâ€™t feel very cold. We were concerned about the refrigeration,â€ť Lydia Delacroix said, discussing the conditions of the food on board the ship.
Another passenger thought the Navy should have intervened.
"Iâ€™m very angry, frustrated, demoralized, degraded,â€ť said June Campbell after departing the Triumph. "Where was the U.S. Navy,â€ť she questioned, arguing, "They shouldâ€™ve brought another ship and transferred us over, simple as that.â€ť
Erwin Ward was celebrating his 45th class reunion on the cruise.
"We got to know each other better,â€ť living in such close quarters. When asked if he will go on another cruise, Ward said, "Weâ€™ll go again, and weâ€™ll use Carnival,â€ť shaking it off by explaining, "Things happen.â€ť
According to Benedetti, some more fortunate passengers were not inconvenienced by a lack of running water, saying some upper level floors still had working toilets and water sources. "It was just the luck of the draw,â€ť she said, that determined who endured more hardships and who lived in luxury.
Mobile Mayor Sam Jones told media Thursday night a "communication breakdownâ€ť had been the reason Carnivalâ€™s executives decided to try to bus the majority of the Triumphâ€™s passengers to New Orleans or Galveston rather than having them stay in Mobile.
Carnival has announced that passengers will get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and would each get an additional $500 in compensation.