MOBILE, Ala. -- Exhausted, grubby and almost five days late, the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew aboard the disabled Carnival Triumph returned to the U.S. late Thursday to a city almost 500 miles from its home port.
Thousands of passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph cheered, screamed and waved from outside balconies as the ship was pulled in shortly after 10 p.m.
Families were excited and relieved as passengers began disembarking about an hour after the ship docked. All passengers were off the ship in Alabama by about 2 a.m. Friday and arrived at a New Orleans hotel at about 3 a.m.
Around 10 Friday morning, tugs began pulling the disabled ship from the Alabama dock to a shipyard for repairs.
This is the best Valentines Day ever, said Jon Hair, of Lake Charles, La., grabbing the hand of his son, 8-year-old Jace, whose mom, sister, aunt and cousins were aboard. Its great, Jace said as he left for the terminal, where dozens of other families waited.
Jon Hair held a banner: "Thank God it's over!"
And as Julie Hair and her 12-year-old daughter Julianna came off the ship, Jon kissed his wife. I feel blessed, she said.
Buses arrived at the Hilton in New Orleans early Friday and were greeted by paramedics with wheelchairs to roll in passengers who were elderly or too fatigued to walk.
Many were tired and didn't want to talk. There were long lines as they waited to get checked into rooms.
For 28-year-old Maria Hernandez of Angleton, Texas, the hotel stay is only part of her journey home. Hernandez, like hundreds others, will have a brief reprieve at the hotel before flying home later in the day.
"It was horrible, just horrible" she said, tears welling in her eyes as she talked about waking up to smoke in her lower-level room Sunday and the days of heat and stench to follow. She was on a "girls' trip" with friends.
She said the group hauled mattresses to upper-level decks to escape the heat. As she pulled her luggage into the hotel, a flashlight around her neck, she managed a smile and even a giggle when asked to show her red "poo-poo bag" -- distributed by the cruise line for collecting human waste.
This was only part of her journey to get home. Hernandez, like hundreds others, would get to enjoy a brief reprieve at the hotel before flying home later Friday.
"I just can't wait to be home," she said.
Earlier, Gerry Cahill, Carnival president and CEO, said at a brief news conference Thursday night, while the Triumph was docking, that he appreciated the patience of the 3,000 passengers on board.
He said Carnival prides itself on providing people with a great vacation and clearly we failed in this particular case. He also said he planned to go aboard the ship and personally apologize to passengers.
As the ship inched closer to the dock in Mobile bringing and end to the saga relatives of passengers aboard became more excited.
Larry Butterfras of Houston, whose wife Pat had taken the Triumph cruise from its home port in Galveston, Texas, with seven friends on a birthday celebration, said he and a few other husbands drove down so they could be there to greet their wives as soon as they stepped off the ship. When I was able to talk to her today and tell her we were here, she cried. She told her friends and they cried. It was very emotional.
I just want her home, said Matthew Minyard, of Fate, Texas, anxiously waiting to greet his wife Bethany. Its been hard.