Following days of critical media coverage after an engine room fire disabled the Carnival Triumph, thousands of passengers and the ship itself were finally in their rightful places Friday.
After docking in Mobile, Ala. Thursday night, the 3,141 passengers who spent five days stranded on the vessel made their way home Friday via car, plane and bus. Showers, hot food and reunions with loved ones were top priorities for most, though one passenger immediately filed a lawsuit against Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines.
Texas resident Cassie Terry sued the cruise operator for negligence, fraud and breach of maritime contract. The suit, filed by Texas attorney Marcus Spagnoletti, says Terry endured unbearable and horrendous odors and had to wade through human waste to wait in long lines for spoiled food.
Plaintiff was forced to subsist for days in a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell, the suit said. A spokesman for Carnival declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday, saying the company had not yet seen it.
Other passengers described similar situations: using bags or showers as toilets, sleeping with cabin doors open for fresh air or on decks, waiting for limited amounts of food, trying desperately to reach loved ones.
The ships so huge and we felt so small and helpless out there, said Pat Butterfras, of Houston. She was still visibly shaken early Friday morning while sitting in the lobby of a Mobile Renaissance Hotel, where several passengers were sipping cocktails and having a hot meal.
But they also spoke of unexpected moments of levity and kinship with fellow passengers.
Passenger and nurse Nicole Brown, of Dallas, Texas, said younger people helped older ones. Some had prayer groups. Strangers became friends. Early Friday, Brown had a sheet from the ship wrapped around her bearing the signatures of dozens of fellow passengers.
From the Port of Galveston Friday afternoon, Baylor University student Clark Jones recalled a Wednesday night sing-along that took an unexpected turn. The 22-year-old, who is in a band called O, Loveland, found a grand piano and led a group in Beatles and Neil Diamond songs. Then they turned to My Heart Will Go On, the theme from Titanic.
At that point, people were like, yes, Jones said. My heart will go on.
Even though the bus he rode from Mobile to New Orleans broke down early Friday morning, Jones said he was still not soured on cruising by the experience. He said he had fun before the engine fire Sunday morning, and spoke highly of crew members who did their best under dismal circumstances.
You pay for a cruise and you get room service, theres a buffet, food all the time, theres sun, fun people, he said. I think like this was just a super unfortunate trip that maybe Carnival couldve prevented if they may or may not have taken better care of this ship in particular.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing in San Francisco, said Carnival and the broader cruise industry have work to do to reassure the public that the ordeal will be taken seriously.
For the industry, what this points out is that when ships sail and theyre in a large body of water...you may be days away from the nearest port, he said. I think part of the challenge will be for the industry to determine how they prepare in a pragmatic way for these extreme types of situations, which are also extremely rare.