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 approached port Thursday night as miserable passengers told stories of overflowing toilets, food shortages, foul odors and dangerously dark passageways.
Officials said it would take passengers – carrying their own luggage, with only one functioning elevator on the ship – up to five hours to disembark after the ship docked late Thursday.
Once off the ship, most passengers had another journey ahead of them, 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, where it had booked 1,500 hotel rooms.
I cant 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, youd have a hard time getting me on a bus.
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.
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.
Today they cleaned the ship, theyre serving better food, covering up basically, but at least theyre 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. The smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes.
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 havent work in 3 1/2 days. Happy Valentines Day!!! I love u & wish I was there, she said in the text message.
The ship was about 150 miles off Mexicos 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.
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 because of strong currents, putting it nearly equidistant to Mobile.
Carnival Cruise Lines has 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.