Carnival Splendor Passengers Describe Nightmare Cruise, CEO Apologizes
Passengers disembarked the ship, dragging suitcases down the gangplank, and in some cases hugging family waiting at the pier.
Six tug boats brought the ship to shore, The Associated Press reports. Since the ship's elevators were not working, it took nearly four hours to disembark the 3,300 passengers.
"I love being back on land," says passenger Ken King of Los Angeles, celebrating his 42nd birthday. "The staff was excellent. Only a few people on board were rude. The food was horrible. Starting at 5 a.m. on Monday, we didn't have toilets for 13 hours."
People cheered both on the decks and onshore as the ship reached the dock. Someone on the ship put up a sign on an upper deck thanking the Coast Guard and featuring a hand-drawn U.S. flag.
"We're so happy to be getting off. Everybody's been cheering and clapping," passenger Fahizah Alim, 26, of Sacramento, tells AP.
Passenger Valerie Ojeda tells CNN, "It's so exciting to see land." She says that people were "trying to stay positive, praying we would make it to land okay, and we did."
An engine room fire knocked out the ship's engines and main power supply early Monday morning. With close to 4,500 passengers and crew, the ship was dead at sea some 200 miles south of San Diego, without air conditioning, hot food preparation, refrigeration, hot water and, for a time, functioning toilets.
The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard were called to the scene and supplies including non-perishable food were delivered to the ship by Navy Seahawk helicopter.
Some passengers claim they were never actually informed there was a fire, although they could smell smoke. Honeymooner Ashlie Vest tells CNN people "knew about the fire back home" before she and her husband did.
Amy Watts, 25, of Seattle, Wash., tells AP she smelled smoke when the fire broke out but the captain immediately announced that there would be no need to abandon ship. "You think about the Titanic ... but we were all right," she says.
There were no injuries reported among passengers or crew.
The National Transportation Safety Board says it has begun an investigation.
Passengers described difficult days in which some were camped out on the upper deck or leaving their cabin doors open to let in light and air, and dealing without much food as all perishable products have gone bad without refrigeration.
One young passenger, Ryan Harlan, 10, tells CNN, "The food on the ship was gross." People were reportedly eating Spam sandwiches., canned crab, Pop Tarts and other items flown in by the Navy. Carnival says while Spam was delivered to the ship it was never actually served.
There are descriptions of the ship as smelling of rotten food and smoke. Carnival says the bars were open and everyone was offered free drinks.
One passenger, Donna Hobbs from Riverside, Calif., has gone so far as to write a song about the experience, set to the theme song of "Gilligan's Island."
In a Cruse Critic post, one man says he got a call from his wife onboard the ship. "She said 'This is a cruise from HELL!' ... She said there is no light in her cabin, toilet only got restored yesterday and stinks beyond belief. People are hoarding food, taking platefuls."
Carnival Splendor Cruise Director John Heald says on his popular blog he's proud of how the cruise line responded and that there were "high points and low points" over the days since the fire.
The ship offered some entertainment and kids' programming, though the pool and casino were both closed. Activities reportedly included live music, scavenger hunts and trivia contests.
Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill said at a press conference in San Diego that the situation on the ship was the most challenging the cruise company has faced in its 35-year history.
"The conditions on the ship have been challenging and we are very, very sorry for the discomfort and the inconvenience that our guests have had to deal with in the past several days," Cahill said. "They signed up for a great cruise vacation and obviously that is not what they received."
Among those on hand to welcome passengers back to dry land in San Diego were two sisters who flew in from Kansas to sell T-shirts they printed for the occasion. "I survived the 2010 Carnival cruise Spamcation," the blue shirts read, AP reports. They were selling like hotcakes at $20 a piece.
Passengers onboard included 250 magicians holding a conference and at least one couple who had planned to get married on a port call in Mexico, along with their guests.
The ship had set sail Sunday on a weeklong Mexican Rivera cruise from Long Beach, Calif. Seventy-five buses are taking passengers back to Long Beach, AP reports. Carnival says it has a large team at work on hotel and flight arrangements.
The cruise line says guests on the Splendor will be receiving a full refund along with a complimentary future cruise equal to the amount they paid for the voyage.
Carnival has canceled the ship's next cruise which was supposed to depart next Sunday. Guests scheduled on that voyage will receive a full refund of their cruise fare and air transportation costs, along with a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.
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U.S. Navy photos