(CNN) — Carnival Triumph passengers scattered to the four (better smelling) winds Friday, headed anywhere and everywhere but back to the stinky, crippled ship where they were trapped for days.
In one final episode of indignity, the bus carrying some passengers to New Orleans broke down early Friday, leaving them stranded once again — this time on the side of the highway.
“You wouldn’t think after the ship nightmare, that on the bus ride to New Orleans, the bus would break down,” passenger Jacob Combs said after the bus arrived in New Orleans following a 45-minute roadside delay.
By the busload, passengers arrived in New Orleans, Galveston, Texas, and Houston, destined for flights or car trips that would take them home after the ill-fated trip — which went horribly wrong after an engine-room fire Sunday left the ship drifting, largely without power, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Among the arriving passengers in Galveston were Tony and Jenny Larocca of Lake Charles, Louisiana, on their first trip away from the kids — a cruise that the husband got his wife for Christmas. Their souvenir? A bag of stinky clothes and a new appreciation for each other.
“There’s no way I could have made it without him,” Jenny Larocca said.
As they spoke, tugboats were pulling the crippled Triumph to a Mobile, Alabama, shipyard where it was to undergo repairs. The ship won’t carry passengers until at least mid-April.
The Triumph finally pulled into port in Mobile late Thursday night after an agonizingly slow trip to the docks made longer by a busted tow line. Passengers lined the railings, cheering and waving towels in celebration as the ship finally pulled in.
The last passengers got off early Friday. Some stayed overnight in Mobile before boarding buses to New Orleans or Texas.
All were happy to be back on land. A few even kissed the pavement.
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“It was horrible. Horrible,” passenger Janie Esparza told reporters. “The bathroom facilities were horrible and we could not flush toilets. No electricity, and our rooms were in total darkness. Honestly, I don’t think that this ship should have ever sailed out.”
But passengers had nothing but rave reviews for the cruise ship’s 1,086 crew members. Many said they bent over backward to meet the needs of passengers and made a good show even during unpleasant jobs such as cleaning up raw waste that had sloshed out of toilets aboard the listing ship.
“The situation we were in was a terrible situation, and there were a lot of frustrating and horrible things to deal with,” said passenger Joy Dyer, wearing a Triumph bathrobe with “Float Trip 2013″ scrawled on the back.
“But what we were in awe of the entire time was the crew that was completely unselfish,” she said. “They served us with smiles, and served us in ways that are truly unthinkable, the things they had to do for us, yet they did it with smiles.”
The ship was in the third day of a planned four-day cruise when a fire in an engine room left it with no propulsion, listing to the side, drifting in Gulf of Mexico currents. In addition to the crew, it was carrying more than 3,100 passengers.
The power outages put many toilets out of order. Some commodes overflowed, splashing the floors with waste as the ship listed and sending urine and feces sloshing across floors and down hallways, passengers reported.
“It runs down the walls from one floor to the next. It’s running out of somebody’s bathroom out into the hallway all the way across,” passenger Larry Poret said.
Other passengers reported long lines waiting for food, water shortages and widespread boredom. Many passengers took to sleeping in hallways or even outside to escape the odors and heat below decks.
Passengers passed the hours playing cards, walking the deck and going to see what was happening on other areas of the ship, Poret said.
They set up charging stations to help their fellow passengers juice up cell phones and other devices, he said.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill met reporters before the ship pulled in and said the company was sorry.
“We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case,” he said.
The beleaguered CEO then went on the ship as passengers departed and delivered another apology.
But for some, like passenger Norma Reyes, it was too little too late.
“The hallways were toxic,” said Reyes, who said she would never go on a Carnival cruise again. “Full of urine. It was horrible. If that ship caught on fire and they had not contained it, where would we be? Floating in the ocean or dead.”
Others were more forgiving.
“They did a good job of managing expectations,” Brett Klausman said. “The information that trickled out was probably well-thought-out to kind of keep people safe and calm.”
Passengers Linda and Bill Byerly said their experience was much different from that of many of the passengers in the lower-level rooms. Their balcony room had ample fresh air.
Linda Byerly said she took advantage of dance classes offered by the crew, including an “Austin Powers” class. But she said they spent much of their time “chilling.”
“It was pretty slow,” Bill Byerly agreed.
Carnival said it would give each passenger $500, a free flight home, a full refund for their trip and for most expenses on board, as well as a credit for another cruise.
The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation into the cause of the engine room fire. Because the Carnival Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel, the Bahamas Maritime Authority is the primary investigative agency.
Coast Guard investigators boarded the vessel Thursday as it headed to port but needed more lighting available on shore to closely examine the engine area.
Patrick Cuty, a senior marine investigator for the agency, said it doesn’t appear the fire was particularly large. Officials haven’t figured out why it had such a devastating impact on the ship’s power system.
Investigators have pulled the device that records alarms, crew conversations and some actions taken on board, Cuty said. The probe will likely take eight to 12 months to complete, he said.
Cuty commended crew members, saying they went to great lengths to meet passenger’s needs — including crawling through largely inaccessible areas of the ship in an effort to turn on taps to some rooms so passengers could use toilets or showers.
Travelers have few options for compensation in these cases, other than what the cruise line is already offering, according to travel expert Jason Clampet of Skift.com, a travel website.
“The passengers on the ship aren’t going to have a great deal of recourse when they get home,” he said. Travel “insurance really doesn’t cover this sort of thing. Their trip wasn’t interrupted and they aren’t incurring extra expenses … so they can’t be compensated that way.”
But the fire and resulting bad PR could hurt Carnival, he said.
“It’s a terrible sight, thinking of people trapped on a ship with limited food and filthy conditions, so I think people will think twice about taking a cruise,” Clampet said.
The fire is at least the second problem for the ship since late January, when it had an issue with its propulsion system, according to a notice posted on the website of Carnival senior cruise director John Heald.
It’s also not the first fire to disable one of the cruise line’s ships.
In 2010, the Carnival cruise ship Splendor lost power after an engine room fire, leaving it drifting off the Pacific coast of Mexico. The USS Ronald Reagan ferried 60,000 pounds of supplies for the ship’s passengers and crew as the ship was towed to San Diego.
Leonara Chavez and David Zambrano were on the Splendor when it lost power in 2010. They said watching coverage of the Triumph passengers’ ordeal was “like looking in a mirror.”
“It’s like deja vu,” Chavez said.
She said they took the free cruise offered by Carnival after the 2010 debacle. Despite walking the halls of the ship recounting things that had happened, she said they were determined to enjoy the trip.
But what happened aboard the Triumph, she said, has sealed their decision when it comes to cruising: They won’t be going again.
By Michael Pearson – Lateef Mungin and Steve Almasy
CNN’s Sandra Endo, Rich Phillips, Martin Savidge; Tom Watkins, Chandler Friedman, Victor Blackwell, Tristan Smith, Joe Sutton, Mike Ahlers, Dave Alsup, Chuck Johnston, Esprit Smith, Katia Hetter and Marnie Hunter contributed to this report.
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