Stranded Cruise Passengers Make Their Way Home

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MOBILE, Ala. – After five days aboard the lifeless cruise ship Triumph, most of the 4,200 passengers and crew members finally reached their homes on Friday, primarily in Texas, as Carnival Cruise Lines hauled the Triumph to a shipyard for inspection and repairs.

Despite one last delay – a bus coach rented by Carnival broke down on the way to New Orleans and had to be replaced – passengers said they were relieved to make the final leg of the journey by land and air, not sea.

"If I hear the word 'cruise' ever again, I'm running," said Kendall Jenkins, 24, whose father, a pilot, chartered a flight back to Houston. "I literally kissed the ground."

Now begins a mechanical investigation by the Coast Guard, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Bahamas Maritime Authority that experts say could last months. It will focus on the engine fire on Sunday that knocked out power and plumbing, leaving the Mexico-bound ship bobbing like a cork and stranding passengers with too little food and sewage-flooded rooms.

Even as passengers praised the crew members for their patience, some scoffed at the $500 they were given by Carnival for their ordeal, saying it hardly compensated for days of missed work. Several passengers were taken to hospitals in ambulances; two had been evacuated before the ship docked here late on Thursday.

Whether the Triumph will ever return to sea remains unknown. Carnival has canceled its next 14 voyages, until April. But cruise industry experts said it would be less expensive to repair the 14-year-old ship than replace it, which would probably cost more than $500 million. A name change, they said, is not out of the question.

"They can rename it and move it to another part of the company and another part of the world," said Andrew O. Coggins Jr., a leading expert on the cruise industry, at Pace University's School of Business in New York. "The bad publicity will eventually fade away."

Still, departing passengers were eager to complain. They waited in one last line – to be interviewed live on CNN – where they shared cellphone photographs of feces-stained hallways and "tent cities" made of bed sheets.

The degree of suffering, they said, was unequal. Passengers with balconies and rooms on higher floors, which generally cost more money, had running water and the relief of a sea breeze.

"It was a tale of two ships," said Windell Gill, a Baptist minister from LaPorte, Tex. "If you had a balcony, it was not as miserable. If you were stuck indoors, on the lower floors, it was terrible. The floors squished with liquid."

Some minor decisions made before the trip had big consequences during it. Parisa Safarzadeh, 26, a recent college graduate from Houston, packed mostly bikinis and sarongs, anticipating sunny Cozumel, Mexico. Instead, she found herself wrapped tightly in a bathrobe as night temperatures dropped below 40 degrees.

Along with their memories, passengers learned via Twitter on Friday that they had one more souvenir of the trip.

"Of course the bathrobes for the Carnival Triumph are complimentary," the company posted.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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