On February 15th, at 8 a.m., I stepped off an eight hour motor coach ride to Galveston, TX, following a 4-night, turned 7-night, girls cruise on the Carnival Triumph.
Our offices and homes were set for four days. The laundry was done, kids’ activities in order, meals pre-planned, dads prepped, and we were ready for some relaxation and fun. We would be back in time for Valentine’s Day.
Or so we thought.
What we got was three days of fun and five days of a trip none of us will ever forget.
Thanks to CNN and local news coverage across the nation, there are no lack of details of the sights and sounds we witnessed that week adrift on the Carnival Triumph. I’d like to share our story and what we learned about friendship, survival, humanity and why all 5 of us will eventually tuck this memory away and cruise again.
Following a fun day at sea and a stop in Cozumel, Mexico, we were awakened Sunday morning at 5:23 a.m., “Alpha team to engine room 6, repeat alpha team to engine room 6.”
I was a bit curious. This is not my first cruise, so I knew announcements are a) usually not made this early in the morning and b) if they are in the morning, they aren’t piped into the staterooms, only the hallways.
Still, I lay in bed for a few minutes until the next announcement, “Attention, the staging area has relocated in front of medical”. And the next, “Alpha team DO NOT use stairwell 51, repeat DO NOT use stairwell 51.”
By now my cabin mate and I are up. Opening our door, we smell a strong burning oil odor and see a haze of smoke throughout the hallway just in time to hear the captain’s announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking, we have a…uh…situation in the engine room.”
And that was it.
The beginning of our five day “situation” at sea.
By now all five of us have met in our cabin on deck 7. Two grabbed life vests and we all headed up to the Lido deck as we heard an announcement from our cruise director, Jen, “Ladies and gentlemen, there has been a fire in the engine room. It has been contained; you are in absolutely no danger and can return to your staterooms. There is no need to go to your muster stations.”
The electricity went out.
We continued up to the lido deck to check it out and were met with black smoke billowing from one of the smoke stacks.
That first day was one of the longest. We were not receiving a lot of information. We had nothing to do but wait.
Reports were broadcast every hour or two for 9 hours letting us know that the fire was extinguished, but the engine room was still too hot to open the doors to “assess” the damage.
Still no electricity. No running water. No working toilets.
The interior staterooms were now too hot and dark to stay in. Passengers were beginning to construct “tent city” on the lido deck to shield themselves from the sun.
Cruise director Jen regretfully informed us, “Hello everyone, because we have no electricity, our toilet system is not working properly. Until we get this back up and running, please, if you have to use number one, use the shower. For number two, we will be providing red bags for you to use. Please place these bags in the receptacles located in the hallways. We sincerely apologize. This is the only option we have right now.”
Are you kidding me?
Mattresses were being pulled from staterooms and stakes were claimed on prime real estate around the ship for sleeping quarters. We set up underneath the main staircase on deck 3.
This location was both a blessing and a curse.
We felt lucky to be shielded from the sun and in the path of a nice breeze coming from both sides of the deck. We had a nice barrier around our group that kept strangers out.
At nightfall, we heard snores, coughing, sneezing, babies crying, sleep talkers (and screamers) and complainers.
From this spot we also saw beautiful acts of kindness.
An elderly woman in her 70’s standing by her husband for four days, who was mostly bedridden.
We witnessed new mothers sharing the last of their formula before a supply was delivered via helicopter a day later.
Beautiful sunrises and sunsets could be seen from the deck just steps from our “den.”
We saw teenage boys and men helping women and elderly move their mattresses and belongings inside during a rain shower and again when the temperatures turned cold.
We saw toddlers to elementary aged kids adapting to the situation and “going with the flow.” After all, it was all just a big camping trip to them.
We met a woman in the medical clinic who came down to deck 0 (where it was at least 90 degrees) and wait for an hour to get help for an elderly woman on deck 7 that she didn’t even know.
An off duty RN rolled up her sleeves and took one of the elderly for a sponge bath and change of clothes.
I met a woman who was on leave from the Army who had been deployed twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.
I met a banker. And an owner of a construction company. We met some Dallas socialites. And some Jazzercise instructors who were part of a group onboard.
We met some of the winners of a Coca Cola Company sponsored corporate incentive trip.
I met a bride who was married in Cozumel the day before the fire and a woman who was celebrating her 50th birthday.
We met crew that was amazing. They worked non-stop doing the best they could to keep us as comfortable as possible given this horrible situation. I never saw one complain. They always had smiles on their faces.
I met, I mean REALLY met, my 4 friends that were with me on this cruise. You think you know your friends, but trust me, when you spend five days in a “situation” like this one, you truly get to know each other. If I had to go through this, I’m so glad we were there together.
At about 5 p.m., on Sunday, the Carnival Conquest arrived to deliver supplies.
Our moods were melancholy to say the least.
We did not know what happened, when we would start moving again, when the electricity would be back on.
Or when we would see our families.
As the ship moved closer to us, we found that we had cell service. We were able to send our first texts and short calls to loved ones.
The U.S. Coast Guard arrived sometime in the night, Sunday, and we were thrilled to see their boat when we woke up Monday morning. By this time, we were told that the engine could not be repaired and we were waiting for a tug to pull us to Progeso, Mexico, with an arrival time sometime Tuesday.
Not to happen.
Two more supply ships and multiple helicopter deliveries later, we received word that we were not going to Progreso. There were too many passengers onboard without passports. Since we were nearly in the middle, we would go to Mobile, Alabama and would arrive on Thursday afternoon.
That was Valentine’s Day.
By now you’ve already read or watched the craziness on this ship during these days, so I’m not going to write too much about that. The food hoarding, long lines, smells that wafted throughout the ship leaving us to cover our mouths with our shirts many times to breath. The ongoing boredom and not knowing what was happening, or how we would get home.
As the supply ships and helicopters continued to deliver supplies and even an extra generator, the food became better throughout the days. We did not experience any shortage of drinking water or food. The coffee machines were working by Monday afternoon.
The public bathrooms were sporadically working throughout the days.
We were blessed to have running water and flushing toilets in our cabin sometime Monday evening. We were luckier t
We finally made it to Mobile, Alabama Thursday night after tugs broke tow lines, rough waters slowed progress and hours upon hours of card playing, survival list making, and self-reflection.
We opted for the quickest route to our families. We were on a bus to Galveston, TX by midnight which would get us to our car to drive home to Dallas.
We made it home to Flower Mound for school pick-up, Friday, the day after Valentine’s Day.
This girlfriend’s cruise taught me a lot about life.
I learned that for the most part, people want to help people. When put in horrific situations you CAN step up to the plate. You can help your neighbor and also accept help that you may not normally ask for.
I learned that when you are in the middle of the ocean after dark and the emergency generator fails, plunging you into total darkness on the deck of a ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico…the Coast Guard ship’s lights in the distance are a major comfort. And the stars are absolutely gorgeous. And that God is always with us.
I learned that your girlfriends are your rocks. You can cry on their shoulders, lean on them for support, use each other’s humor to get through the roughest times, and know that they ALWAYS have your back.
Will we cruise again?
After the memories fade from our dreams…all five of us agree that we will eventually cruise again…with our families in tow next time.
My family and I will be on the Carnival Magic in June.