Passengers on what has become known as the “nightmare cruise” arrived on shore Friday with five days worth of stories about being stuck at sea to tell.
When their cruise ship lost power, the roughly 3,000 passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph could have been selfish and looked out only for themselves and their loved ones.
Instead, they became comrades in a long, exhausting struggle to get home.
As ship conditions deteriorated after an engine fire, travelers formed Bible study groups, shared or traded precious supplies and even welcomed strangers into their private cabins.
Long after they've returned to the everyday luxuries of hot showers and cold drinks, passengers said, they will remember the crew and the personal bonds formed during a cruel week at sea.
The tired tourists finally reached land Friday and gave a glimpse into the intensely uncomfortable journey they had endured.
Sandy Jackson, of Houston, was fortunate to have an upper-level room with a balcony and a breeze that kept the air in her cabin fresh. Rooms on the lower decks were too foul or stifling, so Jackson took in five people, including four strangers.
"We knew one, the others we're very good friends with now," Jackson said. "Everyone was very cordial in sharing supplies. What you had and they didn't have, everyone shared as much as possible."
Brandi Dorsett, of Sweeny, Texas, said people were antsy and irritable at times, and there was tension. But it never got out of hand.
"People were bartering. Can I have your cereal for this? Can I have your drink for that?" she said. "We had one lady, she was begging for cigarettes for diapers. There were no diapers on the boat. There was no formula on the boat."
Despite the camaraderie onboard, some passengers weren’t ready to forgive the cruise line.
Texas resident Cassie Terry sued Carnival Corp. on Friday in Miami federal court. The suit seeks unspecified damages, saying Terry feared for her life or that she might suffer serious injury or illness because of the presence of raw sewage and spoiled food.
Carnival cruise ship tickets require that all lawsuits be filed in Miami. Maritime attorneys say it's difficult but not impossible to win a case unless the plaintiff can show actual injury or illness.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the company hadn't seen the suit and was not in position to comment.
A maze of maritime regulations and fragmented oversight of the cruise industry also make it tough for consumers to assess the health and safety record of ships they're about to board for vacation.
The Coast Guard and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer some ship safety and health information online.
In the case of the Carnival Triumph ship that spent days disabled at sea after an engine fire, vacationers could have gone to those agencies' websites before boarding, but they would have found mostly clean marks and few red flags.
And when something goes wrong, as it did on Triumph, there are limits to how much the Coast Guard can investigate.
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