It was supposed to be a relaxing vacation for Craig Quiñonez, a bartender at Alexandre’s, and three of his friends. Instead, they found themselves among 4,000 other passengers stranded at sea for five days on the Carnival cruise ship Triumph.
“Everything started out great,” Quiñonez recalls. “We left out of Galveston on Thursday the 7th and we were all having the best time, relaxing on the sun and then parasailing and scuba diving in Cozumel.” But on day three of the four-day cruise, Quiñonez and the other passengers were woken at 4:45 Sunday morning by a fire and told to go to preplanned stations. According to Quiñonez, power on the 14-year old ship went out a shortly afterwards. To complicate matters, the ship started to tilt in the wind, which caused all sewage on the lower levels to back up. “By Sunday afternoon we realized we were stranded at sea.”
Quiñonez and the other travelers thought it best to set up a daily routine. “We realized we couldn’t stay in our rooms because of the waste coming out of the drains, so we took our robes and mattresses up onto one of the upper decks. Everyone just threw down their mattresses, tied the robes and sheets onto the bannisters to block the sun, and just kind of camped out.” Quiñonez claims that he and his friends were mostly comfortable, except on the last night when it got down to a chilly 45 degrees at night. To stay warm, they bundled up with blankets and sheets.
The ship’s crew did a good job of taking care of the passengers, according to Quiñonez. “We were fed three times a day: cereal, breads, and fruit for breakfast, turkey and cold cut sandwiches for lunch, they even grilled meat a few times for dinner. We never went hungry.”
But as is expected in a crisis, tensions started to flare. “I never saw any fist fighting, but there were always people wanting to break in lines for food, or for bathrooms, and people would get really up set over that. There were a few instances of people hoarding food. You’d see one person walking back to their areas with huge stacks of bread or fruit. In the end, the crew started rationing out the food.”
Eventually, some areas of the ship acquired partial electricity, which led to lots of tense moments around phone charging stations. “There would be one little electrical strip with about 50 phones plugged into it and when one person left, the others would start shoving and pushing trying to get in there.”
But the worst tensions focused around sanitation issues.
“On certain floors there were these horrible smells,” the bartender says. “Our rooms were flooded, only the shower was working. To get to it, we’d put plastic bags over our shoes and do what we needed. We either had to use the public restrooms on the upper decks, which were awful, mostly just toilets made out of buckets, which wouldn’t get dumped until they were completely full. The smell was horrible. We’d spray Lysol in our hands, and inhale it while we were peeing. If you had to do the other, you’d have to take a red plastic bag to the privacy of your own room and go that way.” Quiñonez says the crew instructed the passengers to leave the bags outside their rooms to be picked up later. “Unfortunately, they weren’t always picked up on a timely fashion.”
There were other sanitation issues, Quiñonez recalls. “Some of the people in the suites would throw their poop bags out the windows, and the wind would bring them right back and they’d burst against the ship.”
The crew also had to contend with elderly people, many of them in wheelchairs, who were physically unable make it off their own floors. “The crew turned the elevators into bathrooms, and would help the old people out with bedpans. And since the elevator doors weren’t working, if you would happen to be walking by you’d be able to see them doing their business.”
But with as many things as went wrong, Quiñonez says there were also many displays of generosity and kindness.
“The crew served beer the first day. But people were just downing them and coming back for more. It started getting out of control, so they cut that off. Thank goodness my friends and I had smuggled in some alcohol,” Quiñonez muses. “If you had alcohol, you had friends. Too bad all that ran out of the second day.”
Quiñonez also came to the rescue when a fellow passenger was craving sweets. “I found the galley where they kept the chocolates that they put on your pillows at night and brought her some of those.” Quiñonez also had to play nursemaid when one of the passengers fell in the shower and cut his hands. “I had first aid kit so we gave him Band-Aids and Neosporin. There were lots of situations like that, of people helping out other passengers.”
There would have been more chaos, Quiñonez concludes, if not for the crew. “They did an outstanding job of holding things together. I couldn’t be more complimentary. Our porter, James, went beyond his duties. We weren’t supposed to tip, but in the end we gave him an extra $100 for his troubles.” Quinoñez and his friends finally made it back to Dallas on Friday.
This is the fourth time a fire on a Carnival cruise line has resulted in loss of power. Additionally, the Triumph experienced propulsion issues earlier this year, resulting in a return delay of over five hours on a recent trip.
***special thanks to Triumph passenger Matt Spire for the photo***
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