Carnival's Splendor cruise ship, which stranded more than 3,000 passengers in open water after an engine fire, will be out of service until mid-January 2011 while investigators search for the cause of the fire and repair the ship, Carnival said today.
Any guests who were scheduled to make sail with the Splendor in the meantime will be receiving a full refund for the cruise fare as well as air transportation costs, plus a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.
"We too are disheartened that we are not able to fulfill the dreams of those who have entrusted us with their important vacation plans," Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill said in a statement. "We sincerely apologize to everyone who was scheduled to sail on these cancelled voyages and look forward to welcoming them aboard in the future."
Carnival's parent company, Carnival Corp., said in a statement the incident would cost the company about 7 cents per share in the fourth quarter -- or $56 million. Carnival estimates the announcement could affect as many as 30,000 travelers.
The company said it is booking passengers for the Jan. 16, 2011 voyage. But this means the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years travel plans of thousands will be upset.
The U.S. Coast Guard is leading the investigation into the fire that stranded the 4,500 on board off the coast of Mexico on Nov. 8 without power. Until they were dragged by tugboat to a San Diego port four days later, passengers lived without hot or cold air, hot food and few lights. For more than day, the toilets did not flush, causing what some described as "disgusting" conditions.
Carnival said the investigators are focusing on the number 5 diesel generator as a potential source of the fire. The company said that in nearly 40 years of ferrying passengers around the world, Carnival has never had such an issue with a diesel generator.
"We don't believe that other vessels are at risk," Carnival spokesperson Vance Gulliksen told ABC News.
The 113,000-ton ship had been boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard the day before the fateful journey began, but would not comment to ABC News as to the purpose of their visit.
In a Facebook posting that evening, Carnival's senior cruise director, John Heald, complained that the Coast Guard was conducting tests of the ship's generators, and had shut down the elevators.
The National Transportation Safety Board is assisting in the investigation, as are Carnival engineers and technicians and representatives of the Italian shipyard where the vessel was constructed.
"Now that we have a full technical team engaged in the assessment, we wanted to provide this information as quickly as possible," Cahill said.
After a Coast Guard cutter reached the ship on the water a day after the fire, it dispatched two officials to both ensure the passengers' health and make a preliminary investigation into what might have caused the fire. Those findings have not been made public.
Passengers Recount Difficult Conditions, Chipper Attitudes
The images were meant to capture the special moments between family and friends on a dream vacation, but the pictures and video passengers took aboard the stranded Splendor told quite a different story.
From shots of pitch-black cabins to buckets catching dripping water and a "watermelon line" to pass food to hard-to-reach customers, footage shot by passengers aboard the crippled ship shows the challenges that arose after a fire in the vessel's engine room knocked out all but emergency operations.
CLICK HERE to see some of the passenger videos on "GMA".
The biggest complaint, however, was the smell from toilets that did not flush for a day and a half and from food that spoiled without refrigeration.
"It was very difficult, especially because the smells were unbelievable," passenger Stacy Noriega, who was married the Saturday before the trip and was on her honeymoon, told "Good Morning America." "It seemed like almost every floor we went up was a different odor."
Noriega said passengers also quickly tired of the cold food they were given -- meat sandwiches and salads all around.
"We're eating spoiled turkey sandwiches and warm milk and warm yogurt," Noriega's husband, Joseph said Wednesday. "Everything smells like it's spoiled. ... Nothing's cooked. It's all sandwich meat. It's disgusting. You're afraid to eat it 'cause it's been left out and touched by everybody else on the ship."
To help remedy the situation, the U.S. Navy air-dopped thousands of pounds of food, from Pop Tarts to SPAM, although the SPAM was never served, according to Carnival's twitter feed. On a ship that's designed to entertain, one passenger said in a video that those airdrops were easily the highlight of the long, powerless days.
Despite all the challenges, many said both the passengers and the crew were making the best of things.
"The crew ... [was] really trying to keep really good spirits, trying to make it like it wasn't a really big crisis," Noriega said. "We were not without anything, the only thing is we didn't get room service."
"I also want to tell you that the guests have been magnificent and have risen to the obvious challenges and difficult conditions aboard," Carnival senior cruise director John Heald wrote in a blog once the ship regained Internet access.
"It wasn't as horrible as it could've been," Joseph Noriega said. "Everybody was in good moods."
With gentle nudging from powerful tugboats, the crippled Splendor docked in a San Diego port early Thursday last week, to the elated cheers of the thousands of passengers onboard.
"It's just this big relief," passenger Valerie Ojeda told ABC News as the ship was docking. "I mean, people were cheering before we were stopped -- as soon as they saw land they were cheering, yelling, whistling, waving. They're just glad to be home, glad we made it."
The ship was on the first leg of a seven-day cruise on the Mexican Riviera. It departed from Long Beach, Calif., Sunday. It was scheduled to stop in Puerta Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, and then return to Long Beach.
Carnival is the world's biggest cruise ship operator, with lines including Holland America, Princess and Cunard.