Triumph Passengers, Undaunted by Stranding, Planning Next Carnival Cruise

PHOTO: Melanie Jinkins (second from right) and her Carnival Triumph cruising companions,on their Cozumel, Mexico shore excursion.

Despite being stranded at sea under extremely difficult conditions, and even as several lawsuits have been filed against Carnival Corp. in the days since the cruise, at least a few Carnival Triumph passengers say they are ready to cruise again.

Melanie Jinkins will take her next cruise less than three weeks after she got off the Triumph. And what's more, her cruise will be on another Carnival ship.

Jinkins, of Spring, Texas, was on the Triumph with four co-workers. "A girlfriend cruise," she said. Her next cruise, which she'll take with her husband David, two children and her older son's girlfriend on the Carnival Conquest, departs on March 3. It's a seven-night, round-trip cruise from New Orleans calling on Key West, Fla., and Nassau, Bahamas. She booked the trip five months ago. But she also plans to book the free cruise Carnival offered to Triumph passengers, too. And she's not alone.

Cindy Wright of Union, Neb., said "of course" she planned to use her free cruise. Wright was on the Triumph with her husband Phil. She said she's looking at booking a February 2014 Carnival cruise out of New Orleans.

Wright said she and her husband were in a tent on a deck for several days with two younger couples – about their kids' ages – who would wait on line for their food and called them "mom" and "dad."

And despite reports of sewage running down walls, urine-oaked carpets and short food supply, some passengers said this was not the entire picture. Wright said she saw no sewage running down the walls at all.

"It was kind of fun," she said. She recalled that on Fat Tuesday, the crew put together a parade, the band played and t-shirts were thrown into the crowd. As for her next cruise, she said she's looking into a solar- powered charger for her phone and iPad, should the unthinkable ever happen again. "I'll be a little leery," she said, "but I'll be prepared."

Brandie Slonaker was one of the friends in Jinkins' group. She also had her husband and three kids along. She said they will "absolutely" be using their free cruise on Carnival, probably for a family vacation this summer. "My daughter said she hopes the same thing happens again because she had so much fun," Slonaker said. "I don't," she said, "but we tried to make it as fun for them as we could."

Jinkins called her experience on the Triumph "a fantastic three-day cruise followed by a six-day camping trip on the ocean." Jinkins, who has been on seven cruises so far, is looking forward to her next voyage. "It [her Triumph experience] really didn't change my feelings. It reinstated them. It validated what I like and enjoy doing on a cruise.

"On the trip, I kept saying 'as long as they get me back for my next cruise, I'm happy," she said.

It was the Triumph crew, Jinkins said, that made all the difference during the difficult days. "They are the ones," she said, "that saved the face of Carnival during this disastrous event for the company. They certainly were feeling as miserable, exhausted, dirty and as we all felt, yet they continued to smile, take my dirty dishes to prevent me from carrying them, explaining that it was 'my pleasure,' always with a smile or offering a helping hand." It was because of the crew's good attitude, she said, that calmness prevailed among the passengers.

Slonaker agreed. "Our room steward Lito, was an angel to my family. He was high-fiving the kids, telling them stories and making towel animals. I think about him all the time since I got off the ship."

In an online, unscientific poll on CruiseCritic.com, 62 percent said the incident on the Carnival Triumph did not worry them, and they would cruise again. An additional 27 percent said they were worried, but would still cruise. Only 5 percent said they wouldn't cruise again.

But the people who frequent CruiseCritic.com are enthusiastic cruisers. What's harder to quantify is how many people who have never cruised before will now shy away from cruising because of the Triumph. And Carnival, with its "Fun Ships" tagline, variety of offerings and low prices, is a popular line for first-time cruisers.

Wright she did hear several first-timers on the Triumph say this cruise would be "their first and last."

A spokesperson for Carnival told ABC News that "many" of the passengers stranded on the Carnival Splendor after a November 2010 fire in the engine room used the free cruises Carnival offered.

Jinkins did feel that the disembarkation process could have been handled better. She was told she had the option to stay in Mobile the night the ship arrived in port, rather than get on the bus to New Orleans, something her group would have much preferred. But that never happened.

But as far as using the free cruise offered by Carnival to Triumph passengers? "Had I been able too," she said, "I would have probably booked it while on the ship."

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