Crippled Carnival Cruise: Passenger Videos Tell the Tale

Passengers recall challenges, creative solutions aboard stranded ship.

Nov. 12, 2010 — -- The images were meant to capture the special moments between family and friends on a dream vacation, but as the nearly 3,300 passengers of Carnival's ill-fated Splendor cruise wake up on dry land for the first time today since they were stranded at sea four days ago, the pictures and video they took aboard the ship tell 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 early Monday morning -- leaving the Splendor to float listlessly off the coast of Mexico.

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 Saturday and 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."

Ship Docks in San Diego After Four Day Odyssey

With gentle nudging from powerful tugboats, the crippled Splendor docked in a San Diego port early Thursday, 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 fire, which occurred in the aft engine room, shut down all but emergency operations and sent passengers scrambling to the deck until the all-clear was given after it was extinguished.

"We really did feel like it was out of a movie," passenger Chris Desaunier told "Good Morning America" after phone service was restored late Wednesday. "And then at the aft part of the ship, the back of the ship, the smoke in that area was really very, very intense."

Joseph Noriega said "there wasn't too much panic" after the announcement about the fire was made.

"It was just kind of arranged nicely," he said.

Carnival announced late Tuesday it was canceling the Splendor's next voyage, set to begin Nov. 14, from Long Beach, Calif. The company said it would offer those guests a full refund of their cruise fare and air transportation costs, as well as a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.

For those on this cruise, Carnival is offering a full refund as well as another free trip. It's an offer that the Noriegas said they are probably going to turn down this time.

"Probably not anytime soon," Joseph Noriega said. "It'll probably be a couple years before we get on a boat again."

"We're enjoying the land," Stacy Noriega added with a laugh.

After a Coast Guard cutter reached the ship Tuesday, it dispatched two officials to both ensure the passengers' health and make a preliminary investigation into what might have caused the fire, ABC News has learned. The Coast Guard has commissioned the National Transportation Safety Board to assist in the investigation.

USCG Was Aboard Splendor Day Before Fire

The Coast Guard had boarded the ship while it was still in port in California the day before the fire, but a Coast Guard spokeswoman declined to comment on the purpose of the visit because it has become part of the investigation into the fire.

"I can't say about that specific cruise ship, but the Coast Guard regularly conducts safety and security boardings aboard all sorts of vessels," Petty Officer Pamela Manns, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, told ABC News Tuesday. "It's part of how we do business."

In a Facebook posting Sunday 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.

Heald also made something of a fateful post before the fire knocked out communication: "I am hoping for an incident free cruise but ... since being here I can't remember one where something or someone strange hasn't happened," Heald said. "Lets see what this cruise brings."

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.

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