Nov. 11, 2010 — -- With nudging from powerful tug boats, the disabled Carnival Splendor docked in San Diego this morning to cheers from more than 3,000 weary passengers after a three-day odyssey adrift and powerless at sea from an engine-room fire.
"It's just this big relief," passenger Valerie Ojeda told ABC News. "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 Splendor, which at 113,000 tons is twice the size of the Titanic, was gingerly led into the San Diego harbor in a coordinated effort by several tug boats as passengers crowded the deck to look on. Departing passengers today recounted alternating between fear, boredom and disgust after a Monday morning fire in the ship's engine room left them without power or working toilets.
Joey Noriega got married Saturday and watched his honeymoon come to an abrupt and unhappy halt. He said that Tuesday night he cleaned out the cabin toilet so his new wife, Stacy, wouldn't have to sleep with the smell.
But the passengers did what they could to keep themselves occupied.
"We played so many card games, and so many crossword puzzles. It was so boring," Noriega said today.
The Noriegas, however, weren't the only couple whose honeymoon was ruined
"We can beat anyone's bad honeymoon story. We got it beat!. Except there were other honeymooners on the boat with us," said passenger Candice Van Leeuwen.
Before the U.S. Navy began executing military-style air drops of food and supplies late Tuesday, passengers had been left only with cold and sometimes rotting food to eat.
"We're eating spoiled turkey sandwiches and warm milk and warm yogurt," Noriega 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."
Today's docking marks the end of a two-day, 200-mile tow from where the ship was stranded off the Mexican coast early Monday morning.
The fire 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."
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 USCG has commissioned the National Transportation Safety Board to assist in the investigation.
Carnival Splendor Passengers Make the Best of It
After the fire, those onboard lived with few lights, no air-conditioning, heating or hot food, and there were no functioning toilets for more than a day.
"We're using the restroom in the dark and for a day and a half and couldn't flush," Ojeda said. "It was bad, but now that I think back to it, it was really bad."
But for the most part, many said the passengers have been making the best of the situation.
"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.
Heald wrote that though some will say it has been "the cruise from hell," many others would beg to differ. Ojeda said Carnival has done its best to keep everyone entertained, including offering music and free drinks at the cruise bar.
"People were dancing, laughing, trying to make the best of their trip that obviously we didn't expect to turn out this way," she said. "Sweet Caroline" was the sing-a-long of choice, Ojeda 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.
Despite the hardships, Ojeda said "of course" she would take the company up on the offer. Noriega, on the other hand, said there's "no way" he's going to go on another cruise with Carnival.
"There's just no way I'm going to use that [offer]. I wouldn't trust them," he said Wednesday.
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, ABC News has learned, 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.
Carolyn Brown, editor-in-chief for CruiseCritic.com, said that the passengers of the Splendor actually were lucky the engines stopped functioning so close to the coast rather than further out in open ocean, and that the situation looks to be under control.
"Let's put it this way: Nobody was injured. They're handling it," Brown told ABC News. "It's not ideal, and certainly it's not what you want to do on your vacation. But frankly, these people are going to have some stories to tell and I think they'll be good dinner party guests for decades to come."