Carnival towelled over cruise from hell

HOME FREE: Passengers cheer after disembarking from the Carnival Triumph in Mobile, Alabama, at the end of a "hellish" voyage marked by overflowing toilets and stinking cabins.
HOME FREE: Passengers cheer after disembarking from the Carnival Triumph in Mobile, Alabama, at the end of a "hellish" voyage marked by overflowing toilets and stinking cabins.

Of course the bathrobes for the Carnival Triumph are complimentary," it said in a tweet on the official @carnivalcruise account.

But the announcement has been received with less than full-throated cheers.

"Who wants a stinky robe?!" tweeted a reporter in North Carolina, Astrid Martinez, while another user of the social media site, Natalie Eshaya, enthused sarcastically, "Oh how generous."

Another skeptic, Paul Nather, wondered "What do you think the going rate for a Carnival cruise bathrobe will be on eBay tomorrow?"

The white bathrobe has become an unlikely symbol of the nightmare of the cruise-goers, who donned them to attract attention as they stood on the drifting ship.

Others used the white terrycloth as a canvas to write messages, with one passenger proclaiming, "I survived Carnival's triumph redbags" -- a reference to the bags that substituted for toilets.

Carnival has also promised to give refunds, offer passengers another trip and cover their transportation costs home. Travellers were also to receive $US500 ($A485) in compensation.

The Triumph docked on Friday morning in the port of Mobile, Alabama. It had originally been scheduled to return to port early Monday after a weekend stop in Cozumel in Mexico, before an engine room blaze left the massive vessel without electricity to power the kitchens, toilets, and other necessities.

Passengers aboard the ship were not selfish and became comrades in a long, exhausting smelly struggle to get home.

As ship conditions deteriorated after an engine fire, travellers formed Bible study groups, shared or traded precious supplies and welcomed strangers into their private cabins.

Even after they have returned to the everyday luxuries of hot showers and cold drinks, the passengers will remember the crew and the personal bonds formed during a cruel week at sea.

The tired tourists gave a glimpse into an intensely uncomfortable journey after reaching land on Friday.

Sandy Jackson was fortunate to have an upper-level room with a balcony and a breeze that kept the air in her cabin fresh. Rooms on the lower decks were too foul or stifling, so Jackson took in five people, including four strangers.

"We knew one, the others we're very good friends with now," Jackson said.

Brandi Dorsett said people were antsy and irritable at times, and there was tension. But it never got out of hand.

"People were bartering. Can I have your cereal for this? Can I have your drink for that?" she said. "We had one lady, she was begging for cigarettes and for nappies. There were no nappies on the boat. There was no formula."

Many of the more than 4200 people aboard were bused to New Orleans to catch a flight home or to the ship's home port in Galveston. And as if they hadn't suffered enough, one of the buses broke down during the two-hour ride to New Orleans. Passengers on a different bus reported losing their luggage.

But that was nothing compared to life on the crippled cruise liner. To pass the time, Joseph Alvarez said about 45 people gathered in a public room on the lower deck for Bible study.

"It was awesome," he said. "It lifted up our souls and gave us hope that we would get back."

Because many passengers were sleeping on the outside deck, Dwayne Chapman used his pocket knife to make tents out of bed sheets. At first, other passengers told him they thought he was going to get into trouble, but later, everyone wanted to borrow his knife to do the same thing.

"I really think we've made some lifelong friends going through this ordeal," Chapman's wife, Kim, said.

When it was over, many passengers were just grateful for simple pleasures. After days of warm drinks, Cheryl McIntosh and her husband were glad to see coolers full of ice.

"The first thing we did was open up those Diet Cokes and we drank some," McIntosh said.

Tugs pulled the ship away from the dock on Friday, moving it down a waterway to a shipyard where it will be repaired and cleaned.

The work ahead is. Passengers described water-logged carpets, sewage seeping through the walls, overflowing toilets and a stench so bad people choked.

But, by most accounts, the crew did as much as they could, using disinfectant and picking up plastic bags of faeces after toilets stopped working.

David Glocker praised the crew's efforts to help passengers and recognised the conditions for them were worse than for most passengers because their quarters were on the lowest part of the ship.

"They all had to wear masks," he said. "They worked their butts off trying to get us food."

Dorsett praised a calming voice over the ship's public address system that she knew as "Jen".

Connie Ede was on the cruise with her husband. During the fire, the two got their life jackets ready and put mobile phones, passports, money and credit cards in their pockets.

"All in all, I wish it hadn't happened, but it did, and we survived," she said.

But those gestures may not be enough. Less than 24 hours after the boat docked, the first lawsuit was filed.