Sunday, February 17, 2013

I survived the Carnival Triumph

It started out as a normal girl’s trip. Five of us that have been besties since birth decided we should go on a cruise together. The first couple of days were fun, we snorkeled in Cozumel, sat in the hot tub, watched a comedy act and caught up on each other’s lives. It seems like two completely different trips. I haven’t seen some of them in years, as we have been spread across the country. Christine in Oregon, Amber in Huntington Beach, Debbie in Phoenix and Brooke in Austin; all gathered in Texas to go on a the Carnival Triumph, for what we thought would be 4 days of relaxing.

As our boat headed back to Texas Sunday we heard over the loud speaker at 5:30am, “Alpha Team Alpha Team please report to engine room 6.” At that moment we figured something was wrong, who wakes up a whole boat at 5:30am. We heard a few more announcements, something about the stair case being closed, and really the rest was a blur. Amber shouted “THE BOAT IS ON FIRE” We started to get our stuff together, but what do you get in this situation. My only thought was we were going to die, I grabbed my cell phone with a mostly died battery and the plug hoping there was a place to plug it in and I could talk to Valentino one last time. I opened the door to see what was going on and a guy was running down the hall yelling “ Life-jackets.” We could see the smoke in the hall. Frantically, we ran to our life-jackets and realized we only had four. I didn't get one, in my mind I was certainly going to die. As we ran up to our Muster Station Amber yelled about workers to get me a life-jacket  The seemed so calm telling us we would get one. All that could run through my mind was the first days safety training saying “Fire is the most dangerous thing that can happen” and that was happening.

When we finally got to our Muster Station I felt the panic attack set in. I felt as though I was going to throw up and cry. They came over the loud speaker announcing the fire was under control and we could go back to our rooms. That was not something we were willing to do, actually we never left. We brought our mattresses up there and camped there the rest of our trip. There was a comfort in being close to the lifeboats. We met Kindle and Brittany, to girls from Houston at won a free trip and Scott and Shelly with their special needs daughter from Dallas. They became our family. We watched out for each other and helped each other out in such a hard situation.

Within 30 minutes the power and water went out on the whole boat. And within 30 minutes every public toilet was filled with feces. They came over the speaker telling us that we would need to pee in the shower and #2’s in a red plastic bag.” Peeing in the shower was the worst advice they gave us. There is nothing to hold that in on a cruise ship, it didn’t take long to realize the sink was the place to go. Unfortunately it wasn't before our floor was covered in pee. Being a 3rd world traveler and camper I came prepared with Lysol spray and Clorex Wipes so our bathroom was not as bad as most. Later in the week a guy told me how to make a potta-potty out of the night stand in the room, which improved the red bag situation. Throughout the week they would get a few public restrooms working, I never trusted them, too many people using the same bathroom, I’ll take the sink in our room thank you. The first two days the ship was leaning in our favor and our hall was not flooded, however that changed by the second to last day. There was the smell of sewage throughout different areas of the boat. It was pretty gross.

The first day we got the food on the way up to the top. Brittany and Kindle jokingly asked a worker for cake, a bit later he came with a big smile and a platter of cake for us. So nice, all of the workers on the boat were so so nice. These guys are constantly over worked and underpaid. They ship people in from all over the world because no American would ever do their job for such little money. A few of them told us they were not getting fed during this whole situation. It is ridiculous how Carnival treats their employees.
Back to the food. So there were cucumber sandwiches, I never saw an onion one. And it wasn't the food I would normally eat, but I was so grateful that we had food that my expectations dropped a lot and I ate what they had with one exception. They started putting mayo on things. I did not trust that and did not eat things with mayo.

The lines were super long and people were hoarding tons and tons of food so it took much longer than it had to. There were ways around it, by not going to the popular foods. So I never had a hamburger because I was not willing to stand in a 3 hour line for it. By the 3rd day they started serving the food which made it way faster. The food got better day by day, maybe because they wanted us to forget, or maybe they stocked the cruise ships passing by with better food. All I know was when I had one square of chocolate they were passing out it tasted like the best thing ever. I never appreciated chocolate so much.

The only way we could get cell phone reception was when another ship passed and only certain phones could get out. My phone was not one of them. Fortunately others allowed me to use their phones and I did get a hold of Valentino. But to get a phone to call out was a process. I held the phone up in the air while it tried for a few minutes to call out. After about 15 tries we would get out sometimes that call was successful and sometimes it would drop and we would have to try again. Whatever the process I was just grateful to get a hold of Valentino and will never take modern technology for granted again. The second time I spoke to him he said that Austin had another UTI. To me this was the hardest part of the whole trip. My son was very sick and I could be there to take care of him. I was stuck in the middle of the ocean, traveling 5mph to get back. I felt helpless. This information made my second day stuck out at sea my hardest. Yet there were very few places to go to be alone. It one point I retreated to our sewage room to just be able to cry.

For me the second worst thing was the rumors that were flying around the ship. With 4000 people on the ship all crammed in the public areas it become very much like a small city. At one point I heard that someone was electrocuted. Seriously, I could believe most of what people said. Yet it was hard to believe the cruise director as well. She had a British accent and every time she came over the loud speaker it sounded like an announcement out of the Hunger Games. Just waiting for her to end with “May the odds ever be in your favor” or “New rule only one person will be allowed to survive.” Interesting enough she even looked like Effie from the Hunger Games, this could not be chance. I am sure she wasn't that bad, she tried to stay positive in her announcements and everything was going “brilliantly” however as the days wore on you could her the stress in her voice.  

In this hard situation it was clear of one thing; Carnival’s strong point is not organization. Every day we were told a new arrival time and new destination. Lines were ridiculously long. I believe a tug boat was not called for 10 hours after the engine explosion (that may have been a rumor but I think that one was true) And none of this was more apparent as the day we arrived in Alabama.  At about noon we could see land. I think this made people go a little crazy since we were not getting off til 11:00 at night. But nobody has ever been as happy as we were to go to Alabama. They asked people to stay in their cabins to disembark. That wasn’t going to happen. There were crowds of people everywhere pushing and shoveling. We actually were able to get off as one of the first groups because Christine was pregnant. As we got off Christine, Debbie and I hadn't gotten our flights, we left Amber with our luggage and received out flights. Once we got down, Debbie wanted to be on the News, within 2 minutes of her leaving to the news crews hoards and hoards of people came out to get on the buses. By the time she came back we had no chance to get on. There was no line, no organization, no signs, just 1000’s of angry people trying to get to New Orleans or Houston. It was crazy. Two and a half hours later we were able to get on a bus and 2 hours after that we arrived in New Orleans ending the craziest trip ever.

A lot of this sounds very negative. However I do not look at it like that at all. I learn tons from this experience. It was interesting to watch people dealing with such a stressful situation; some went directly to anger, some to looting and everything in-between. For me and most in my group the feeling was complete gratitude. I have so much, I can choose what I want to eat, I have a family that loves me, I have a home, my husband has a job that he chose and doesn’t take him any from his family months at a time, and most of all I have a Heavenly Father who loves me enough to teach me these lessons. I realize many people through the world have less than we did on this cruise ship. Many of the workers on the ship came from those situations. Normally traveling to 3rd world countries these are usually the lessons I learn on vacation, however never more profound than on this cruise, a vacation that was supposed to be about being taking care of and not thinking about anything became one of life greatest lessons. I feel as though I have resolved to be more grateful, more patient, and more loving to those around me. The past two days being home I have appreciated the extra hugs I have received from Valentino and Austin. I feel that I am enjoying each moment that I have and not thinking of the future or past as much. All this things that I teach people in my job as a therapist I have taught myself through this incredible journey. And I am sure 5 years from now these lessons will be forgotten and I will learn it again through some other tragedy, I am only human. I am grateful for a God that humbles me enough to teach me and loves enough to do it over and over again as I forget.

And, no, I will never take a cruise again. 


  1. That is so crazy! Heather, you are amazing that you were able to keep so calm and positive in that situation. I'm glad you are home safe.

  2. Thank you Heather, I loved reading your account. I can't even imagine going through that on a cruise, but I bet you girls made the most of it, and it is good to be reminded of all the things that we are blessed with.