The crippled Carnival Triumph was cheered into port Thursday night after five days adrift in the Gulf of Mexico without power and with rapidly deteriorating conditions. By 2 a.m. ET Friday all 3,143 passengers had exited the ship, NBC News reported.
It was supposed to be a fun trip with girlfriends for 28-year-old Maria Hernandez of Angleton, Texas. But Hernandez said instead, "It was horrible, just horrible."
Shortly before midnight, first buses with cruise ship passengers started pulling out from the port in Mobile, Ala., for New Orleans and Texas.
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Gerry Cahill, the CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines was at the Mobile port and said that he was eager to go aboard and apologize to the 4,229 passengers and crew members that have been stuck on the ship since an engine room fire blew out power Sunday, transforming the luxury liner into a steaming trap.
"I know the conditions on board were very poor," Cahill said before heading to the cruise liner. "I know it was very difficult and I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests to that. We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case."
The ship was expected to reach dry land earlier in the day, but another setback delayed it even further. One of the tow lines dragging the massive vessel snapped, leaving it drifting once again.
Throughout the day, frustrations with the cruise line were simmering on and off the ship, as passengers and their relatives questioned why it was taking so long to get back to dry land after an engine-room fire disabled the ship Sunday.
Television images from CNN showed passengers with signs of "Help" and "I love you" hanging from their cabin rooms. Others walked around the deck, some waving to the helicopters flying above. People in boats, presumably officials from Carnival, the Coast Guard and Customs, have boarded the ship.
The company had disputed the accounts of passengers who describe the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything to ensure people are comfortable.
Thornton said they received an extra generator that allowed them to serve hot food on the ship Wednesday night, and that the food services will be fully operational when they are docked.
Carnival said in a statement late Wednesday that passengers were being given the option of boarding buses directly to Galveston, Texas, or Houston -- a roughly seven-hour drive -- or taking a two-hour bus ride to New Orleans, where the company said it booked 1,500 hotel rooms. Those staying in New Orleans will be flown Friday to Houston. Carnival said it will cover all the transportation costs.
Cruise Passenger Calls Conditions 'Terrible'
Speaking by phone Thursday to NBC's "Today" show, passenger Janie Baker said there had been no electricity and few working toilets. She compared life on the ship to being in a hurricane evacuation.
Baker said one night, she and her friends slept with their life vests because the ship was listing and they feared it would tip over.
Baker echoed other accounts in which passengers had to use plastic bags to go to the bathroom and wait in line for hours for food. Baker said she once saw a woman pass out while in line.
Crippled Ship Had Previous Problems
Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before an engine-room fire left it powerless in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Previous Mechanical Problems on Crippled Cruise Ship
- Cruise Becomes "Shanty Town" on the Sea
- VIDEO Stranded Cruise Passenger Speaks to Family About Conditions
- Disabled Cruise Ship Being Towed to Alabama
- Galveston Cruise Ship Disabled in Caribbean
NBC 5's Lindsay Wilcox and Associated Press writers Jay Reeves, Ramit Plushnick-Masti, Bob Johnson and Juan A Lozano contributed to this report.