The crippled Carnival cruise ship makes for an unexpected adventure and interesting TV for a Yonkers couple that was supposed to be on the boat. Tim Minton reports.
A disabled cruise liner inched into San Diego Bay on Thursday after three nightmarish days adrift on the Pacific, sparking cheers from passengers who disembarked and described limited food, backed-up toilets and dark cabins.
After eating nothing bud canned Spam for days -- and all the booze they could drink -- a group of New Yorkers who had been stranded on the ship were of two minds about what to do next.
A Yonkers man, who was on the cruise as part of a group led by Westchester County legislator Bernice Spreckman, called a relative to tell them the group is now splitting up, NBCNewYork learned.
Half of the group was planning to continue with the scheduled itinerary -- which means a trip to Las Vegas. The other half are remaining at a San Diego hotel -- presumably with the intent of heading home directly.
Of course, it's no surprise that people leaving the crippled vessel would want to get back to the comfort of home as soon as possible. Even the evacuation of the ship's 4,500 passengers and crew was slowed by disabled elevators, out of order like much of the ship after an engine room fire on Monday cut short the seven-day cruise -- and left the ship adrift in the Pacific off Mexico.
Yet, Spreckman's friends say she probably made the truncated trip bearable for her fellow passengers.
"You're better off with her on board if you're stuck because she keeps your morale up," said Spreckman's friend from Yonkers, Libby Heit.
Spreckman organized the cruise for more than 40 seniors -- and those who know her say she's been making them all feel good the during the entire ordeal.
"She's a happy go lucky woman," added her neighbor Vincent Gabbamonte, who said Spreckman was a pistol of positive energy.
Pulled by six tug boats and escorted by Coast Guard cutters, the nearly 1,000-foot Carnival Splendor reached the dock at about 11:30 a.m. EST, unable to steer or propel itself.
The first group of passengers walked down a ramp about an hour later, dragging suitcases behind them and entering a tent on the dock. Port officials estimated it would take four hours for everyone to leave the ship.
"I love being back on land," said passenger Ken King of Los Angeles, who turned 42 on Thursday.
King said he and his traveling companion were celebrating their birthdays on the cruise, so Carnival chose them to be in the first group off the ship.
"The staff was excellent. Only a few people on board were rude. The food was horrible. Starting at 5 a.m. on Monday, we didn't have toilets for 13 hours," King said.
Peg Fisher of Las Vegas, on her first cruise with husband Tom, said she was one of the first to try the toilets after many hours and prayed as she flushed.
"I ran out in the halls, 'The toilets flush!' People were like, 'Are you kidding?' They went running into their cabins," she said.
The Fishers described impromptu food fare that included cheese-and-beet sandwiches and other sandwiches filled with something that looked like corned-beef hash.
"If you could see the things they put on sandwiches, seriously, this could be the only cruise ever where people lost weight instead of gaining weight," Peg Fisher said.
Chris Harlen, a dental technician from Buena Park, offered a quick description of his experience after disembarking with his wife and two children, ages 10 and 8.
"It was gross when the toilets weren't working. What can you do?" Harlan said. "There were a lot of people getting smashed off warm beer."
People on the decks and about 100 onshore cheered loudly as the ship reached the dock, while all along the harbor, tourists, joggers and fishermen stopped to snap photos.
High up on a ship railing, someone had stuck a sign thanking the Coast Guard and a hand-drawn U.S. flag.
"We're so happy to be getting off. Everybody's been cheering and clapping," passenger Fahizah Alim, 26, of Sacramento, said by cell phone.
"It's been like a nightmare," she said. "There's been no food, no power, no electricity, no flushing toilets. I spent the night tossing and turning in my cabin in the dark."
Seventy-five buses were arriving in San Diego to drive passengers north to Long Beach, where the Splendor is based. Passengers also were given the option of staying overnight at San Diego hotels.
Aboard the ship, lines for cold food had stretched for hours during the days after the power went out. Navy helicopters flew in Spam, Pop Tarts and canned crab meat and other goods for the passengers and crew, passengers said.
The ship was 200 miles south of San Diego and about 44 miles off shore when the fire killed its power.
Carnival first planned to haul the ship to the Mexican port of Ensenada, not far from a movie studio complex used to film "Titanic," and bus passengers to the U.S.
But the cruise line decided it would be better to go a little farther to San Diego, sparing passengers the 50-mile bus ride to the border -- which would have further complicated the vacation from Hell.