San Diego: The cruise ship stranded off Mexico this week by an engine fire limped back into port under tow on Thursday with 3,300 passengers bedraggled by three days at sea without hot water, air conditioning or cooked meals.
They came ashore in wrinkled, mismatched clothes with tales of hot-dog salads, smelly, smoky cabins, free booze and some of the worst honeymoons ever.
"It was camping on the ocean, and it was horrible," said Jackie Harlan, who was celebrating her 12th wedding anniversary aboard the ill-fated ship Carnival Splendor with her husband, Chris, and their two young children.
Tugboats pulled the crippled luxury liner into its home port of San Diego at about 8 am local time, and the ship was moored an hour later. US Coast Guard Petty Officer Allyson Conroy said it would take at least two to three hours for all the passengers to disembark with their baggage.
"Remember, they have no power on the ship, and that means no elevators," Conroy said.
The 952-foot vessel left Long Beach, California, on Sunday for a seven-day voyage. But the ship was marooned the next day about 200 miles south of San Diego and 50 miles off the Mexican coast by an engine fire that crippled its propulsion system and knocked out most power supplies.
The blaze was confined to the engine room and was put out in about three hours with no injuries. Some passengers said they only learned of a fire once they were back in port.
"They never told us what the issue was. All they told us was that there was smoke," Ken King, one of the first off the ship, told CNN.
Many of the passengers said the overall mood aboard the ship remained fairly upbeat, under the circumstances, with cold, makeshift meals being one of the chief complaints.
"I never saw a hot dog salad before," Tom Fisher told Reuters. "We had yogurt on bread for dessert."
Monty Robison agreed the food was bad, but said "the crew did a great job."
Newlywed Candice Vanleeuwan of Moreno Valley, California said the ordeal made for a colorful, if not blissful, start to married life.
"Now we can beat anybody`s bad honeymoon story," she said wryly.
Toilet service was restored on Monday night, but air conditioning remained out, as did hot water and hot food for the duration of the aborted trip.
With food and fresh water running low, the Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was diverted from training exercises in the Pacific on Tuesday to help deliver 600,000 pounds of water and other provisions -- including cans of Spam, a canned precooked meat product.
Doing their best to keep up spirits, the crew plied its adult passengers with alcoholic beverages for free while offering games and other activities for the kids, while a pianist played in the ship`s lobby.
The ship was carrying 3,299 guests and 1,167 crew.
Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines, a unit of the world`s largest cruise line, Carnival Corp, said passengers from the disabled ship would receive a full refund and reimbursement for transportation costs, as well as a complimentary future cruise of equal value.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it had launched an investigation into the fire.