A scheduled four-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, in mid-February aboard the Carnival Triumph turned into a weeklong ordeal when an engine room fire knocked out power and left passengers adrift without working toilets and air conditioning and not much food or drink.
Chicago-based IT recruiter Sandeep Kaur Berry, 30, known by friends for her cheery disposition and sense of humor, was one of nearly 3,100 passengers who slept on decks to escape the free-flowing sewage and oppressive heat. Here she shares a few insights.
Q: Why did you pick this cruise, and who went with you?
A: I went with my mom (Balbir Kaur Singh) because she had wanted to go on a cruise for so long. This was a mother-daughter trip for her birthday, and since she lives in Houston and this took off from Galveston, we figured it would work well for her. It was my second cruise and her first.
Q: How did it go before things went bad?
A: The first three days were amazing! We left at 4 p.m. on Day 1, then Day 2 on the ocean was gorgeous. We spent our third day in Cozumel, taking a tour of the ancient ruins and shopping. We got on the boat late in the day and went to bed.
Q: What was the first sign that things were going wrong?
A: We woke up at 5 a.m. on the fourth day to the public address system yelling for the "Alpha Team," which I found out later was the fire-response team.
Q: Once the power went out, how did you entertain yourselves?
A: My mom and I had one book between us: "Cakewalk: Adventures in Sugar With Margaret Braun" — I'm really into cake decorating — and it has lots of beautiful photos. We also watched the sharks in the water. The lines for food were three hours long, so we spent time in line. And when other cruise ships came by to bring us food — three in all — that was entertaining. The second-to-last day a helicopter dropped off crates of food, and I'd never been that close to a chopper. We made friends with the people around us and heard their life stories.
Q: Will you be going on a cruise again?
A: My husband and I have a Disney cruise scheduled for the Mediterranean this summer. I'm a little nervous about it. We're going to upgrade to midship, and I want to get a room with a balcony. If you had a balcony, no matter how bad it was, you could air out the gross smells and sleep on the balcony.
Q: Are you fully recovered from the trip?
A: My first two nights home I had nightmares about being on the boat. My boss let me work from home my first week back. He was so understanding.
And my company, Coyote Logistics, was really nice about the three extra days I used because of being stranded; they told me not to worry about counting them as vacation days. But now I'm terrified of flying. What if the fire had been on an airplane instead of a ship? It's all big machinery that you don't have control over.
Q: Any lessons learned?
A: I'll never go on another vacation without a flashlight. And I recommend taking lots of magazines, books and a solar charger when you go away. Also bring some sort of dry food, like a can of Pringles. I'll never go on a vacation without those things again.