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Stranded cruise passenger: Crew was 'amazing' in 'rough' conditions

Feb. 15, 2013 at 8:39 AM ET

Back on dry land after five days on the disabled Carnival Triumph cruise ship, passengers described appallingly unsanitary conditions, but praised the work of the crew in a difficult situation.

“It was really rough,’’ passenger Julie Billings told Matt Lauer on TODAY Friday. “It was like post-natural disasters, but stuck on a boat with 3,200 other people and those poor workers trying to clean up after everyone and deal with everyone freaking out.’’

After their ordeal in the Gulf of Mexico with little electricity, few working toilets or sufficient food following an engine fire that disabled the ship on Sunday, the weary passengers disembarked in the port at Mobile, Ala., on Thursday night. Carnival reimbursed them for the cruise, offered each passenger a free cruise and also giving them an additional $500 in addition to arranging free travel to help get them back to the cruise’s origination point in Galveston, Texas. Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill also personally apologized to everyone aboard the ship after it docked.

Despite the deteriorating conditions, Billings and friend Brandie Slonaker said the crew did all it could to minimize the discomfort of the passengers.

“They’re in the same boat with all the same issues that we had to deal with, but they didn’t have to just sit around and get through it, they had to work and keep everybody as comfortable as possible,’’ Billings said. “It was just horrible working conditions for them. They had to put in extra hours and kept a smile on their face. They were amazing.’’

“Their cabins were in the lower deck, so a lot of them were flooded,’’ Slonaker said. “You could walk through the ship and see them sleeping on the tables and on the floor and in the hallways. They just smiled and sang and danced. They were awesome.’’

Some passengers also described being afraid for their lives at points during the voyage. Passenger Jamie Baker told Savannah Guthrie in a phone interview on TODAY Thursday that she and her roommates wore their life vests to bed because they were afraid the ship would capsize. A friend of Slonaker and Billings broke her left ankle and will require surgery after falling down in the dark while trying to go to the bathroom.

“She took a nasty fall,’’ Slonaker said. “They were pushing us with the tugboats. The ship was moving a lot and jerking. It just so happens she got up to use the bathroom at that time and the ship jerked and she couldn’t see. She lost her footing. When the paramedics came in from the medical center, they picked her up and her foot was actually just hanging off of her leg. She’s in pretty rough shape right now.’’

There are also concerns about latent infections in addition to food poisoning because of the conditions on the ship.

“This was in essence, a floating petri dish if you will,’’ NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman told Guthrie. “Because they were exposed to so much raw sewage, the real concern is stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. We’re seeing this as sort of a double whammy – food poisoning first, and the fecal exposure second.’’

As far as setting foot on a cruise ship again, it may be quite a while for some passengers -- if ever.

“Not with Carnival,’’ Billings said.

After personally apologizing to the passengers, Slonaker said Cahill even carried the luggage to the ambulance for their friend with the broken ankle. But she still will be hesitant to go on a cruise again.

“Not yet,’’ Slonaker told Lauer. “I accept his apology. (Carrying the bags) meant a lot, but not yet.’’

Read more: 

Stranded cruise ship passenger: 'It's just a nightmare'

'Nightmare' cruise ends for thousands of passengers

Passenger: 'It was pretty disgusting'Slideshow: Passengers share photos of life on crippled Carnival Triumph
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