SAN DIEGO (AP) â€” Relieved passengers wheeled their suitcases down the gangplank of a disabled cruise ship Thursday, cheering as they finally touched land after three nightmarish days adrift with limited food, backed-up toilets and dark cabins.
Pulled by six tug boats and escorted by Coast Guard cutters, the nearly 1,000-foot Carnival Splendor reached the dock at about 8:30 a.m. PST. The first group of passengers walked down a ramp about an hour later, dragging rolling suitcases behind them and entering a tent on the dock. With the ship's elevators out of order, port officials estimated it would take about four hours for everyone to leave the ship.
â€œI love being back on land,â€ 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.
â€œThe 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,â€ King 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.
â€œIt was gross when the toilets weren't working. What can you do?â€ Harlan said. â€œThere were a lot of people getting smashed off warm beer.â€
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.
â€œWe're so happy to be getting off. Everybody's been cheering and clapping,â€ passenger Fahizah Alim, 26, of Sacramento, said by cell phone.
â€œIt's been like a nightmare,â€ she said. â€œThere's been no food, no power, no electricity, no flushing toilets. I spent the night tossing and turning in my cabin in the dark.â€
The ship left Long Beach on Sunday for a seven-day trip to the Mexican Riviera, only to return days early without ever reaching the beaches vacationers had hoped for. A fire in the engine room knocked out power Monday morning, leaving passengers with no air conditioning, no hot food, no hot water, no casino. The swimming pool was off-limits because there was no way to pump chlorine.
Seventy-five buses were arriving 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.
Gary Grabel of Los Angeles said he was packing his bags.
â€œWe're looking forward to spending a couple of days in San Diego to kind of catch up on my vacation,â€ he said by cell phone.
He was among 250 magicians on board for a conference who performed for the guests after the power failed.