But by most accounts, the crew did as much as they could, using disinfectant and picking up plastic bags of feces after toilets stopped working.
David Glocker, of Jacksonville, Fla., praised the crew's efforts to help passengers and recognized the conditions for them were worse than for most passengers because their quarters were on the lowest part of the ship.
"The conditions down there were horrible. They all had to wear masks," he said. "They worked their butts off trying to get us food."
Dorsett praised a voice over the ship's public address system that she knew as "Jen."
"Jen was fabulous. I can remember her saying 'Everything is brilliant!" Dorsett said. "One day, she was just talking and she said, 'I know, folks, it just really sucks.' So she was even letting go. She would try to keep that happy spirit, but yet sometimes you could hear tension in her."
Six investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were in Mobile to look into the cause of the engine-room fire, which happened some 150 miles off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the agency was working with the Coast Guard and the Bahamas Maritime Authority, which will serve as the primary investigative agency.
The Bahamian government was taking the lead because the Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel, and it was in international waters at the time of the fire, Holloway said.
Passengers described a horrifying scene after the fire. Some said they smelled smoke and received conflicting instructions about every 15 minutes over the PA system. Others ran for lifeboats.
No one was hurt in the fire, and just two people were taken off the ship for medical conditions as a precaution.
Connie Ede, of Houston, was on the cruise with her husband. During the fire, the two got their life jackets ready and put cellphones, passports, money and credit cards in their pockets.
"All in all, I wish it hadn't happened, but it did, and we survived," she said.
Carnival promised to give refunds, offer passengers another trip and cover their transportation costs home. Travelers were also to receive $500 in compensation.
But those gestures may not be enough. Less than 24 hours after the boat docked, the first lawsuit was filed against Carnival Corp. by passenger Cassie Terry, who said she feared for her life and worried about falling seriously ill from the raw sewage and spoiled food. Her complaint seeks unspecified damages.
Maritime attorneys say it's difficult but not impossible to win a case unless the plaintiff can show actual injury or illness.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized at a news conference and again on the PA system as people disembarked.
"I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation. ... I know the conditions on board were very poor," he said. "We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case."
Associated Press writers Danny Robbins in Dallas; Mike Graczyk in Houston; Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Galveston; Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans; Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Ala.; and Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Mobile, Ala., contributed to this report.