Shawna Adams and her family embarked on a cruise vacation last week, but as they sailed in to San Diego harbor yesterday, they were overjoyed at the sight of land.
The Adams family was among the thousands of people stranded at sea for four days on the Carnival Splendor.
Adams, fresh from her first hot shower and meal since Sunday, had not been off the ship a day when she felt compelled to clear up some of the untruths she’d heard on the news about the ordeal.
The resident of Fresno, Calif., was on the ship with her husband and two children, a 3-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy.
“I’ve heard a lot of negative stuff, and for the most part, the worst thing was the first day when the toilets didn’t flush,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the crew. They had human chains going from the bottom of the storage all the way up eleven flights of stairs carrying water, watermelons, anything that had to get to the dining room had to go by hand. They had to wash numerous dishes by hand. They really did an absolutely wonderful job making do with very limited resources.
"I know there were people who were handicapped or elderly that it might have been more difficult for. I even saw the staff carrying those people into the dining rooms."
Not that the experience wasn’t trying, or scary.
Adams recalled the “thud” that woke them up at 6 a.m. Monday morning, shaking her cabin on Deck 2.
“My 3-year-old daughter jumped out of bed and said, ‘I think it’s broken’,” Adams said. “She called it.”
A few minutes later, Adams said they smelled smoke and heard the alpha team announcements.
“They never mentioned the word fire,” she said. “They said they were checking out the smoke and to go to our muster stations to get some fresh air. They said don’t panic. We thought it was hilarious because the captain said, ‘We have extinguished the smoke.’ They didn’t want to use the word fire.”
Adams said she talked to other passengers who were staying on Deck 1 who saw smoke in their hallway.
That first day, she said, was the most difficult.
“The toilets didn’t flush, and that was the worst part of the cruise,” she said. “They got the toilets working about 8 p.m. that night. But you can imagine, there were a lot of people and they filled up pretty fast. We didn’t witness anything spilling over. It obviously smelled like an outhouse for a little bit.”
The first day was hard, she said, due to the uncertainty.
“They didn’t know if they’d be able to fix the problem,” she recalled. “The first day there was a lot of waiting. By the second day, once they realized they couldn’t fix the problem and they knew the cruise was terminated, things became much more organized.”
The day of the fire was also “eerie,” she said.
“There were no boats anywhere and we were just kind of bobbing up and down, dead in the water,” she said. “The second day they said the tugs are coming and the Mexican Navy. The first ship that came was the U.S. Coast Guard, followed by the Mexican Navy and then the big carrier.”
“Once we saw the Coast Guard and the carrier, we definitely felt secure,” she said.
Adams described the food as “creative.”
“We were never served Spam,” Adams joked. “The first day things were unorganized and there were some long lines for the food. After that, things ran more smoothly. The food was interesting.
“They put anything they could put between bread. We had beet sandwiches, corn sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, cold hot dog sandwiches. To go along with that they had fresh fruit, they had yogurt, boxed cereal, milk.”
Between the food and the elevators being out, Adams joked, “This was the only cruise you go on and you lose weight.”
Her kids stocked up on cereal and ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eating was the hardest part of the ordeal for them, as they were “picky to begin with.”
“But, you know, kids are resourceful. The parents and kids took over the disco lounge and they were playing freeze tag and playing soccer with oranges. They crumpled up paper and used water bottles for baseball bats and played baseball,” she said. “For the most part, they hung out there and made friends and played.”
The highlight of the cruise for the Adamses was the moment the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier pulled up to the ship.
“For my son, that was his favorite part, he loved just watching that. It got so close you could hear their PA system,” she said. “We watched the cargo planes land on carrier and then the helicopter took 20 trips to drop it onboard.”
Adams said that once people realized the cruise was canceled and that they were awaiting tugs to get home, they settled into the situation.
While Adams doesn’t drink much, she said the open bar lifted the mood considerably.
“People were very happy about that, let me tell you!” she laughed.
Adams felt that the compensation and help overall that Carnival offered people was sufficient.
“They opened the bars, they said anything you bought in the ships before the fire would be credited. They paid for all travel arrangement, and they took care of it, so you didn’t have to get on the phone to make the reservations,” she said. “They took care of everything. They are reimbursing the gas money if you drove down, they paid for parking.”
As for whether the ordeal has turned Adams off of cruising — not a chance.
“I’ve been on cruises before and I know what they are supposed to be like,” she said. “This is a fluke. If it happened again, yeah I might be deterred, but I don’t think it would happen again.”
Adams said when she sailed into San Diego, she was surprised to see all the news stations at the pier.
“We didn’t know it was such a big deal,” she said. “Our families said we were all over the news.
“It was very nice to see land,” she said. “Our first stop was to get a Carl's Jr. burger — it tasted very delicious. My kids were digging the chicken stars.”
The Adamses left town immediately to get to Anaheim and take her kids to Disneyland before heading back to Fresno.
“We wanted to do something fun,” she said. “And take a nice shower. We were probably very smelly.”