Despite the media coverage that depicts the recent beleaguered Carnival Cruise ship Triumph as a living nightmare for passengers, it seems there is another side to the story as one Plano resident can attest. Sandy Christiansen and her group of more than109 friends and clients were on board the Triumph for a jazzercruise, anticipating four days of fun, sun and exhilarating exercise.
Things didn't work out exactly as planned for Christiansen's group and the other 4,000 passengers, including crew. Following an engine fire that occurred early on Sunday morning Feb. 10, the cruise ship and its passengers were stranded at sea for about five days before finally arriving at shore in Mobile, Ala., on the evening of Feb. 14.
The trip began as expected on Thursday afternoon, as the the jazzercruise group boarded the ship in Galveston and sailed off into the sunset. Beautiful weather, high energy exercise classes and plenty of sights were part of the agenda. Spirits were high. And according to Christiansen, people were talking about how much they were looking forward to the possibility of a second annual jazzercruise. First-time cruisers told Christiansen how much they were enjoying themselves and members of her group appeared to be on the perfect vacation high.
The tide changed when a fire broke out in the engine room, creating a loss of power that crippled the ship and brought the cruise to a halt. According to Christiansen, the cruise director gave periodic updates letting passengers know that, because it was so hot in the engine room, crew members were unable to assess the damage immediately. Updates were given periodically. By Sunday afternoon, they announced that tug boats would be called in to pull the ship back to dock. The infamous "red bags" were handed out and passengers were told not to use the toilets in their staterooms but to use the public restrooms and the red bags instead. Passengers could urinate in showers and in the sinks.
Christiansen said she has heard all the negative press and more, including posts on Facebook and Twitter. In some cases, she wonders if the media has blown all the negative press concerning the cruise out of proportion. She cited one New York reporter who contacted her but refused to continue the conversation because Christiansen didn't have enough "negative stuff" to say about the experience.
"I don't want to minimize others' experiences, and I have empathy for what some people, especially those passengers who didn't have balcony staterooms, went through, but it wasn't all as horrific as the press has led the public to believe," Christiansen said. "We did have plenty of food. Feces weren't dripping from every crevice, but the hardest part for some people was the absence of WiFi."
After the announcement was made to inform passengers about the fire, Christiansen said that she and her group of clients went about their day lounging on deck and making the best of things. "We knew we weren't getting in on Monday," she said, "but the expectation was that we would arrive back on Tuesday."
Christiansen said, "The tug boats weren't called right away. And I agree with people who have said that they should have been called in immediately, whether we needed them or not."
But it was also a time of comraderie. People came to the aide of others. Passengers who had rooms with balconies opened their doors into the hall so that those who didn't have access to the outside could share the breeze.
"People left their doors open to allow complete strangers to have access to the breeze," Christiansen said. "The situation fostered a spirit of people helping people."
Members of the jazzercruise group reacted differently to the unexpected hurdles. Christiansen said, "I noticed a lot of people within our group helping each other, and others outside of our group. Wednesday was sort of the breakdown day for some. People were getting tired of getting the news that it was going to take 'a while longer' to get back."
But the four-day cruise turned into even more days at sea, and by Wednesday Christiansen said the lower decks were pretty rank.
"I was so busy taking care of my clients that I didn't have time to think about feeling negative about the situation. I was searching out people to check on them, but I know that by Wednesday, many people were feeling the frustration. The odor was beginning to be pervasive and we were tired," Christiansen said.
Christiansen did say that some within her group of clients were positive and said, "Oh, don't worry about us, we're just fine."
She added that the ship's crew was outstanding in providing assistance and keeping a positive attitude.
"It's their job, and although some passengers were impatient with them, the crew that I came in contact with were professional, courteous and very helpful. Our group coordinator was superb," Christiansen said.
All dining rooms except for one on the Lido deck were closed, which did make for longer lines. But Christiansen said food was still plentiful, and passengers were given choices of cold sandwiches along with other options such as hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled shrimp.
"Stuff happens," Christiansen said relaying that she and her friends saw passengers who were wearing T-shirts displaying the words "Ship Happens" during the days the ship was stranded, but "this is a rare happening among cruise ships. It's all what you make of it."
"Cruising is still the safest vacation statistically and for something this unusual to happen is extremely rare. I still love cruising and will continue to put cruises on the top of my list of favorite vacations," Christiansen said. "Maybe I have come to a place in my life where I have realized that I am the creator of my experience. Gaining this spiritual perspective caused me to see that I live in a world of abundance and that everything is working on my behalf. Even being stranded on this cruise. I think it helped me have a good experience in the midst of a difficult situation."
As compensation, Carnival offered each passenger $500, a free flight home, a full refund for the trip and for most expenses incurred onboard, as well as credit for another cruise.
Photos taken from Facebook.
Sandy Christiansen is a franchise owner of Cruise Planners American Express.