Kandi Cravens ended up on a floating island.
When Cravens boarded the Carnival Triumph cruise ship with her mother and sister, Clara Young and Debra DeArmond, she couldn’t have known she would soon be on the Nightmare Cruise.
She booked the trip on impulse, with no research. It was her fourth cruise with Carnival, her mother and sister’s first.
“I almost lost my mom a while back. I wanted this to be a fun memorable trip for her,” said “This isn’t what I had in mind.
“It was the day after Cozumel, so Sunday, about 5:15 a.m., and they came over the intercom to update us. I can’t remember what they said the first announcement, but later they were telling us to keep clear of level five. My sister went out on the balcony and could see the black smoke,” said Cravens. “About the time we got dressed, the power went out. We heard the slam of a door shutting, like fire doors. That’s when the Titanic flashbacks started and we sort of panicked.”
Cravens said she and her family made their way to level four, where the lifeboats were, just in case.
“They kept coming over the intercom saying that everything was fine, the situation was contained, and that everyone should go back to bed. Nobody did.”
She describes waiting on the lower level for nearly five hours with no updates.
“Two couples were waiting there with us that happened to work on the ship. They were in plain clothes at the time. They told us it wasn’t safe to go back up yet, so we stayed with them.”
Eight hours into the wait the captain announced that the fire was out and they were letting the engines cool off.
“At that point the power had already been off for a while, which meant no toilets or anything, everyone really wanted to hear a plan. Soon after that they announced that there was too much damage and we were waiting for a tugboat to bring supplies.”
Over the next few days, Cravens said the most memorable parts of the experience were food, the other passengers and the infamous red potty bags.
“The food and water rations began almost immediately. I’m a picky eater. So is my sister. We went to get food and it was funky tasting lettuce, mini cucumber and onion sandwiches, fruit and bread. There was milk and yogurt but it was warm,” said Cravens.
“The days all run together, but one day they managed to give us a hot meal. We had the choice of a hamburger or hot-dog. I waited in line four and a half hours for a cheeseburger. It was awesome.
“The night of the cheeseburgers they served us little chicken patty sandwiches. My mom is diabetic and doesn’t move around real well so I was getting hers for her. When I got to the front of the line they wouldn’t give me one for her. They said they could only give each person one. I understood their point, everyone was hoarding food at this point, but it was a little stressful.”
Most rooms had no running water, and the crew informed passengers they should not drink water from the tap.
“They brought each room a bottle of water. We put ours in an emergency bag, just in case. Later they gave us half-filled Dixie cups of water each. A day or so after that, they would only give you water if you still had your Dixie cup, because they ran out of those.”
Cravens said the sanitation was just as bad as it looked on the news, if not worse. All over the ship people were dismantling shelves to lay down as steps to walk across, to avoid walking through the several inches of sewage water. She describes the smell as unbearable, saying she had to go out on the balcony for fresh air. She said the balcony was a god send.
The passengers and crew on the ship were a memorable part of the experience, she said.
“The crew was amazing. We could tell they were absolutely exhausted but they kept a smile on their face and tried to do everything they could for us. If a passenger tried to help them with anything they would tell us no, to go try and relax.”
Cravens said at one point an announcement was made over the intercom assuring passengers that, contrary to rumors, the crew was getting to eat.
She said Carnival’s decision to give the passengers alcohol made a lot of people feel even more unsafe.
Another passenger, Cravens remembers, ran out of anti-psychotic medication.
“One woman with a small baby ran out of formula. She kept asking the crew to get some on the next tugboat of supplies and they said that was one thing they couldn’t get. Another woman, also with a small baby, offered to breastfeed the woman’s baby for her. Because of all the sickness being passed around on the ship the woman said no, but people were feeling that desperate.”
Cravens and her family were moved by people coming together to help each other all over the ship.
“It was nice to see people helping each other out,” said Cravens. “We had to remember, we’re all in this boat together, literally.”
She remembers one passenger who let people use her cell phone to call and text their loved ones. She let them save their name and info in her phone so that she could track them down when they received a text back.
“I also saw four or five men work together to carry a handicap child’s wheelchair up and down the stairs wherever he needed to go,” said Cravens.
Cravens and her husband Tom say they are not “sue happy” people. She said while she was on the ship, she told people it was crazy to think about suing when the crew was being so helpful.
“It wasn’t until afterwards that I started thinking about things a little differently. For example, one day they suddenly were able to give us a hot meal again. Not only that, but it was steak and lobster. They also started cleaning up the ship a lot,” said Cravens. “Come to find out that was the day the CEO, health inspector and immigration department came on the ship.
Her husband Tom, said things were just as frustrating on his end.
He said talking to the Carnival representatives was a nightmare as nobody would tell him a specific plan of how they were getting his wife home. He has recordings on his phones of the automated updates from Carnival.
“Before I ever heard from Kandi, I called and asked about food and sanitation and they told me it was all rumor. They said she was being cared for and that they should look at it as an extension of the trip,” said Tom Cravens. “They told me, ‘Mr. Cravens when your wife gets home she will have all kinds of stories to tell you but none will be about food or sanitation.”
Tom Cravens said trying to make travel arrangements for his wife, and in-laws, required hours on the phone.
“They gave us options,” said Kandi Cravens. “They told us that we could take an eight-hour drive to Galveston, or an eight-hour bus to Houston. Or we could take a bus to New Orleans, stay in a hotel, and then fly out from there. They asked us to decide, and once we told them our decision we couldn’t change our mind.”
“She told me all of this and that she picked Galveston. I said no. I told her she was going to get a hotel at Mobile, Ala. I saw the mayor of Mobile saying they had plenty of accommodations available,” said Tom Cravens. “I couldn’t figure out why Carnival wasn’t taking people to Mobile, but then I saw that Carnival and Mobile had a beef between them. So it was just a political choice on Carnival’s part.”
After several phone calls of negotiations, Carnival told Tom Cravens to make his own arrangements and that he would be reimbursed.
“I found a Hampton Inn, right there in Mobile that had several room options, so I booked them a room and got them a flight from there,” said Tom Cravens.
“After everything we went through, and how gross we felt, we didn’t want to go to New Orleans as they were wrapping up Mardi Gras,” said Cravens.
“That’s my biggest frustration. That they were making decisions based on money and economy rather than passenger comfort and safety,” said Tom Cravens. “We can bail out other countries, but we can’t take them water on this ship? There were 500 McDonald’s employees, franchise owners and executives on this ship, could McDonald’s not have worked out some sort of donation and transport?”
The Cravens aren’t sure if they will be suing Carnival.
“I struggle with it, because I want to protect people in the future,” said Tom Cravens.
The couple said Carnival was giving the wrong impression by only cleaning the ship and providing good food when management and immigration came aboard. They recall being told Carnival’s CEO had to be pulled out of a ball game to come to the ship. He didn’t volunteer to come.
Cravens said she was mentally and emotionally drained when she got home. She is scheduled to take another cruse in May, but won’t be going.
“My dad always said you have to get back on the horse, but I will never get back on a Carnival Triumph.”