Surprise birthday cruise turns into an unforgettable adventure

Two Fort Bend County women on so-called “cruise from hell”

By Betsy Dolan

“Fort Bend County residents Kerry Padilla and Julie Morgan (far left) along with Padilla’s friend, sister and mother, inside the Paris Dining Room aboard the Carnival Triumph where they spent the night on Wednesday, February 13.”

On February 6, with her 40th birthday just two days away, Kerry Padilla was estastic to discover that her husband, family and friends had gotten her a surprise cruise aboard the Carnival Triumph.

Five women– Padilla, her mother, sister and friends, Rachel and Julie Ann — boarded the ship in Galveston the next day and settled in for what everyone hoped would be a memorable and relaxing vacation.

Memorable, yes.  Relaxing, no.

After celebrating Kerry’s birthday and visiting Cozumel., the women were asleep in their rooms when they awoke around 4:30 a.m. on February 10 to announcements coming over the ship’s PA system.

“They told us that there was a situation and we should stay in our rooms,” Padilla said.  “But it was smoky in the hallways and it smelled bad so we decided to put on our life jackets and head to the upper deck.”

As they stood on the deck watching the sun start to rise, the ship’s power went out and the crew confirmed that there had been a fire.

“Some people got really nervous.  I saw some ladies who looked very scared and they were crying.  Some people seemed to be in shock,” Padilla said.

For hours the passengers were kept in limbo.  Finally the crew reported that the damage was extensive enough to require being tugged to Progresso, Mexico.

“As the day wore on, we began to notice the ship listing.  It was probably leaning fifteen degrees to one side because the fire had also damaged the stabilizing system,” Padilla said.

Meanwhile, the ship’s crew figured out ways to provide meals with limited power.  Despite hour long waits to get food at every meal,  Padilla and Morgan both say reports of food shortages and sub-standard meals were greatly exaggerated.

“The worst behavior I saw was people who would pile their plates with food which wasn’t necessary because there was plenty for everyone.  And then when they were done eating, you would look over and see tons of food still left on their plates,” Padilla said.  “Finally the crew started serving the passengers.”

While the food may have been plentiful on board the Triumph, functioning bathrooms were not. The listing ship caused drainage problems in the lower decks and reports of sewage leaking into the staff quarters.

“I wasn’t that upset about it. My family camps so I’m used to roughing it.  But there were people on board who probably had not been far from a flushing toilet in their entire lives,” Padilla said.  “It wasn’t fun but we joked about it and we got through it the best we could.”

The crew organized games and provided cards to help make the time pass.  Two comedians and a band put on shows to entertain passengers.  But making the hours pass was a challenge.

“We went on hunts for working bathrooms,” Morgan said.  “We began a mental list of things we wish we would have brought: flashlights, solar chargers, print books, extra underwear and our husbands because they would have discovered charging stations that took us days to find.”

By the time the first tug boat reached the Triumph,  the ship had drifted farther north than expected.  The decision was made to head toward Mobile, Alabama instead of Progresso, Mexico.

“When they announced that we would be going to Mobile this huge cheer erupted from the passengers,” Padilla said.  “Everyone realized it would be so much easier to get home from Mobile than Mexico.”

On Valentine’s Day, a week after their journey began, the passengers saw the outline of Mobile on the horizon.  Padilla’s group was one of the first to disembark and head to a nearby hotel for a hot meal and a shower.

“The strangest feeling is that it is all so surreal,” Morgan said.  “I feel like I am watching news and reading stories about something that happened to someone else. We were all shocked to find out how much attention our ship was receiving.”

Passengers received a full refund for the cruise, a discount on another cruise, $500 and most of their on-ship purchases paid for.

“I’m not sure how you put a price on inconvenience, but I think Carnival did the best they could,” Padilla said.  “One thing is for sure:  they gave me a 40th birthday I’ll never forget.”

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