David Zambrano, a 9NEWS employee who works in the technical operations department, is aboard the stranded Carnival cruise ship, Splendor, that has been stuck off the west coast of Mexico since an engine room fire rendered the ship powerless Monday.
The first of several tugboats have reached the 952-foot vessel and started pulling it to San Diego. A second tugboat didn't have enough power and had to turn back. A third tugboat was on the way. The ship is expected to get back to shore on Thursday.
Zambrano just got cell phone service again on Wednesday and called 9NEWS.
"It's nothing like anyone expected, no." Zambrano said. "You stand in line for two hours just to get your food because everybody goes to the same place to pick up their food. And, so you stand in line and you wait, then once you get your food, you leave and you look for something to do."
Instead of dining on lavish seafood buffets, passengers have been fed Spam, crab meat and Pop Tarts, which are being ferried to them by U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that reached the ship after being diverted from training.
Zambrano, who is traveling with his girlfriend, says they are among the lucky passengers because they have a room with a balcony. The ship lost power Monday, so rooms in the interior of the ship are pitch black and without air conditioning. He says passengers are propping open their doors in order to let emergency lighting in from the hallways.
Being in a room with a balcony, Zambrano says they at least get fresh air and sunlight.
"People are playing cards. People are standing around just kind of talking. They're getting to socialize," Zambrano said. "It's not what you would expect on a normal cruise, of course not, but it's-they're doing their best. The crew is doing their best to keep everybody satisfied and make sure that they're watching everything."
Zambrano says the staff on the ship have discarded their regular work schedules and are working around the clock to help passengers. Despite being stuck, Zambrano says things are improving.
"The only thing that made it really tough was when the facilities were all broken down and all the bathrooms weren't working and people were starting to get uncomfortable," Zambrano said. "But now that they started getting those things going and the water flowing, then that made all the difference."
Zambrano says everyone aboard is just waiting to get back to San Diego now. Passengers have been promised a refund and free cruise on Carnival.
"Many of the people I have talked to said that they will never take another cruise again, especially with Carnival," Zambrano said.
Zambrano is not the only Colorado resident on the Carnival cruise ship. Another Colorado couple had to cancel their wedding.
"They haven't been on a vacation in years due to having three kids and a bunch of responsibilities," Mindy Pfeifer said.
Her sister, Katie Kapelke, is on the ship with her husband Jeremy. They were there to be part of Tiffany Cessna and Kevin Aldor's wedding. Pfieifer says they finally heard from them Wednesday morning through a brief phone call and e-mail.
"My first question was: 'Are you safe?' And: How's Tiffany doing?' Because we knew today was the wedding day and I knew that was just gonna crush her," Pfeifer said.
Wednesday was supposed to be her wedding day during the week-long cruise of the Mexican Rivera.
"It's terrible down here," Pfeifer read from the e-mail. "A lot of the people's toilets don't flush and are overflowing in their rooms. The first floor of the deck flooded and so crew are sleeping on the floor of upper decks."
The e-mail describes the smell of urine, rotten food and smoke on the ship. The water is dirty, many of the cabins are pitch black because of a loss of power and there is not air conditioning or heat.
"She said people are starting to get a little agitated and a little restless and I think she was using the work little lightly," Pfeifer said.
It's expected the ship will arrive on San Diego around midday on Thursday.
Carnival plans to reimburse all the passengers and offer them a free cruise, but the disappointed bride may not be willing to take that chance again.
"Marriages are through thick and thin, best and for worse," Pfeifer said. "It's a shame that they have to experience the worst before they even exchange vows."
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