NIGHTMARE CRUISE? Chattanooga woman's family survived the trip and saw the bright side

NIGHTMARE CRUISE? Chattanooga woman's family survived the trip and saw the bright side

February 17th, 2013 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Brooke Carico, Tammy Benson and Ravyn Carico posed for this photo as they boarded the Carnival Triumph.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

A voice in room 6262 stirred Tammy Benson just before sunrise on Feb. 10. It was the captain of the ship, the Carnival Triumph.

"We have a situation in the engine room," he said over the intercom at 5:30 a.m. "There's no need to be alarmed. We'll keep you posted."

Benson, of Chattanooga, slept in the room with her daughter Brooke Carico and her granddaughter Ravyn Carico. This cruise from Galveston, Texas, to Cozumel, Mexico, was for Ravyn. She had just turned 13. They were supposed to get back the next day.

Instead, they and 3,140 other passengers waited in the Gulf of Mexico for five days aboard a ship without electricity. As they waited -- for food rations, for emergency bathroom bags -- the nation watched the conclusion of what was supposed to be a vacation.

A tugboat pulled the Triumph into the Mobile, Ala., port Thursday night, and the passengers have started to share their experiences. Some have complained of urine and feces splashing down hallways. Some have talked about widespread panic, about not knowing who was in charge or when they could return home.

For her part, Benson wanted to share her story to show that the trip wasn't as bad as TV reports indicate. She praised the Carnival crew, saying they did their best in a situation for which they couldn't prepare.

"You have blackouts and disasters in the world," she said. "It's part of life. I can honestly say I'm a believer [in God]. I was never afraid. I could feel God's hand and God's peace."

Benson, 70, spent the afternoons talking with others on her deck, completing Sudoku puzzles and reading "The Valley of Vision," a collection of prayers by the Puritans. Others on deck six played cards, she said, and they made a soccer ball out of whatever material they could find.

She said some crew members barged into bathrooms, mouths covered with whatever they could find, and tried to clean. Their server, a Peruvian man named Edwin, visited their room during his break to make sure everything was OK.

One day, the entertainers on board put together a show in the casino to give people something to do. Benson, a piano teacher for 45 years, even played gospel songs for a crowd.

Still, the days were slow, and for the most part there wasn't much to do.

"You just existed," she said.

Benson admitted she was lucky. Her room had windows, and the breeze swept away the rotten smells that lingered in other parts of the ship. Her shower worked by Monday, and so did her toilet.

But the trip still wasn't easy. Benson couldn't sleep for more than a couple hours at a time. Too much noise. Too much distraction. She wanted to call her husband, Paul. The two were married back when he flew in the Vietnam War.

And on Tuesday morning, Brooke woke up to find that her laptop had been stolen.

When the boat came within view of Mobile on Thursday and the crew warned it would be 12 more hours before the ship docked, Benson cried.

"We were so close but so far," she said. "That's when it all hit me."

When the ship finally tied up, someone offered Benson a wheelchair. She didn't need it, but those needing special medical attention got off first, so she sat down. All of a sudden she was being wheeled off the boat -- third in line.

Carnival provided her with a hotel room in Mobile and a ticket home. As her plane took off the next day, a stewardess came on the intercom. She apologized for an inconvenience.

The bathroom was out of service.