Arlington woman finds herself 'roughing it' on the high seas

SAN DIEGO — Arlington's Lori Burke paid for a seven-day cruise ship vacation trip to the Mexican Riviera.

Instead, she found herself "roughing it" after her first night on board, along with the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew members of 952-foot cruise liner, when it went adrift without power about 200 miles south of San Diego and 44 miles off the coast of Mexico.

Six tug boats pulled the Carnival Splendor into San Diego Bay shortly before 7:30 a.m. Nov. 11, four days after it left Long Beach Nov. 7 and three days after an engine fire aboard the ship knocked out its power early in the morning of Nov. 8.

"We woke up at about 6 a.m. to the feel the boat shaking really bad, but because we didn't know what hard water felt like out at sea, we went back to bed," Burke said. "When we woke up again, the ship was still shaking, but we could smell smoke this time, so we ran out of our rooms."

When Burke and her fellow passengers were called out onto the open-air deck, the air was thick with black smoke from the smokestacks, and she found the crew's assurances that it was a "flameless fire" less than reassuring. Although she considered the experience that followed "not as bad" as other news reports have made it seem, she still deemed it "miserable," from the cold food to the backed-up toilets whose odor soon permeated the whole ship.

"We had to hang out in the hallways because there weren't any lights in our rooms," Burke said. "You'd hope that someone with a balcony in their room would open their door, so that you'd have light enough to go into your own room and get a few clothes."

According to Burke, the series of continually revised updates on the progress of the ship's return to shore did nothing to improve the morale of the passengers, since every new update seemed to bring another delay to their expected return.

"We tried to sleep as much as we could, to make the time go by faster," Burke said. "Tuesday night, they opened the bar. Everything was free, because they didn't want to waste it and they couldn't have kept track of the purchases anyway. The last two nights, we had live music. We sang and dance, because we didn't have anything else to do."

In spite of their dehydration, Burke reported that she and other passengers hesitated to eat or drink anything, not because because almost all of their meals consisted of extremely basic sandwiches, but also because they wanted to minimize their trips to the bathroom.

"We had four people in our room sharing the same bathroom, so we tried to use the public restroom first," Burke said. "We had hand sanitizer and could get a little drizzle from the sink, so we tried to stay clean, but it was still pretty gross. You couldn't even eat unless you were in your room with the door closed, because the whole place smelled like a porta-potty."

As Burke prepared for her complimentary overnight stay at the San Diego Marriott hotel, she laughed as she noted that any future trips she took to Mexico would be by plane.

"I do have a free cruise coming, so I'm thinking of going to Europe, where Johnny will be," Burke said, referring to the public address announcer who kept the passengers updated throughout their ordeal. "I talked to a lot of the crew members, and they said this had never happened during any of their other cruises, so we'll see.

"And we did not live on Spam," she added, laughing. "I don't know where the press got that one from, but when we pulled into port, someone had made shirts that said, 'I survived the Carnival 2010 Splendor Spamcation.'"

Check out the Associated Press Online Video of the ship's arrival in San Diego.

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