Thursday, February 21, 2013
The harrowing tale of Dallas’ Vicki White on cruise ship “Triumph”
It wasn't so bad, she said. Worst part: The Dallas ladies poured Heineken into a wine glass when the wine was gone.
I know a couple of people, it seems, who were on that miserable Carnival Cruise Ship “Triumph” that turned a party boat into a nightmare because of a fire in the engine room. Dallas City Center agent extraordinaire Vicki White — she sold Belle Nora — her assistant Karen Peeler and friend Kim Hext were on board for what they thought would be four nights of fun celebrating Kim’s 50th birthday. Little did Vicki know she is one tough cookie with great survival skills -- essential to an agent whether negotiating a contract or a place in a food line with 4,000 hungry, rude, desperate people.
The fire also made her miss four closings.
“We were supposed be back Monday morning bright and early to work,” says Vicki. “We had four closings last week and we just didn’t make it.”
Vicki says they had no idea the world was watching and worrying about the passengers. It was quite scary at times, she said, and she recalls looking at the grand staterooms and wondering if this was what the passengers on the Titanic must have felt like, especially when the lights went black.
The trio began the cruise on Thursday February 7 and were supposed to be docked by Monday the 11th. But early that Monday morning, fire blew out the ship’s engine room, crippling the ship’s electricity, which meant no power except for whatever eeked out of generators.
And no flushing toilets.
“They gave us instructions on how to poop within 2 hours of the fire,” says Vicki. They were told to pee in the showers because the commodes were not functioning, and stewards passed out red “poop bags” which they then picked up and stored somewhere in a separate room. Sometimes you bussed your own poop bag, like birthday girl Kim who picked up a few others along the way. Kind of like a Pooper Scooper.
Vicki says a lot of what she’s read in the media has been overstated and exaggerated – she never saw floors covered in feces. If anything, it was some passengers themselves who made the unfortunate incident more of a disaster: the food hoarders.
“Right after the fire there were long lines for food — 2 to 3 hours — and people just hoarded food,” says Vicki, speaking of people like the one woman who took six hot dogs. But the ship corrected that the second day by eliminating self-serve.
“You’d look at people’s plates and they were eating like it was their last meal,” says Vicki.
Vicki says she managed one survival feat she never thought she was capable of: Pull a hot dog out of the trash and eat it. “It was clean, in a bun, had no condiments, I broke off where the bite was and just ate the wiener – I didn’t die, I didn’t get sick!”
She took Heineken beer from the fridge, poured it in wine glasses, and pretended it was wine!
On Day 2, an attorney set up on the ship’s deck, signing up potential plaintiffs for the class action lawsuit due to the fire and resulting “primitive cruise conditions.”
Vicki was very scared twice when they were told to don life jackets.
“We put on all our jewelry and went to our rooms to get the life jackets when the lights went off, it was pitch black,” she says. “Then they came back on.”
The ship also listed seriously to one side when the tugboat arrived, and Vicki worried the whole ship would flip faster than one of her listings.
The first day there was no running water; it returned on day 2 of what she calls the “survival cruise.” Sinks worked, still no commodes, and passengers could clean out the potty showers. No electricity, but lots of emergency lights at night were on. The people who created Tent City, as they called it, were passengers from the very lowest decks whose cabins were completely dark with no electricity. Vicki and the girls had sprung for an upper cabin with a balcony, so they almost always had some form of light and another Godsend on that cruise: fresh air. But the Tent City people had fun, she said, creating a camping environment. At some point a helicopter brought in steak and lobster, bagels and cream cheese, and grilled chicken. Bottled water was gone the first day; everyone used and re-used cups for fresh water and drinks — no big deal.
The crew, says Vicki, was amazing.
“They did everything for us on 3 hour sleep shifts: The girl who ran spa was night security, the entertainers grilled chicken, got activities going, kept everyone’s spirits up.”
They ended up on the water four extra days than what they had planned, 4,000 people crammed onto a disabled cruise ship floating aimlessly in the Gulf of Mexico. The crippled ship brought out either the best, or the worst, in people says Vicki, like the food hoarders.
There were those who were bitchy and complaining, and those who made the best of it, she says.
“One woman had a heart episode right behind us in the food line,” says Vicki. “A neurologist was there, he pitched in, and a 6-year-old girl gave up her teddy bear to put under the woman’s head.”
One woman was the most popular on the ship: She had a working commode in her bathroom.
On board, Vicki heard rumors that the last time the Triumph was out, it had engine problems. If so, says Vicki, whose husband is a retired pilot, it should not have been sent out until fully repaired.
So I had to ask: Would you go on a cruise again?
Yes, says Vicki emphatically. When it was good it was really good, they just need to monitor the equipment better. Carnival has offered a full refund plus a free cruise equal to the value of whatever the passenger bought plus reimbursement of most on-board services, like Vicki’s $400 spa services, plus $500 per passenger. Of course, the delay kept her from four closings, and she lost one client who listed with another agent because time was of the essence.
When she returns to the sea, these items are included on Vicki’s packing list: electric candles, a bottle of alcohol which came in quite handy, a mini flashlight, hand sanitizer, maybe even a filtered face mask. Also a power supply strip: Folks with these were even more popular than the gal with the flushing commode.
This story has a very happy, jet-setty ending: Vicki’s husband is a retired pilot. A friend lent him his Lear Jet and he picked up the girls and had them back to Dallas while people were still disembarking the Triumph.
“We were first off, and our feet were on Mobile, Alabama soil less than 25 minutes," says Vicki. No, she didn’t want to stop and check out beach front property on the Gulf shore. There was catered food on board the plane, flowers, and best of all …
A functioning loo. Not a red bag.
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