A cruise ship disabled for five nightmarish days in the Gulf limped into port under tow with more than 4,000 people aboard late Thursday, passengers raucously cheering the end to an ocean odyssey they say was marked by overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul odours.
People aboard the stricken, 14-story Triumph, lined the deck rails as the first passengers began disembarking. The ship's horn loudly blasted several times on its final docking approach as some gave a thumbs-up sign and flashes from cameras and cellphones lit the night.
"Hello, Mobile!" someone aboard shouted amid the cheering.
About an hour after the ship pulled up at 9:15 p.m. Central, a steady stream of passengers began making their way down the glass-enclosed gang plank, some in wheelchairs and others pulling carry-on luggage. One man gave the thumbs up.
An ambulance pulled up to a gate at the bottom of the gang plank and then its lights went on and it pulled away.
Some danced in celebration on one of the balconies. "Happy V-Day" read a homemade sign made for the Valentine's Day arrival and another, more starkly: "The ship's afloat, so is the sewage."
A few dozen relatives on the top floor of the parking deck of the terminal were waving lights at the ship as it was carefully making its way alongside. Those about were screaming, whistling and taking pictures.
Hundreds gawked from dockside at the arrival at the Alabama cruise terminal in Mobile, the state's only seaport, as the Triumph inched into port about 9:15 p.m. Central time. It took six gruelling hours navigating the roughly 48-kilometre ship channel to dock, guided by at least four towboats. Nearly 274 metres in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.
And even once it is stable, it will take four to five hours for all the 3,000 passengers to be off, said Carnival senior vice-president of marketing Terry Thornton.
Passengers on board in texts and flitting cellphone calls described miserable conditions while at sea, many anxious to walk on solid ground. But for now, they waved towels at the throng at dockside and even motorists who stopped on the shoulder of major Interstate 10 near the port to watch the ship come in.
Carnival passengers have the option of a seven-hour bus ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans. Some also can stay in Mobile.
"I can't imagine being on that ship this morning and then getting on a bus," said Kirk Hill, whose 30-year-old daughter, Kalin Christine Hill, is on the cruise. "If I hit land in Mobile, you'd have a hard time getting me on a bus."