Kenneth Brown awoke at 5:15 a.m. Feb. 10 because the cruise ship's intercom was especially busy and the noise of people in the hallway was unusually loud.
The Texas City man didn't yet know that an engine room fire just one level below his room on the Carnival Triumph would leave the ship without power at sea and garner national attention as the cruise from hell as it crawled across the Gulf of Mexico into a Mobile, Ala., port.
He just knew something was wrong.
Kenneth called the lobby and asked, "Do we need to be worried?"
He was told, "No, sir. Everything's fine." Kenneth was unconvinced and woke up his wife, Adrienne.
"Baby, I think something's going on," he remembers saying.
He opened their cabin door to see what was making the racket in the hallway.
"I see a fireman in full gear running through smoke," Brown said.
Cruise passengers: Appreciation for small things
He and his wife gathered their four kids, ages 9 to 14. A woman ran down their hall, blowing a whistle and yelling that passengers needed to gather at muster stations. The Brown family ran up three flights of stairs in their pajamas and life jackets to their assigned life boats, only for security to tell them to return to their rooms. Back at the room, other security guards told them they couldn't be there.
Seeking higher ground
Brown said no one would tell him what was going on, but he knew it wasn't good. He told his family to put on regular clothes and, again, their life jackets.
"My thought was if we can't be on the muster deck and can't be in our room, we should get as high as we can," Brown said. He feared the ship would sink. "At least, we could bob and float."
Again running up the stairs, they stopped at the third floor, the first one where they could go outside. Brown gathered his family and used his cellphone to take what he feared might be their last family photo, their figures silhouetted against an orange sun just peeking over the horizon.
Once they reached the highest outdoor deck they could, they huddled and prayed.
"I just remember looking at my kids," Brown said, pausing a few minutes to fight back tears. "That's were we stayed until we got back last night."
They lived in what passengers nicknamed Tent City.
Elyse Brown, 9, remembers how difficult ping pong and mini golf became when the ship leaned, its stabilizers not working. Her father remembers sitting so that all he could see to his left was sky and all he could see to his right was water.
The Brown family prayed, slept on deck lounge chairs and learned new card games.
"We were on a family vacation, but we weren't really spending any time as a family," Brown said. "After the fire happened, it really forced us to come together as a family. We have some really bad memories, but we have some good ones, too."
A surprise at home
On the family's drive home from Mobile, Ala. they stopped for food but weren't upset when their order was messed up.
"To be on that ship, waiting in line two or three hours to get a sandwich to feed your child," Brown said. "It really put things into perspective for us."
They pulled into their driveway at home to find a surprise family barbecue.
"Everybody came running out of the house. The kids jumped out of the car. They didn't even put their shoes on," Brown said. "Everybody ended up hugging somebody."