The weary passengers who experienced the cruise from hell this week arrived back on land vowing to never again take for granted the small things - a cool breeze, a slice of bologna, the sound of a flushing toilet.

Out of food, deprived of usable plumbing and forced by suffocating heat out of rooms that no longer had air-conditioning, the 4,000-plus passengers of Carnival Triumph that arrived under tow in Mobile, Ala., Thursday night had reason to be angry at Carnival Cruise Lines and bitter over a vacation spoiled by an engine fire that knocked out power.

Instead, most seemed happy merely to have their old lives back, in some ways better for an experience that showed how people under the worst circumstances can learn to make the best of it.

Katy resident Donna Torres said the overall behavior of the ship's suddenly miserable population "gives you faith in mankind" because most people were helpful and considerate. Torres, accompanied on the cruise by Roberto Torres, said that guests who slept on the deck set up camps and socialized to pass the time, trying to keep a sense of humor amid trying circumstances.

Roberto Torres named his deck area Block 1 "because it felt like a mini-prison." Only with worse food. Passengers survived at one point on onion, pickle and zucchini sandwiches after the ship ran out of food other than condiments.

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  • Across the Gulf states Friday, former passengers made their way home or into airports that would get them there. Many arrived in Galveston, where the cruise originated, or made connecting flights elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, the Triumph was towed from the cruise terminal to a shipyard in Mobile for a detailed damage assessment. Carnival's CEO, Gerry Cahill, earlier had boarded the ship to apologize to passengers, who received full refunds, credit for a future cruise and transportation expenses home.

    At least one passenger did not think that was compensation enough and filed a lawsuit against Carnival in Miami federal court Friday. Texas resident Cassie Terry is seeking unspecified damages, saying she feared for her life or that she might suffer serious injury or illness because of the presence of raw sewage and spoiled food.

    'Thankful to be back'

    For most passengers, thoughts Friday centered on home, not litigation, and spending the weekend recovering from their vacation.

    Mona Lisee and her daughter, Valerie McClintock, left Bush Intercontinental Airport just before noon Friday to get back to their Dallas-area homes. After being stranded in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico for about five days, a two-hour bus ride from Mobile to New Orleans and an hour on a plane to Houston, the cheery pair weren't fazed by their four-hour car ride to North Texas. "I'm just so thankful to be back on land," Lisee said.

    The two said several days of "red bagging it" - a term McClintock said passengers used to describe the substitute for functional bathrooms - and sleeping on the deck in "tent city" made them appreciate some of life's more subtle luxuries.

    "Like the sound of flushing toilet," McClintock laughed.

    Many family members waited anxiously at the airport Friday as Triumph passengers trickled in from New Orleans throughout the day.

    Four-year-old Marco Chivleatto waited for his grandmother, Wendy Bailey, 48, holding a bouquet of flowers in his tiny hands while wearing a T-shirt made by his mother that read "My Mimi survived the cruise from hell."

    New friends helped

    Some passengers didn't have to wait for a flight or bus ride. Adriana Perez, a 28-year-old University of Houston graduate, got a ride back home with relatives who had gone to Alabama to meet her. She won't soon forget the five-day nightmarish voyage that started with a fire in the ship's engine room. She recalled the moment when she looked up and saw dark smoke obscuring a dark sky above Triumph's signature red, white and blue stack. Perez and her roommate, Parisa Safarzadeh, 26, heard alarms then an announcement over the cruise ship's intercom calling for "Alpha Team."

    "We walked outside and saw the crew running with life jackets on," Perez said.

    Passengers also arrived during the day Friday in Galveston. They expressed relief to have all the conveniences of modern life once again available.

    "The sewage was really bad," said 46-year-old Carol O'Connell of Lake Jackson, who arrived after a flight from Bush. "The toilets were full and wouldn't flush, and for awhile we didn't have running water. We couldn't wash our hands or anything."

    What kept her going, O'Connell said, were the new friends she met - and the ship's crew.

    "The workers are just so awesome," O'Connell said. "They carried out our red bags with feces and stuff, and they kept smiling."


    Jayme Fraser reported from Mobile. Compiled by Mike Tolson.