Chicago-area travelers grateful cruise saga is over

November 11, 2010 (SAN DIEGO, Calif.)

Six tugboats were needed to get the Carnival Splendor back to port in San Diego after it was disabled by an engine-room fire Monday.

Local residents say their cell phones have been dying because the ship has had no power. They say they're hungry, tired and ready to get back home.

A Carnival official says everyone has been coping well with the "obvious challenges."

Dozens of Chicago-area residents were on board the ship. ABC 7 spoke with Bianca Clay minutes after she disembarked the Carnival Splendor.

"I feel great, I thank God we all made it safely, not only myself but my family that I traveled with," said Clay.

Clay was on the ship with five of her relatives, including her mom who works for the CTA. Thursday afternoon she was at the Port of San Diego where Carnival was arranging her family's travel back to Chicago.

"It is a wait, about 45 minutes to wait in line. Everyone is pretty calm right now," said Clay.

Clay's cousin, ABC 7 employee Rubye Lane, was invited to be on the cruise but couldn't go.

"I was panicked. I was nervous. I was crazed," said Lane. "I even joked with them on Saturday, 'I wish you guys would just go ahead and go on that trip and leave because I'm tired of hearing about your trip, trip, trip.' Now, looking back in hindsight, I'm like, whew, I'm glad I didn't go."

On Tuesday, Lane learned of their ordeal in a text message.

"I'm just really concerned about their safety and making sure they arrive back home in Chicago safe and sound," said Lane.

For Clay and her relatives, that could be as early as Friday or as late as Sunday. But after roughing it for four days, she says waiting at a hotel seems easy.

"I am just excited that we see land and we have light and warm water," said Clay.

"They were just really excited and talking about, 'I can't wait to get on the cruise to eat, eat, eat,' only to find out that all they're going to be eating was spam," said Lane.

Clay said she would vacation with Carnival again. The cruise line is giving passengers the option of flying home as soon as possible or spending a couple extra days in California.

Another Chicago-area resident, CTA bus driver Tammi Adams, was also on on the cruise. But Thursday it was her mom and nephew who felt sea sick.

"I'm still nervous, a little queasy. I'll be better when I see her," mother Sally Butler.

Butler finally reached her daughter by phone Thursday afternoon after the Carnival Splendor limped into San Diego. She knows exactly what she'll do when her daughter flies home Friday.

"Hug her. And she wants a good meal," she said.

"Give her a hug, carry her bag to the car, because that's what you gotta do," said William Butler, Adams' nephew.

Another CTA employee vacationing on the troubled Splendor said she and her family were with about 60 other CTA employees who hoped to be sunning themselves on the Mexican Riviera for seven days.

"Just tell everybody in Chicago, all of our family members and all of our CTA family, that we're OK," said Katherine Smith, bus instructor.

Smith says the group plans a vacation like this around the same time each year. On Monday, just about anything that requires electrical power was knocked out by the fire.

"Very scared, I have to say some of us have been staying up all night, not going to sleep to make sure the ship is OK," said Smith. "It's just a scary thing for all of us."

Smith says the sanitation was unspeakable.

"They're telling us they're doing the best they can. The first two days we couldn't even flush the toilets," Smith said.

For the past few days, many didn't have much to eat.

"We're just trying to eat lettuce every day, lettuce and bread and that's not fun," said Smith. "I'm just devastated for one thing, all my coworkers, I have relatives on the ship with me, and we're just devastated right now."

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