New Orleans — The first thing the Rainville family did when they arrived by bus at the Hilton Riverside hotel around 4 a.m. on Friday with 2,000 of their fellow cruise ship passengers was take long, hot showers.
They were able to shower in their cabins aboard the ill-fated Carnival Triumph cruise ship, they said, but they weren’t hot, and they had been instructed to also use the showers to urinate.
While they were lucky enough to have rooms with adjoining balconies, by the time the ship neared Mobile, the smell throughout the ship was pretty unbearable, Whitney Rainville said.
Rainville pulled out her phone and showed a photo taken of a sheet hung from their balcony with the words — written in mascara — “Help get us to Eunice, La.”
Whitney Rainville was on the ship with her husband, Aaron Rainville, for their honeymoon, joined by Aaron’s parents, Charlena and Patrick Rainville, all residents of Eunice.
The advantage to being on deck eight was that the lower floors had been inundated with smoke, and the lower down, the worse the smell, they said.
However with the elevators out, they said their calves had gotten into extremely good shape from climbing stairs.
Patrick Rainville dug around in his suitcase for the bags they were given for depositing their solid waste. They started with large red biohazard bags, Patrick Rainville said, holding up the one he kept for a souvenir. But once those ran out, he showed the thin plastic black bags — “When we got better at it, they gave us the smaller ones,” Patrick Rainville said, of the trash-can turned toilet experience.
Instructed to place the bags in the hallway for collection, he said he kept offering to bring his own bag to where it needed to go, but the crew would not allow him.
“For us it was like indoor camping,” Charlena Rainville said. “We’re from south Louisiana.”
Patrick Rainville said he was the morale booster — always making jokes when people started to get frustrated or depressed.
While waiting in food lines, sometimes for as much as four hours, Patrick Rainville said he would bust out jokes like, “I’ve been eating so much bread I think I have a yeast infection.”
He said learned quickly to get in line for food early — usually when he woke up around 4 a.m.
Charlena Rainville said her husband was able to make just about everyone on the ship laugh. She said the people on the deck below them shared a lot of laughs, as the family spent most of their nearly four days stranded at sea on their balcony talking and playing cards.
They said the only other lines that were almost as long as the food lines were at the few spots people found to charge their phones, draining every last bit of power they could from the ship’s computers and any other source they could find.
The crew continued to attempt to put on comedy shows, bingo and dance performances, but the family decided to spend most of their time in their rooms playing Go Fish. They learned what areas to stay away from — especially when the ship would list and toilets overflowed.
For a few hours at the beginning, the Rainvilles said they were provided with beer and wine, but speculated that the crew quickly decided that alcohol might be best left out of the scenario.
From their room, the Rainvilles said they had a good view of the tugboat’s struggle to pull the massive ship. They said the first tugboat’s rope snapped five or six times.
Sitting in the hotel lobby in matching Carnival shirts and waiting for a shuttle to the New Orleans airport, the Rainville family said they were already planning to book another Carnival cruise next year at the same time.
“That will be for our anniversary,” Whitney Rainville said. She said she was not deterred from the cruise experience in the least. “It was a freak accident,” she said. “If your car breaks down, it’s not like you don’t drive it again.”
In addition, they said Carnival gave them each $500, reimbursed the cost of the cruise, plus any money spent on drinks and photographs, and gave them a free four-day cruise.
Whitney Rainville said she was supposed to start a new job Wednesday, but she’d been able to get a text through to her mother and was able to communicate with her new employer. She said the only time they could send texts or make calls was when another cruise ship was close by. She wasn’t able to talk to her mother until Thursday, and by then her mother was worried and in tears, she said.
The family said they made lasting friendships with their fellow passengers, and for the most part, everyone pitched in to help each other. You could not find a better staff, said Patrick Rainville, describing them as “awesome.” There were a few “rotten” passengers, they said, but overall, people remained calm and courteous.
Margaret and Scott Douglass, of Sugarland, Texas, also praised the staff as unfailingly helpful. As passengers were finally able to leave, crew members formed a human chain on the stairs to hand up people’s baggage.
People cheered loudly for the crew, the Douglasses said, but when a Carnival vice president spoke to the passengers, he was roundly booed, they said.
In New Orleans, Hilton spokeswoman Lisa Cole said both the hotel and the Carnival staff on site handled the passengers’ brief stay in 900 rooms.
Margaret Douglass said the Hilton’s ballroom was full of chafing dishes with hot food awaiting the passengers, who had been given yet another cold sandwich for the motorcoach ride from Mobile to New Orleans. People passed the time waiting to leave by talking about what they would eat when they finally got away from the Triumph, Margaret Douglass said.
She and her husband planned to drive back to Galveston, Texas, after spending some time in New Orleans with their son.
The Rainvilles were to fly to Houston and then take a bus to Galveston to pick up their car.
“We met a lot of people and made a lot of friends,” Charlena Rainville said. “We were all going through the same thing.”
However Patrick Rainville admitted that by Thursday, he had run out of jokes.
Sara Pagones contributed to this story.