MOBILE, Ala. —
Some still aboard chanted, "Let me off, let me off!"
It took six grueling hours navigating the 30-odd-mile ship channel to dock, guided by at least four towboats. Nearly 900 feet in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.
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.
In texts and flitting cellphone calls, the ship's passengers described miserable conditions while at sea, many anxious to walk on solid ground. But for the moment, they waved towels at the throng at dockside and even motorists who stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 10 near the port to watch the ship come in.
Carnival said they 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."
Up to 100 buses are standing by to take the passengers to their next stop. Galveston is the home port of the ill-fated ship, which lost power in an engine-room fire Sunday some 150 miles off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.
It was the end of a cruise that wasn't anything like what a brochure might describe.
Thornton said the ship had been fully cleared by customs and Border Patrol, and that should speed up the process.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized at a news conference.
"I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation. And I'd like to reiterate the apology I made earlier. I know the conditions on board were very poor," he said. "We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case."