Poop Cruise

That Ship Cray

A Katy native was aboard the Carnival Triumph's fateful voyage—and lived to tell the tale

By Catherine Matusow April 25, 2013 Published in the May 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

“You were made in Texas, eh?” asked a woman at the bar dryly, as a man approached wearing a T-shirt that said just that.

“Born and raised,” replied Danny Kennedy, without hesitation. 

It was a lovely Friday evening at Jimmy’s Ice House on White Oak, and as is the case on all such evenings, a small but loyal group of regulars was gathered around the picnic tables, a smaller loyal group was smoking at the open-air bar, and a game was flickering on TV. Into this timeless scene stepped Kennedy. He ordered a Lone Star and glided over to a picnic table, whereupon Jimmy’s pond of predictability made room for a Black Swan.

“It was our fourth cruise in two years,” said Danny, a Katy native who last February embarked on a four-day trip with his wife Trisha, the couple’s first-ever vacation without the three kids.

On the Carnival Triumph.

For a long time, things went as planned. There was one-on-one time, de-stressing time, drinking time. But in the wee hours of the cruise’s second-to-last morning, a fire broke out in the ship’s engine room, which killed all electrical power, which left 4,200 passengers and crew stranded 150 miles off Yucatán. A commanding intercom voice and the smell of smoke roused sleeping cruisers, and Danny and Trisha quickly went into survival mode, rushing to the Lido deck. 

“I realized we were going to be out there for a while,” said Danny, and he soon determined that shade space would be at a premium. He dragged some lounge chairs together and staked his claim to a spot below an awning.  

Soon, other guests settled nearby, many not under Danny’s awning. As such, they were forced to use sheets for shade and the Lido became known as Tent City. About this time, Danny remembered, the stress began to take its toll. “When I got that there was no power,” he said, “and we were floating adrift off the coast, I got serious,” an apparently unusual occurrence. “I got really conservative about my energy. I was constantly trying to think of stuff we might need to survive.”

Unable to read or sleep (tormented by anxiety and a snoring passenger set up nearby his awning), Danny wandered the ship for days, sometimes waiting in line for food, sometimes searching for the odd functioning power outlet or working bathroom, even as red plastic bags full of human waste began piling up in the hallways. 

Exploring the ship, he wandered down to a deck several levels below the Lido, where the squalor was worse. “All of a sudden, brown water started coming out of the corners of the ceiling on either end, above me,” he recalled, reminding us why the Triumph incident will always be known as the Poop Cruise. 

“Looking back,” he said, “we were terrified the whole time with the boat listing, that the boat was going to sink. We didn’t know what was going to happen.” Eventually, Danny became so distraught, he actually took comfort in his proximity to the railing, knowing he could jump overboard at any moment. (It’s unclear how this would have helped matters, especially as he refused to strap on a life vest for fear of further scaring himself and Trisha.)

His nightmare now over, Danny still marvels at the composure of his fellow passengers and credits the Triumph’s crew for modeling serenity. “At every moment, there were crew members cleaning bathrooms, picking up our crap bags,” he said. “We were constantly being served.” Eventually, the company refunded Danny and Trisha’s money and gave them $1,000, plus vouchers good for a free Carnival cruise.

Still, given his ordeal, would Danny really go on a Carnival cruise again? A hush seemed to fall over the Jimmy’s crowd. We looked up. Suddenly, it felt as if the whole place was hanging on Danny’s reply.  

“My wife and I totally will,” replied Danny Kennedy, without hesitation. “We really feel like it’s kind of an airplane crash sort of thing. It’s just rare, so I mean, we are not concerned.” Reminded of a few subsequent incidents on Carnival ships since his own, he remained unfazed.

Danny did, however, offer half-serious advice for anyone booking a cruise on Carnival. Bring wine, he said, snacks, a solar-powered phone charger, earplugs, a raincoat, and a jacket, even if the weather is supposed to be warm. Spring for a room with a balcony, if you can, for fresh air, and make sure your affairs are in order. “We luckily made up a will before we left,” he said. “Honestly, I was very happy that we did. Not everybody thinks about that.”

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