(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Relieved passengers wheeled their suitcases down the gangplank of a disabled cruise ship Thursday, cheering as they finally touched land after three nightmarish days adrift with limited food, backed-up toilets and dark cabins.

Pulled by six tug boats and escorted by Coast Guard cutters, the nearly 1,000-foot Carnival Splendor reached the dock at about 8:30 a.m./PST (12:30 p.m. Eastern).

The first group of passengers walked down a ramp about an hour later, dragging rolling suitcases behind them and entering a tent on the dock. With the ship’s elevators out-of-order, port officials estimated it would take about four hours for everyone to leave the ship.

Thursday marks the end of a much different voyage then most passengers expected. The ship has been adrift since Monday, after a fire broke out in an engine room.

Natalie Martinez of Taylor and her friend, Angela Evans of Wyandotte, were aboard the Carnival Splendor. Martinez spoke with WWJ as they approached San Diego earlier Thursday morning, Martinez saying the ordeal has been a nightmare.

 “(I) definitely didn’t expect this to happen, especially so soon after we got on the boat, we’re just thankful for flushing toilets and running water at this point,” she said.

People on the decks and about 100 onshore cheered loudly as the ship reached the dock, while all along the harbor, tourists, joggers and fishermen stopped to snap photos.

Passenger Ken King of Los Angeles, who was among the first to dismebark because he was celebrating his birthday, said he was overjoyed to be off the ship.

“I love being back on land,” King said. “The staff was excellent. Only a few people on board were rude. The food was horrible. Starting at 5 a.m. on Monday, we didn’t have toilets for 13 hours.”

Passengers were left in the dark regarding the truth about the fire.

“They also didn’t tell us the truth, that’s what I found out when my cell phone started working,” passenger Marquis Horace told CBS News Radio. “They told us it was a flameless fire.”

Indeed the sanitary situation was tough for everyone, staff and crew alike. Carnival’s senior cruise director, John Heald, said on his blog: “I don’t smell of roses at the best of times but as the laundry is not working and I only have two pairs of underpants I smell like Paris on a hot summer’s day………that’s Paris the city not Paris the person.”

So what do you do when there’s no hot water, or refrigeration?

“There were a lot of people getting smashed off warm beer.” said passenger Chris Harlen, a dental technician from Buena Park, Calif., who was traveling with his wife and two children, ages 10 and 8. “It was gross when the toilets weren’t working. What can you do?”

For passenger Sahizah Alim, 26, of Sacramento, there was little relief, especially at night when the lack of air conditioning was felt off the coast of Mexico.

“We’re so happy to be getting off,” Alim said. “It’s been like a nightmare. There’s been no food, no power, no electricity, no flushing toilets. I spent the night tossing and turning in my cabin in the dark.”

Fortunately for some, maybe not for everyone, there was a group of 250 magicians on board for a convention. Gary Grabel, one of the magicians from Los Angeles, said, “We’re looking forward to spending a couple of days in San Diego to kind of catch up on my vacation … I did magic for hours.”

Most passengers had effusive praise for the crew on board, saying they did everything they could to make the best of a bad situation.

Peg Fisher of Las Vegas, on her first cruise with husband Tom described impromptu food fare that included cheese-and-beet sandwiches and other sandwiches filled with something that looked like corned-beef hash.

“If you could see the things they put on sandwiches, seriously, this could be the only cruise ever where people lost weight instead of gaining weight,” Fisher said.

“They’d put anything they had inside two pieces of bread,” said Joe Hobbs of Riverside, Calif., adding that the crew’s resourcesfulness may have had some adverse effects. “I don’t know if I’m going to have a sandwich anytime soon.”

 

(Copyright, 2010. WWJ Newsradio 950, All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman contributed to the story.)

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