MOBILE, Ala.—After a week at sea, the Carnival cruise ship Triumph was slowly approaching Mobile, Ala., on Thursday. With cellphones in reach, a picture of the scene onboard began to emerge while the families of passengers continued to wait on shore.

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Kalin Hill of Houston boarded the Triumph as part of a bachelorette party. Now, after days sleeping on the ship's Lido Deck in a makeshift tent created out of bed sheets, Hill says she can't wait to get home.

"It's been kind of an emotional roller coaster," she said.

Hill said was traveling with four friends, including the bride, as well as the bride's mother. The group helped each other during the rough spots, Hill said.

She recounted horror stories of toilets overflowing and people being handed plastic bags to use as a toilet. Some toilets backed up and overflowed, she said. Two restrooms were in such bad shape that sewage seeped out of the walls, she added.

"It's not something you ever think you will do or will have to do," she said.

Some people on board have gotten sick, Hill said, and others ran out of medication. At one point, the crew asked over the speaker system whether anyone had extra baby formula or diapers. That put the experience into perspective for Hill: "Obviously other people are struggling more than I am."

By Thursday, she said, "they cleaned the ship, they're serving better food, covering up basically, but at least they're making it more bearable," Hill said.


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Despite the difficulties, Hill praised the ship's staff.

"The staff has been incredible—the crew and the other passengers have had that mentality of 'we're all in it together,'" she said.

Her boyfriend was driving to Mobile to pick her up, and Hill said they planned to fly out on their own.

"I am one of the lucky ones," she said.

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Renee Shanar finally spoke to her daughter Thursday afternoon. She could barely contain herself.

"We're hanging in there," she said, crying.

The couple vacationed on the Triumph in a cabin with no windows, so they had been sleeping outside for days. But Wednesday night, Shanar said, a storm forced everyone inside, where conditions were deplorable.

"There's poop and urine all along the floor," she said. "The floor is flooded with sewer water."

The elderly on board are suffering the most, she said. One woman fell and thinks she cracked her head, Shanar added.

Shanar's husband is a heart patient, and she said the couple has been told that they will be among the first to disembark.

But she said she didn't believe the officials: "They've been lying to us from the beginning."

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Carmel Taylor of Lufkin, Texas, and his 10-year-old daughter didn't expect to sleep in a hall on their cruise, but that's where they ended up.

Taylor said it was too hot in the cabins. But from his perspective, things could be worse.

"There's no one whooping and hollering, but we're not in dire straits," he said Thursday. "I had bacon and eggs and toast this morning."

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Rusty and Beth Adkins drove to Mobile from their home in Noblesville, Ind., and waited for hours for the cruise ship to arrive in port with their daughter, Brianna.

They said the 18-year-old is on the ship with her aunts and cousins.

"It's a girls' trip," Rusty Adkins said. "They were out to have a good time, and obviously, this trip didn't turn out."

The couple arrived in Alabama in their van, which had a banner across the windshield reading, "THANK GOD IT'S OVER," with the names of the family's five ship passengers: Brianna, Julie, Robin, Brooklyn and Julianna.

Adkins said he doesn't understand why it's taken so long to get the ship to port.

"We understand there's accidents," he said. "We just feel like some better plans should be made."

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Plushnick-Masti reported from Houston.