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And they're off! Passengers leave 'toxic' ship

NEED TO KNOW
  • Cruise ship passengers stranded at sea for days after engine room fire
  • Carnival CEO: 'We failed'
  • Some cruisers praise crew for efforts during crisis
Kendall Jenkins kisses the ground after stepping off the Carnival ship Triumph at the Alabama Cruise terminal in Mobile, Alabama, on February 14, 2013.

Photos: Life aboard Carnival's cruise from hell

Photos: Life aboard Carnival's cruise from hell

Doc: Ship is a 'floating petri dish'

Another cruise ship provides support to the crippled Carnival Triumph

For thousands of cruise ship passengers who were stuck in the Gulf of Mexico for days, the long nightmare is over.

READ MORE: Check out CNN's live blog for ongoing developments to this story

The Carnival Triumph docked in Mobile, Alabama, late Thursday after four days at sea that one passenger described as "... horrible." The ship had been scheduled to arrive earlier in the day, but was delayed because of rough waters and a broken towline. 

Once people started walking off the ship at just after 11 p.m. ET, it took just a couple of hours to get the more than 3,000 passengers off the crippled Carnival Triumph. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials boarded the ship before it docked in order to speed up the disembarking process.

CNN reports Carnival had about 100 motor coaches waiting in Mobile to take the weary passengers to New Orleans, where more than 1,500 hotel rooms had been reserved. From there, multiple charter flights to Houston were booked for Friday, along with transportation from Houston to the Port of Galveston, so that guests could retrieve their cars if they drove to the port.

The cruise was anything but fun after an engine-room fire on February 10 caused enough damage to set the ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The fire also knocked out air conditioning and forced many passengers to sleep in the hallways or outside on the deck. 

READ MORE: Tweet peek: First look inside the cruise ship | Photos: Life aboard Carnival's cruise from hell  

Passengers complained of the stench of the ship as they had to use biohazard bags as makeshift toilets. 

Carnival said it would give each passenger $500, a full refund for the trip, a free flight home and credit toward another cruise. 

Many who talked to media once they were back on dry land used words like "toxic" and "disgusting" to describe the ship itself, but the crew got much better reviews: "…the staff, they did such an amazing job," said passenger Joseph Alvarez. "And I give them so much props because they were amazing through it all. I mean, they worked their tails off to accommodate everybody's needs."

Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill was there to greet passengers as they got off the boat -- and to apologize.

"We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience," he said, "and clearly we failed in this particular case."

CNN.com has full coverage of the homecoming of the Carnival Triumph.

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