Gina Howe, 44, of Saline, center, reunites with family and friends, including husband Larry, right, Feb. 15, 2013, at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus / Christina Hall/Detroit Free Press
ROMULUS, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) - Gina Howe set out on her first cruise to part with one of her best friends.
The Saline woman and girlfriend Carrie Burgess of Texas boarded the Carnival Triumph on Feb. 7 and later spread the ashes of their best friend, Laura Babala, who died in June from cancer, in Cozumel water.
"It was a beautiful, gorgeous day," Howe recalled Friday. "It was beautiful to see."
But things turned ugly early Sunday morning. She heard the ship captain say something about a fire and Howe, 44, thought it was a fire drill. It turned out to be an engine room fire that left the 893-foot cruise ship powerless and stranding more than 4,000 people at sea.
"When it was good, it was good and when it was bad, it was horrible," the mother of two teens recalled after setting foot back in Michigan late Friday afternoon. "I'm happy to be home."
Howe was greeted by more than half-dozen relatives and friends at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Shortly after landing, she clutched a small bouquet of flowers and a large cup of Starbucks coffee.
She was glad to be in her home state, where she said she could finally sleep and have a cup of joe.
Sporting a smile and some tears, Howe talked about the misery aboard the ship, which was towed to an Alabama port.
There were no lights or flashlights in the cabins.
Passengers had to use small red bags and showers for toilets. Though there was plenty of pop, she said, they were only given Dixie cups with water.
"The floors were so slippery. It was horrible. Everyone was falling," she said. "I couldn't take the smell anymore."
She said she was "appalled by the waste."
Howe said food was sparse. It was cold food and the first day she received a small hoagie bun that included some cheese and a slice of cucumber.
At one point, their cabin flooded and she slept on the deck in chairs and in circle-shaped couches or booths. There were no towels or clean sheets.
Howe said she got through the ordeal with the help of her girlfriend and some of the entertainers on board, such as two comedians, who volunteered some shows. She said the crew didn't tell them anything and were overworked.
"Yesterday, a lot were pushed to the limit," she said, adding that the workers slept on top of tables.
"The conditions were so unsanitary," she said.
Howe said she is "quite certain" the stench of the ship will be on her luggage and "that bag will go" she said, pointing to the bag she brought home.
After getting off the ship Thursday night, she took a bus at least two hours to New Orleans, where she got a room and a shower. Howe said she tried to shower or bathe on the ship but she "didn't know where the water came from."
She flew to Charlotte, N.C., then home to Michigan, where she stopped at an emergency room to have her ankle examined. She has an unidentified rash that looks like a sun burn on one of her ankles. Howe doesn't know what the injury is from, but she said she had recently tripped on something on the deck of the ship.
Howe said she probably won't be taking any more cruises. She said her friend, Burgess, has been on 12 and said she would go on another.
Howe's husband, Larry Howe, 53, said he has undisclosed Valentine's Day gifts waiting for his wife when she finally arrives home.
"I'm glad she's home. I'm tired of eating fast food," he said with a laugh.
Howe's daughter, Layton, 16, said she was glad her mom was safe.
"I was really worried she was gone, really upset," she said. "I'm really happy she's back. I'm relieved."
Howe's mother, Carol Lynn Richardson of Saline, agreed but said she had confidence that her daughter would be OK.
"I really thought she'd be fine," she said. "She has strong faith and that's a big part of it."
Contact Christina Hall: firstname.lastname@example.org