Vicky Alvarez and her husband, Fernando, were looking forward to their seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise aboard the Carnival Splendor.
It had been at least 10 years since the Henderson couple took a vacation. Alvarez had spent the decade caring for her aging mother, who died in June.
The couple decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary and Alvarez's 48th birthday by treating themselves to a cruise.
But a fire in the engine room put an end to their fun Monday morning, at the beginning of the second day at sea. The ship lost power, leaving 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew floating in the Pacific Ocean for four days.
Cruise ship attendants pounded on the Alvarezes' door to alert them of the fire, and smoke wafted into the couple's room. No one was hurt.
The Splendor left Long Beach on Sunday for a weeklong trip. The ship was 200 miles south of San Diego and about 44 miles off shore when the engine room fire killed its power.
No hot water. No air conditioning. No Internet.
Most of the telephone service had been knocked out. The ship's auxiliary power allowed for working toilets and cold water.
Alvarez finally reached her family by phone Wednesday morning and spoke with her sister, Gina Calzada of Henderson.
Despite news reports that passengers were eating Pop Tarts and cans of Spam for sustenance, Calzada said Alvarez, who is a diabetic, had barely eaten because food was not as available as was being reported.
During the 30-minute phone conversation, Alvarez's voice cracked as she told her sister that the ship smelled of rotten food and smoke. She passed the phone to her husband because she was crying too hard, Calzada said.
"She was not taking her insulin because she didn't know when she was eating next," Calzada said. "She told me her last meal was Tuesday night, and she had bread, lettuce and a slice of cucumber."
It was unclear Wednesday evening whether the Alvarezes had access to the food dropped to the stranded passengers by U.S. Navy helicopters.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said he did not have information about Alvarez to immediately comment.
When Fernando Alvarez took the phone from his wife, he told Calzada that a cruise attendant gave him a Tic-Tac breath mint to deal with his wife's diabetic crash.
"What do you a tell a person to ease them in something like this?" Calzada said. "You don't really know. We're in shock because we're hearing the opposite of what's on the news."
Passengers were selling personal items among themselves for food, creating a black market of sorts, Calzada said.
"My brother-in-law sold a bottle of Absolut (vodka) for $60," she said. "They had bought it to celebrate my sister's birthday and their wedding anniversary, but they weren't going to get much use out of it now."
The journey hit more glitches when a second tugboat sent to help the first was forced to turn back because it wasn't powerful enough, and a third was hooked up Wednesday morning and was pulling with no problem, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.
The tugboats are pulling the 952-foot vessel to San Diego and is expected to arrive this afternoon or evening if the weather holds up, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials. No storms are in the forecast.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.