Robert Miles, Craig Quinonez and Matt Spire

Four gay men from Dallas were among the 4,000 people stranded on the Carnival Triumph. Three arrived back in Dallas on Friday.

The fourth man in their group, Earl Rodriguez, traveled from Mobile to New Orleans by bus, flew to Hobby Airport in Houston and a then by bus to Galveston to pick up his car.

Craig Quinonez, a bartender at Alexandre’s, said he was awakened at about 4:45 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10 and told to evacuate his cabin, which had filled with smoke. He went to an upper deck. The ship drifted 90 miles before the Coast Guard reached them on Monday.

He said the captain didn’t acknowledge there was a fire, only calling it a “situation” until after the fire was out.

The group blamed the fire on poor maintenance and said the ship had a problem with one of its engines two weeks earlier. They said they heard that the ship was running without one of its engines, which caused the remaining engines to overheat.

Matt Spire blamed the lack of maintenance on the quick turn-around in port that allows no time for major repairs. The ship remains docked in Galveston only hours between cruises.

Spire said he was afraid of the food that was being served. Although one of the kitchens had partial power and the refrigerators were working, after it was cooked, the food sat out on trays in the heat for hours. He expected more cases of food poisoning. The amount of food available on different days varied.

“Some nights it was slim pickins,” he said.

Food was served on the top deck so passengers had to walk up nine flights to eat. They said there were a number of disabled passengers and they didn’t know how those passengers got anything to eat.

After the first night, the four were able to take cold showers in the dark in their rooms.

While there were some news reports of fights on board, all saw nothing worse than some bad tempers at times.

“We became like a family,” said Matt Spire.

And they said the gays kept the middle-aged women camping out on deck around them entertained. One woman told them they kept her laughing instead of crying the first night.

The three said the crew’s response was “amazing.” Entertainers served food and cleaned. Crew members tried to keep passengers occupied with bingo and comedy shows.

Quinonez said Carnival reimbursed all expenses for the cruise except gambling. In addition each person was given $500 and a voucher for a free cruise.

“I’m going back,” he said.

The others weren’t so sure and are considering a lawsuit.