Back in Wichita, mom looks back on cruise ship experience with humor

Bright-eyed and fresh-faced, Greta Harper couldn’t hide an infectious smile as she recounted her weeklong stay aboard cruise ship Carnival Triumph.

She giggled.

“Oh, we take toilets for granted!”

Then guffawed at the memory of breakfast one morning.

No one risked starving, she said.

But meals were creative.

“I ate chocolate milk in my Lucky Charms. I don’t eat sugary cereal, but it was pretty damn good!”

Harper, of Wichita, arrived home Saturday

— five days after her first cruise turned into a harrowing adventure when an engine room fire left the Triumph’s 4,200 passengers and crew members stranded in the Gulf of Mexico.

Harper stopped first at Towne West Square around 2 p.m., determined to find her 15-year-old, Hannah Henricks, who was playing miniature golf with friends.

“It was like in the movies,” mother and daughter chimed in unison when asked to describe their reunion.

“We just ran to each other.”

“I’m happy!” Hannah added. “It kind of feels like she never left.”

Good spirits

Harper, owner of west Wichita salon Shear Madness, and her traveling companion, Jeff Gray, boarded the Triumph Feb. 7. They were eager to embark on a four-day excursion, with a short stop in Cozumel, Mexico.

But at 5 a.m. Feb. 10, a crew member banged on her cabin door and told “us to get our life jackets on.”

Conditions aboard deteriorated in the following days, leaving some passengers grumpy over food shortages and unsanitary conditions.

But most stayed in good spirits, played games and chatted with friends, Harper said.

“It was just funny how people wanted to get to know everyone,” she said, recalling hours spent playing cards and bingo.

“Carnival did the best they could. We had a great time.”

Harper left the cruise ship late Thursday night after it docked in Mobile, Ala. Within minutes she and others boarded a bus bound for Galveston, Texas.

Nine hours later, she started the drive back to Wichita.

Like others, Harper said she savored a hot shower.

Relished clean clothes.

Delighted in sound, safe sleep.

“But I really didn’t care about seeing the house,” she said, then paused to glance around her northwest Wichita home.

When her gaze settled on her daughter she swiped at a joyful tear.

“To see her was the biggest thing.”

So Greta Harper’s suitcase stays packed, stashed in the garage where the lingering smell of sewage isn’t noticeable inside her home.

They’ll get laundered Sunday.

“Later,” she said, chuckling.

The immediate plan is taking her daughter, Hannah, to dinner.