Action 9

‘Just terrified’: Passengers from cruise ship that caught fire say more needs to be done

ORLANDO, Fla. — Cruise passengers on board the Carnival Freedom that caught fire last month are demanding more from the cruise line.  One family, that believes they are owed a new vacation, turned to Action 9 after they say Carnival offered them counseling instead.

Cell phone videos are all over social media showing flames and black smoke billowing from the exhaust funnel of the Carnival Freedom.  The cruise ship caught fire off the coast of the Bahamas in March. For passengers like Gemma Phillips, the entire cruise experience changed after the fire sparked.

“I mean there was a lot of people that were absolutely just terrified,” Phillips told Action 9′s Jeff Deal.

Gemma claims parts of the ship were closed off to her and family.  And says many of the amenities, including bars and a buffet area were no longer available for long periods of time.

Phillips said, “They were giving explicit instructions on the loudspeaker for nobody to go to any of the outdoor decks or go on to their balconies.”

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Scorched pieces of the exhaust funnel landed on their balcony as they were huddled down in their cabin listening for instructions.

“Pretty much the entire back of the ship was closed off. So, that included the adults only pool, the pizza place, the seafood place,” she said.

This was the second fire for the Carnival Freedom since 2022.  The 2022 fire also included flames shooting from the funnel.

After returning to Port Canaveral, passengers on board for the latest fire learned the next two sailings were cancelled.  And Phillips noted passengers on those trips were offered refunds, travel reimbursements and future cruise credits.

But for those onboard during this most recent fire, they were offered reimbursement for up to three counseling sessions, not to exceed $200.   Gemma Phillips said she doesn’t want counseling.

“I think it is tone deaf. I think it is an insult to all of us,” she added.

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She’s an avid cruiser who has been on ten Carnival cruises since the pandemic and wants the experience she’s used to having. Phillips believes money back or future cruise credit is what Carnival should offer.

“My husband and I, we love Carnival just because of the people, the vibe… you know, we’re night owls.”

And she’s not alone, there’s a Facebook group with nearly 300 cruisers who have been sharing their grievances.

Travel Expert Tammy Levent, who heads Elite Travel Management Group, says maritime laws offer little in the way of consumer protections, but believes Carnival is handing this situation all wrong.

“It’s unfortunate because that’s not the way the business should be thinking.  They should be thinking the complete opposite way of fulfilling and seeing what they could do for the customer to come back,” Levent said.

A Carnival spokesman sent this statement:

We’re very proud of our team members who kept everyone on board safe, and we appreciate our guests for their cooperation and support. We’re investigating multiple eyewitness accounts of a lightning strike. There was also heavy rain and lightning at the time the fire happened, and we always advise guests to stay indoors during storms. Any venues that were temporarily closed because of the thunderstorm, or from the brief cleanup after the fire was extinguished, were reopened by the early evening. The ship went on to host its elegant night, which was well attended by many guests. Carnival Freedom is back sailing, currently in the Bahamas, after work on the funnel was completed earlier this week.

But the company’s response now has Gemma Phillips questioning her loyalty and wondering if Carnival values customers like her.

“Why are we just being dismissed? Like, why aren’t they doing anything for us? And we’re the ones that experienced it,” she said.

Carnival hasn’t said what caused the fire yet.  Anyone who has a dispute involving a cruise that leaves from a U.S. port can file a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission: Cruise Passenger Assistance - Federal Maritime Commission (

In Florida, passengers can also file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office: Consumer Complaint Form | My Florida Legal

Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal,

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.