The Carnival Triumph limped into harbour in Alabama in the glare of television networks with more than 4,200 on board and reeking of raw sewage.
The liner docked in Mobile at the end of a holiday described by some as “hellish”.
An engine room fire knocked out power and plumbing on board the cruise ship on Sunday which left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.
Toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and corridors in sewage. Some passengers were forced to sleep under sheets on deck. There are reports people had to use plastic “biohazard” bags as makeshift toilets.
Conditions are understood to have improved on Thursday after an emergency generator was delivered on board.
One official said it could take up to five hours for all the passengers to disembark as the ship had only one elevator which was working.