Caribbean Princess Avoids Fog in Early Return; Some Guests Hit With Norovirus

caribbean princessCaribbean Princess returned to the Port of Houston a day early on January 30, with Princess Cruises (www.princess.com) citing expected fog as the reason, noting that the port was expected to be closed and the line didn't want to have issues getting back in.

The line’s statement said: “Caribbean Princess is being forced to return to Houston one day early because we were informed that dense fog is expected to close the port for much of the weekend, and we are mindful of our passengers’ safety and comfort, as well as the disruption the port’s closing will have on their onward travel plans.”

The statement continued: “This has, unfortunately, necessitated the cancellation of the scheduled call to Belize. The seven-day cruise, which departed Jan. 25, is sailing on a western Caribbean itinerary, also calling at Cozumel and Roatan.”

Princess Cruises’ statement, however, also acknowledged that some passengers had reported symptoms consistent with norovirus. When the ship returned to its Houston homeport early, investigators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) boarded to evaluate the situation.

The CDC told the Houston Chronicle that at least 162 of the 3,102 passengers and 11 of the 1,148 crew members had norovirus-like symptoms. That article is here: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Passengers-depart-Caribbean-Princess-after-5192569.php?cmpid=hpfc

Princess undertook extensive cleaning and disinfection procedures and said that because of increased sensitivity surrounding norovirus by both cruise lines and the CDC this winter, it notified the agency.

Cruise ships participating in the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal (GI) illness cases evaluated by the medical staff before the ship arrives at a U.S. port, when sailing from a foreign port. Lines must also notify the CDC when any GI illness count exceeds 2 percent of the total number of passengers or crew onboard.

While the CDC has strict rules that cruise ships must follow in reporting norovirus, airlines, malls and hotels, for example, do not have such requirements. Hospitals, camps and nursing homes are among common spots where the virus often strikes.

The CDC has often said that norovirus is just as prevalent on land and more than 20 million people annually contract it. Often called “the stomach flu,” its main symptoms are intestinal and stomach discomfort, vomiting and diarrhea. The virus typically runs its course in 24-48 hours.

The Caribbean Princess outbreak is the third on a U.S.-based cruise ship this year, according to the CDC's VSP; the chronological list is here: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/gilist.htm#years

Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas returned early to Bayonne, NJ, earlier this week as 700 guests and crew were sick with norovirus. In addition, earlier this month Norwegian Star also reported that some guests had virus-like symptoms.

RELATED: Explorer of the Seas Returns Early to Bayonne, Guests Ill with Norovirus

Cruise Lines International Association has a page on its website dealing with the topic of norovirus, preventive measures and sanitation procedures: http://www.cruising.org/regulatory/issues-facts/public-health-medical-capabilities/norovirus

As for the shortened Caribbean Princess cruise, passengers with scheduled air flights from Houston were accommodated overnight at local hotels by Princess. “They will also receive a future cruise credit of 20% of their fare, as well as one day per diem to help offset any ancillary expenses such as meals,” the statement said.

The next Caribbean Princess voyage is expected -- after extensive sanitation efforts onboard by crew -- to sail on Saturday, Feb. 1. as scheduled.

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