After dealing with a sizable number of gastrointestinal cases onboard Crown Princess for the second week in a row, Princess Cruises has decided to end the ship's voyage two days early, and return to Port Everglades in south Florida for additional sanitation measures onboard the ship.
Approximately 4 percent of passengers and 5 percent of the crew onboard the ship have been sickened with norovirus-like symptoms.
The CDC is investigating, but norovirus is so common, it's second only to the common cold in terms of numbers of people that are affected by the virus each year in the U.S. More than 300 million people worldwide reportedly get the short-lived virus each year.
On the current sailing, Princess said 114 passengers (3.7% out of 3,078) and 59 crew (5% of 1,178) have reported gastrointestinal illness.
On the ship's previous cruise, which also had an outbreak, despite Princess' best efforts to sanitize the ship last week, 364 passengers (11.7% of 3,103) and 30 crew (2.6% of 1,168) were affected.
Princess said in a statement on its Web site: "In consultation with the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who has informed us that there are widespread outbreaks of norovirus occurring in the U.S., it was agreed that the best course of action to stop the spread of the illness is for the ship to undergo a two-day extensive sanitization. To accomplish this, Crown Princess is now returning to Fort Lauderdale where the cruise will end on Thursday, Feb. 9. The ship was scheduled to return on Saturday, Feb. 11.
Crown Princess Guests To Receive Refunds
"We sincerely regret having to cut short our passengers' cruise vacations because of this highly-unusual situation. We will, of course, be refunding their cruise fare, arranging flights home, including covering change fees if air was not booked through Princess, providing hotel accommodation if necessary, and offering a 25 percent future cruise credit."
Crown Princess' seven-day Caribbean sailing was scheduled to visit Curacao and Aruba, but given the early return to Fort Lauderdale, those port calls have been cancelled.
The line said that at the first sign of increased cases of gastrointestinal illness onboard this week's voyage, it immediately initiated additional enhanced sanitation procedures to interrupt the spread of illness for both passengers and crew members.
Princess described the measures as follows: "Our sanitation program has been developed in coordination with the CDC and includes such measures as disinfection of high-touch surfaces; encouraging correct hand washing procedures and enhancing this with the use of hand sanitizing gels placed throughout the ship; isolating ill passengers and crew in cabins until non-contagious; encouraging passengers to use their own cabin's bathroom facilities; and providing regular verbal and written communication to passengers about steps they can take to stay well while onboard."
The enhanced disinfection of the ship in Fort Lauderdale later this week, though, will include bringing aboard additional cleaning crew to assist with a thorough sanitization of all public spaces and surfaces including soft furnishing and carpets, railings, door handles and multiple other surfaces.
In addition, staterooms will be sanitized multiple times before stewards make up the cabins and suites with fresh linens and towels on Saturday morning, just prior to passenger embarkation.
"We continue to work closely with the CDC to determine the cause of the illness, which is suspected to be the easily-transmitted norovirus, which is so widespread that only the common cold is reported more frequently," the line said, adding that it expects Crown Princess' next cruise on Feb. 11 to depart as scheduled.
Generally, medical experts say the illness causes diarrhea and vomiting, guests feel extremely sick, but effects are short-lived. In most cases, people recover totally within 24-48 hours and there are no lasting effects. That said, the virus may have more serious consequences for some infants, the elderly or those with underlying and serious medical conditions.
Hotels, resorts, airlines and shopping malls are not required to keep track of cases or report them to authorities, as are cruise lines. So cruise ship outbreaks get publicity, whereas people getting sick on a plane or in a hotel often just are thought to have a stomach virus.
Through the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program, cruise lines report the total number of gastrointestinal cases handled by the medical staff. It's considered an outbreak when the number of cases exceeds 2 percent of passengers or crew.
Celebrity Silhouette Also Dealing with Virus
Separately, Celebrity Silhouette also was hit with an apparent outbreak of norovirus this week. Earlier a St. Maarten health ministry officials reported that 31 cruise passengers were reported sick when the vessel docked this week at the island, and fewer were ill when the ship departed after a port call.
Lines are required to provide that island's Collective Preventive Services with a health declaration prior to the ship's arrival.
In an official statement, Royal Caribbean confirmed that Celebrity Silhouette, which began its sailing in Cape Liberty, NJ, on Jan. 29, is experiencing an elevated number of persons with a gastrointestinal illness.
The line said that over the course of the sailing, 117 of 2,841 guests and 8 crew members have experienced the illness, thought to be norovirus. "Those affected by the short-lived illness have responded well to over-the-counter medication being administered onboard the ship," the line said, noting that it was doing enhanced cleaning onboard the ship to help prevent the illness from spreading.
Additionally, when Celebrity Silhouette arrives in Cape Liberty, on Feb. 10, the line plans an extensive and thorough sanitizing onboard the ship and within the cruise terminal, to help prevent any illness from affecting the subsequent sailing.
Guests will receive a letter at boarding that asks if they have experienced any gastrointestinal symptoms within the last three days; if so, they'll likely be evaluated by Royal Caribbean's medical staff before being allowed to board.
If guests tell Royal Caribbean that they're uncomfortable taking their cruise at this time, for reasons related to personal health or otherwise, "our staff will assist them in rescheduling their sailing for another time," the statement said.
Celebrity Silhouette is currently on a 12-night sailing that includes port calls to Labadee, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; St. John’s, Antigua; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
Other ships this past week have also reported cases of gastrointestinal illnesses including Ruby Princess and Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Sea.