|Photo by Susan J. Young|
Several hundred guests have fallen ill with stomach virus-like symptoms onboard Royal Caribbean International's Explorer of the Seas over the past few days, as the ship was operating a Caribbean cruise from Bayonne, NJ.
Norovirus is the expected culprit, with final results to be released later by U.S. public health officials who boarded the ship Sunday in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. But symptoms are those common to the virus, which typically makes people very sick for about 24-48 hours but is generally harmless, except for infants, the elderly or those with other health issues.
That said, Royal Caribbean (www.cruisingpower.com) issued a statement at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, stating that it will end the current cruise two days early so the ship can undergo extensive disinfecting measures at its home port of Bayonne, NJ, prior to the next cruise. In addition, the line provided this updated statement at 9 a.m. today.
"Explorer of the Seas will return home from its 10-day cruise two days early, after an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness that spiked over the weekend. New reports of illness have decreased day-over-day, and many guests are again up and about.
"Nevertheless, the disruptions caused by the early wave of illness means that we were unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting. After consultation between our medical team and representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we think the right thing to do is to bring our guests home early, and use the extra time to sanitize the ship even more thoroughly.
"We are sorry for disappointing our guests, and we are taking several steps to compensate them for their inconvenience.
"After returning to home port on Wednesday, Jan. 29, we will perform a thorough “barrier” sanitization program on the entire ship to make certain that any remaining traces of the illness are eliminated. It will be the third aggressive sanitizing procedure the ship has undertaken since we became aware of the issue, and will additionally provide a window of more than 24 hours where there are no persons aboard the ship, which is a significant help.
"Guests scheduled for the next cruise on Explorer of the Seas can be confident that all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems.
"At this point, it appears that reported illnesses among guests and crew peaked during the first few days of the cruise – though, as is common with many illnesses, some additional cases are to be expected over the course of the week.
"Our doctors tell us symptoms are consistent with that of norovirus, but that they are awaiting the results of tests to confirm that diagnosis. Our response included flying additional medical personnel and equipment to meet the ship, and conducting additional sanitizing procedures at two of the ship’s stops.
"In the end, however, the number of cases was still higher than any of us want to see. We will be cooperating with authorities and conducting our own internal assessments to make sure we are doing all we can to promote the health and safety of our guests and crew."
Explorer of the Seas departed Cape Liberty, New Jersey, on Tuesday, Jan. 21, and was scheduled to call to San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
Agents may read the latest report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control here: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/outbreak/2014/january21_explorer_seas.htm
Updates are also being provided via Twitter -- @RoyalCaribPR.
Royal Caribbean told Travel Agent that all guests will receive compensation in the form of onboard credit as well as a future cruise certificate for 50 percent of the cruise fare paid for their January 21, 2014, Explorer of the Seas sailing.
The line also said that's in addition to compensation already offered to those guests who were confined to staterooms by illness.
Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for updates.