Cruise ship back at home port early after norovirus outbreak

by Kim Boateng Posted on January 13th, 2019

Port Canaveral, Florida: The Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas returned at its home port in Central Florida on Saturday one day earlier than scheduled because of an outbreak that sickened nearly 500 people. The 6,823 passengers got off the ship Saturday morning in Port Canaveral.

Around 6 percent of the passengers, 402 people, contracted the norovirus, an infection sometimes referred to as the “stomach flu.” It can cause diarrhea and vomiting for up to three days.

On Thursday, Royal Caribbean officials reported that 250 people on board had become ill after the ship’s port of call in Haiti. Stops in Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico, were canceled for an early return Saturday at 4:30 a.m.

The cruise was supposed to last seven days.

“It started off great. We went to Haiti. It was lovely,” William Gleed, who came from London with his wife and 1-year-old daughter for a Honeymoon trip, told Florida Today. “It all went wrong in Jamaica. None of us were allowed off the ship.

“To be honest, for the last four days, we’ve kind of felt like caged dogs.”

Sick passengers were quarantined and they disembarked separately.

The staff began sterilizing the ship.

“They were stringent about hand washing and cleaning down everything constantly: railing, rooms, changing sheets all the time,” Diane Bender said. “As long as you washed your hands, you were good.”

Despite the inconveniences, Bender said “It was a good trip. We had a great time.”

And all passengers were refunded their fares.

Some passengers who disembarked Royal Carribean’s Oasis of the Seas cruise ship Saturday morning remembered their cruise as less than ideal.

“My daughter got sick. My son got sick,” said Ariana VanHaaster, who booked the the cruise as a vacation for her family of seven.

Her son, Ian, was one of the first to get sick in a norovirus outbreak that Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Kiki Perera said affected over 400 passengers and crew members.

“Every single night, there was a report from the captain about the sickness precautions,” Ian VanHasster said. “You kept hearing these scary things, like, ‘Oh, when can I just get out?'”

The cruise was supposed to last seven days, but the crew made the choice to return one day early in order to get passengers home safely and have more time to sanitize the ship. Cleaning crews, clad in full hazmat suits, could be seen spraying railings and furniture shortly after all passengers got off of the boat.

The VanHaasters flew from California to take the trip through the Carribean. The cruise, which departed from Port Canaveral on Sunday, quickly took a turn for the family.

“(My son) got sick Monday night and we took him to the hospital Tuesday morning when we arrived in Haiti,” Ariana VanHaaster said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the extremely contagious gastrointestinal illness can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and nausea. Garret Westover, from Nebraska, also caught the illness, which he said felt like a stomach flu.

“(I threw up) like three times in eight hours,” he said.

The VanHaasters tried to get Ian seen by the ship’s doctor shortly after reboarding from Haiti and found that he was no longer the only one affected.

“Shortly when we got back on, hundreds of people started to vomit,” Ariana VanHaaster said. “By then the medical facility was filled with people vomiting all over the floor, projectile vomiting. It was not a place to be.”

There were 6,823 passengers on the ship. The family said they even saw acrobats from the ship’s onboard shows at the medical center.

Both the VanHaasters and Westover praised the crew’s quick response in the midst of the outbreak.

“They were walking down hallways sanitizing rails, sanitizing everything as people were using it. As they were touching, they were sanitizing,” Ian VanHaaster said.

Royal Carribean is refunding every passenger’s cruise fare, whether they were sick or not. Though the VanHaasters are grateful for the compensation, they’re even more grateful to be off the boat.

“I need a vacation from my vacation,” Ariana VanHaaster said.

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