By Victoria Cavaliere
BAYONNE, N.J. Jan 29 Passengers staggered off a
Royal Caribbean ship reeking of vomit and diarrhea at
its home port on Wednesday after their cruise was cut short by
an apparent stomach bug that felled nearly 700 vacationers and
Cheers erupted from the Explorer of the Seas as the vessel
pulled into Bayonne, New Jersey, in New York Harbor.
Passengers disembarking soon afterward recalled the
nightmare of falling ill during the Caribbean cruise, being
quarantined in their rooms, and putting everything they touched
into biohazard bags.
"I had three days of sickness and quarantine," recalled
Susan Rogutski of Catawissa, Pennsylvania, who came down with
gastrointestinal symptoms so severe the first day of the trip
that she had to be physically dragged to the sick bay.
Carl Kern of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, said the ship's
hallways smelled of diarrhea and vomit.
"Another passenger we became friends with said he went into
the men's room and someone had gotten sick right in the floor
and he stepped in it. It was bad," Kern said.
Altogether, 630 passengers and 54 crew fell ill aboard the
ship that departed Bayonne on January 21, Llelwyn Grant,
spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, said on Wednesday. Illness struck about 20 percent
of the 3,071 passengers and roughly 5 percent of the 1,166 crew
aboard the ship, he said.
Its planned 10-day cruise was cut short by two days when it
returned to its home port on Wednesday.
Kern's wife, Fran Kern, was among the unhappy passengers who
said the compensation being offered by Royal Caribbean,
including 50 percent off a next trip, was inadequate.
"We were really disappointed. We've never been to many of
these ports, so to pay all this money and not get to the ports
is very disappointing," she said.
"We aren't cruisers like some people. We should have gotten
a full refund," she said.
Other passengers, including Rogutski and her husband,
Leonard Rogutski, felt Royal Caribbean responded well to the
crisis and said they would take a cruise again someday.
"Though it was a bad situation all around, and it was very
bad, Royal Caribbean bent over backwards to provide everything
we needed," Leonard Rogutski said. "The problem was it happened
so quickly, there were so many cases, they weren't ready for
The CDC said Wednesday that the cause of the sickness was
still under investigation and that stool samples collected from
sick passengers were being taken off the ship and rushed to CDC
labs for study.
"We're basically citing this as a gastro infection until we
have the test results," Grant said.
An environmental safety officer and an epidemiologist
boarded the ship in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on
Sunday to help determine the proper response to the outbreak.
While at sea, the ship's crew stepped up cleaning and
disinfection procedures, the CDC said.
The cruise line said it believes the illnesses are
consistent with norovirus, a highly contagious virus spread from
an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching
contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC.
Royal Caribbean said it was cooperating with all
investigations and was disinfecting the Explorer of the Seas
from top to bottom.