The Royal Caribbean cruise line on Sunday ended a ship's 10-day trip in the Caribbean two days early after nearly 650 passengers and crew members were sickened with a gastrointestinal illness and the company said it was "unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said early Monday that 595 of the 3,050 passengers aboard the 15-deck ship reported getting sick during the cruise that left Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, N.J., on Tuesday. Fifty crew members also reported feeling ill, according to the CDC.
The Miami-based company made the announcement to cut the trip short a few hours after CDC officials boarded the Explorer of the Seas during its U.S. Virgin Islands port call to investigate the illness and evaluate the outbreak response.
"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," the company said in a statement.
The ship is expected back in New Jersey on Wednesday.
According to the Staten Island Advance, the parents of City Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio are aboard the ship, but the politician told the paper they haven't gotten sick and are in good spirits.
"Their best friend is Purell these days and when in port they're spending as much time outside the ship as possible," Ignizio told the Advance.
Tests are required to confirm the cause of the outbreak, but fast-spreading norovirus is often to blame for similar symptoms sweeping closed quarters like those on cruise ships.
Royal Caribbean said special cleaning products and disinfectants proven to kill norovirus were being used to clean the ship before it returned to the U.S. It said a full sanitizing program would be carried out after the Explorer of the Seas reached its home port Wednesday.
Janet Diaz, a company spokeswoman, said CDC representatives boarded the Explorer of the Seas during the afternoon when it docked in St. Thomas, the main island of the U.S. Virgin Islands. During the previous port call in Puerto Rico, the ship underwent "extensive and thorough sanitizing" to help prevent more people from getting sick, she said.
Passengers and crew who fell ill have "responded well to over-the-counter medication being administered onboard the ship," Diaz said.
On Friday, an Explorer of the Seas passenger named Arnee Dodd tweeted that she had become ill aboard the ship and was quarantined with the other sick people. The Connecticut woman wrote that ship employees "put a lock down on food & are constantly cleaning everything."
Royal Caribbean said it was "taking several steps" to compensate passengers for the shortened trip. It also sought to assure customers scheduled for the ship's next voyage that "all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems."