HAL Cancels Cruise Due to Virus

Repeated cleanings fail to stem the spread of Norwalk-like illness on the Amsterdam

By: Theresa Norton Masek

Holland America Line, which is battling another stubborn outbreak of a contagious gastrointestinal virus, canceled one cruise by the Amsterdam but expects to resume normal operations Dec. 1.

The Norwalk-like virus plagued several cruise lines in Alaska this past summer, and now it’s surfaced on the Amsterdam’s 10-day Southern Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale.

On the most recent cruise, the virus struck 58 passengers and 18 crewmembers; 1,875 people were onboard.

The virus first surfaced on a 21-day repositioning cruise from Vancouver that arrived in Fort Lauderdale Oct. 22, said Rose Abello, vice president of public relations for Holland America. On that cruise, 216 people were affected. Fifty people reported the gastrointestinal symptoms on the Oct. 22 cruise and 182 on the Nov. 1 voyage.

The 1,380-passenger ship was thoroughly cleaned at the end of the Oct. 22 cruise and again on the ship’s turnarounds in Fort Lauderdale.

“Taking her out of service lets us do some things we can’t do when we’re cruising, such as bringing down the whole refrigeration and air-conditioning systems,” Abello said.

The symptoms of the virus include vomiting and diarrhea. Often referred to as “stomach flu” although it is not the flu, the illness typically runs its course in 24 to 48 hours, Holland America reported.

The Norwalk-like virus spreads quickly in a closed environment such as a cruise ship. It can be passed along by a handshake, proximity to a sneeze or touching a handrail.

“This virus is pretty prevalent anywhere,” Abello said. “The ship environment allows it to be more traceable.”

The stem-to-stern cleaning was expected to include every item on the ship.

“We’ll divide the ship into hundreds of sections and make double and triple checks to make sure everything is cleaned, sanitized and disinfected,” Abello said. “Every TV remote control, every hand rail, every Scrabble tile and every poker chip will get appropriately cleaned.”

The Centers for Disease Control has been involved in Holland America’s efforts to halt the spread of the virus.

“Holland America Line has been very proactive in dealing with this unfortunate virus,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jon Schoor, assistant deputy chief of the CDC’s vessel sanitation program. “Holland America has gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

Passengers booked on the Nov. 21 cruise were being notified in advance of the cancellation. They were offered alternative cruises or full cash refunds and future cruise-savings credits. Travel agent commissions will be protected.

The Amsterdam will depart on a 108-day world cruise on Jan. 4 from Fort Lauderdale.