Cruise Lines Contend With Virus, Media

Theresa Norton Masek The cruise ship virus and the shrill reports about it in the consumer media were still stubbornly alive last week. But there were signs that some cruise lines were gaining control over the Norwalk-like virus, which sickened about 1,070 people on three ships in south and central Flo

By: Theresa Norton Masek

The cruise ship virus and the shrill reports about it in the consumer media were still stubbornly alive last week.

But there were signs that some cruise lines were gaining control over the Norwalk-like virus, which sickened about 1,070 people on three ships in south and central Florida over a six-week period.

And, while a recent e-mail survey of travel agents found some concerns about the virus, most said it was not affecting their customers’ bookings.

In another twist on the ship sickness issue, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises reported Dec. 4 that four passengers and 14 crew members displayed symptoms of salmonella-related illness Nov. 19 to Nov. 23. They were on a trans-Atlantic cruise that left Barcelona Nov. 16.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause fever and intestinal disorders in humans and domestic animals.

The crew members none of whom were food handlers were sent home. Later, six were found to have the bacteria in their systems, most likely from food or water consumed at a European or North African port, said Mark Conroy, president of Radisson Seven Seas.

He said that, for safety’s sake, the ship discarded some ice cream and eggs purchased in Spain.

No further gastrointestinal problems were reported after the ship left Bermuda Nov. 30.

“Most importantly for the peace of mind of our guests, there has been no indication that the Norwalk-like virus has been, or is, present on the ship,” Conroy said.

Careful Cleaning

Carnival Cruise Lines’ Fascination was the latest Florida-based ship affected by a gastrointestinal virus.

On its three-day cruise beginning Nov. 29, 190 passengers and 13 crew members reported symptoms similar to those of the Norwalk-like virus found on Holland America Line’s Amsterdam and Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic in preceding weeks.

“We’re operating under the assumption that it’s Norwalk,” said Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz. “We did an ultra super-duper sanitizing effort on the ship during the Monday turnaround.”

When the ship was scheduled to depart again, on Dec. 2, all passengers were given a two-page letter explaining the illness and offering the option to cancel without penalty. About 4 percent canceled, said de la Cruz.

As of the evening of Dec. 3, the ship reported one passenger and four crewmembers with gastrointestinal problems.

Meanwhile, the ship that first drew media attention, the Amsterdam, was sailing with “no reports” of illness aboard, a spokeswoman, Rose Abello, said Dec. 4.

The Amsterdam departed Dec. 1, after being removed from service for one cruise period so an extensive cleaning and sanitizing program could be conducted. Previously, 524 Amsterdam passengers had fallen ill on four of its 10-day cruises.

The Disney Magic was scheduled to depart on a Western Caribbean cruise Saturday. It also canceled one cruise for a sanitizing program. The Magic had reported 344 sick on two previous cruises.

CDC Lauds Efforts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors cruise cleanliness, has credited the cruise lines with doing all they can to stem the virus.

“I am confident the cruise lines are taking all the appropriate steps within their power,” said David Forney, chief of the CDC’s vessel sanitation program. Nonetheless, the story took on a life of its own, with headlines such as “Cruise from Hell” and “Sailing the sickening seas” appearing in The Miami Herald and CNN.com, respectively.

But Carnival President Bob Dickinson, never one to mince words, addressed questions about the virus head-on during a press conference at the Port of Miami Dec. 2.

His openness had “a calming influence,” The Washington Post said in a Dec. 3 story.

Citing the Post story, a cruise industry online newsletter, Seatrade Insider, commented: “Perhaps the consumer media is at last coming to its senses about the Norwalk virus.”

Almost half the agents questioned in Travel Weekly’s recent online survey said that “many” or “some” of their clients were worried about possibly falling ill.

But 56 percent of the 926 respondents noted that they would have no qualms about vacationing on a ship with a recent gastrointestinal outbreak, while 48 percent said they wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to their customers. n

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