Travelers aboard the Explorer of the Seas recounted hundreds throwing up, and stricken passengers having food brought to their rooms. Others were served from covered buffets by crew members wearing gloves and masks during an outbreak that sickened nearly 700 passengers and crew on the ship operated by Royal Caribbean.
Kim Waite, 50, of London, England, was on the cruise with her husband, Fred, to celebrate the end of her cancer treatments. She got severely ill, and barely saw her husband the whole trip.
“My husband had to put me in a wheelchair and take me to the infirmary. The door opened on the lift and there were just hundreds of people being sick everywhere,” she said. “They were throwing up in buckets and bags — I started crying, I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock.
“I’ve never wanted to go home so much in my life. I’ve never slept so much in my life, and I’ve got no sun tan.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its latest count puts the number of those sickened at 630 passengers and 54 crew members. The ship, on a 10-day cruise that had to be cut short, was carrying 3,050 passengers.
Health investigators suspect norovirus, but lab results are not expected until later this week. If norovirus is to blame, it would be one of the largest norovirus outbreaks on a cruise ship in the last 20 years, the CDC said. A 2006 norovirus outbreak on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship also sickened close to 700.
Retiree Bill Rakowicz, 61, from the city of St. Thomas in Ontario, Canada, said he thought he was just seasick when he began suffering from vomiting, pain and diarrhea.
“Then I went out of my room and saw people with gloves and people sick everywhere,” he said, adding that he saw a man in a wheelchair vomiting, then falling on the floor and hitting his head.
He said he had the symptoms for five days starting Jan. 22, the day after the ship departed Bayonne. “It was awful. You feel like you want to give in,” he said.
Rakowicz gave high marks to Royal Caribbean for going “above and beyond” in its efforts to help passengers. A female traveling companion did not get sick, he said, which he said was not unusual. He said he was aware of a number of cases in which one person in a room got sick and the other didn’t.
Pastor Sue Rogutski, of Bloomsburg, Pa., said she got so sick she was quarantined for three days. She said her husband, Leonard, a nurse who only fell ill toward the end of the trip and less severely than her, had to carry her down from their room to the sick bay.
“When we were in the sick bay, people were getting nervous and they started showing up there to try to get help,” she said. “Suddenly, there was influx of 150 people. That puts into perspective what this crew was facing — that it was epidemic.”
Rogutski said the ship’s buffets were all covered and no passengers could touch them. They had to be served by crew members wearing gloves and masks, including entertainers who pitched in. Sick passengers were brought food to their rooms.