Cruise ship returns home with more than 600 sick passengers

By Tom Stieghorst

Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas returned to its home port in Bayonne, N.J., on Wednesday afternoon following a widespread outbreak of gastrointestinal illness on the 3,000-passenger ship.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that 629 passengers, more than 20% of the passengers onboard, were affected by the illness over the course of the cruise. Also, 54 crew members were reported ill.

The last time a cruise ship had as many sick people was in 2006, when 536 passengers and 143 crew members from the Carnival Liberty were reported ill, according to CDC records.

Royal Caribbean shortened the 10-day cruise to eight days to allow for extra sanitation measures before the next cruise on Friday.

"Guests scheduled for the next cruise on Explorer of the Seas can be confident that all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems,” a Royal Caribbean statement said.

Royal Caribbean said it plans a thorough sanitizing of the entire ship.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said they won't know if it was a norovirus outbreak until later this week.

Passengers on the stricken cruise will receive a 50% refund of their cruise fare and a 50% future cruise credit.

Guests who had to be confined to staterooms will be credited with one future cruise day for each day of confinement.

Royal Caribbean said it will also reimburse airline change fees and hotel accommodations for guests whose travel home was inconvenienced by the change of travel plans.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 

This report was updated at 4:40 Eastern time to add CDC response and information about the Carnival Liberty norovirus outbreak in 2006

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