A Closer Look: What It’s Like to Be Under Quarantine

January 30, 2014 | By | 13 Comments

Norovirus is in the news this week after passengers onboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas fell ill. Writer Sally MacMillan writes about an experience she had previously with Norovirus.
When you’re sorting out your travel insurance just before you leave for a well-earned break, the possibility of lost luggage or missed connections might flash through your mind. But coming down with Norovirus? It wasn’t on the top of my concerns when I flew from Sydney to Auckland for a 10-day R & R cruise on board Celebrity Solstice.
But oh dear: Almost as soon as I boarded the ship I felt decidedly under the weather. I thought it was just a side effect from some medication. I coped by spending a leisurely afternoon unpacking and reading, and dipped out of dinner with my group that evening, choosing a Spartan soup and bread-roll dinner from room service instead.
Next morning, I loaded up with anti-nausea pills, drank gallons of water to counter the light-headed feeling that was adding to my unpleasant sinking stomach and headed out to the lawn deck for a walk. That worked for a while. But after another day and night of self-imposed exile in my balcony cabin, I had to accept I’d been hit with a gastro bug.
Celebrity Today, the daily newsletter, advised anyone who might be suffering any sort of stomach symptoms to report to the medical facility for a complimentary consultation and treatment (if necessary). With dreaded word “Norovirus” now on the table, off I went to Deck 2 where a very efficient nurse interviewed me.
Because my symptoms were indeed consistent with a possible Norovirus, I was given some Imodium pills. I was also asked to sign a document stating I consented to being isolated in my cabin for 24 hours, and possibly longer if the symptoms hadn’t subsided.
The documents I signed made it very clear that if I attempted to break out of my isolation I would be “subject to disembarkation from the ship,” and could be reported to the local port’s health authorities if I attempted to leave. If I left the ship, I would also be ineligible for any compensation the cruise line would offer me for missed activities.
Not that there was any chance of escaping even if I’d wanted to. My keycard was deactivated on the spot and a cabin steward escorted me from the medical center to my cabin. Somewhat bemused by this not-in-the-brochure situation, I frantically tried to contact the friend I was due to meet in Wellington in the morning to say I might be stuck on the ship and then settled in to contemplate the next 24 hours.
One upside: I could now give in gracefully to doing nothing but relaxing, reading, watching movies and taking in the views, and recover. The information  emphasized the necessity of frequent and thorough hand-washing with soap and hot water. Because I was on a restricted diet, I had to call a special number to order its delivery. No sneaky treats allowed and certainly no chocolates were going to be left on my pillow.
The choice of dishes for passengers isolated for Norovirus-type symptoms is simple: white rice, baked potatoes, chicken broth, chicken breast, watermelon (not honeydew or any other variety), white bread, mint or chamomile tea, and bottled water. Over the next 24 hours, my regular cabin steward delivered this fare on plain black plastic trays with disposable plates accompanied by plastic cutlery and paper napkins — and while he wasn’t covered in hazmat gear, he didn’t hang around to chat.
Nobody likes being sick on their vacation and as this was more or less a stricter version of the diet I’d already put myself on since I’d first felt queasy, I was happy to stick to plain food in order to feel better as soon as possible. By the time my isolation period was up — I didn’t have to report for a personal examination — I was able to report that all symptoms had abated and I was allowed to leave the ship for a couple of hours in Wellington. My keycard bleeped at the gangway and security had to check that I was officially cleared.  Yippee, I was free.
As far as I know, there had been no massive outbreak of the virus on the ship; certainly I didn’t see many people in the medical center. While there was no self-service in the Ocean View Cafe or Aqua Spa Cafe for the first three days of the cruise, I believe this was largely precautionary.
The rest of the cruise was everything I had wanted. My account was credited with the for-fee movies I’d watched during the lockdown; and while some passengers suffered involuntary isolation from seasickness during the rocky Tasman Sea crossing, I relished the conditions to the point of having a huge dinner at Murano.


When it comes to Norovirus, myths abound. Let us help you separate facts from fiction.
Not familiar with Norovirus? Check out our guide to everything you need to know about the disease and its spread.
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    13 Responses to “A Closer Look: What It’s Like to Be Under Quarantine”

    1. Tom
      January 30th, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

      “But oh dear, almost as soon as I boarded the ship I felt decidedly under the weather.” This means you were sick before you boarded. Once you have been exposed to Norovirus, it takes anywhere from one to three days for its symptoms to appear; symptoms typically last only 24 to 48 hours. So it seems you didn’t get it from the ship…you brought it with you.

    2. Nancy L
      January 30th, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

      I worked as a shipboard employee for several years. I contracted NLV twice and had to assist in sanitizing an infected ship more time than I care to remember. Here is a snippet from my blog:


    3. Janice
      January 30th, 2014 @ 5:13 pm

      My family and I cruise on NCL’s Jewel for New Year Eve and three days into the cruise I got a nasty cold and felt feverish. Went to the shipboard doctor and was diagnosed with the flu. Quarantined to my cabin for two days. Nurse came and took my temp afternoon of the first day then told me to come the next morning to have it taken again. I was never sick with flu symptoms, only a cold and weakness. I could order anything from the room service menu as often as I wanted, as much as I wanted and they even included soft drinks since I had purchased a drink card. My family could have brought me food from any of the dining venues. I was served on regular dishes with silverware. My saving grace was that I was in a balcony cabin so I could get out for some fresh air. I have no complaints about how I was treated. I heard that there were a few others with same symptoms. I still question that it was the flu!

    4. Deborah Johns
      January 30th, 2014 @ 6:58 pm

      Quite a different response to my experience on Celebrity Solstice when my elderly mum came down with diarrhoea and vomiting five days i to our 2-week cruise. She was so sick and there was no way I could get her from our suite in aft 10 to forward 2 to see a doctor. Despite my going down to report her illness, my reporting it to the Purser, and to our Butler etc as well as the tour office as I had to cancel our tours, no one did anything. We went into self-imposed lockdown. Medical Centre said she HAD to go to the medical centre if she wanted to see a doctor. My response that she would vomit and poo on the way and as it was she was too week and ill to walk all that way fell on deaf ears. Despite commenting on this on my exit client service card and detailing it on the follow-up electronic satisfaction survey sent to passengers by Celebrity after the cruise, there has been NO response from Celebrity. And it is now over 12 months so they have had plenty of time. I guess their Norovirus stats for that cruise must have looked pretty good – don’t treat and you don’t have to report!

    5. Fay young
      January 31st, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

      I had the same experience on Sea Princess last year had to be taken to medical centre vomiting and pooing to be seen. If I had not had my daughter to keep a check on me I don’t think I would have made it home . If you are elderly they must change the policy and come to the cabins. But I quess a death from Noro would be blamed on old age!
      Do all cruise ships charge for the reporting. of Noro?

    6. Taniacat
      February 1st, 2014 @ 4:35 am


    7. C Fenwick
      December 24th, 2014 @ 6:37 am

      Thomson Cruises say:-
      If you experience any Norovirus symptoms while you’re onboard, stay in your cabin and contact reception or the medical centre – we’ll come to you. There will be no charge for medical services if your symptoms are caused by Norovirus.

    8. iColl
      December 24th, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

      The ships have three level alerts for Noro on-board. Green means safe/ Yellow-high probability/ Red- infected ship. The ships I worked were always in Yellow but passengers would never know this unless they asked and the crew told them. Completely ridding a large ship from any contracted virus is like trying to find a spec of dust on a circuit board the size of LA. Wash your hands every 5 minutes or carry around a hand-sanitizer or just don’t touch anything. Fun vacation eh?

    9. J carney
      December 24th, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

      Have 54 cruises and had norovirus 2 times. Believe me if you have this sickness you are not interested in room service or food in any form. The writer did not have norovirus.

    10. William Cunningham
      December 25th, 2014 @ 8:18 am

      I took ill with sickness and diarrhoea after 3 days at sea on Fred Olsens Braemar in October. I went to the Medical Centre to report it and was immediately sent straight back to my cabin and a nurse came to see me. I was quarantined in my cabin for 48 hours, given Imodium and my card de-activated. I could only order food from their gastro menu via Room Service and our Cabin Steward was not allowed to enter the cabin, a specialist cleaner in mask and overalls did the cleaning. The Medical Centre rang twice daily to check my condition.
      24 hours after being released from quarantine I had more diarrhoea, this time the Ships Doctor came to see me and I was quarantined for another 48 hours. I was able to provide a sample for testing and Norovirus was excluded as the cause of my sickness but I had to continue with the quarantine.
      It is Fred Olsens policy that if ill with suspected Norovirus that you telephone the Medical Centre and remain in your cabin and someone comes to you. You are allowed free bottled water and a couple of free films to watch on TV.
      Compensation was awarded but barely covered 2 lost days.

    11. Paul
      December 26th, 2014 @ 4:21 pm

      Based on personal experience and observation, the doctors and nurses on cruise ships (Carnival is particularly egregious in this area) are those who are escaping some issue. They are nearly universally rude and incompetent. Just the way it is … you get what you pay for … and it’s not US quality medicine. The threatening behavior presented when asked the most simple question is hideous.

    12. Bonnie foster
      December 28th, 2014 @ 9:34 am

      i was on a Princess ship last year and my friend became quite sick. flu/gastro type thing….doc and nurse arrived within 30 minutes, examined, prescribed and all was well. She stayed in her room, and the Princess insurance took care of it….it was great….

    13. Roxanne
      December 28th, 2014 @ 10:12 am

      My husband was sick during our 14 day Hawaii Cruise on Holland America. he was sick during the night, the nurse on call was able to come to our cabin, give him some medication for his vomiting, he was confined to our cabin for 24 hours after his symptoms disappeared. He was able to eat whatever was available for room service and I was able to bring food into the cabin. They did have a special crew that did come and clean the room after he was better. While it is a nuisance to have to sanitize hands on cruises, I would rather do that than be sick. We did miss one of the four days in port. Looking forward to visiting there next time.

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