Did we have a bad cruise due to the Norovirus? I think my opinion would be different if I was one of the 159 (reported) people onboard with uncontrolled diarrhea and vomiting confined to their cabin throughout their active symptoms plus an additional 24 hours after symptoms resolved. Did I miss the hot tubs, table tennis, shuffle board and the Terrace Grill? Sure I did. Did I miss out because my "hands-on" cooking class in the Culinary Arts Center was hands-on and no longer allowed during the code? Sure. Did I like having to put on disposable latex gloves when I went shopping in the gift shops? Not really. Did it ruin my cruise? Amazingly no.
I was on the November 3rd, 2011 sailing of Holland America's Ryndam 17-day transatlantic cruise. We departed out of Barcelona with 5 ports in Spain and the Canary Islands, 7 transatlantic sea days, a couple days in the Bahamas including a stop at Holland America's private island, Half Moon Cay with disembarkation in Tampa, Florida on November 20th. Many of the nearly 1,200 passengers on the Ryndam spent time in Barcelona prior to embarkation and as there were no cases of the Norovirus on the cruise just prior to ours. It is believed that the virus was brought on board from Barcelona.
All cruise lines have an Outbreak Prevention Plan (OPP) created with the direction of the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) which is a part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The Ryndam had the ship in "Code Yellow" for the first 48 hours after departure from Barcelona. This is Holland America's fleet-wide policy for the first couple days of each cruise. It is their way to take additional precautions against gastrointestinal contagions boarding the ship and spreading. We are all use to the hand sanitizer stations standing outside each dining venue on our cruises. The only additional difference in this heightened precaution I noticed was that crew was required to dish up your food and pour your dinks in the Lido buffet. Since we ate the majority of our meals in the main dining room, we saw very little to no disruption in our cruise.
The evening of our 2nd day on the ship we went into "Code Green" all clear, help yourself to the buffet. We visited the Lido for the late night snack and were able to dish up our own food for the first and last time of our 17-days on board. We received notice the next day in a letter from the captain along with an overhead announcement that there were passengers experiencing gastrointestinal illnesses. If anyone were to experience vomiting or diarrhea, they were to report their symptoms to the front desk, confine themselves to their cabin until symptoms resolve plus an additional 24 hours and if they reported to the ship's medical center, they would be charged for a doctor's visit. At this time we went into "Code Red". As a passenger, here is a list of what I saw and experienced aboard a Norovirus ship:
- No self-serve anywhere. Even the drink station in the Lido was manned by staff.
- Terrace Gill limited menu.
- The MDR bread and butter were served individually. No bread baskets were left on the tables.
- No Midnight Chocolate Buffet!
- Hand sanitizing in and out of every room.
- No cooking classes and no samples at cooking demos.
- No popcorn in the movie theater.
- All drinking fountains turned off.
- Clean towels unavailable in the fitness center and pool towels only by request from the bar staff.
- No galley tours.
- All library books and games locked up and all magazines and newspapers removed from use.
- Daily crossword puzzle, Sudoku and Times News Shorts only available individually from crew.
- All self-serve launderettes closed.
- Hot tubs closed.
- Elbow bumping instead of hand shaking.
- Masked staff delivering room service meals.
- Continuous 24-hour disinfecting of the entire ship by the staff.
- A perpetual disinfectant film over all the glass, brass, banisters, walls, everything all the time.
How did all these limitations affect my experience on this cruise? I ate less bread at dinner. We spent more of our time in our stateroom than normal avoiding public spaces. I got tired of hearing overhead announcements from the captain politely asking everyone to wash their hands and to please confine themselves to their rooms if they have symptoms. I avoided the buffet and ate all my meals in the MDR, the wonderful Pinnacle Grill (5 times) and the nice surprise of this cruise, the Canaletto Restaurant. I (thank heavens) purchased the unlimited laundry service at the beginning of our cruise and didn't have to wash clothes in the tub. I didn't witness any other passengers with active virus symptoms in public places (heard a lot of stories though). Plus the code did not stop us from docking at any of our planned ports.
The outbreak was a big inconvenience. If it had been a shorter cruise or I had talked a new cruiser along to show them how great cruising was or if I had gotten sick myself, my opinion might be a bit harder. Holland America did a pretty good job at facing a difficult situation. The crew worked lots of extra shifts. I even saw some of the entertainment crew with squirt bottles of disinfectant and towels cleaning public areas. We still were able to experience our first transatlantic cruise. We still got to experience some great ports. We still were able to consume 3 (to 5) fabulous meals per day. I call that a great cruise, any day.