Update: NCL's New F3 Design: Noro-Friendly?

May 14, 2008
Update: Since we published our initial piece, Norwegian Cruise Line provided us with this official statement: "NCL takes the wellbeing of its passengers with the utmost seriousness -- both in the features of its current ships and in the design of F3 New Wave staterooms. The new configuration will not mean any additional surfaces between toilet and basin from NCL's existing design. A separate toilet is not unusual in cruise cabins or hotel rooms. What is new about the design is the additional space and comfort it provides within the cabin, and the opportunity to use all the bathroom facilities at the same time.

"NCL has an excellent track record in the prevention of infectious illness onboard its ships. The cruise line encourages passengers and staff to be rigorous about hand washing -- and disinfectant gel dispensers are sited throughout the ship for this purpose. What's more staterooms, public spaces and staff areas are kept scrupulously clean."

(May 12) -- Norwegian Cruise Line's innovative plans to refashion cruise ship staterooms on its new F3 series of vessels have created a lot of waves, most of which are positive. But an intriguing story that appeared in England's Telegraph has flamed a new controversy.

The article, written by U.K.-based Jane Archer, has suggested that because the "New Wave" cabins on the upcoming 150,000-ton, 4,200-passenger F3 ships will place washbasins completely separate from the toilet and shower areas, the layout could breed even higher than usual cases of the dreaded Norovirus.

Archer quotes Sally Bloomfield of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as saying that putting the sink outside the toilet cubicle could definitely encourage spread of the highly contagious Norovirus. "Norovirus spreads by person-to-person contact and through contact with surfaces that have been touched by people carrying the bug," Bloomfield told the Telegraph. "Everyone should wash their hands as soon as they have been to the toilet and the toilet area should be designed to encourage that. That means putting the sink by the toilet."

Indeed, Cruise Critic's own sources at the Health Protection Agency, which works closely with the Passenger Shipping Association, the Association of Port Health Authorities and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to help manage sea-based outbreaks of Norovirus, concurs with Bloomfield, telling us "that the design of the room with the sink separate from the toilet would facilitate the spread of infection and may result in contamination of other surfaces."

Norovirus, according to the London-based Health Protection Agency, often causes outbreaks because it is easily spread from one person to another. It can be transmitted by contact with an infected person by consuming contaminated food or water or by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.

Beyond the quite worrisome issue of whether it facilitates the spread of Noro, the cabin design, unveiled last month, is really quite forward thinking. The "New Wave" staterooms feature contemporary curved walls and there will be enhanced mood lighting, MP3 connectivity and flat-screen televisions. But it's the aforementioned bathroom layout that has earned the controversy; in this case, the sink and vanity area is out in the open while the toilet and shower will be tucked into segregated spaces behind a closed door.

--by Kelly Ranson, Associate Editor, and Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief