Noro Outbreak? How Cruise Ships Cope

June 7, 2010

Celebrity Constellation
(3:40 p.m. EDT) -- Cruise Critic Associate Editor Dan Askin is currently onboard Celebrity Constellation for a 12-night Baltic cruise that departed Amsterdam on May 28. The anticipated mission: Take a peek at the Solstice-inspired updates that were just made during a major dry-dock.

The unexpected challenge: Avoid Norovirus.

Askin first alerted us to suspicions of heightened gastrointestinal illness onboard after embarkation was delayed for several hours for intense cleaning. Once onboard, Askin noticed sanitation was also beefed up. "The hand sanitizer police are everywhere onboard ... at the entrance to The Emporium (shopping area), the buffet, etc.," Askin reports. "Some people have grown very tired of all the heavy-handed Purell dispensing."

Indeed, a Celebrity spokeswoman confirms that 204 passengers and 34 crewmembers have been ill during the voyage with Noro-like symptoms.

Cruise lines are required to report outbreaks to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when 2 percent or more of those onboard the ship show symptoms. Because Norovirus is so prevalent (second only to the common cold), Cruise Critic's news team doesn't ordinarily cover outbreaks until they reach 10 percent -- which this one has as of today.

In addition to the installment of stricter sanitation procedures, Askin tells us all cabins have been fumigated, and there are currently no self-service food and drinks available, to prevent a worse scenario. Askin also tells us the line sent notes to cabins, informing passengers that sanitizing wipes and new decks of playing cards are available in lieu of older, germier ones (it reads, "Do you have one of those Winning Hands ... Better yet, do you have Clean Hands?").

The library has been closed for the duration of the cruise -- the illness is typically spread through physical contact with ill people or objects they may have encountered; books would certainly apply -- and salt and pepper shakers are absent from tables at dinner.

Askin also says that the crew have found ways of making some of the more humdrum sanitation procedures a bit more entertaining: "I've seen some loopy displays from the crew ... like the hand sanitization guard stationed in front of the buffet venue, who began doing bartender tricks with the bottle of sanitizer: flipping it, spinning around and catching it behind his back."

Has Askin managed to stay healthy? So far, so good -- thanks to diligent hand washing (and a bit of luck). For more insights, check out his live blog from the ship on the Celebrity forum.

Celebrity spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez says that the ship's next sailing, a 12-night Scandinavia and Russia sailing from Amsterdam on June 9, will be delayed to allow time for thorough cleaning and sanitizing. According to Martinez, the ship will now depart at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, and passengers affected will be given a $25 onboard credit to offset the cost of expenses (lunch, etc.) incurred as a result of the delay.

This incident comes less than three months after Celebrity Mercury was plagued by a nearly unprecedented number of Norovirus outbreaks. You can see what line President and CEO Dan Hanrahan had to say about it here.

--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor

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