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Cruise ship back home in N.J.: Tales of quarantine after 684 fell ill

CruisesTravelTourism and LeisureDiseases and IllnessesRoyal Caribbean InternationalFluU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BAYONNE, N.J. -- At first he thought it was the fish.

Maurice Weizmann, a Montreal businessman on a Royal Caribbean cruise with his wife, started vomiting on the second night of the 10-day voyage after eating dinner and watching a show on the ship Explorer of the Seas. His wife did too.

Soon they learned the reality: They were only two of hundreds of passengers sickened by a yet-unidentified gastrointestinal illness that shortened their cruise by two days and created a floating sick bay on the high seas.

The Weizmanns and the roughly 3,000 other passengers on board disembarked from the ship Wednesday to a frigid New Jersey wind and a scrum of media.

Passengers described a crew that was overwhelmed at first by the illness, but then responded well, handing out food and treating the sickest passengers with an anti-nausea shot that abated many symptoms.

“At the beginning, they didn’t know what to do, but after that, they took care of us very well,” Weizmann said.

Royal Caribbean says that 630 of the 3,071 guests reported symptoms, and that 54 of the 1,166 crew members got sick. By the time passengers disembarked, seven were still sick. The Centers for Disease Control took samples from patients when the ship docked in St. Thomas on Friday; it is expected to identify the source of the illness within the next few days.

Sue Rogustki was expecting to spend her birthday, Jan. 30, on the cruise ship. Instead, she was back on land, feeling much better after three terrible days of vomiting and diarrhea. She started feeling sick at 2:30 a.m. and began vomiting a few hours later. She became so sick that her husband took her down to the sick bay. She was then quarantined in her room for three days; her husband stayed with her and got sick too. They’re both registered nurses, and both got flu shots long before they embarked on the cruise.

“I had three days of sickness and quarantine, and of course you had to stay in your room, so that you didn’t infect others,” she said. “That’s three days that you didn’t get to enjoy.”

Royal Caribbean is offering a 50% refund of the cruise fare to all guests and is also giving them 50% future cruise credit. Passengers who were quarantined will receive an additional credit of one future day for each day they were confined to their rooms.

“In the end, the exceptional disruptions caused by the early wave of illness meant that we were unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting,” the company said in a statement.

Passengers disembarked Wednesday and immediately boarded buses that took them to a large white tent, where they picked up their luggage and headed toward their cars.

Many said they had a great cruise despite the illness, although some, like New Jersey resident Kevin Corcoran, who didn’t get sick, said it was disappointing to see so many people sick. In his group of six, only his brother-in-law got sick, but it was hard to escape the image of doctors and nurses hurrying around the boat, he said.

"You could tell people were missing," he said.

The company is now performing a "barrier" sanitization, the third sanitization procedure it has undertaken since passengers were sickened. 

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlanaSemuels

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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CruisesTravelTourism and LeisureDiseases and IllnessesRoyal Caribbean InternationalFluU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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