PORT EVERGLADES, Fla. (WSVN) — Passengers who were on board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship where more than 300 people fell ill with a stomach virus are back on dry land after the vessel returned to South Florida, Saturday.
7News cameras captured passengers wheeling their luggage away from the Independence of the Seas after it docked at Port Everglades.
The ocean liner had left South Florida on Monday. By Wednesday, cases of the gastrointestinal illness had begun to spread quickly. Cruise officials counted 332 cases in total, about 6 percent of the 5,547 guests and crew on board.
Passenger Cheryl Roberts said this was not the Caribbean vacation she was expecting. “Imagine being in a waiting room and sitting next to five or six people all throwing up at the same time,” she said.
Roberts said she and other passengers tried to determine the source of the virus. “While we’re in there waiting, we’re talking to each other, like, ‘Hey, what did you eat? How did you get sick?'” she said. “Everyone is saying the same thing, which is, ‘We all had lunch on the ship. We all didn’t eat off of the ship, and now we’re all either throwing up, or we have horrible diarrhea.'”
In a statement released Friday, a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said passengers were given over-the-counter medication to combat the symptoms.
“Certain people couldn’t get off the boat, They had to be quarantined,” said passenger Monique Bowens. “The employees couldn’t get off the boat. It was a mess.”
The Independence of the Seas’ staff quickly jumped into action, breaking out the cleaning supplies and disinfecting the entire ship.
“They took Clorox and washed literally all the poles in the dining rooms,” said passenger Judith Duran. “They washed the handrails over and over and over again.”
Still, Roberts said, the whole experience was horrible. “I don’t feel like they handled it very well, and I don’t feel like the medical staff was equipped to handle this very well,” she said. “This is just the norovirus. Imagine if this was a way worse illness that was airborne.”
In a statement, Royal Caribbean spokesperon Owen Torres said, “We’re taking steps like intensive sanitary procedures to minimize the risk of any further issues. We also encourage guests and crew to wash their hands often, which health experts recommend as the best defense against stomach viruses.”
After passengers disembarked, the Independence of the Seas was thoroughly sanitized.
“We won’t be using the buffets at much. We’ll be using the main dining rooms,” said one new passenger.
Just after 6:30 p.m., 7News cameras captured the ship leaving Port Everglades.
As new passengers set sail on the disinfected ship, they said they’re thankful the cruise line was honest about the issue. “The fact that they immediately sent a text out, that was probably the best answer for us,” said the new passenger.
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