(5 p.m. EST) -- Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas has cut short a planned seven-night Caribbean cruise due to an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness that has sickened 277 people onboard.
After skipping calls on Falmouth and Cozumel, where port officials refused to allow cruisers from the 5,400-passenger vessel to disembark, Royal Caribbean announced Oasis of the Seas would return to Port Canaveral, where the ship is slated to arrive Saturday, January 12.
"All of the ship's guests will receive full refunds of their cruise fare paid," said Owen Torres, corporate communications manager. "We think the right thing to do is to get everyone home early, rather than have guests worry about their health. Returning on Saturday also gives us more time to completely clean and sanitize the ship before her next sailing."
Cruise Critic member Biker19 yesterday posted a photo of an advisory sent to Oasis of the Seas passengers by Master Goran Peterson, stating that a "small percentage" of passengers were ill with suspected norovirus. As a result, the crew implemented "enhanced sanitizing procedures," and passengers were reminded to wash their hands frequently and to use hand sanitizer. "We have no reason to believe that any illness will have any impact on the remainder of our sailing," Peterson's note said.
The outbreak comes days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that the number of norovirus cases on cruise ships had fallen dramatically between 2017 and 2018. While some think of norovirus as a "cruise disease," it's much more common on land: The CDC says it's the number one cause of vomiting and diarrhea from acute gastroenteritis, leading to between 1.7 to 1.9 million outpatient visits and 400,000 emergency room visits each year. While norovirus can strike at any time, in the U.S. it most commonly occurs between November and April.
Despite the problems, some members on the Cruise Critic message boards only had good things to say about the line.
Benebire noted that "Royal is doing an amazing job handling the ... situation. Staff must be exhausted as they are constantly cleaning [and] sanitizing. ... They took on extra medical staff in Jamaica to help care for the sick...."
Oneluckywoman said her husband had been felled by the gastrointestinal ailment, adding, "I don't know if this has been mentioned, but the ship doctor is making complimentary visits to your stateroom to give you a checkup and meds if needed. Royal deserves a gold star for the way they are handling this in my opinion."
To those scheduled to leave Sunday, Jan. 13, on Oasis of the Seas for its next seven-day Caribbean cruise, Onecruiser offered this reassurance: "Yeah, I look at it this way: [the] ship will be cleaner [and] more sanitized when you board than if this hadn't happened...."