On the fifth day, the passengers were calling it the “Disease of the Seas.”
That’s what Josh Slaughter, 30, of Shirley, said Wednesday, after he disembarked from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship where nearly 700 passengers and crew fell ill. The Explorer of the Seas returned two days earlier than scheduled to New Jersey on Wednesday. Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to board for an inspection.
The ship left port last Tuesday, with 3,050 passengers, including Slaughter, who is a legislative aide to Suffolk County Legis. Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley), and his wife's parents, brother, sister and their spouses, who all live in Hampton Bays.
The next day, Slaughter began to feel queasy. “On Thursday, it really took over the entire ship,” he said.
Slaughter recalled walking into a public bathroom and there was vomit on the floor. Passengers in the elevator had some on their shirts. “There was vomit all over the place,” he said.
Slaughter was cabin bound, with flu-like symptoms, for a day.
The three other men in his party also fell ill. The women did not get sick. “The girls held strong,” he said.
The cruise closed off many common areas, like the arcade and soda machines that people could touch, on Thursday. The buffet was swiftly shut down, as was the self-serve ice cream machine. With areas taped off, “it looked like a crime scene,” he said.
Some people, like his father-in-law, didn’t report to quarantine. “The medical room was so swamped so quickly, a lot of people didn’t even report,” he said. “The lines were out of control.” His father-in-law went down, found a long line and 200 people quarantined, and then returned to his cabin where he holed-up.
He said the ship’s staff responded well.
“They were cleaning the ship nonstop,” he said. The piano bar player was chipping in, serving bagels at one point, after many crew members themselves fell ill.
Still, by Saturday, most of the party was able to enjoy themselves on a Caribbean beach, and many of the passengers were disappointed to learn the ship would be returning two days early, Slaughter said, particularly when the cruise line’s original offer was only a $400 credit to their account. That was later upped to 50 percent of the trip’s cost back, plus a half-off credit on the next trip. For each day a passenger was quarantined, they received a day’s worth of credit.
Slaughter said he would consider taking the cruise again.
Royal Caribbean International, in a statement, said it ended the trip early after discussions with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most guests who fell ill were "up and about," there's a possibility of a "smaller, secondary spikes," according to the cruise line.
It said the ship will go through a thorough sanitization program to ensure that all traces of illness are eliminated, a standard procedure after illness outbreaks.
The CDC took samples from ill passengers for testing, which are expected to come back later this week, according to the Associated Press. The symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, which are consistent with rotavirus.