Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who's Afraid of Norovirus? Celebrity Mercury Delays Next Cruise

While waiting for my flight connection in Detroit last Saturday, I chatted with two nice ladies who were on their way to warm weather vacation destinations. Asked if they'd ever considered a cruise, they looked dubious. One said she'd love to cruise, but was afraid of getting sick. Of course she was referring to the recent news about the outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness on Celebrity Mercury. My assurances that you could get sick anywhere didn't seem to allay her concern. When I got home and was able to catch the news, I discovered why.

Celebrity Mercury has had an unusually bad run of gastrointestinal illness on board. So bad, in fact, that The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has made a no-sail recommendation for at least four full days for the ship to investigate recurring outbreaks.

The latest bout of illness is the third on the ship since the middle of last month. The source of the first two outbreaks was identified as norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. Members of the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP), which works with the cruise industry to prevent and control illnesses on cruise ships, boarded Celebrity Mercury Monday to look for the source of the current outbreak. CNN reports that CDC spokesman Ricardo Beato stated, "The CDC and the cruise line corporate staff have not yet determined why the controls that they were following have not been effective."

After the first February outbreak, in which more than 20% of passengers became ill, a VSP team inspected the ship and made preventative recommendations. Celebrity Mercury's next sailing was delayed for a day while a full cleaning was undertaken. Nevertheless, about 10% of passengers on that subsequent cruise were felled by norovirus. On the latest sailing, approximately 19% of passengers became ill. As a cautionary measure, Celebrity Mercury has skipped a scheduled port call in Tortola this week, cutting the current cruise short by a day, and the ship will return to Charleston, SC, on Thursday morning.

Passengers have been compensated for the abbreviated itinerary, according to Celebrity Cruises spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez. "Guests currently on board Celebrity Mercury received an onboard credit in the amount of one day of the cruise fare paid for their sailing, as well as a future cruise certificate for 25 percent of the cruise fare paid," she said in an email to CNN.

According to a statement issued Monday, Celebrity Cruises has delayed the cruise scheduled to depart from Charleston on Friday, March 19, for two days so Celebrity Mercury can undergo enhanced cleaning and disinfecting:
Itinerary Change Celebrity Mercury: During Celebrity Mercury's last sailing, a number of guests on board experienced a gastrointestinal illness, thought to be a norovirus. In an abundance of caution, we are conducting extensive and thorough sanitizing on board the ship and within the cruise terminal, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, to help prevent any illness from affecting the next sailing.

Regrettably, in order to conduct the extensive sanitizing, it is necessary to delay the departure of Celebrity Mercury March 19 sailing by two days. Boarding is now anticipated to take place on Sunday, March 21 between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Seating in the cruise terminal at the Port of Charleston is very limited. Therefore, we ask that guests scheduled to depart on this sailing not arrive at the pier on Sunday before 4:00 p.m. We apologize for this delay and any inconvenience it may cause our guests.

Due to the delayed departure, it was necessary to make some adjustments to the planned itinerary. Celebrity Mercury will now departed Charleston on Sunday, March 21, be at sea Monday; visit Key West, Florida, Tuesday; Cozumel, Mexico, Wednesday; Costa Maya, Mexico, Thursday; at sea Friday; Nassau, Bahamas, Saturday; and at sea Sunday.
It is our understanding that passengers who choose not to sail on March 21 will be issued a refund; those who do sail will receive a pro-rated refund for the shortened cruise in the form of an on board credit.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the rational comments. We are sailing on Celebrity Mercury at the end of March and as 'cruise-rookies' have been increasingly worried.

Anonymous said...

I just got off of the Mercury and I will say that the staff and crew did everything in their power to keep the ship clean. It is my opinion that people boarded the ship already sick and spread the virus.
My cruise experience ( first time ) was very enjoyable and while it was regretable that it was cut short by a day I would not hesitate to sail again.

Linda Coffman, AKA Cruise Diva said...

Thank you very much for sharing your first-hand experience. I'm glad to hear it was a positive one for you and I agree--people do board the ship sick, or coming down with noro, and that's how it spreads.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I have done over 15 cruises, the March 8th cruise was our first Celebrity though. I agree with the previous post, Celebrity is being dealt a losers hand in this outbreak. The noro is hitting large sections of the east coast, so passengers are boarding, knowingly and unknowingly sick. The majority of passengers are in 70s and from east coast. I would be surprised if the source is found to be shipborne. The crew did great at containment. It was nice not having to pour drinks, etc.

Anonymous said...

We're scheduled on sail on April 9 on the Celebrity Mercury. We are planning to use precautiions as far as handwashing often, using hand sanitizer, etc., but really keeping a positive attitude and trying not to let the fear of norovirus ruin our first cruise.

Linda Coffman, AKA Cruise Diva said...

That's a great plan. One suggestion that I might add is to avoid touching your face as much as possible. If you pick up germs on your hands there's no way for them to enter your system unless you touch your mouth, or put something in your mouth without washing your hands first. So, frequent hand washing and keeping your hands away from your face can help.

I hope you have a wonderful trip.

Musicman said...

Indeed someone MAY have boarded the ship who was ill, but that hardly explains why this particular ship has had problems with Norovirus on and off since December 2008. Something was not taken care of properly...(IMHO)

Julia from Oro Valley, AZ said...

My partner and I sailed on the Mercury, which departed Charleston on March 21. (We later learned that over 700 cancelled.) Although we were disappointed that the stop in Belize was removed from the itinary and experienced a few minor inconveniences onboard, the cruise went very well. The Mercury staff worked tirelessly to both accomodate and ensure the health of its passangers. As a result of their diligence (and frequent reminders to passangers to wash their hands), the ship returned to Charleston virtually illness free. Kudos to the staff of the Mercury!

Linda Coffman, AKA Cruise Diva said...

That's great news, Julia. Thank you for sharing your experience.