A Seattle news station King5.com reports today that norovirus sickened 100 people on Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess cruise ship based in Seattle. 

As we have reported in prior blogs,  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concludes that whereas "person to person" transmission of norovirus has been documented, "norwalk gastroenteritis is transmitted by the fecal-oral route via contaminated water and foods."  The FDA reports that "water is the most common source of outbreaks and may include water from Julie Benson - PR - Public Relations - Princess Cruises - Norovirus - Sapphire Princess municipal supplies, well, recreational lakes, swimming pools, and water stored aboard cruise ships."

But Julie Benson (right), the PR person for Princess Cruises, blamed passengers for probably carrying Norovirus on board the cruise ship.

Of course, there is no proof of this.  Ms. Benson is just a PR person and a script reader – not a doctor, scientist or epidemiologist.  It is part of the cruise industry’s play book to always blame the passengers for bringing norovirus aboard.  It is far more likely – according to the FDA – that there is contaminated food or water on the cruise ship.  How did Ms. Benson figure out that the passengers brought the virus aboard, rather than poor hygiene by the crew or infected food or water?  The outbreak has not even been investigated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC database for cruise ship norovirus outbreaks is here

Blame-the-passengers is just the script that poor Ms. Benson has to read.

Passengers suffered through norovirus on several cruises on the the Grand Princess just last month.  You can read about those cases here and here.  One of the problems with Princess is that the cruise line charges passengers around a $100 just for a nurse to come to the cabin when a passenger is infected with norovirus.  Some passengers didn’t report their illnesses to avoid the excessive charges for "medical treatment."  At the same time, Princess didn’t  try to sanitize cabins where no one reported an illness, as reported by this passenger.  This may have led to additional outbreaks on the next cruise.  

The passenger also thought that the public toilets on the cruise ships may be a problem.  Disease experts have inspected toilets on cruise ships in the past, with disgusting results: Cruise Ship Norovirus – Clean the Damn Toilets!  

Lawyers in the U.K. are suing the cruise line for improper cleaning procedures aboard the Grand Princess.  The litigation is being handled by U.K. lawyers, Irwin Mitchell which specializes in travel law in England.  The firm is demanding that passengers are informed of health risks on the cruise ship in advance of it sailing and given the choice of continuing their holiday, choosing an alternative or getting their money back.  According to the Guardian newspaper, the Irwin Mitchell lawyers criticized that Princess is only devoting two hours for "extra cleaning:"

"The fact that this liner has been allowed to set sail again so quickly is astounding given the reports of such widespread illness on the preceding cruise .  .  .  For maximum effect this would normally have taken at least two days. I struggle to see how a fully effective deep-clean of such a large ship could be achieved in a few short hours."

For other articles about the cruise ship sickness, norovirus, in general read here.    

Were you aboard the Sapphire Princess or Grand Princess during these recent norovirus outbreaks?  Were more passengers and crew infected than reported?  How did the cruise line handle the problem?  Please leave your comments below. 

Don’t forget to watch the video below:  




June 8, 2010 Update:

AOL Travel published an article "Sick Ship in Europe and Alaska" about the Sapphire Princess as well as Celebrity’s Constellation, where norovirus infected at least 204 passengers and 34 crew members.  A comment by one reader: "What they don’t tell you is Norovirus is often a food-borne illness. Food is cruise line’s stock and trade. They don’t want you to know that it may be coming from the kitchen!"



Video          King5.com

 Julie Benson              Twitter.com

  • Lisa Coleman

    I was on that cruise. The cruise line was very careful and cleaned everything. I did notice the food handlers wearing gloves, but they would touch their face or handle something other than food, than resume handling food after wards. But other than that, they cleaned everything and made everyone clean hands all the time. I drank a lot of water, so I don’t think it’s in the water. At least I hope not. We will see.

  • Peter Popp

    The norovirus was on that ship from the cuise that ended May 30. Princess kept us from going on board for sometime when we asked we got a different lie from each person we asked. The next day we found out that the delay was for them to clean, It didn’t work because my wife and numerous others got it about the 3rd day into the cruise. They did not ask people to stay in their rooms they demanded it. One guy tried to get off and his cruise card was disabled and they made him go back to his cabin. They called my wife at least 2 times a day checking on her and had a decontamination crew come to the room and scrub it down etc. she was not allowed out from tues till thur at 6pm and then told not to go tp the buffet till after 6pm Friday.

  • crichards

    I agree that novovirus on ships has to be mostly water bourne and further transmitted by poor food handling etc.

    My entire family, starting with my then 21 month old daughter, was sickened aboard the QE2 some 23 years ago. It started with my daughter, who likely ingested water in the pool or became infected at the child care center.

    She was violently ill all night. A very large number of crew members were ill, and people were dropping like flies, with vomit in the elevator, in the hallways, etc … (and the sea was calm). I haven’t been on a cruise since.

  • Oh dear, Princess Cruises seem to be the latest ones to be having a bad time of it! 2010 really seems to be the year for Norovirus with Fred Olsen and Royal Caribbean suffering on a number of occasions – now it seems to be Princess Cruises turn. We have had a bad time of it here in the U.K. with Southampton based Grand Princess coming under severe criticism. What is going so wrong?!

  • Debra Brenner

    My husband and I both got sick on the Sapphire Princess. We were isolated for 6 of the 7 day cruise. Total nightmare. As commented on in a previous post, we were late boarding the ship. We were each charged for the nurse to come to our room to administer a shot and medication for a virus that we got from the ship. I tried to talk to the Dr. on board and she told me that she didn’t have time to talk to me. Somedays it took hours to get anything delivered from room service. The room service menu was a joke. Chicken broth and jello. Try to live on that for 6 days. Our stateroom was turned over to an additional cleaning crew. Same gloves were used to clean bathroon and change the bed sheets. The customer service staff was very rude when I tried to get answers from them about what was going on. The morning we finally got off the ship, the “Sick People” were told to meet in the Wedding Chapel at 7:00 am. We were told that if we were not there at 7:00 a.m. that we would be held on board until 10:00 to be the last to get off. I guess they didn’t want us to communicate with other passengers. We were not even carried through U.S. Customs. Seems as though they wanted us to bypass anybody with any authority. Never again will we ever use Princess Cruise Lines.

  • Debra Hill

    We were on the sailing that ended on May 30th. We did not see any sign that anyone was sick. We were able to serve ourselves in the buffet, salt and pepper shakers were on tables, get our own drinks,they were asking people to sanitize their hands but I just thought that was the norm. We were told that we were delayed disembarking due to a problem with the gangway and then when we finally got out of the terminal and there was no buses we were told there was a medical emergency in the terminal and the buses couldn’t get in until the ambulance left. I was shocked when I found out that we had been lied to and that there was an outbreak on our sailing. Princess did not do anything to decrease the threat or make us aware there was a problem. To me this is unacceptable we should have been notified as soon as it became an issue. I am actually just learning about this today online.

  • leo garcia

    I was also on that cruise. The captain used the word “quarnatine” in regard to the sick passengers. Everyone I talked to had friends sick in their cabins. My wife and I were fortunate in the fact that we were’nt sick till the last day. I am just now feeling well enough to go back to work.

  • Joan Ladd

    The May 30-June 6 Cruise on Sapphire had me sick and quarantined for 2 days after symptoms abated. The previous cruise had people sick, so obviously I was infected on board. My husband stayed well even though we shared a room. I suspect a food-born or water-born infection. I lost 2 of the 7 days and my husband lacked my company on those days. Princess should offer a partial cruise/future trip credit and should have informed people of the disease as they boarded.

  • M. Johnston

    Yeah, I was one of the lucky ones. They quarantined me 48 hours AND billed me $50. I was told that my card was blocked so don’t try to leave the ship. No fear of that, I couldn’t even stand. Where did it come from? I suspect the water because I was drinking the tap water and my wife wouldn’t. She didn’t get sick.

    Even without that I can honestly say this was the worst cruise ship I have ever been on. The entertainment was third rate at best, food okay, but buffet service terrible! Very small buffet, causing very long waits. Crew stands around talking in passageways with no regard to passengers. The single most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept on. Dreadful ship, go Carnival or best of all, Norwegian!

  • c.self

    I was on Saphhire Princess May 30-June 6. Unecxpectedly started to vomit shortly after dinner in the Sterling Steakhouse on Saturday night. My stomach had become uneasy at dinner and I thought it was the too rare steak I was served. I vomited violently the first time with two other episodes after returning to my room, then it turned into diaherea, off and on until 8 a.m. the morning we disembarked. Not a pleasant experience, that’s for sure.
    In spite of that, we would not choose Princess again, as we are not happy with the food or the cafeteria…a poor scatter system that causes lines, even without the virus mode.

  • Cathy T.

    My husband, myself and our son were on Sapphire Princess May 30 to June 6, our first cruise ever. We all got violently sick at different times during the cruise, with my son getting it the last night. We called the doctor in the early morning of the last day, but we were told simply that we had to stay in our room until someone came to escort us off the ship. My son had nothing to eat or drink and during the 6 hour wait for someone to come get us, he became terribly dehydrated and was passing out. Even after someone came to escort us off the ship, we ended up waiting in line for “a few more sick passengers”. I went to the front of the line and explained that my son needed to get off the ship immediately to go to an emergency room, and I was still told that we had to wait. My son was on his knees, crying, begging us to get him to a doctor. With my husband carrying our son, we were allowed to leave the ship 20 minutes later. We took a taxi to the nearest emergency room, where my son had to get IV fluids for over 12 hours. This cruise was horrible from beginning to end, including terrible food, awful service, horribly boring “entertainment”, and then, of course, the outbreak. One of the worst experiences of my life.

  • Mike Valentine

    Having received a text message asking us to arrive after 2pm for boarding, we duly reached the terminal at 2:30pm only to be greeted by extensive queuing. This took approximately 2½ hours, with the only reason given for the delay being one of a computer problem on the check-in system.

    Once onboard and after the 5:30pm muster call when the ship had already set sail, we were able to return to our cabin where we found an information sheet regarding the Norovirus.

    At this point we assumed it to be standard protocol and headed out on deck; only then was it noted that a high level of quarantine and passenger restrictions were in place.

    Enquiries at the Pursers Desk dismissed the risk as something not to be concerned about.

    Over the following 2 days it became very apparent that the ship had been on the highest level alert from before we boarded and daily announcements over the public address system from the captain corroborated this.

    As we had a 2 year old baby travelling with us I met with Ms Heinz in the Captains Circle office to express my concerns who immediately and defensively stated that she could not possibly comment and I would need to speak again with the Pursers Desk. I asked if they could contact me and was told that Louie would be it touch; this contact was never made.

    After making further attempts to clarify the level of risk posed by the situation I enquired if we could leave the ship at the first port of call to disembark and fly back. I was told that due to the volcanic ash it would be unlikely that we would be able to obtain a flight from Malaga.

    As it was clearly visible that the risk of infection was very high and with the visual presence of masked and gloved staff in most cabin areas (see attached photos) we decided that the only prudent thing we could do to protect my 2 year old baby daughter was to stay in our inside cabin until the virus was under control.

    We therefore avoided all public areas, entertainment and tours remaining in our cabin only leaving to eat or obtain refreshments until the situation improved.

    As the situation according to the Captain’s announcements only worsened, we remained in our cabin, leaving the ship in ports to purchase antiseptic wipes and disinfectant products. By now the smell in the corridor of deck 8 was a sickening cocktail of diarrhoea and disinfectants (see additional attached photos).

    By the midway point in the cruise there was no improvement and remaining in the cabin was growing tiresome; I therefore returned to the pursers desk and insisted on more information so that I may make an informed decision regarding leaving the ship.

    I was told that the only option available to me was to speak directly with the ships Chief Medical Officer. Once again he would not give me any exact figures only that they had attended to over 70 cases but assured me that the incident rate was now declining.

    Based on this information and the fact that we where now in the second week of the cruise we decided to remain on board but still avoid all public areas when possible in the hope that the infection rate would reduce quickly.

    Having taken all of these precautions we where quite perturbed when on the Saturday of disembarkation my 2 year old baby daughter complained of stomach pains and cramps. By Saturday night this had manifested into abdominal pains and a temperature of 40.7 degrees later being diagnosed by our GP as a viral infection.

    I am absolutely appalled that Princess chose not to tell passengers of the virus until we had boarded and set sail.

    It is a gross failing in their “duty of care” to put the health of my wife and baby at such high risk and consequently infecting a 2 year old baby child represents unquestionable negligence which I find both sickening and unforgivable.

    The actions of staff to restrict the availability of information are also equally unpardonable.

    To lie about the 2 hour delay at checkin being due to a computer error (same story given to the next cruise)should not go without consiquences.

    My advice to anyone is not to do business with a company that puts profit above the well being of a 2 year old child.

    Mike Valentine

  • Cindy and Tommie

    My husband and I were on the May 23 to May 30 Sapphire Princess cruise and became violently ill with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. What a nightmare! In addition, we had our camera stolen off the security conveyor belt. THis, added to the inability to get into the Tracy Arm glacier area because of ice burgs, made for a VERY disappointing trip.
    We encountered only one sullen server on the ship and I now expect that he was ill.
    After observing the techniques that some people use when serving themselves on the buffet, I have resolved NEVER to eat at one again. Putting the utensil handle where hands have been on top of the food is not a good idea at any time particularly when there is a virus outbreak. Unfortunately, no one was made aware of that. People will bypass the hand sanitizer or return for seconds and not use it after they have been touching their mouths while eating their first plate.
    We brought the virus on the plane, to our guests from Germany, to our children and grandchildren and God knows who else. Terrible, terrible experience.

  • Debbie Akehurst

    My parents were on the Grand Princess from 8-22 May, my mother caught the Norovirus on 9th May followed by my father 5 days later. They were quarantined for a total of 9 days and were violently ill. My mother is still ill and under the doctor now a month after returning.

    They complained to Princess Cruises but have been told no compensation would be offered. This was not the cruise they paid £3,000 of their precious savings for. They were told by the staff that the virus was on the ship the 2 weeks before and I feel they should have been given the option to have a refund as they would not have travelled if they had known Norovirus was on board.

    They also witnessed other people not informing the staff if they became ill as there was a $120 charge if you called the medical centre and you were instantly quarantined so people kept quiet!

    Consequently my parents will never go on a cruise again and they had only just started cruising.

    Princess Line customer service is non existent, they don’t care about their passengers only making money.

  • Hilton Conroy

    My wife and I have been on the Sapphire Princess and the Grand Princess and had no illness or other problems. We go again on the Sapphire in September for a 30 day cruise USA to Sydney.

    Actually when two typhoons stopped the Sapphire from calling at four of our Asian ports the company gave us $500 credit each on our cards and a half price cruise .. which we took in Europe on the Grand Princess. I can’t complain about that !!!

    I can’t blame the company for putting people into quarantine.. that’s the best thing they can do for all passengers.

    I am not a doctor but I think the medics will agree with my advice to ship passengers which is to:
    Wash hands thoroughly and properly all over with good antiseptic soap, before ever eating or even rubbing your eyes.
    Boil all water or drink bottled water.
    Keep out of all pools and spas.
    Avoid cold salads that may have been washed with contaminated water.
    Carry your own medications for vomiting and diarohea from your private Doctor on all cruises.

    I also have a theory that Coca Cola stops gastro infections. This may sound silly but many years ago researchers in WA found that cordial drinks killed stomach bugs. Maybe coke is like that?

  • rafgar

    Mi esposa y yo viajamos de Vancouver Australia dia 20
    en otros cuceros hay lavado de manos en la entrada de restaurantes no obstante siempre hemos evitado tocar pasamanos y pomos de puertas sobre todo de aseos y jamas hemos vevido agua del grifo solo agua del restaurante si esta tiene cloro sino embotellada y embarcamos con medicamentos para norovirus.
    Despues de esto nos encomendamos al altisimo porque
    poo mas se puede hacer.
    Alguien que viaje en español…?

  • linda

    I get so upset when I keep hearing negative comments about a cruise ship with noro virus I work in a hospital setting and unless everybody washes their hands everytime they use the bathroom it is going to spread it is so easy to pick it up anywhere and transport it onto a ship

    the bathrooms are spotless unless crew stand there and force you to use the sanitizer which has been standard practice for many years now it will not stop there is even a warning in the public washroom suggesting you use your cabin washrooms

    media are the worst for spreading wrong info the line is wrong if they let you out and wrong if they confine you why would you want to go out and spread it stay in your room and contain the virus

    and if you have travel medical insurance why is anyone worried about the cost of the nurse fee take out insurance that is what it is for

  • Mark Zacha

    I ended my cruise June 2nd 2012 within 24 hours I developed flu like symptoms which turned into pneumonia. I have been sick for over 2 weeks now. A friend there at the same time also developed pneumonia. I was at the store (wearing an Alaska t-shirt) picking up some medicine about 2 weeks later. A woman saw me and said she just got off a Alaska Princess cruise and got very ill the last day of the cruise and has flu like symptoms and is being treated by a doctor.