The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that there is an outbreak of gastrointestinal sickness of a large percentage of cruise passengers aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas cruise ship.

The CDC indicates that 281 passengers (9.21% of total passengers) are suffering from norovirus type of symptoms. The symptoms include vomiting, nausea, headaches and diarehhea. You can read the report here

The pro-cruise site Cruise Critic calls the problem a "small outbreak" but the truth is that 9% is a high percentage.  It is not unusual for passengers not to report the illness in order to avoid being Explorer of the Seasquarantined in the cabin or for crew members who rely on tips to keep working after they are ill. The total numbers are often under-reported.

In addition to sick passengers, 22 crew members are reportedly ill according to the CDC. 

The CDC website states that an environmental health officer and an epidemiologist will board the ship in St. Thomas, USVI on January 26, 2014 to conduct an epidemiologic investigation. 

It may be possible to determine whether the outbreak is in fact related to norovirus. But the CDC will not have any success is determining why and how the virus came aboard. There is not enough time for the CDC to conduct an exhaustive scientific analysis and, as usual, the ship will not sit idle waiting for the test results. The cruise ship will continue to sail whether the CDC determines if it is norovirus or exactly why it is on the ship. 

Earlier this week, cruise expert Professor Ross Klein indicated that the CDC reported 130 passengers and 12 crew members became ill with gastrointestinal illness while cruising aboard the NCL Norwegian Star

The Majesty of the Seas returned to Miami a week ago with 70 people reported ill with gastrointestinal illnesses.

Were the outbreaks on the Royal Caribbean and NCL ships caused by the passengers not washing their hands? That’s always what the cruise lines say.

Or was it due to crew members who kept working after they became sick and causing the outbreak? Or was it contaminated food or water, which is a common cause?

We will never know. The cause of gastrointestinal outbreaks is usually a mystery on cruise ships.


Have a comment? Please leave a message below or join the discussion on our Facebook page – what’s the most common cause of norovirus on cruise ships?  

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Emma Jones

  • David

    How nice indeed – I just was on that cruise returning on Jan 21st to NJ … glad I did not like the food and did not eat much – most of the food was consumed by floating piles of redundant protoplasm who go on the cruise with sole purpose of eat all they can LOL

  • jim cameron

    i travelled overnight to scotland with severe sickness and the other symtoms of the virus on flights where i have obviously spread the infection unintentionally throughout the passengers, got home, affected my family and they now are suffering.
    this is after a cruise on explorer of the seas from bayonne on 12th january and am extremely disappointed that my holiday has ended like this.

  • Elliot Finkelman

    First of all I wish you would not stupe to headlines that are what I might find in a trash tabloid.

    Remember that in fact it is travellers themselves that cause this to be passed on. If they are sick they don’t report it as they do not want to be denied boarding.

    Not only do those with the virus not wash their hands, but those that don’t have if fail to wash their hands.

    That combination is the cause of much of these outbreaks. If you live in an area where flu is common these things are often a part of life. Many schools have periods where there are many absentees but since parents keep them at home the school doesn’t turn into a ‘pukefest’ as you call it.

  • Elliott:

    I see that you’re a Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) travel agent and part of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Ottowa.

    When norovirus outbreaks on ships occur, one of the talking points of CLIA is to blame the passengers 100% and to point the finger away from the ship’s food and water which the CDC and the FDA often believe are the most likely source of noro outbreaks.

    Yes sometimes passenger show up sick. Yes sometimes they don’t wash their hands. But the same is true for the crew members too. Many in tip jobs (waiters earn only $50 a month on most ships and depend on tips) keep working after they are sick. The CDC has documented those cases. Scientists have inspected public restrooms on the ships and they are sometimes filthy. Plus contaminated food or water are possibilities as I have mentioned.

    Of course no one knows for sure where the noro comes from, because the cruise ships always leave port before a thorough scientific analysis can be performed.

    Have your clients suffered through norovirus outbreaks? What do they tell you?

    As far as the “pukefest” is concerned we now have 400 sick on the ships.That’s a grand pukefest by anyone’s standards!

    I’ll name the next Royal Caribbean cruise ship with noro, the “Vomitorium of the Seas.”

    Thanks for reading.

    Jim Walker

  • FirstCruiser

    We are setting sail on Oasis of the Seas late February. I’m excited about the cruise, but having said that, I’m scare to death of the Norovirus. How can we just have a good time and not worry about this?

  • Kim C.

    We were in St. Martin at a villa last week. 9 of 12 guests and the 2 cooks all came down with the same thing. One went to a doctor, who said a large percentage of people on the island had it. The first thing we all thought was that the cruise ships would be falling with this virus. Goes to show you that it has nothing to do with the ships but the close proximity of people to spread the virus. It was a terrible virus and had us all in bed for a few days.

  • Stephen

    I agree with an earlier comment that passages themselves spread the virus, I returned from a cruise on the Explorer Jan 21 and during my time aboard I noticed many passages leaving the restroom without properly washing their hands. God know what other bad hygiene habits they have.

  • Gabriel

    That ship was in Puerto Rico and it’s headed for ST Thomas. Some of the puertorrican passengers also felt sick according to a local newspaper report.

  • Mary Louise

    As a seaworthy patron of Royal Caribbean; I don’t believe your stats. Actual persons aboard have stated that the amount of those inflicted in over 600. What gives with your misinformation?

  • Mary:

    The CDC said 300 yesterday. Today a passenger said the number increased to around 470 and I posted that on our Facebook page. I have not heard that the number is 600 yet.

    Jim Walker

  • Darren

    I’ve heard similar stories before, my heart goes out for those that got ill. Whether you’re a passenger, or staff member on board. My last and first cruise started out like that before my trip even started. As a result, our trip was cut a day short. But I heard another ship was a whole lot worse. I didn’t let it ruin the trip though.

    Are FDA always accurate? No, but most of the time. Now if employees are ill, they need to be assured to go rest to get better and know it’s ok. But if they aren’t taking proper care for themselves and not washing hands, especially while handling food, someone’s not doing their job and where is the manager or supervisor who supposed to oversee these things?! If the bathrooms are filthy and not being cleaned, HELLLOOOO!!!!!

    If it’s people whom are sick boarding and they’re not saying anything ’cause they’re afraid; they are the ones willing to put others at risk. Same for passengers on board who get sick after ship departs, they don’t tell, they put EVERYONE at risk. They don’t wash their hands after using bathroom, samething.

    If food is contaminated, it should be looked into ASAP! You have to refund and cut a cruise a day short to be sure! There are absolutely NO excuses!!!!!

  • John Goldsmith

    On CTV news this morning, It was announced that the CDC had boarded the ship. We were discussing this at home this morning. As far as the virus, Flu, Norovirus or any other illness that is transmitted amongst people,we experience the same thing here at work where we can have a flu going through the staff and having up to 30% of staff ill in one form or another. Here we can stay home and get better, the staff on board, for whatever reason can not just stay in bed.Can the cruise ship or operators do more?—YES, will they?–NO–not until rules and laws that exist are enforced.
    Why did RCCL sail from port to the USVI-knowing the virus was on board? My guess is that the enforcement of laws and rules is a bit lighter in the USVI than in Florida. Would it be too much to ask that a day or two delay to screen the workers and to clean the whole ship, be such a bad thing?

  • Birgit

    My husband and I are supposed to be on the Explorer next Sunday. We did buy trip insurance. What would you do? Go or reschedule? Not excited about going aboard a ship that’s ‘infected’!

  • Why hasn’t CDC

    I know for a fact CDC is getting at least twice daily updates of the exact number of crew and guests which are actually sick. Why hasn’t the CDC released the most up to date numbers of those that are sick? We already know the cruise line doesn’t want to release those numbers. The CDC could release the numbers and alleviate the worries of the general public by releasing the numbers. I believe they don’t want to release the up to date numbers because in reality, the CDC never has a clue about what is going on. Have you ever read any of their investigation reports? EVERY SINGLE REPORT is the same exact report. They never determine anything. Furthermore, when was the last time CDC did anything to any of these ships? The last time was the Celebrity Mercury (coincidentally the sister company of Royal). And what kind of yahoo’s are running the public health program at Royal? How did they allow the outbreak to get this high? Seems like they have a public health department with no experience in dealing with outbreaks.

  • Richard

    Will RCCL decontaminate the Explorer of the Seas upon return to avoid more infections on upcoming cruises?

  • jinny

    Funny how passengers always blame the crew . . . but if it were the crew, the ship would ALWAYS have it on board.

    The truth is, people don’t wash their hands after visiting the bathroom – and then they shake hands with crew and guests; they eat in the restaurants and use the hand rails.

    People always say they do wash their hands – how many times have you watched men and women leave without doing so? And they think nothing of it on land, because if you’re home, you’ve just “caught a bug” – a Cruise Ship is one of the cleanest places to live and work – until passengers who aren’t clean come on board.

  • Julie

    That’s two ships this month. RC not starting off good this year. Rumor is that the Explorer wouldn’t stop at one of their private island ports that had other ships from their company there. But it’s okay to sail to St. Thomas and infect that island. Not stopping at the one port tells you it is a serious contamination that they can’t get a grip on yet. Yuck, so many not washing their hands as some have posted here? I’ll pass on this line.

  • “Jinny”

    Your internet provider (IP) address indicates that you are using a computer at Royal Caribbean’s headquarters in Miami.

    It would be nice for you to disclose that next time you post a comment on an article that involves your employer.

    Jim Walker

  • Joan Sarvai

    My husband and I were booked on this ill fated cruise. I ended up having a total hip replacement on Dec. 30th and was recovering when I should have been packing. Decided that I could not enjoy the cruise especially when I needed physical therapy. I am so happy I had the travel insurance to cancel! Even after surgery, I feel wonderful. Thank you, God, for watching over me.

  • John Goldsmith

    To Jinny,
    Please relay to your corporate masters, that educating the travelling public is serious business.Ten years ago, we did thing a bit different that 20 years ago, and now do thing even more differently.At home we have hand washing stations at every sink—Why?—because we deal with staff and public and we wash our hands frequently.I have had the flu once in 5 years because I came in contact with a large group of people who have children. So all people are infected in one way or another, close quarters makes it worse and poor hygene from all parties elevates the problem.
    also. while I sometimes disagree with Jim, I do identify myself, even with a critical post.

  • Bob

    Having read numerous cruise critic reviews for RCL ships, I would respectfully suggest RCL consider investigating the possibility that the luke warm food served in the Windjamer may be part of the problem. There are so many comments made about this failing on almost all RCl ships, this may be a significant factor.

  • Richard

    My wife and I returned to a freezing Bayonne NJ port on Tuesday Jan 21…disembarking the Explorer. We were traveling with two other couples.
    No one was sick that day. HOWEVER, the next day, three of the six became ill and the day after that, I got the virus. That’s four out of six! Were we alone? (Out of over 3,000 passengers…you guess!) We called up RCCL and told them what was happening (on Thursday/Friday, Jan23/24. RCCL people denied hearing from ANYONE that there was a problem on the 1/12 — 1/21 cruise. (Think that was true? Take a guess again!) Yet, during the middle days of the cruise, and quite all of a sudden, the crew was visibly busy cleaning and reminding all to “washy-washy,” and rather trust people to put their hands through the sanitizers, the crew (head waiters, I’m guessing) were busy squirting everyones hands as we entered the dining room. My guess is the virus had started to show its ugly effects and no one mentioned it to the passengers. My wife and I absolutely wash our hands regularly and do not have to be told to use the Purell sanitizers…we do these things automatically. I do believe RCCL people (headquarters) lied through their norovirus teeth to hide the statistics. The day later…Friday…the story broke. The virus hit the fan!

  • Tyron

    This supposed “puke fest” has nothing to do with RCCL or the crew on board any cruise ship at anytime. The PASSENGERS (you people) are the ones that spread this. There is always a VERY SMALL number of crew members that have these symptoms because they wash there hands and are a little smarter about hygiene then the guests. I watched a passenger on a Cruise Ship get sick at the dinner table then try to go and get more food afterwards…… YOU are the cause of these outbreaks and it saddens me to see all the blame being put on on a company that tries Everything in it’s power to prevent these kind of situations. If you really think that a certain Cruise Line is going to get you sick then please don’t cruise anymore because you are ignorant and you are probably the person that brings the sickness onboard. Look it up, Every Cruise Line has had the outbreaks thanks to you people. Go ahead and put the blame where you want.



  • Robert Branscombe

    I absolutely agree with everything Richard wrote about the virus on the previous weeks’ cruise(Jan 12-21)My wife and I had booked a post cruise room for 3 days(non refundable)to visit New York City.The day after getting off the ship I was too sick to leave the room and spent the three days in bed.The virus was obviously on that cruise as well.I will be calling Royal Caribbean to confirm our experience.

  • Marie

    My husband and I, along with four other couples have been cruising since 2005 on Royal Caribbean. None of us has ever been sick . In fact none of the ships we were on ever ‘fell sick’. Trashing a cruise line because of an unfortunate situation is ridiculous and vengeful. The staff on these ships, from the kitchen to the room attendants are vigilant and very health conscious. They don’t want to catch these bugs any more than we do. It’s a known fact that when large numbers of people are in close quarters viruses spread easily and quickly. It’s up to everyone to do all they can to prevent the spreading of these bugs.

  • labadee

    What I don’t get is, according to the CDC, only two outbreaks this year. The Majesty of the Seas from a 8 days before this one is not listed. I wonder how many are not listed from before.

    According to this report, for 2013-14, RCI (Royal Caribbean with 2 and RCI owned Celebrity with 4) has accounted for 6 of the 11 the CDC has reported (that does not count the Majesty of the Seas). They did update the number of passengers infected to 577 & 49 crewmembers.

  • Sergio

    Hi Jim,

    First, I enjoy most of your posts and point-of-view… but I have to disagree with that one. As an ex crew member, I know the very strict sanitising procedures that are taken on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. And I also know the amount of guests that doesn’t have the minimum respect for public hygiene. Guests DO NOT wash their hands and sometimes even COMPLAIN when we ask them to sanitise their hands. When they get sick they DON’T FOLLOW medical recommendations and keep walking around the ship, coughing and spreading the virus to the whole ship. Sometimes the crew has to stop what they are doing (sometimes on their time off) to go and look for people that were supposed to be isolated in their cabins but are not.

    What do you expect from that? That every sick guest gets babysat by someone with a spray of sanitiser walking after them?

    Again, wash your hands after you gone to the toilet, wash your hands after coughing, wash your hands after touching handrails, wash your hands before eating, don’t taste the food in the Windjammer and then put it back in the tray (yes, I’ve seen people doing that!!!)… is it to ask much?

  • Yuri

    My family and I are booked to travel the Explorer with RC in several weeks, and we read all of the preceding posts with interest. We are grappling (as are others it seems) with the question of whether or not to cancel our vacation plans for fear of being stricken by similar illness while aboard. We are novice sailors and I cannot say that the posts to date have helped us with this decision one way or another.

    We accept the premise that a cruise ship with 3000 + souls on board is essentially a great big incubator for airborne and other pathogens. This is the critical factor to consider, to our mind, not the “chicken-egg” unknowable conundrum about who first (passengers or crew) infected the ship. Given the apparent proliferation of cruise ship ailments detailed in many posts, catching a nasty bug while cruising appears to be a calculated risk assumed by passengers when travelling in close quarters for days, even weeks at a time. Eating in high traffic restaurants, attending densely populated events in enclosed venues. using mass transportation, etc. are also risky endeavors in terms of contracting a contagious illness from others, although folks tend to spend less time “couped up” in these situations as compared to a cruise ship. We accept as a given there is risk associated with all of these endeavors. The problem is that we do not know how to reliably “handicap” this risk.

    To better assess whether my family and I should retain or cancel our upcoming reservation with RC on this very boat, we would prefer to review some hard facts about RC’s history of incubating infectious gastrointestinal ailments on boats (especially on this particular boat) as compared to other cruise lines. The time of year for sailing, ports of call, the nastiness of flu bugs in any given region, results of CDC (or other independent) testing, overall sanitation and hygiene on board, incidents of food related contamination and data regarding dozens of other relevant factors would permit us to draw a better educated inference about how safe it is to sail with RC on any of its boats. Until that kind of comprehensive data is available to us, we think that any excessive finger pointing (pro or con) is pointless.

    That said, in law there is a theory of liability called “res ipsa loquitur” — literally meaning in Latin “the thing speaks for itself.” It is as Jim knows, a theory most often used in tort law to assign civil blame based by the unusual circumstances surrounding an event itself rather than a set of precise and logical facts linking a cause and consequence. This theory is often employed in cases where a logical sequence of factual causes and consequences cannot be reliably reconstructed for whatever reason. For instance, if I purchase a can of tuna fish, open it myself in an environment free of any glass and while eating it with a metal utensil find shards of glass in the fish, the inference is that the manufacturer (or perhaps the cannery if someone else) was negligent in some way in allowing that glass (which obviously does not belong there) to find its way into the can. In such a case hypothetically, the unusual presence of the glass where it should not have been would permit an inference of negligence. To our way of thinking, it is quite a different case when it comes to an outbreak of infectious illness aboard a cruise ship or other place of public accommodation. Contracting a contagious illness is one risk reasonable folks should expect as a possibility while traveling. Too many variables are in play to blame a cruise line alone for such an outcome, absent some concrete and undisputed facts linking unreasonable acts or failure to act by the cruise line and the consequences (many people sick). As a practical matter, a densely and highly populated cruise ship cannot be made reliably “sterile” in the same sense as, lets say, an operating room in a hospital. Even in sterile environments plenty of surgical patients contract secondary infections from operating rooms. Those of us with children in school frequently confront schoolhouse outbreaks of flu or other contagious illness which usually runs riot in our home as well. Certain such risks we must take if we wish to participate in our increasingly congested society. A cruise aboard an RC ship is an alternative recreation choice, not a requirement.

    If someone (perhaps Jim –is some data available on your website?) can steer us to useful facts not just rhetoric by one partisan or another, upon which we can make a reasoned judgment whether or not to sail with RC, we would be most obliged. Thanks Jim for hosting this understandably provocative topic.

  • Linda Martin-Smith

    my husband , daughter and myself were aboard the explorer of the seas 12th to 21st Jan 2014. Cleanliness was apparent 24/7; staff were cleaning everywhere. But many fellow passengers were obviously not bothered ; I heard one guy complain “have we got to do this again?” . My only complaint was the stink from the Casino where smoking is allowed and as the casino is centre of the ship you could hardly avoid it, and people falling out of there didn’t look the sorts who could be called fastidious and their hands had been all over the slot machines and card tables. It would be impossible to clean up fingermarks on gambling machines while people use them. RCCL are up against their own guests needs and desires . They cannot be blamed.

  • Repeat Cruiser

    Go on your cruise, don’t worry about it, and have a great time. I’ve been on a dozen RCCL cruises and never had any serious norovirus issues on any of them. This includes going out on a cruises immediately after a norovirus stricken cruise returned. They clean the ships very thoroughly when there is a problem.

    On a different note, I find it curious they keep mentioning the crew continuing to work when they get sick because they work for tips. The crew is not tipped during the cruise at all. They are tipped on the last night. If they miss time in the middle, it shouldn’t matter for their tips.

  • Anina Salerno

    I would be plenty worried about taking my family on the Explorer of the Seas any time soon for a vacation. It is not a minor thing to be trapped for 8 days on a ship full of very sick people, especially if members of your own family get sick. Large numbers of people on the January 21st cruise were elderly. I was seriously concerned that we might end up with fatalities. To compare this with the flu going through your office or your child’s school is to ignore the important difference–you cannot leave the ship if you get sick, nor can the other sick people. Everyone continues to be exposed the entire time. It was a nightmare, and I regret ever going.

  • Mike

    I wish there were a way to find out the number of sick cases on each of the next sailings on this ship. We have a vacation coming up in a week and a half. Is it a bad idea?