Cruise returning to Florida early after Norovirus outbreak sickens hundreds

Norovirus outbreak sickens 277 on Oasis of the Seas

Few ships in the history of cruising have been as widely anticipated -- and heralded -- as Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, unveiled in November 2009. At 252,282-tons, the enormous vessel is nearly 50% larger than any other cruise ship at sea and home to an unprecedented array of amenities (Royal Caribbean)

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is returning to a Florida port a day early and giving passengers full refunds of their fare after 277 guests and crew members were hit with an outbreak of Norovirus as it sailed to Jamaica.

Cruise line spokesman Owen Torres said, "We think the right thing to do is get everyone home early rather than have guests worry about their health."

[MORE: Oasis of the Seas cruise hit with Norovirus after leaving Port Canaveral]

He said the ship will return to Port Canaveral on Saturday. It sailed from there Sunday on a seven-day Caribbean cruise.

Before the announcement Thursday that the ship would return early, passengers took to social media on Wednesday, tweeting they were forced to stay on board after docking in Falmouth, Jamaica, for what was supposed to be a day of excursions.

“We’re docked at Falmouth Jamaica. Level 3 Norovirus outbreak. 100+ passengers and a crew member sick. Canceled shore excursion. Waiting to see if Jamaican authorities let us off the ship,” tweeted Alan Thomas, a passenger who also wrote that Royal Caribbean was offering one day of cruise credit.

As of Wednesday, more than 150 cases had been reported.

"As of today, 167 cases of gastrointestinal illness have been reported since Sunday, representing 2 percent of the nearly 9,000 guests and crew on board," said Owen Torres, a spokesman for Royal Caribbean, in a statement emailed to Florida Today late Wednesday. 

Torres said those affected by the illness were receiving treatment.

"Those affected by the short-lived illness are being treated by our ship’s medical team with over-the-counter medication. Meanwhile, we are bringing additional medical staff on board and we’re engaging in intensive sanitary procedures to minimize the risk of any further issues," Torres said.

Torres said Thursday returning a day early gives the cruise line "more time to completely clean and sanitize the ship" before it sails again.

The Oasis of the Seas crew has 10 hours to unload and restock the floating city with a week's worth of food and supplies. That includes 10,272 rolls of toilet paper, 7,397 pounds of cheese and 1,000 new light bulbs.

The ship is currently based at Port Canaveral, but was expected to begin sailing out of the Bayonne, New Jersey, in May.

Norovirus symptoms include diarrhea and nausea. The ship's crew and medical staff was engaging in an intensive sanitary sweep of the 1,187-foot long vessel. 

Cruise line officials said Thursday that 277 guests and crew members, or 3.3 percent of people aboard the ship,  had been affected by the illness since the ship left Port Canaveral Sunday.