Baltimore-based cruise ship set to depart tonight despite viral outbreak

For the second time in two weeks, a Baltimore-based cruise ship is dealing with an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness.

The Grandeur of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship, has reported nearly 100 passengers on a seven-day cruise that departed April 5 from Baltimore to the Bahamas have become ill with symptoms that include vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


In a statement, Royal Carribbean said the illness is "thought to be norovirus," and that passengers "affected by the short-lived illness responded well to over-the-counter medication administered onboard the ship."

A cruise that departed Baltimore March 28 on the same ship also had an outbreak of viral illness that the CDC said was caused by norovirus. During that cruise, more than 100 passengers became ill. Fewer than a dozen crew members were sickened.


Neither cruise was cut short because of the outbreak. The Grandeur of the Seas is expected to return to Baltimore as scheduled Saturday morning.

Royal Carribbean said it has "high health standards" aboard and immediately took measures to increase sanitation once the illnesses were noted.

"During the sailing, we took a number of steps to prevent the transmission of the illness, including implementing enhanced cleaning procedures and protocols, and using special cleaning products and disinfectants that are proven to kill norovirus to clean throughout the ship," the company said.

Upon its return to Baltimore, the ship is expected to be thoroughly sanitized. The cruise line said it "will conduct an extensive and thorough sanitizing onboard the ship and within the cruise terminal, to help prevent any illness from affecting the subsequent sailing."

In addition, "two CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officers and an epidemiologist will board the ship," as part of the ongoing investigation, according to disease control officials.

The CDC also is collecting specimens to determine the cause of the outbreak during the second cruise. Cruise ships are required to report illnesses affecting more than 3 percent of passengers or crew members during any cruise of three days or more.

Norovirus is highly contagious and one of the most common causes of food-borne illnesses. It can be transmitted through food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC.

Royal Carribbean, in its statement, said "only the common cold is more prevalent."


Grandeur of the Seas is expected to embark on another cruise to the Bahamas Saturday evening, with passengers boarding in the afternoon.

Royal Carribbean said boarding will now start at 4 p.m., and will continue until 5:30 p.m. The ship will sail at 6 p.m., according to its scheduled itinerary.

In the past, Royal Carribbean has taken a different approach to outbreaks of illness of its ships. In January, when more than 600 people experienced vomiting and diarrhea linked to norovirus aboard the cruise line's Explorer of the Seas, passengers were kept off the ship for an extended period.

At the time, Royal Carribbean said the approach would "additionally provide a window of more than 24 hours where there are no persons aboard the ship, which is a significant help."

All guests boarding the Grandeur of the Seas on Saturday will receive a letter upon boarding asking them whether they have had "gastrointestinal symptoms" within the last three days, the company said.

Customers who feel uncomfortable boarding the Grandeur of the Seas "for reasons related to personal health or otherwise" will be assisted in rescheduling their trip, Royal Carribbean said.


The cruise ship holds about 2,000 passengers and another 800 crew members.

The Royal Caribbean ship returned to Baltimore last spring after undergoing a $48 million renovation. Since then it has faced some challenges, including a damaging fire last May that put the ship in dry dock for six weeks for repairs.