How cruise line cancellation and quarantine policies can exacerbate the norovirus problem.


As much as the media loves to report on the latest cruise ship norovirus outbreak, in reality, most people cruise happily without any health issues. Plus, to be fair, sometimes people who report feeling ill may also be feeling the effect of a few two many “Bahama Mamas” or the equivalent, not to mention sun, potential late nights, richer food than normal, etc. etc.

However, for those unlikely cruisers who end up on one of the unlucky cruises, it can be truly miserable. Even a day’s discomfort out of precious vacation time can feel much too long.

Even if you feel well soon. We once took a shore excursion with a nice couple on the second to last day of a Caribbean cruise. The husband shared with us it was his first day out, because he had been quarantined since the second day. He said, or claimed anyway, that it wasn’t norovirus to his mind, but he went to the ship’s infirmary because he was feeling queasy, and they immediately confined him to his cabin for four days. And, while he felt better the next morning, the cruise line was serious. As he told us, when he ventured out after two days and went to get a soda at the bar, the waiter told him “Sorry, sir, we can bring it to your cabin.”

In this case the man insisted he hadn’t had norovirus, and thought in retrospect it was simply something he ate that disagreed with him. But, it’s hard to fault the cruise line for erring on the side of caution. He did add, “It’s the last time I tell a cruise doctor anything minor is bothering me.”

Alas, he was probably telling the truth. This means in future, if he gets sick, he may infect several other passengers. It is a lesson that many travelers have learned. If you think it’s something minor and you’ll be better soon, why risk quarantine or potentially being kicked off the ship?

Beyond that, since canceling a cruise at the last minute means no refund for anyone without insurance, there is strong financial pressure to pretend everything is fine, even when it’s not. Now clearly, if someone is really sick they can’t board. However, many ailments, even norovirus, are not immediately obvious to the naked eye. Ditto, things like flu where the symptoms can be temporarily improved and disguised with medications.

Some will read this and think travelers just need to buy insurance. But, some people don’t want to spend the money. Plus, if a would-be cruiser wakes up the morning of the cruise and doesn’t feel quite right, it’s not a guarantee insurance will cover their “illness” anyway.

Moreover, with norovirus, people are ususally contagious at least three days after recovery, and it could be longer. So, that’s even more reason for a traveler who now feels fine not to risk their vacation. It’s not like the cruise line will waive a penalty for a passenger who says, “Well, I think I might still be contagious.”

In a perfect world people should be honest and not put themselves in a position where they may make others sick. But, with hundreds of dollars in potential airline change fees in addition to thousands potentially lost in cruise fare, it’s easy to understand why many may decide their pocketbook is a bigger concern than other people’s wellbeing.