Kiwis tell of cruise horror

By Kathryn Powley, Chris Marriner

'Coffin' confinement under quarantine not so cruisy, Kiwi passenger decides

Royal Caribbean Cruises' Voyager of the Seas. Photo / Supplied
Royal Caribbean Cruises' Voyager of the Seas. Photo / Supplied

The biggest cruise ship to have ever been scheduled to dock at the Port of Napier is going ahead with plans to do so, despite an outbreak of suspected norovirus.

The Royal Caribbean's mega-liner Voyager of the Seas is being thoroughly cleaned after about 143 passengers were reported as having the vomiting and diarrhoea bug.

A New Zealand couple aboard a cruise ship have likened the ordeal to being locked in a coffin.

TeAroha Terrill and her partner Max Hayes were on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, one of the biggest ocean liners in the world, on its Wellington-to-Sydney leg.

They were among 143 people on board to contract the highly contagious debilitating gastro-intestinal illness during an 18-night cruise from Fremantle to Sydney, via Wellington.

The ship arrived in Sydney this weekend, where the ill passengers disembarked. The ship was being thoroughly cleaned yesterday, ahead of its trip back across the Tasman to Auckland on Wednesday.

For Terrill and Hayes, being confined to their cabin meant being able to eat only bananas and jelly.

They had boarded the luxury liner on Monday about 10.30am in Wellington. By the next day Hayes had started to feel "a bit off" but shrugged it off and carried on. By 6pm that evening he was feeling distinctly green around the gills.

"I rang the medical centre and they said to bring him to them," said Terrill. But he was too ill with vomiting and diarrhoea to leave their bathroom.

A nurse had dispensed some pills and presented them with a letter to say they were quarantined.

"The next day about 3pm I got it, too. And I thought, 'Oh great', because we couldn't do anything. It was an inside cabin so it had no windows and it felt like we were just locked in a coffin."

The news had got worse when they called room service.

"I said, 'Can I get something to eat for my husband'? and she said, 'No, you can only have jelly, bananas or water'."

It was lime jelly and Terrill said he wasn't even allowed lemonade.

All together she was in her room for 48 hours. "It was too long stuck in a cabin with no windows and no fresh air."

She said the staff and nurse were kind and apologetic, and she understood there were good reasons for the quarantine.

"The Voyager was beautiful, from what I saw of it," she said. "We had a day-and-a-half to enjoy it and the rest was stuck in the cabin."

Another passenger told the Herald on Sunday of having to step over vomit on the main staircase. He said food at the buffet was served by staff wearing plastic gloves. Staff were constantly spraying surfaces with disinfectant. Bar snacks weren't available because of the sickness.

Professor Mark Ferson, public health director for South Eastern Sydney local health district, said he was aware of at least one passenger being taken to hospital in Sydney. He was satisfied by the crew's efforts to sanitise the ship.

Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Steph McDonald said 135 of the 3013 guests - 4.48 per cent - and eight crew caught the illness.

"During the sailing we conducted enhanced cleaning on board the ship, to help prevent the spread of the illness.

"Additionally, when Voyager of the Seas arrived in Sydney on November 23, we conducted an extensive and thorough sanitising both on board the ship and within the cruise terminal, to help prevent any illness from affecting the subsequent sailing."

The ship's food and beverage director, Tusitala Sola, a New Zealander, said the outbreak meant crew serving passengers in areas that would normally be self-service.

A team had gone through all venues with sanitisers. "We don't change the type of food, we manage how the guests have contact with food," he said.

Buttons, railings, chairs and 1500 cabins - everything had to be fully sanitised. "That's why we don't allow the guests to touch tongs, no handshaking."


The numbers

• It has a regulation-size ice skating rink

• If it stood on end it would be 311m tall - taller than the Eiffel Tower

• It weighs 138,000 tonnes

• There are 14 bars, cafes and lounges

• It has 15 decks, a rock-climbing wall and an 894 sq m casino

- Herald on Sunday

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