Disney Magic cruise canceled after outbreak
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- After two consecutive cruises on which several people fell ill with flu-like symptoms, Disney Cruise Line announced Wednesday it will cancel the next tour of the Disney Magic, the ship involved, which was scheduled to leave port Saturday.
The seven-day break will be used to perform a deep cleaning aboard the vessel, said Matt Ouimet, Disney Cruise Line president.
"The highest priority at the Disney Cruise Line is the health and welfare of our guests and crew," he said.
"Experts tell us that this seven-day hiatus, along with additional sanitation procedures that are not possible for a ship in operation, will provide the best opportunity to eliminate this concern going forward," he added.
The vessel is currently on a seven-day cruise in the western Caribbean. Wednesday, 123 passengers and crew were experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, up from 85 the day before. There are more than 3,000 people onboard.
The ship is due to return to port Saturday. Disney officials have offered to fly home any guests who became ill aboard the vessel. Ouimet said that so far, only one couple has accepted the offer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring the growing number of illnesses.
The CDC confirmed Wednesday that the flu-like symptoms in passengers and crew members on the Magic last week were caused by the Norwalk virus, just as in similar outbreaks on another cruise line.
Last week, more than 300 passengers and crew on the Magic took ill, and the CDC examined stool samples to determine that Norwalk was the cause, a spokeswoman said. The virus can be transmitted through person-to-person contact or by consuming contaminated food or water.
The ship sailed into port Saturday and was quickly disinfected before being sent out on the current cruise.
The CDC has not yet confirmed the cause of this week's illnesses, but it suspects the Norwalk virus is being passed person-to-person. Dave Forney, head of CDC's vessel sanitation program, said: "We have found no deficiencies in the ship's food or potable water supply."
The Norwalk virus and similar, related, viruses are a common cause of non-bacterial gastrointestinal disease, according to the CDC. About 181,000 cases occur annually in the United States.
The passengers who were due to begin their Disney cruise Saturday were notified of the cancellation by the company. They will receive a full refund for their tickets and a 50 percent discount on a future cruise.
"I understand this decision will disappoint many families, but we feel this is the right thing to do," Ouimet said.
In Seattle, Washington, a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Holland America Cruise Lines, seeking damages on behalf of more than 500 passengers and crew members who were sickened by the Norwalk virus on four recent Caribbean cruises aboard Holland's ship Amsterdam. (Full story)
The complaint, filed Monday in Seattle, where the company is based, alleges that Holland America "knew or should have known" that its passengers could be infected with the highly contagious virus if the company did not take the ocean liner out of service while sanitizing it.
Hundreds of passengers and crew members took ill with the virus on four consecutive sailings of the Amsterdam in October and November. Holland America took the ship out of service last week, after 68 people became ill during the last sailing.
Kathryn Sudeikis of the American Society of Travel Agents said that cruise bookings generally run slowly at this time of year -- and that she knows of few cancellations prompted by the onboard illnesses. "So many of our cruise bookings are for the winter season and not happening this very minute that I think people are in a holding pattern," she said.
"Cruising has always been a situation where you have people from all over the world confined in seven days of sailing and these kinds of illnesses have never been an issue in the past," Sudeikis said. "So I think that everyone's just sort of expecting that it's very well contained."
Disney hires former CDC expert
Disney spokesman Mark Jaronski said the company had hired Don Turner, former head of the CDC vessel sanitation program to supervise the cleanup.
"He's there because of his years of expertise in overseeing cleanups," Jaronski said, "and he can work with our experts aboard the ship to ... make sure everything is safe and to get this thing under control."
Disney also dispatched two Walt Disney World microbiologists to help oversee steps to sanitize the ship.
Disney characters aboard the family cruise are taking steps to avoid the level of contact they'd normally have with passengers, Jaronski said. And they're cleaning their hands -- and in some cases their costumes -- more often, he said.
"They're still hugging children," he said. "The characters are using their own pens to sign autographs instead of the children's."
Disney said typically five to 10 people fall ill on a seven-day cruise with 2,400 people aboard.