The Crown Princess returned two days early to Fort Lauderdale Thursday morning, after an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness cut the cruise ship's trip short.
The ship returned to Port Everglades shortly before 7 a.m. to undergo a two-day extensive sanitization after at least 226 passengers and 63 crew members fell ill in the second outbreak of Norovirus to hit the ship in the past two weeks.
Some 364 passengers and 30 crew members were affected by the illness on the ship during the Jan. 29 to Feb. 4 cruise.
The current cruise left the port on Feb. 4, and had been scheduled to return on Saturday after stops in Curacao and Aruba before the illness hit.
"We sincerely regret having to cut short our passengers' cruise vacations because of this highly-unusual situation," Princess Cruises spokeswoman Karen Candy said in a statement. "We will, of course, be refunding their cruise fare, arranging flights home, including covering change fees if air was not booked through Princess, providing hotel accommodation if necessary, and offering a 25% future cruise credit."
When the ship’s first sign of illness appeared, the ship coordinated with the CDC to encourage guests to make sure to wash their hands thoroughly and to use their own cabin's restrooms, and to take precautions when touching various surfaces like doorknobs and railings on the ship, Candy said.
The cruise line also placed hand-sanitizing gels throughout the ship and quarantined infected cruisers from other passengers.
"I did get sick, I was confined to my room and I felt like I was in prison, however, I was protecting the other people," passenger Mary Skinner said, adding that the cruise line "handled it very, very good."
Staterooms, carpets, railings, furnishings, and common spaces will be thoroughly cleaned multiple times, and the Crown Princess is expected to remain on schedule with the next departure to leave on Saturday.
Norovirus is a highly contagious illness that causes symptoms including upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is spread easily through contaminated food or water, or by touching a contaminated surface.