Sickened Royal Caribbean passenger: "dream vacation and it turned into a hell cruise"

Passengers from a motorcycle cruises' tour group, prepare to board the Royal Caribbean International's Explorer of the Seas, docked at Charlotte Amalie Harbor in St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands on Jan. 26, 2014. AP

Sickened passengers and crew aboard a Royal Caribbean ship face one more day at sea, before returning to New Jersey. The getaway cruise is being cut short after more than 600 people became violently ill.

The Explorer of the Sea was three days into its 10-day voyage when hundreds of passengers started experiencing symptoms of a nasty stomach bug. The illness began spreading so quickly and aggressively that members of the Centers for Disease Control were dispatched to the ship.

Instead of swimsuits, Hazmat suits filled the ship's pool decks, hallways, shops and restaurants. Over the weekend, members of the CDC boarded the cruise, and have been working to disinfect it ever since.

Chris Roman and Brittney Schnieder have remained healthy so far. At first, they thought fellow passengers were simply sea sick.

"I think they're taking the cleaning seriously, but I think it's for the benefit of the next cruise," Roman said. "It's not for us. ... You hear about people just spending all day lying on the floor in the bathroom. It hasn't been pleasant for a lot of people."

Health officials believe the illness may be the norovirus -- a fast-spreading stomach bug that thrives in close quarters. 

Lisa Conway did fall ill. She said, "This was supposed to be a dream vacation, and it turned into a hell cruise. … The sick were in the hot tubs and the pools so people were getting sick that way by being near other people. They were throwing up in the hallways, the pool deck, everyone is trying to jump over it, walk through it."

The Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas carries more than 3,000 passengers and more than 1,000 crew members -- roughly 20 percent of those on-board are sick. 

Richard Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean, said, "Our people responded very quickly very aggressively."

On Monday -- the same day that Royal Caribbean announced its fourth-quarter earnings -- Fain insisted that outbreaks like this are rare, and that the company will be taking appropriate action. 

"We will be compensating the passengers," Fain said. "Our people really do feel very badly that something like this happens, but unfortunately this is a bad time of year."

Still, many passengers believe Royal Caribbean waited too long to end the cruise after the first passengers became ill last week. Roman said, "They should have canceled the trip day three when this outbreak -- that they've never had happen before at this magnitude -- happened."

The ship is expected to dock on Wednesday afternoon in Bayonne, N.J., CBS News' Vinita Nair reported on "CBS This Morning." After it docks, the ship will undergo a thorough sanitation program.  Passengers on this cruise are said to be receiving a 50 percent off voucher for a future trip, and a $400 refund.

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