A crew member cleaned a stairway on the cruise ship Fascination yesterday as the ship headed for Cozumel, Mexico. Nearly 200 people on the ship's last voyage contracted a gastrointestinal illness.

Bookings unhurt
by cruise illnesses

By Alex Veiga
Associated Press

MIAMI >> Emily Strauss saw the headlines and read the accounts: Hundreds of cruise passengers were spending their ocean voyages riding out bouts of diarrhea and nausea in their cabins. Dream vacations were being ruined.

But she'd waited 50 years to go on a cruise and a stomach virus wasn't going to sink her plans.

"I'm not at all worried. I packed a hand gel cleaner," Strauss said before boarding a recent sailing of Holland America's Amsterdam, one of several ships on which passengers developed flu-like illnesses in recent months.

More than 1,000 passengers have been stricken by the highly contagious outbreaks of stomach viruses on Holland America, Carnival and Disney cruise ships in recent months. But so far, the widely publicized accounts haven't translated into a flood of cancellations for recent or upcoming sailings.

Rather than abort long-planned vacations, many passengers have decided to go ahead with their cruise -- with a few safety precautions.

Some are washing their hands frequently or using anti-bacterial lotion. Others are taking a pass at the self-serve buffets and unbottled water. One traveler said he brought his own food, drinking water and pillow.

The industry, facing a weak economy and post-9/11 fears that put a dent in many people's vacation plans, has been aggressive in reassuring the public. Hoping to avoid a crisis that could drain profits, they have been quick to note steps that have been taken, such as taking ships out of service and scrubbing them from top to bottom.

Carnival Cruises and Holland America, both owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., gave passengers letters with details of the virus blamed for most ill passengers. Holland America also contacted travel agents to brief them on the problem and on what to tell would-be travelers.

"It's really been about educating and arming travel agents with the information they need to pass along to their customers," said Rose Abello, spokeswoman for Holland America.

Two people canceled before boarding on the Amsterdam's current 10-day cruise. There were no reports as of yesterday of people being sick on the ship, Abello said.

Travel agents say they've fielded questions on the situation from people booked far in advance on cruises, but have not seen many customers back out from their vacation plans, if at all.

"We've had no cancellations. I cannot say that there's been a notable decline in bookings," said David Gedansky, co-owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Aventura.

Gedansky said booking cruises represents about 27 percent of his business. December is typically a slow month, with cruisegoers traditionally making reservations for next summer beginning in January, he said.

"I can't say I'm concerned at this point," he said.

Jeanne T. Van Houten, owner of Isings Travel in Boca Raton, said she had just one party cancel its booking for a cruise on the Amsterdam.

"Our passengers are still cruising," Van Houten said. "Some of our passengers who are experienced cruisers do understand the real facts. Some of it has been totally overblown."

John Van Vacper, from Columbia, Mo., aboard Carnival Cruise Lines' Fascination with his wife, brother and a friend, said he never thought about canceling his vacation -- not even when he heard of an outbreak that sickened about 200 people on the ship's previous sailing.

"It didn't bother me at all," he said.

The prospect of getting sick on vacation also didn't register for Tom Holzwarth, and his wife Karen, both from Cleveland.

"We had heard something about it. It didn't seem to be a big problem," Tom Holzwarth said.

And canceling was never a consideration.

"We have two kids at home and a baby sitter," Karen Holzwarth said.

Passengers were sunbathing, splashing in the pool and jamming buffets as usual aboard the Fascination yesterday. All the while, crews continued to clean the ship, just in case.

One passenger and four of the crew reported gastrointestinal symptoms on the Fascination, said Jennifer de la Cruz, a Carnival spokeswoman.

De la Cruz said the company had 45 cabin reservations out of 1,026 canceled Monday by passengers scheduled to travel on the Fascination's current sailing.

Cruise industry analysts say it's too early to tell if there will be a more pronounced impact on bookings over the next few months.

Richard Copland, president and chief executive officer of the American Society of Travel Agents, said he expects the issue to fade in a few weeks.

"You get indicted on page one and you get acquitted on page 50," Copland said.

Carol Frampton, a preschool teacher from Philadelphia, said she did not find out that people had become sick aboard the Fascination until right before she boarded, when the cruise line gave new passengers a letter.

"If I had found out before I was already at the dock, I might have considered canceling," she said. "They need to get some answers to what's going on, where it's coming from. I'm not going to book another (cruise) for a while, that's for sure."

E-mail to Business Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --